EA Exec Swears His Company Is Not Evil

At some point, probably after the release of, say, Dragon Age II, lots and lots of people got it in themselves to hate on BioWare. Those who ferociously voiced how crappy they felt the makers of Mass Effect games had become also had a reason: it was EA's fault.

The mega-giant publisher did what it always does after it acquired a stellar game dev studio, angry fans said. They meddled with BioWare the same way they did with Pandemic or Mythic and bad things happened.

Well, the guy that calls the shots at EA Games has heard the theories and says that's simply not the case. EA president Frank Gibeau says that there isn't any moustache-twirling going on in the company's corporate headquarters. "The truth is BioWare has developed as BioWare and that creative culture is owned by them," Gibeau told me last week at the New York Games Conference. "There's nobody in the central planning committee at Electronic Arts that rolls in the tank divisions [into our studios] when they get too independent or too risky or too thoughtful."

Gibeau offers up the controversial ending of Mass Effect 3 as proof of the company's hands-off policies. "Did EA intervene and say, 'Hey Casey, you've got a really interesting ending here to [Mass Effect 3], you're probably going to cause some fans to get upset?" Gibeau said, referring to BioWare executive director Casey Hudson. "No, we didn't do that. Casey is an artist. He made a choice about the story that he [and the team] wanted to tell as related to Mass Effect 3. And we didn't intervene." "It's the same thing with PopCap, it's the same thing with how we reinvigorated [SimCity studio] Maxxis. It's the same thing with DICE. The way it actually really works is those guys report to me and they run their own individual businesses. They have their own individual creative choices. I will give them editorial feedback from time to time. But most of [my] time is spent doing research with customers and fans and understanding what's happening, and understanding how to make our games better."

There's nobody in the central planning committee at Electronic Arts that rolls in the tank divisions [into our studios] when they get too independent or too risky or too thoughtful.

So, Gibeau would have you believe that the decision to make more Mass Effect won't necessarily come from him. "Does [Mass Effect 3's ending] mean you can never tell another story in the Mass Effect universe? No. If Casey decides on a story that he wants to tell, guess what? He's going to be able to step forward at EA and we're going to back him with capital for him to be able to go build that experience and tell a new story in the Mass Effect universe if that's what he wants to do. If he wants to do something different, a new IP, he'll have our backing as well. He's a profoundly talented guy. He's got our confidence. And the audience loves him. So that's how it really works."

What about the complainers that preach against the medium-befouling microtransactions and free-to-play conversions that EA is modeling its future on? Gibeau says that they're a vocal minority and that things aren't as bad as they think.

"We know what gouging is," Gibeau replied. "And, based on what we discover in research, we don't do a lot of things that we could. Like changing the play balance of a game to lean towards payments for objects. That's something that we found is a non-starter for a lot of console fans. We haven't done it. It works in Asia famously. But, in the West, that's exactly an example of something that we just don't do. Would we make more money? I don't know. But, based on what I've heard from gamers, is if they can buy a 50-caliber sniper rifle in Battlefield 3 that unbalances the entire game… well, it's not happening."

Yes, making money is important. But Gibeau's comments hint at borders that EA won't cross. "We discover the line as we build games, and we talk to our fans," he continued. "And they tell us what the line is and sometimes we cross over it and we pull back. Which we've done a number of times. If you walk the halls of EA's creative teams when people are building, there literally aren't people with knives in their teeth with bandanas on thinking of ways of how to screw the customer. They actually are starting with the notion that they want to make something awesome. They want to make an epic experience." And Gibeau and all the research he gets? He just tries to help them do that. Honest.


Comments

    If only it was just Bioware. The fact is, a company gets acquired by EA, then their games become shallow, DLC filled crap almost overnight.

    Which is why I am so glad they haven't been able to acquire Valve.

      and they won't unless Gaben somehow loses his mind, considering I believe Gaben owns 100% of Valve?

    So what about shutting down their own regular Battlefield 3 servers, leaving only the servers that players have hired (mostly with silly rules modifications) and then launching their Premium servers that require you to pretty much pay for the game again? They don't consider that gouging?

    And charging $70 for BF3 Premium on PS3 in Australia? I only payed $60 for the game itself.

      Here here. I haven't played it since all the normal servers disappeared. A damn shame - I expected at least a year of proper support.

        And have a guess what will happen when the next Medal Of Honour is released...

        EA has lost me as a customer for good already, I'll be doing what I can to avoid sending them any money in future, with the exception of Mass Effect 3 if it every gets a re-release that includes the DLC.

    so it was caseys fault?

    I got the pitchforks..someone bring torches...

    I'm sure that he's the guy that says "release now" and has that power over Bioware. I'm sure he's also the guy that allocates budgeting for games as well. I think, while he may not be exerting direct control, those two decisions influence the creative direction of Bioware's games.

      "ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL"

        "THIS HURTS YOU"

          "YOU ARE IGNORANT, WE ARE KNOWING"

      I dunno about other studios, but I actually agree with Frank Gibeau with regards to Bioware. ME3, SWTOR and DAII are 90% Bioware's fault. EA gave them a lot of money and they squandered it on stupid decisions.

        You clearly don't understand how much influence the publisher has over a dev team. If EA told everyone at Bioware to jump they'd have to jump or be fired... So I imagine alot of the ideas were from the publisher wanting it to be more like other things...

        Meh that's probably true. No pun intended

    So it's just coincidence that every company acquired by EA goes to shit?
    I refuse to believe that EA execs don't roam the hallways thinking of ways to screw customers, because they certainly aren't there to improve the games.

    "There’s nobody in the central planning committee at Electronic Arts that rolls in the tank divisions [into our studios] when they get too independent or too risky or too thoughtful." After reading the article a few days back about glassdoor it really seems that this EA exec is (suprise, suprise) full of shit.

    "We know what gouging is,” Gibeau replied. “And, based on what we discover in research, we don’t do a lot of things that we could."

    So they're not that bad because they could be a hell of a lot worse if they wanted to be?

      Haha +1

    ME 3 had the same problem DA 2 had, a pretty ridiculous ending, with the same shit playing out. ME 3 had little bits and pieces that got swapped out, woohoo entirely new ending, look! DA 2 had the eternally stupid "it's only a question of who you fight first".

    DA 2 was the worse offender of the two because it had nonsensical combat and recycled dungeons.

    However, the story. How is the ending to the story something that you apparently tack on at the end of the dev cycle? Because DA 2 and ME 3 had dumb endings, and that's the fault of the story. If the ending isn't known until the very end of the dev cycle, when EA hit the panic button and said push it out now, then what does that say about the way Bioware is now doing their stories?

    It's all very well and good to say it's not the destination it's the journey, but if you have the best rollercoaster ride ever only for it to run out of track at the end and you all die horribly, that's kinda stupid because you don't get to reflect and say that was a great ride.You just think, welp, hopefully reincarnation is real.

      DA2's ending was far, *far* better than ME3's Xzibit ending.

      You can have all the great ideas in the world for quality endings, but without time or money, what can you do? You really expect them to put in that work for free? With EA?
      If they haven't got the budget to finish properly, there's not much more they can do.

        ME 3 sure had a big budget for shiny CG movies. They also had the money to bring on a marquee composer who did all of 4 songs in the whole sound track.

        In that case is it simply gross incompetence with regards to the management of their budget?

    We know what gouging is, it's The Sims 3.

    That should be an encyclopedia entry.

    Lol did he just throw casey under the bus? !!!!!Influence gained!!!!

    OUR COMPANY ISNT EVIL!

    just what an evil company would say.

      Indeed it is, Mr Freeman

      exactly! the villain never sees himself as the villain, he sees himself as righteous
      I think this quote from Cpt Reynolds will do nicely
      "Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he's right with God."

    "But most of [my] time is spent doing research with customers and fans and understanding what’s happening, and understanding how to make our games better.”

    if thats the case why are EA games so shit? if they are spending all this time doing market re-search do they get these findings and then throw them away like "Fck that shit, you dont know what you want. here have more MADDEN".

    He's not being very genuine here, of course EA can have a very direct and negative influence over a game studio without getting involved in creative decisions: time and budget.
    The fact that the end of ME3 was due to time and budget problems is patently obvious. It's a classic El-cheapo quick-fix, easy to write easy to script and animate. That this is EA's fault by choking them on cash and time isn't hard to work out.

    Reinvigorated Maxxis, eh? That's an odd way of putting it...

    What's to bet someone in EA told Bioware to deliberately sabotage the ending and remove all major plot points to it to be used for paid DLC to get gamers to throw more money.

    Leviathan feels like its something that should have been included with the game itself

    Oh you remember that bad ending well that wasn't our fault so none of it is our fault.

    They are the common element among so many companies downfalls.

    And it wasn't the mass effect series that most had an issue with though I can't help but feel its devolving from mass effect 1 was partly by EA wanting it to have a broader appeal

    I'm certain that he's at least speaking a half truth here. I doubt there are "direct" order from corporate in these scenarios.

    What I think the case may be is some kind of individual and business "development goals" built into the HR process. These normally consist of some kind of commitment to certain goals set by the company in order to "encourage" the staff member to meet certain objectives in line with the company mantra. At the end of the year the employee is then graded on what they achieved against these goals. Those with the highest score are normally first in line for a salary/benefits increase, however on the other side of things with the employee scores poorly they're first on the chopping block when it comes time to cut costs.

    This kinda of assessment process is extremely toxic to the working environment in my opinion, and can and will erode the developers internal culture over time.

    Whats the alternative though, Activision, in the long run evil gets things done.

    The problem is EA is like the investment company in gaming, they buy good studios and intend to make them more profitable because they believe they can be, but it just fucks the games up. EA wants a new NFS every 6 months, and it'll never compete with something like GT because they spend years in development on it.

    For some reason the internet and I seem to disagree on the definition of a "terrible" game.

    Frankly I never understood why EA was blamed for ME3's ending. That was all on Bioware.

      Agreed. Bioware standing by their "artistic integrity" made that pretty clear.
      If EA had forced them into an ending against their will, they had the perfect opportunity for a do-over.

    face it bioware went downhill since DA2 and they lost people that made earlier games great. but yeah EA is evil undoubtably

    EA.. Not Evil? LAWL

    LAWL!

      Lets not forget.. they sacked all of the original team from Mythic and most staff from any other company gets made redundant

    this is crazy talk but i probably would have preferred EA step in and tell Casey that the ME3 ending was crap and to redo it because no one likes copy cats (Des Ex) and extensive plotholes

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