EA is going to do some obvious things—and some unusual things—to make games that work better and that you'll like more, the company's CEO, Andrew Wilson, recently explained to me during an interview in L.A. If there's a recurring theme, it could be summed up in a word: "early." Or, maybe, "earlier."
First up, they're going to...
"We have... really gone in and fundamentally changed the development process," Wilson said. "So the time from alpha to final is now significantly longer. So we're asking teams to be finished earlier. We're also looking at teams and saying, 'You have to maintain a playable build from the very first conceptual phase, so we can be testing stability [and] scalability all the way through the development process."
The change is happening not just in, say, the Battlefield series, where EA has had some troubles of late, but across all of EA.
"This is a fundamental shift," he said. "We always believed you need a playable build. We've been building games a long time. You know it. But in the heat of battle you kind of do what you can. We have now said there is no alternative. If the build is not playable, you have to push the schedule until it's playable again. You can't eat up that time.
"We're... changing the way we test our products," Wilson said, rattling off the areas EA will be focusing on more deeply. "Does it work? Zeroes and ones. There's a fundamental test. Does it do what it's supposed to do? QA? Is it fun when it's doing what it's supposed to do? Scalability? Does it do what it's supposed to do at scale? And usability, can a user get it to do what it's supposed to do and have fun with it with their friends and at scale?
"It's a completely different test and QA construct in the company, which includes betas that are much, much earlier in the process, like Battlefield Hardline." That game comes out in October, but EA launched a beta for gamers to try this month. "Part of the reason we've come much earlier with that is we want to have a much longer ramp and a much longer phase to bring far more people into the game so we're hitting it harder...the game is already in a very polished state." Bottom line? "We've got to get things done earlier."
Wilson thinks that the above at least diminishes the chances EA will have another post-release problem like Battlefield 4 again, but he also lives in the real world: "For me to sit here and say we will not have issues again would be disingenuous. It's not possible. The only way you get to a point where you can almost guarantee no issues is if you're not pushing the boundaries, if you're not innovating."
"Yes, you saw us do that with Titanfall on Xbox 360... Titanfall Xbox 360 was in great shape but there were a couple of things that weren't quite right. And [EA games chief] Patrick [Söderlund.] and I sat down and we kind of talked through it and said it's just not quite right and as little as a few weeks would be a fundamental difference because of the nature of the scenario."
"The world is changing," Wilson said. "This Hollywood blockbuster mentality of 'keep all of the information to yourself' is not something that makes sense in today's world.
"And, listen, as you've seen from us in the last few days with Hardline we can't keep a secret anyway so we may as well just start talking about it."
This was Wilson's explanation for showing very, very early EA games at the company's E3 press conference. A change of strategy, basically.
"At the end of the day, games are getting bigger, games are starting to a much broader audience, so it's more important than ever to get feedback and get dialogue on some of the things we're thinking about and I want to be in a company where we start a bunch of new stuff, but if you're going to start a bunch of new stuff, you've got to get feedback quickly, because if it's not going to work, you're better off killing it and moving on to something else.
"In a world where you just don't share, you never get feedback, the only things you're ever going to make are the things you know are going to be hits. So I really want us to change as a company and start making more new stuff, and in order to do that, you have to get feedback, and in order to get feedback, you have to be willing to open the curtain and have a conversation about it early.
"And those fears you would have had in years gone by of competitive advantage and what if someone else sees what you're doing and will they build it quicker? At the end of the day if we build a great game, it doesn't matter."