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11 Interviews

Interview: EA's Patrick Söderlund

By Andy Robinson on Monday 24th Jun 2013 at 1:00 PM UTC

EA demonstrated an impressive roster of titles at E3 this month, even if most of the franchises on show were very familiar faces.

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Next-gen versions of Battlefield, FIFA and Need for Speed occupied the most airtime during the publisher's booming big stage press conference, but surprises did eventually come in the form of two DICE bombshells; the much-requested Mirror's Edge 2 and 'dream project' Star Wars: Battlefront.

But the star of show wasn't the Swedish studio's games so much as its stunning Frostbite 3 technology which, in a year of console transitions, looks to be repaying EA's investment with among the most impressive visuals (Dragon Age: Inquisition) and epic scale (Battlefield 4) seen in any of the titles on show in LA.

Following EA's E3 announcements, CVG met with Patrick Söderlund, executive vice president of the EA Games Label, to discuss the company's plans for the start of the next-generation.


Last year [EA Labels boss] Frank Gibeau was really honest in telling me that the tardy arrival of next-gen consoles meant that the public was only getting "half" the picture at E3 2012. Is it a relief now that you can finally talk about your next-gen projects?

Of course it is. I mean, when you're in year seven or eight of a console generation and you know that new consoles are coming but you can't talk about them, and you have to talk about the old stuff... of course it's frustrating. Now we can let everything go, which is a relief for sure.

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Do you think the current console cycle has been too long?

I don't know. I think the shift from PS2 to PS3 and Xbox to Xbox 360 brought hi-def gaming - it went from standard-def to hi-def and that shift was big. I think that carried the consoles quite far. Take on top of that online console play... those were the two main innovations of those platforms.

I guess we could've maybe been a year earlier [with new consoles]. But I think the reason why they lasted so long was because consumers told Microsoft, Sony and others that what they had was sufficient for a long time. Eventually it started dying off when people saw other more continuously updating platforms like mobile and PC evolve quickly, so eventually these machines felt old and people lost some of the interest of playing on them.

So for sure, I think the cycle could've been a year shorter but not necessarily. It now feels good that we get new stuff.

Do you think that ability for the new platforms to evolve quickly will ensure that they don't encounter the same problem and end up feeling old?

Yes, I think so. You have to ask yourself what you're missing, right? What is it that you can't get? Right now these consoles are going to come out and... take our own game, Battlefield, which for the first time will allow you to play with 64-players at 60 frames-per-second just like you would on a PC rig. To us, fast forward two or three years and I think there's enough horse power and innovation in these machines for us to continue to make much better and more innovative games.

As you know - you and I have been around - the first games out on a console generation are frankly never the best ones. If you just look at what came out at the beginning of the last cycle compared to where we ended up seven years later... it is a significant difference, right? That's the journey that players will take from now.

Even though we feel like there is a lot of innovation - and trust me, there is a lot of innovation in gen 4 - I think that as we learn to use these machines better and as our technology gets better and our ideas get better, I think we can come up with even more interesting games three or four years from now. I think there's a lot of room for these consoles to grow.

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"The first games of a console generation are never the best... look at what came out at the beginning of the last cycle compared to where we ended up."

What defines a 'next-gen' game for you?

There are always the simple things. The significantly updated graphics will mean something and people are talking about that. Yes, it's not everything, but it means something. It means more to me than higher texture resolution and those things; it means that for the first time you can have more meaningful and realistic dialogue with characters, and I think it gets easier for us as creators to display emotion and those types of things.

So pretty graphics comes with more than people understand. I think it's more important than people understand not because you can have higher texture resolution but because it adds to the overall experience.

On top of that yes, while the last generation was online and connected, it was still the early beginnings of what that meant. I think these machines being connected in the way that they are, being designed from the ground up to be online with full game downloads and those types of things, but also with operating systems configured to work in an online environment, is going to make you feel like you are far more connected, more similarly to how you're connected with your mobile phone or tablet today.

It used to be very much 'turn the console on, log on...' it was a clumsy interface. This will be very different; much more seamless and connected. Today, when you walk into your house, your phone picks up wi-fi and you're online. That's a very different experience to turning your Xbox on, having to log in and maybe punch in your password... it's too clumsy, right?

Then there are other parts like SmartGlass and second screen gaming, which may initially seem gimmicky - and frankly when I look at our own teams, a lot of the design ideas that we came up with at the beginning were gimmicky and bad. But then I challenged them and they challenged themselves to find meaningful extensions to products that make use of this second display idea.

That's where the Commander mode idea came from for Battlefield 4: what if you could actually play the game on a console or PC, then go to the office and carry on playing on your tablet while you travel? By the way, we also support voice over IP so you can communicate with your squad on the train while they are playing back home on console or PC.

You can help them win the battle. That to me is cool, and you continue to rank up and gain points so your persistent experience continues while you travel. That sounded interesting to me all of a sudden, rather than having this second screen just for the sake of having it. That's just one example of what I deem to be a meaningful gameplay extension which frankly we couldn't do in the last generation.

There are always two or three things that we don't know yet that we will come up with as time goes by. So there's plenty to be excited about and I think the Xbox One and its utilisation of Kinect for example is so much better than the old one. The fidelity of it and what it can detect will give you something. I don't really know what that is yet, but I guarantee it will spawn interesting ideas going forward. I'm excited about it.

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