Exclusive: A Frank chat with EA's Gibeau

The publisher's Labels president looks to the future...

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Crysis 3 is another big title for you from your partner Crytek. How ambitious is EA's Partners program going forward? A few years ago Partners titles would've been half of your line-up...
Crysis 3

It was Rock band. A lot of plastic! (Laughs). We've changed it from being a distribution business for music games to titles that we really get behind, like in this case Crysis 3. We've got a releationship with Respawn, we've got a relationship with Insomniac, we've got a relationship with Crytek... we're really pleased with our partners and we continue to look at opportunities that are out there to expand it. We had a great relationship with Epic on Bulletstorm too.

Outside of consoles we have a unit called Chillingo, which is basically EA Partners for mobile. They signed Angry Birds years ago and they've got some really killer line-ups coming. So there's a very vibrant partner community out there and we're going to continue to invest in EA Partners.

On the subject of Insomniac, where is Overstrike? It's nowhere to be seen at E3.

We're very excited about Overstrike. It's a new IP and we want to make it the right game, so they're taking some extra time to nail the gameplay and the quality. It felt like we would stand out better later in the summer once we've hit some key milestones and we're able to show off more.

Dead Space has changed a lot since it first debuted. Can you explain the evolution of the series?

Dead Space was a new IP start for us that was very much squarely placed in the survival horror category when we first launched it and it had no online connectivity. But it was a super-high quality, rich experience.

What we've tried to do with each instalment is tell a different story about Isaac but at the same time bring in new features and ways to turn the game into a more connected experience. For example, in the second one we added the deathmatch multiplayer, but we found from fans that they loved the single-player but when they went online they felt it really didn't capture what Dead Space was about. I think it was well executed, but it wasn't a big hit with fans.

When we went into the research, we created a few prototypes around co-op. Because one of the insights that producer Steve Papoutsis had was that when you go to see a horror movie it's always more fun to go with somebody else. It's more fun to be scared together than by yourself. So we embraced that idea and we tried to open up the accessibility of the IP a little bit by adding a little bit more action, but not undermining the horror. We can't not be a horror game because that's what Dead Space is.

So with the addition of co-op and taking it to a planet and mostly away from space... we're pushing it in areas such as environment, co-op and at the same time we definitely do not want to piss off our fans by taking it too far from horror. We're very self aware of that - we listen to the fans and we hear them.

Dead Space 3

We're going to be releasing more assets over the coming months that show you how deep the horror is. It's definitely not getting away from gore or horror, but at the same time it's opening up to a larger audience by adding some elements. I think the Prometheus film launch is an interesting one because the appeal is much broader than a traditional space horror because of the casting and some of the imagery.

In general we're thinking about how we make this a more broadly appealing franchise, because ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space. Anything less than that and it becomes quite difficult financially given how expensive it is to make games and market them. We feel good about that growth but we have to be very paranoid about making sure we don't change the experience so much that we lose the fanbase.

We're guessing you're enthusiastic about reaching those audience goals with Dead Space 3?

Absolutely. I think it's going to be a great game and our biggest Dead Space.

Criterion has said it wants to get Need for Speed "back on its feet" following The Run. Is that a comment EA backs? Do you consider The Run a critical disappointment?

Absolutely. We're not happy with the reception that we got on Need for Speed: The Run. We tried a lot of new things; we added linear moments and action scenes between levels to try and spice it up... but frankly it just didn't come together to the level of quality that I wanted or that the Need for Speed team wanted. So we're going to try something different and Criterion is going to take a shot at innovating in that category.

I'm proud of The Run - I'm not trying to kick it to the curb. But I looked at it and I was like, 'I don't want a 60, I want an 80+'. That's important to me and you have to take it seriously and do something about it.

The game did well and there's a lot about it that we really liked and were impressed with, but ultimately we want to make 80-90 rated games and it was a bit of a shock to see how poorly received it was with some editorial groups and customers. We don't ignore that feedback, but we don't curl up into a ball and cry either. We try to do something about it. Criterion were always planned to be on this next one. Now it's the time to dial it up and go even bigger.

And does that mean changing the strategies behind the dual-studio setup and Black Box?

We're going to continue to pursue the dual strategy of alternating studios and that will always be the strategy, but we will optimise the business to maximise quality and to maximise what we need to do.

One of the running themes of E3 2012 has been developers jumping the gun a bit and showing off their next-gen technology. Was EA not tempted to showcase its future games and tech?

I didn't think it was the right time when we talked as a team. It's better to show something of substance. Gamers are smart and they'll figure out if what you're showing is a pre-rendered movie, they'll be able to diagnose and pick it apart. That's one of the things we did last year with the Battlefield 3 trailer - we very consciously put out a 14 minute sequence of gameplay because we wanted it to be a real experience that shows you what the game's like on PC.

Given our relationships with the NDAs and what's going on with the other parties, we felt like it wasn't the right time to come out with that stuff. We've already been doing a lot of work on that, but in general we want to keep our powder dry and get to a better place. It's also the reason why we're not necessarily showing off a lot of the Wii U games - because we want to get to a place where we can actually show off something really cool as opposed to doing something fake at a trade show.

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