During Electronic Arts’ Investor Day, EA Studios Executive Vice President Patrick Söderlund shared the company’s recipe for making great games.
The basic concept is that if EA strives to be the world’s greatest game company, they have to make the world’s greatest games. That’s not easy to define, as quality can some times be subjective. At times you think that you have done the right thing, but it turns out to be wrong, other tines you think you have made a mistake, but it proves to be the right choice.
According to Söderlund, games are both entertainment and art, and Electronic Arts should take creative risks “to push the boundaries and challenge conventions.” Games are also science: there are hundreds of people working on a game, and that requires less creative elements like scheduling, development processes and more.
Technology is also a big part, but the most important aspect of a game team are the people. That means that Electronic Arts needs to have the best possible people, make sure that they’re motivated, and that they know what is expected of them.
Söderlund spends a lot of his life googling at looking at Metacritic. Metacritic isn’t the only factor that Electronic Arts looks at, but it’s one of many.
Over the past six months or so, the company tried to define a process and a framework to better help them understand and identify what makes a great game.
According to Söderlund, Craftsmanship is the number one part: that’s made of fidelity, controls, audio, animations and more.
Then there are depth and breadth, and they’re important to get people engaged for a long time. For instance Star Wars: Battlefront “nailed” other factors, but was criticized over its depth and breadth, and this should be corrected in possible future iterations.
Differentiation is also important. Electronic Arts can’t make the same games over and over again, and they need to push their teams to come up with new ideas, innovate and dare to be different. Söderlund brought up Battlefield 1 and Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst as examples.
Service and stability are the last factors, and are “incredibly important.”
These factors help Electronic Arts to make the right decisions at the right time. It’s important to test many things, but also to “kill” many things, and pick the ones that make sense and keep those going.
We also learn that the EA Studios currently have 4,100 people employed, and scale is an “incredible advantage,” and that also brings forth the possibility of collaborations between studios. For instance, the FIFA team has been working with BioWare. Developers from the popular RPG studio worked on FIFA.
When teams are done with a game and ramp down, developers are put to work on other completely different games for a while. Developers love this, as for instance working on FIFA for a BioWare developer is interesting and creatively challenging. This is something that EA does across the world, all the time, and with all of its teams.
There’s also a central content team. EA has about 800 developers in low-cost locations that create the majority of the art seen in its games. It’s a flexible workforce, and instead of having every single studio staffing up to have a full art team on site, they have one large art team that can scale up and down between projects. It’s much more efficient and, according to Söderlund, it’s driving higher and more consistent quality across the publisher’s games.