Despite producing some of the most critically acclaimed games of this generation, EA remains the company that gamers love to hate. We'll admit to throwing a hard word or two in the publisher's direction - among other things, Medal of Honor: Warfighter left a very bad taste in the mouth - but after a few minutes in the presence of the blunt, forthright Patrick Soderlund, executive vice president of EA Games, we found ourselves lowering our guard.
In a lengthy chat, Soderlund discussed the EA take on generational transitions, how the publisher has handled a number of key franchises and how it is structured to support talented studios.
How do you think EA will change over the next few years?
This is a big year for us, for the Games Stable. It's a little bit dramatic trying to launch that many titles in one year, big brands like Need for Speed and Medal of Honour, Dead Space, Crysis, Army of Two, and then obviously Battlefield which is an ongoing thing. I think each brand will have its own different future and that will be determined by how well the current games are doing, what the gamers are telling us and, frankly, what the future holds in terms of whatever new things are going to arrive - things like hardware and machines such as phones and tablets or even smart TV.
Do you think the next Xbox will kick things back to where we were at the start of this generation, or are things a bit more complicated?
That's a very tricky question. I actually think it could be more complicated than that. Obviously, whenever Microsoft decides that the new hardware's going to come into the market we're going to be on it. But then, obviously, what happens to other gaming devices? I think it's not only gaming devices but how people today consume interactive entertainment. A lot of it is on the go, a lot of it is interconnected, whether it's asynchronous play with your friends or playing with your friends in real time... it's just a different way. It's really become a more complex ecosystem than before.
Asynchronous play has become really big in the last few years and I particularly loved what you guys did with SSX. What's the feedback like with that? Do you get people demanding online multiplayer instead?
One doesn't exclude the other. It doesn't mean that we can't have both. Battlefield is a good example of this. You have the very connected play with your friends online, or if you go into Battlelog and you play Battlefield 3... there are so many things you are able to do on your own, whether it's Assignments, whether you choose to play cooperatively with other people online. But there's still that friends connection. And then Autolog, now with Autolog 2.0, takes asynchronous friends play to a totally different level, but at the same time it still heavily promotes real-time multiplayer with multiple people. So I think that they belong together. I don't think that they're necessarily diametrical differences.
In the past few years EA's made a real effort to do new IPs like Dragon Age and Dead Space that didn't sell really well, but you still stuck with them. It must be galling that there's still a lot of hatred for EA despite this.
I think when you have a company the size of EA, it's bound to have that [reaction], especially when you make entertainment. I mean look at Microsoft. Microsoft isn't a bad company, but a lot of people hate it because of Windows. I'm extremely proud to be working at EA because of what we do. There's this passion to do great things. There's a real strive towards quality. But also innovation. We talk so much about 'why are we doing this?' You have to be careful not to change things for the sake of changing them, but as often you should ask yourself: 'Why are we doing it this way?'