The publisher of Madden, Dead Space and The Sims will release fewer games next year, reacting to market changes and embracing lessons its competitors are just now learning, the head of EA told Kotaku.
"We're building our games differently and we are building fewer of them," EA CEO John Riccitiello said in his interview with the site this week. He said that the publisher is declining its title count from 60-something games two years ago, to 50-something this year to about 40 next year. He said, there will be "no less emphasis on innovation. No less emphasis on quality. No fewer new IPs. But games that aren't finding a large enough audience, we're taking those resources and doubling down on larger games. That's what the market seems to want."
Riccitiello's comments echo those of his chief financial officer who recently told a group of financial analysts at a meeting that Kotaku attended that the very top games are garnering more sales than ever, making the top-20 far and away the largest hits, a shift from a few years ago when games in the top-40 could all boast grand sales figures.
The move toward fewer games is also a move toward better games, which Riccitiello believes is a deciding factor for a publisher having bigger-selling games.
"I'm a massive believer in quality and in innovation and we invest heavily in it," he said, in the midst of describing both long-term efforts to turn innovative games into blockbusters (see his discussion with Kotaku about the future of Mirror's Edge) and fundamentally changing established franchises for the modern era (see his discussion with Kotaku about Command & Conquer).
The emphasis on quality is earning EA money, Riccitiello believes. He cites an increase in EA games receiving 80-or-higher Metacritic scores from about five games two years ago to over what he expects will be 20 this year and says that coincides with higher revenues.
"So my quality is up. We're doing more original [intellectual property] than anyone else in the industry by a fairly wide margin and we're innovating sequels like we never did before. And in cases where we're on our back like with Need for Speed on quality, the quality is up some 20-odd points. So, quality and innovation, I can point to almost any corner in my business and show you where that's living. And one of the things, I'm pleased to say, in an industry that was down in the first half of this fiscal year… we were up 13% in revenue. It was the quality games that yielded more revenue."
Making fewer and fewer games could be problematic, of course. "There's a risk that if you follow this trend, you have one game when you're done. We're never going to go there. And you could end up cutting out innovation." He said that EA has games based on new intellectual properties scheduled for next year, including one from Dead Space and Dante's Inferno studio Visceral Games.
The push toward innovation in new content and sequels led Riccitiello to, of course, draws a contrast between today's EA and both the EA of old and unnamed competing publishers.
"I think a pattern EA went on and I think other companies are following right now is the trend of while you're milking your cash cows and nothing else, it's a very profitable business. While you're doing that it feels really good and [Wall] Street loves you. I think EA got into that position in the last cycle. I think other companies are in that position now. I've lived through both ends of that. And one of those reasons I spend so much time talking about quality and innovation is I don't think it's an end goal. I think it's a pursuit that doesn't stop. You will not see a year from EA where I'm not excited about two or three major intellectual properties the world has never heard of. And I won't go to Madden meetings or FIFA meetings or Need for Speed meetings without saying: What's different that totally excites me that we've never seen before? And you won't see us doing that and not asking the creative leaders in our building what excites them, because that's the beat of our business.
"I think I and others might have been lured into thinking it was something else once upon a time ago. And some people are currently hypnotized by that, who we compete with. They will learn the same lessons.
"This industry is ultimately a small group of people with a creative idea that are allowed to express that idea through video game software in a way that is high art or, sometimes high and crass exploitation that can be fun. But it's some combination of those things."
EA recently announced that it has cut a third of the projects in development in the studio. Riccitiello declined to describe any of them to Kotaku, but that cutting seems consistent with the better, fewer games philosophy which now seems to guide one of the biggest gaming publishers in the world.