There’s no other company in the industry that draws the ire of the masses like EA does- and they certainly keep finding ways to keep doing that. The most obvious pick would be how they are often caught in the middle of controversies surrounding their usage of loot boxes, something that, in spite of actual criminal proceedings having been launched against them by governments, they insist are ethical and only “surprise mechanics”. They also keep shuttering beloved studios, cancelling promising looking games, and keep insisting on using the troubled live service model of games– and that’s only scratching the surface.
So, you know, there’s plenty of reasons to be at least mildly annoyed by EA and its practices. But EA doesn’t like how it is commonly perceived as the bad guy. In a recent interview with GamesIndustry, in fact, Matt Bilbey, EVP of strategic growth at EA, said that even after many, many years at the company, he still struggles with that external perception about it.
“5 years at EA and I still struggle with the external perception that we’re just a bunch of bad guys,” Bilbey said. “We love making and playing games. Unfortunately, when we make mistakes on games, the world knows about it because it’s of a size and scale.”
Bilbey brought up a side of EA that he thinks stands in contrast to that perception: EA Originals, their programme through which they regularly collaborate with indie studios for funding and publishing of games, which has producer some really good games of late, including the likes of A Way Out and Fe, and the upcoming promising-looking Sea of Solitude.
“As we got bigger, there is the concern that we had become disconnected from new talent coming through,” said Bilbey. “EA Originals is our opportunity to connect with that talent and those smaller ideas. When you are part of a big company, it’s too easy to fall into the trap where when you see a game concept… it has to be big. The notion of actually coming up with small, unique game ideas… We know from the work that we’ve been doing on our subscription business that gamers will play a FIFA or a Fortnite – they have one main franchise – but then they want breaks from those games to play something that’s maybe five or ten hours long.”
Of course, Bilbey admits that EA Originals wasn’t a purely philanthropic move on EA’s part, and that it’s something that they creatively benefit from as well.
“EA Originals are also games that we don’t make in the bigger part of EA, or don’t make enough of,” he said. “So while there was a philanthropic part to it, selfishly it was the way for us to connect to talent on smaller ideas. When you are in a company and have had successes and mistakes around live service microtransactions, free-to-play, what geographies, what partners to work with, what animation engines… it actually feels good for our teams to sit with EA Original developers and you can actually give real advice. It genuinely makes you feel good. It’s advice to help them not make the same mistakes.”
Credit where credit is due- EA’s support for the indies scene has been a great move by them, and their output has been consistent as well. Prior to A Way Out’s release, director Josef Fares also spoke highly of how supportive EA had been of him and his team during the game’s development, while it’s also been reported that he’ll be receiving even more funding for his next game. Here’s hoping that continues with more indie developers as well.