在访谈中John Schappert表示目前来讲对于电子艺界公司将是很不错的一个发展年份。苹果公司在28天的时间内销售处100万台的ipad，而iphone也已经惊人地贩售出1亿台了，让人意识到移动游戏是必须具备的游戏战略。并且在华纳兄弟与育碧软件开始关注该领域的时候，EA公司已经通过并购渗透手机移动游戏相当长的时间了。对此John Schappert认为他们的竞争者们已经开始意识到移动领域的重要性了，并且可能将会以EA公司的成功案例为发展经验。
John Schappert is the chief operating officer at Electronic Arts and is part of the management team that has been focusing on high-quality games. After getting lost in the wilderness for a few years, EA’s games are selling better and getting higher quality ratings.
Schappert believes the big companies with the best brands will win in the long run. He is a game developer himself, having started EA’s Tiburon sports game studio. He rose through the ranks but left a few years ago to head the Xbox Live business at Microsoft. He returned last year as the No. 2 executive at EA. We caught up with Schappert at the E3 trade show and talked about EA’s view of the industry and its fast moves into the mobile and social game businesses. Here’s a transcript of the interview. Be sure to check out our poll about EA at the bottom.
VB: What do think of E3 this year?
JS: I think it’s a great show. All three of the hardware providers have done a great job. Microsoft has put a lot of money behind Kinect. It had a great unveil. The new Xbox 360 model is beautiful. Sony is putting a lot behind 3D TV. Their box continues to sell like hotcakes. As soon as they can keep the channel supplied with inventory, they will sell like gangbusters. They had great software as well. Sony Move is great. It’s nice to show off Tiger Woods on stage with Move support. The 3DS from Nintendo is just hot. It’s cool as hell. That is great for our industry.
More was spent on events this year than we have seen in the past few years. When I fast forward to this holiday, I think it will be a media bonanza for our industry. In that environment, all boats rise. We are the No. 1 publishers on Wii. We have great games on all of our platforms.
VB: So the industry needed this shot in the arm?
JS: Usually, you come to these shows and it is just one thing. Last year, it was the new PlayStation Portable (PSPgo) from Sony. I can’t remember where we had three big things all happen at one time. It was like three shots in the arm. Kinect is big here. We didn’t know what to expect from Nintendo, and my gosh the 3DS is bigger than we ever thought it would be. And the Sony 3D TV and Move stuff is much cooler than we thought. People are very positive on all of the innovations.
VB: And what about EA’s line-up?
JS: AT EA, we are also really happy. We showed 10 games and we had very strong feedback for them. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is a great return to our heritage. It’s been eight years since the last Hot Pursuit game. People loved that. They loved Criterion bringing it back and the new autolog feature. We have nothing but praise for Medal of Honor. We are marrying DICE in Sweden — which makes great multiplayer games — and EALA on the single player. That has gotten tons of praise. With Dead Space 2, people didn’t know what to expect. So many people have said it looks absolutely stunning. That has broken through in a big way. The other one everyone loves is Bulletstorm. People always laughed when we had meetings for product reviews. Our six other titles also got great feedback. The Sims 3 is going to the consoles. EA Sports MMA looks good. We have EA Sports Active 2 on multiple platforms with a heartbeat monitor. We are hearing good things about our games.
VB: I wondered what Larry Probst (the family-friendly former CEO of EA) thought of Bulletstorm? (Probst, who sat in the audience at EA’s press event, chose not to publish some mature-rated titles when he was boss).
JS: (Laughs). I sat next to Larry at the Microsoft press conference. Every now and the gore made him open his eyes a bit wider. It was eye opening for Larry, but he’s a good sport.
VB: It’s a very different EA from the good old days, when there were no mature titles.
JS: It’s a different industry.
VB: Crysis 2 looked good.
JS: It looks very good with stereoscopic 3D.
VB: Stereoscopic 3D with glasses still gets mixed reviews. Avatar may have been great, but with home TVs that cost a lot, people are skeptical. There are trade-offs to the experience. Will it have a spectacular game to make it take off?
JS: The great thing for our space is it’s easier. For Avatar, James Cameron had to create new hardware, new cameras, new filming processes. We can just render the second frame of every screen six inches to the right and we have stereoscopic 3D. It takes a hit on the frame rate. So some games may require some special code. But by and large, our stuff is already in 3D. It’s easy for us to render it. The limiter for TV is getting a 3D TV in your living room. I think it will be hard for this holiday to buy a mid-to-high end TV that does not display 3D. It’s just coming whether you use it or not. Next year, it will be near impossible to buy a non-3D set. Whether you use it or buy the goggles to view 3D content is a secondary obstacle.
VB: Do you compare this problem to what faced Xbox Live, where people said broadband into the living room for a game console was never going to happen?
JS: I think this is going to happen. Xbox Live was pioneering. Build it and they will come. There is some similarity. The TV makers know it is going to come and they are building the capability into TV sets earlier. People questioned why they even needed Xbox Live before. The value proposition with stereoscopic 3D is evident. There isn’t content now, but it will show up. ESPN will have 45 shows in the next year that you can see in 3D. It becomes commonplace. But it takes time. This year is finally the year where most of our players have high-definition TVs. It will be a few more years before 3D is meaningful. But a lot of people just bought TVs and getting them to buy a new one is hard. But those who are going to buy one will likely buy a 3D set.
VB: To make a game like Crysis 2 into a stereoscopic 3D game is not a huge expense?
JS: No. It’s unlike the shift from standard definition to high definition. For that, we had to double down on the content and fidelity. This is a programming challenge. That frame you had is now rendering inches to the right for your other eye. The question is if there is enough graphics and CPU horsepower to do that. Some games have idle time. Many games have that. These are powerful machines. Some games are capped. They need more horsepower. Those won’t work well with stereoscopic 3D and they become a programming challenge. Movie studios, by contrast, have to double their work load to do 3D well.
VB: Do you worry that the transition to the new Xbox 360 will have a hiccup and there might be a shortage?
JS: It’s a great question and I don’t know the answer. I would hope that the hardware companies have enough units to meet demand. I hope Microsoft is in a good position. Sony has done very well with the new form factor, but it has been very hard to buy.
VB: Even the Wii has been in short supply.
JS: If you talk to GameStop, they will say 50 percent of their stores are out of the Wii and 85 percent of their stores are out of the PS 3. That’s what they said on their earnings call. This is about anticipating demand and planning. I hope Microsoft has planned. Microsoft introduced a new Elite model and didn’t mention an Arcade model.
VB: Otherwise, it seems like it will be a good year?
JS: It will be a very good time for us. We think it’s a good time to jump into the industry and become a gamer. We also haven’t talked about the non-console space. Apple introduces the iPad and sells 1 million units in 28 days. It’s a great gaming device. I was up last night on my daily ritual of playing an iPad game before I go to sleep. I’m pretty good at Boggle. The iPhone is approaching 100 million units sold. iPhone 4 is a great device. Android is selling. There is a proliferation of cool portable devices, even before the Nintendo 3DS launches. That’s cool. There is a lot of interest in the core gaming segment. Then you have this whole new segment with twice as many consumers. There are half a billion consumers in hardcore games. There are well over a billion who focus on games like what we have on Pogo.com where the big titles are more like Scrabble. We are No. 1 on Xbox 360, No. 1 on PC, No. 1 on PS 3, and No. 1 on mobile phones. The best selling iPhone game last year was the Sims 3. We sell more apps than anyone.
VB: Warner Bros. and Ubisoft have created digital game divisions for new kinds of online games. But EA has been investing in this for a lot longer.
JS: They’re waking up. Here’s the challenge they have. They are seeing our success. But it’s incredibly difficult to set up these businesses. We talk about mobile game sales. But Java/Brew games are still two-thirds of that business. It’s switching to smart phones. We will ship 500 versions of mobile games a day. I can take FIFA and compile it for 10,000 handsets. There will be an Android and Palm version. There are just so many handsets and carriers. That takes a lot of infrastructure to do it in a cost effective way across platforms. We acquired that expertise seven years ago when we bought Jamdat. We continue to make acquisitions in this new space, the most recent being Playfish in Facebook. It is difficult to jump into that space, but we are happy across the board with what we are seeing.
VB: You are strong with Playfish in Facebook. But Zynga is stronger and they are gathering a lot of financial might. They have more dollars to spend in that segment than EA does. That’s a challenge for you. How do you look at that?
JS: We are No. 2 in that space and growing. Others are not growing. If you look at over the last few months, Facebook has introduced changes, tightened down on notifications, and they have removed some of the virality that early games enjoyed. If you look at daily active users or monthly active users (the number of users that come back to play in a day or a month), you will see interesting patterns. Facebook apps are down 22 percent. Our competitors are down maybe 25 percent. We are up. We are not No. 1 today. We are in a growth mode. We just launched our first EA intellectual property with Playfish, FIFA Superstars, a couple of weeks ago. We firmly believe our EA IP will shine through just as it has on mobile, iPhone and iPad. When you have 200,000 apps to choose from, what will you gravitate to? The brands you know and the games you trust. We have got that. People want to buy Scrabble, Boggle, the Sims and Madden.
VB: I guess it shows this part of the business changes every three months.
JS: It is a very dynamic space. The good thing is it didn’t exist four years ago. There are almost 500 million monthly active users on Facebook. Some of them are gamers who own every console, like you and I. We are gaming geeks. But we’re not the norm. There are so many people on Facebook who have not played our console games. They are not our core demographic. These are new consumers to the gaming space. The iPhone is bringing new consumers to games. Nintendo did it with the Wii. These are great things for our industry.
VB: Is there a best practice for chasing the non-gamers?
JS: Happily, there is no formula for creating a success in entertainment. It’s an art. Not a science. The game creators make our industry special. They come up with amazing innovations and that is why people buy games. The trick is to create a great experience. You come up with a great idea and execute it.
VB: The digital distribution companies like OnLive and Gaikai and Otoy are moving into the market. How quickly will this change happen?
JS: We are watching the space closely. We have OnLive in a test mode. We have a couple of games we are testing. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. Again, we are platform agnostic. I am happy if they succeed. It our test doesn’t go as well as we hope, that’s OK. If it works, it’s a new form of distribution. It’s not our core business. Today, the iPhone and iPad are hot.
Tomorrow, maybe it’s Android and the PS 3 again. It’s another new platform. We will see how we do. We are in the test mode with them.