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Roll the Dice

Ben Cousins discusses Electronic Arts' attitude to new IP.

Ben Cousins' career in the games industry began when he joined Acclaim as a tester. He later worked as a freelance artist before joining Lionhead Studios, where he was lead designer on Xbox title B.C.

After three years Cousins moved on to Sony, where he worked as design manager for the EyeToy group and was creative director on forthcoming online offering PlayStation Home. But Cousins didn't stay long enough to see Home released - in January this year, he took the title of creative director at DICE Sweden.

GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Cousins at last month's Nordic Game Conference to find out more about his new role, and what he thought of the reaction to Home.

Part one of the interview is published below - visit GamesIndustry.biz next week to read part two.


GamesIndustry.biz: One of your responsibilities at DICE is to look for new IP. So what qualities are you looking for?

Ben Cousins: One of the things that DICE needs to do is to diversify away from Battlefield because, although Battlefield is tremendously successful and will continue to be so, I think the studio needs something fresh and interesting. Something which gets the studio excited; that excitement will help us get signed off by EA.

I think it's important that you believe in what you're doing. It's also important that you play to the strengths of the studio - I don't think we'd do a dancing game, for example. So we'd be looking for something fresh and interesting, something that's commercially viable, something that, if there's a gap in EA's portfolio, would slide in there but something that fits the experience of the studio.

Are you concerned about Battlefield becoming another EA series that gets churned out every year - another FIFA, another Tiger Woods?

I think Battlefield is special, and I like to think it's thought of as special within EA. When you're one of the market leaders on PC - and there are very few games that sell as well as Battlefield on PC - you need to ensure that you produce quality, and hopefully that will mean that we get more time to develop new titles.

DICE has always been at the forefront of online and I think that we're going to skip the notion of updates and go into services. I think that's the obvious way forward for us, to have continued revenue streams coming from different ways of looking at things.

EA has talked a lot recently about pushing new IP, but they're also still producing a lot of sequels and expansion packs. How much focus would you say there actually is on original IP?

A lot more than you'd expect. That was my impression going into the job; I thought the pervading wisdom was that they were going to keep churning out sequels, and when you're selling 10 million units of Madden and Need for Speed every year then you need to keep doing that.

My impression from the execs I've met is that they're really excited by the idea of new IP, but when EA does something they do it big. They don't push out a little arty game on the side and hope it sells well; if there is going to be a new IP developed at EA everyone needs to believe in it.

Maybe it's going to take them longer than a smaller developer to get a new IP out because they want it to make a big splash, but I don't feel like I'm banging my head against the wall or that this is just a tokenistic movement. I think that EA is becoming much more open.

What about changing the opinions of gamers? For many hardcore gamers EA is the Coca-Cola or the McDonald's of the gaming world, the big powerful corporation that's making everything bland...

I think the products need to be right; that's the way you change people's opinions. I don't think you can have a PR campaign or some fancy marketing that will change people's opinions of your brand. The products have to speak for themselves.

EA is a gamers' brand and I think there's a lot of power in that brand; it's incredibly well recognised. People do take it seriously, and there are only a few things you need to do. Battlefield is an interesting example of a franchise which people don't necessarilly see as an EA franchise, even though it is.

Before joining EA you were at Sony, working on PlayStation Home. What did you think of the reaction when it was unveiled at this year's GDC?

That was a really interesting experience. When I decided to leave it was supposed to be announced, but PS3 was delayed so I had this period when I wasn't working on it but I knew it was happening.

It was a really amazing experience to be at GDC and see something I'd worked on being presented. I was very happy that the reaction was so positive. For a long time at Sony that was a little left field prototype project; it was only during the year that I worked on it that became a really important, platform-strategic game.

The confidence people like Phil Harrison had in the game came across so clearly, and his enthusiasm fed through to the audience so well. Because it's such a new idea on consoles there's always going to be some scepticism but I was really pleased that people seemed to get it.

Is Home going to be enough to silence the critics who say PlayStation Network has yet to match Xbox Live as an online service?

Without speaking for Sony, which I can't do anymore, it was always my feeling that we shouldn't look directly at Xbox Live. We wanted to try and create something which was unique and different and PlayStation-feeling.

I think it's a mistake to look directly at your competitors and try to directly compete with them. It's much more sensible to look at them and think, 'What can we do that's in that space, but that's unique and done in our own way?' I was confident, and still am, that Sony will have a really compelling online offering.

Ben Cousins is creative director at DICE Sweden. To read part two of this interview, visit GamesIndustry.biz next week.

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Ellie Gibson

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Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.