Interviews

EA's Keith Ramsdale

The megapublisher's UK boss talks digital, DLC - and daring decisions...

EA and innovation. Not two words that married easily a few years ago when samey, iterative, blockbuster boxed products ruled supreme at the Redwood, California behemoth.

But they say that pressure inspires imagination and focus - and EA's new position as the 'challenger brand' (to you know who) seems to have done just that.

Following a bold period of self-pruning, the firm's now fabled 'less is more' approach has spread throughout its ranks. Fewer titles; higher scores has been the result.

It's proved its mettle at retail - where EA last year released an astounding 20 games rated at 80 per cent or above on Metacritic.

At the same time, there's been a quiet - but no less important - revolution going on away from the world of giant boxed releases. Not longer content with being the highest ranking publisher on disc, EA is going all guns blazing for the same honour in the online console space.

As we announced earlier this month, EA's online-only release of Battlefield 1943 was the biggest-selling title on XBLA and PSN last year - enjoying 1.5 million downloads. The silence from industry 'experts' who questioned EA's decision to circumvent a boxed release with the game was telling.

So is the company - whose impressive Shank and Death Spank are due to land on XBLA in the next few months - ramping up its efforts online, with more 'Triple-A' digital releases? And what of the much-talked about '$10 pass' - which prevents two gamers obtaining DLC from a single boxed purchase?

We caught up with the firm's UK boss Keith Ramsdale to get a homegrown view of where EA is headed - and just how seriously it's taking the online space...

Battlefield 1943 was recently crowned the biggest game ever on XBLA and PSN. What sets it apart from the average digital release?
First of all, it's a well-known franchise. Our strategy is very much about delivering content to consumers in the way that they want to receive it.

Whether that's on a packaged goods disc, via an online download deliverable on a mobile phone, on a social network. We've got a slate of fantastic entertainment content and the way we deliver that to gamers is how they wants it - it's all about them.

Battlefield is a successful franchise as a packaged goods brand. In this case, we wanted to release content that didn't require a full product purchase. That was actually to see what the appetite is for digital content is out there as much as anything. The most logical way to do that was as an exclusively downloadable title. It's obviously been huge, with 1.5 million downloads across PSN and Xbox Live.

What we did that was different, I think, was that - locally in the UK, at least - we marketed it in a way that was akin to a major boxed title. We knew we had to make that investment to make sure consumers could see the game and knew it was coming. It was a rare thing for gamers to come across Battlefield 1943 on a browser or within Xbox Live; we actually marketed it as a major franchise and gave people Xbox Live or PSN as a destination to download it.

Coupled with that, the quality of Battlefield 1943 is fantastic - you can see why we backed it in that way. The multiplayer element was especially sticky. The feedback from gamers on forums was that the multi-play content was class beating.

There will be content we put out online that we don't think needs marketing, and there will be some of that we think has an opportunity or a potential big enough for us to put marketing pounds to. We did that with Battlefield - we completely treated it as a retail release. We took a bold move in that way, absolutely. We did that same with FIFA Ultimate Team and had similar success.

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