The EA that brought you "Catwoman" and other unsavory licensed games is no more, the head of EA told me. Original content is king.
Goodbye, licensed games about women running across rooftops stealing stuff. Hello, original games about women running across rooftops stealing stuff.
To be specific, EA isn't abandoning the development of licensed games. The company is just refusing to make "crappy" licensed games.
So promised the head of the company to me while we chatted at EA's booth at E3 last month:
John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts: I think what redeems our industry is quality, and I think we take a step back every time we take a license and exploit it with a crappy game. That's not what we're about.
See our full exchange below...
Multiplayer: EA's been in the process over the last couple of years of re-inventing its image as a company. So what do you want people to think about EA these days?
John Riccitiello, CEO, Electronic Arts: I don't think we consciously changed our image. What we do is we sort of do things and people interpret what they might want to think about our company. What we've been focusing on is making the world's most creative and innovative games. Making sure we put the creators first -- because that's how it happens -- and frankly if you look at our [E3 demo area] whether it's "Mirror's Edge" or "Dragon Age," our partnership with Valve, our partnership with id -- with "Left4Dead" and "Rage," respectively-- it's our Hasbro titles, it's what's going on with "Spore," "Sims 3," "Sims Animals," we frankly do have the best title plan of any company in the industry. And that's what it's all about and what this show's all about.
Multiplayer: People used to see you guys as doing a lot of licenses, things like James Bond and Superman and all the other superhero games. We're not seeing as much of that out of EA any more. Why is that?
I still think we have a number of core license partners. What's happening right now is sort of the core creativity of our team is really coming forward. When you see titles like "Dead Space" and "Mirror's Edge" -- or something like "Boom Blox" -- these are sort of like art teams creating something new. We've always been good at that [and have decided], "Let them go out there and do it."
I think that a lot of the intellectual property we create are better than the licenses.
Frankly I think that a lot of the intellectual property we create are better than the licenses. That doesn't mean there isn't room for great licenses. We've had a 20-year partnership with the NFL. We're incredibly proud of that. A 15-ish year partnership with the NBA. NHL, etc. But also we partner with J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers in bringing over the Harry Potter games to market and a great partnership with Hasbro -- a lot of new stuff this year for the more casual consumer. There's room for both. I think what you're noticing is that in years gone by we haven't had as many great, original intellectual properties. There's a lot more of that this year from EA and I think from here forward.
Multiplayer: If you look at recent sales of the "Iron Man" game -- it was a Sega game -- it sold very well, was in the top 10 in NPD monthly sales in America despite very poor review scores. It showed that if you get a license, you don't even need to worry too much about making a good game because people are going to buy it. You guys have, as you point out, both the talent to make top-quality games and the money to get top licenses. Do you feel like the EA has the ability or even the responsibility to redeem licensed games from the state a lot of them are in now?
I think what redeems our industry is quality, and I think we take a step back every time we take a license and exploit it with a crappy game. That's not what we're about.
Riccitiello: I don't actually believe EA is in the business of exploiting other people's licenses with bad quality games. We've been there. Most of our competitors are there or have been there. That's not what we do. We're not really after that market. Now Metacritic isn't always the best quality measure for some licensed games, but I know a good game when I see it. My team and our developers know a good game when we see it. The products we're putting out this year from Hasbro -- I don't know how they're going to do with Metacritic, but they're innovative, they're different. We've got the first E-rated shooter with our Nerf game. What we're doing with our "Family Game Night," what we're doing with "Littlest Pet Shop" -- really cool stuff -- what we're doing with "Sims" -- really cool stuff. It feels like it's demographically similar but it's very highly innovative. I think what redeems our industry is quality, and I think we take a step back every time we take a license and exploit it with a crappy game. That's not what we're about.