EA Has A Good Plan To Make Its Games Better

EA Has a Good Plan To Make Their Games Better

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 Los Angeles. If there's a recurring theme, it could be summed up in a word: "early." Or, maybe, "earlier".

First up, they're going to...

Make Sure The Game Plays Well... Sooner

"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.

Test Their Games More Thoroughly

"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."

EA Has a Good Plan To Make Their Games Better

Be More Willing To Delay Games

"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."

Tell You, The Gamer, About Games Sooner

"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."


    They forgot...
    Stop trying to shove online only and micro-transactions down consumer throats whether they want it or not

      Heheh yeaaaah, that's not changing. After all, listen to any gaming CEO these days and they'll tell you the 'future of gaming is mobile' (purely because they can spend thousands instead of millions on a game and get a similar return if it blows up).

      If anything, they're going to start trying to get more money out of us before the game's even made. It's one of the really big complaints investors have about the games 'business': "We spend millions on a game, then don't get anything back til YEARS later! And it might not even be any good! And even if it's 'good', it might not SELL! WHAT THE FUCK BUSINESS IS THIS?"

      (To which the obvious answer is, "It's not business, it's art, motherfuckers." But that tends to leave heads being scratched while business types say, "But... but people are spending billions of dollars on it! We should be able to reduce this down to more predictable numbers somehow.")

      Although I do agree with you on micro transactions I do understand the need from these company's, if we're not willing to pay any more for games than we did 10 years ago and expect more for the same dollar every year It's a little unfair. It's still a business at the end of the day.

        Though 10 years ago there were less publishers and variety, so competition should assist in driving prices down. Its no longer just a few big players who could collude on pricing.

    And the snarky commentator in me wants to add:

    "And we're going to abandon plans to shoehorn microtransactions into everything.

    Just kidding.

    We plan to implement a cost to level up in our games, as we figure people love to pay when they get a new belt at karate, so why should they miss out on that feeling when they gain a rank in Battlefield?"

    "The change is happening not just in, say, the Battlefield series, where EA has had some troubles of late, but across all of EA."

    Troubles as of late?! You mean the entire battlefield series, right? Since every single instalment has essentially been released in Beta state and slowly patched after release!

    How about just making fun game again?

      unfortunately its not that simple... but some of the things he mentioned could help towards that.

    Should be more like "We at EA are here to sell games, not develop them, so we will no longer be interfering with the development of any titles or suggesting unwanted changes like always online games, play2win microtransactions, season passes and on disk day zero DLC"

    Sounds like a good start, maybe winning America's worst company two years in a row was the best thing to happen to them.

    It's an interesting decision. The way I'm reading it, they want to change the entire design process that's been the default for developers since garage days. Playable at all stages from alpha onwards? A focus on bug-testing purely because BF4 tanked compared to expectations?

    If it's actually something that's possible, then that's cool, it'll be interesting to see if others follow the lead. But to me?

    This reads like corporate meddling as a result of marketing/PR getting in an internal blame-war with studios about why BF4 didn't meet expectations, and answering to stockholders as to why projects can blow out, still costing money, left with a scenario where it's either not ready to release, or all the marketing/promotions/distribution contracts have to get re-drawn due to development issues, which is expensive and unpredictable and can miss the 'ideal' projected sale windows.

    I've seen this at my own workplace in a different form. Management has no idea how a non-standard unit operates because it's not a simple finance-style 'process transaction, complete transaction, move on to next transaction' business, but rather project-related for every single interaction, with a series of sliding dependency windows. But because that doesn't make for very neat stats, they try to MAKE it fit... which leads to process inefficiencies at best, outright failures at worst.

    When managers make operational technical-impact decisions in areas they don't have technical expertise, you know someone was unhappy with where the dollars are falling and want more control over it without understanding how to get it. It doesn't help that they don't trust their engineers (who they think are providing excuses), so outsource some consultants who basically have a gravy train in front of them and no incentive to actually work to provide meaningful, useful, or realistic advice, and who frequently don't even bother to 'consult' to identify existing practices but simply stamp their pre-fab 'industry standard best-practice' template over whatever's already in place.

    It's a whole lot of tail-chasing for frequently negative results, with on-the-fly adjustments made to account for the cannot-budge realities that clash with the new 'vision', til the new plan is a patchwork of more exceptions to the rule than the rule.

    So. Ambitious plan, EA. I hope it was well-researched with engineers and designers rather than finance and marketing before being decided upon.

    Last edited 19/06/14 9:12 am

    Should be really interesting, this is a fairly new testing method called agile testing - a lot of private software testing companies have adopted the same approach, breaking up a project into chunks and aiming to have a playable/executable piece of code at the end of each chunk.

    “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."

    Woah. Anyone feeling sympathy for devs right now? I know I am. Sounds like an industry famous for tight deadlines just made them a hell of a lot tighter.

      Depends if they're going to move towards a more agile development philosophy though.

      It's not a golden bullet for removing crunch and overtime, but when done properly by people trained in agile management techniques and a company which understands and supports the process, it alleviates much of the pain of the "unknowns" of development, and it's the unknowns which cause changes and take up more time causing delays.

      Of course, when done half heartedly, it can make things all that much worse.

      He means they need to be done with a playable build faster. Not the overall game as he goes on to mention that they need to delay a game when it needs more time meaning they won't rush as many games.

      Especially considering EA always has a gun to their throat if the game doesn't sell.

      Also the addition of Be more willing to delay games
      "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.”
      So not only are they going to increase already bullshit crunch time periods over all, they're going to make them even longer too! Any wonder EA won worst employer in America so many times! Keep up the great work guys!

    Gee wiz, what pioneers of industry...deciding to start doing 101 shit that most other devs have been doing for years.

    Releasing a game that's playable and functions as it should? Woah there! Don't get too crazy.

    It is good to hear this shit being acknowledged i suppose, but still, it'll still be a case of too little too late for most. They've burnt up a lot of good will over the years.

      Most other devs? What world are you living in?

      Bethesda... Buggy. Ubisoft.... Buggy... Activision.... Buggy... Any small time developer.... Buggy... 2K buggy. Bug bugs bugs..

      EA just cops it more than everybody.

    They are probably looking at the funding success or star citizen and other similar projects and thinking "how can we tap that market?"
    Bets on them soon selling development subscriptions or alpha access to pad their pockets.

    I'll believe it when I see it.

    They've said and promised a few things with Battlefield that never happened, and haven't been entirely honest on a few issues as well. All of this helps shape a negative view on them, and forms the opinion of "nope, not falling for your crap again".

    So the time from alpha to final is now significantly longer. So we’re asking teams to be finished earlier.

    ...what? That's an oxymoron. You want developement to take longer for better complete games, but you want the developers to do it super fast.

    At the end of the day, games are getting bigger

    Because you keep shoving money into the games to make them bigger.

    games are starting to a much broader audience

    Which your audience keeps trying to fight you against because that waters down the experience for the original audience.

    Now, if only they abandon the Origin store, and put their newer titles back on Steam, so I don't need 2 clients, we could be making some progress here :)

    Well lets see how this turns out.

    Hardline is in a good state now because it's essentially a mod for BF4.

    Am I the only one who is pretty happy with EA's current direction under Andrew Wilson, and dismayed at what Ubisoft has become? They're all of the bad qualities of EA, along with a lot worse ones.

      Have to admit, Ubi's coming close to taking the shit mantle...

        At least Ubisoft is a good employer to work for though. I know people who have and do work for EA and Ubi, and Ubi people are generally very happy, where as the people mostly getting fucked up the arse by EA.
        I don't really dig the whole Uplay steam like interface. Especially when I have the game IN steam! If I bought a disk version, and didn't have steam, then I'd probably love it, but wish they'd give you a choice for whether or not to install/use it. Having said that, there are advantages to them using it, and to be fair, for what it is, it's functional and keeps you updated with news and patches.

          *shrug* Not to sound like an ass, but I really don't consider them when I play a game. I don't think realistically anyone else does unless like yourself, they know them personally.

          Last edited 19/06/14 7:28 pm

    I'll believe it when I see it EA and until then I think I'll continue to avoid your broken games.

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