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EA Vice President responds to loss of James Bond licence

19-May-2006 • Gaming

In an interview with GameDaily, Neil Young the VP and General Manager of EA Los Angeles responded to a couple of questions about the loss of the lucrative James Bond franchise to rival company Activision.

Bonus points go to Mr Young for not mentioning Bond at all in his answer and avoiding the specific topic completely.

BIZ: EA recently announced that it plans to put much more emphasis on the creation of original intellectual properties, rather than relying on licenses. In fact, you just opted out of the James Bond license, which Activision picked up. Where did this change in strategy for EA come from?

NY: The first thing is that we're a big company and you sort of have to manage a balanced portfolio, and so what we're certainly not saying is that we're never going to work on a licensed property again but the types of licensed properties that we want to invest our time in are things that we can turn into meaningful franchises on a really long-term basis, and at the end of the day we can sort of invest the development resources that we have for inventing features that we have for those licensed properties or completely new intellectual properties. What I wouldn't say is that the company is swinging to an exclusive development of original intellectual property because that's not the case, but it's much more a managed portfolio.

I think the change inside our company sort of happened about 18 months ago where we sort of said to ourselves, "You know what? We have to narrow our definition of intellectual property, right now. And also to narrow our definition of new franchise intellectual property and we need to broaden that definition so that at one end of the spectrum we've got brand new things like Spore, but at the other end of the spectrum we've got the type of culture inside our company where we can create new features; features can be intellectual property too."

And what we don't want to do is sort of throw away those tried and true fantasies that people love. You know, stepping into the shoes of a World War II soldier or being a player in the NFL, but what we need to do is we need to figure out mechanisms to keep those fantasies sort of fresh and exciting. So really, about 18 months ago we just said to ourselves, "You know what? We need to start affecting the culture of our company at a very grassroots level so we can invent." So a lot of the motivation behind things like Medal of Honor: Airborne is to ask yourself, "Essentially, you've been playing the same first-person shooter since Allied Assault. What do we need to do to kind of move that category forward? What type of inventions do we need to bring to bear?"

And we sort of started saying, "Ok, so what do you do in a first-person shooter? Well you start at the beginning and you move to the end." So then the next question is, "Well, what if you didn't start at the beginning? What if you started not along a linear path but could you start anywhere? What would be the fictional conceit to be able to start anywhere?" And then you go, "Wait a sec, there haven't been any games based on the Airborne," and then you get to the place where you say, "Ok, that's not new franchise IP, although it is Electronic Arts owned IP, but the concept of the jump and jumping into a sort of open space is original and it changes the way you then play the game, which in turn leads you down the path of like, "Ok instead of placing enemies that pop up from behind crates and barrels or in windows, what kind of systems do we need to be able to deal with that gameplay? And so, there's a piece of technology called Affordance AI in Airborne that essentially manages a whole group of enemies that react to you based on the natural affordances inside the environment; and so that's an existing intellectual property that's being reinvented through individual features.

And then of course we've got things like Spore and things like Army of Two that are new intellectual properties that ultimately, at the end of the day, bubble out of that culture. You know, you don't just in a sea of executions put a little boat of invention. You've really got to look at the very grassroots of your organization. How do we make sure that everything we do has some sort of degree of invention? And that'll take time to play out in our portfolio; it's not something you just do overnight.

BIZ: It's interesting that more and more Hollywood bigwigs are getting involved in the video game industry. Why do you think they're looking at games so intently? And what does the recent announcement of the collaboration between EA and Steven Spielberg mean for EA?

NY: I think in general now the [film and video game] industries are touching similar types of people. I mean our business has grown up from a tiny hobbyist industry back in the day where you were copying Commodore 64 or VIC-20 discs and putting them in bags and selling them through magazines to where it is today where hit games can touch literally tens of millions of people. So I think why the interest from the entertainment business in general is I think 1) because it's a large market; 2) the type of entertainment experiences that we're able to deliver now—and this sort of speaks more to Steven than to anything else—start to get close to the type of emotion resonance or fidelity that you can see in a film. And that's not just the visuals, but it's the ability to kind of tell a story.

With specific regards to the relationship with Steven, he's always been a gamer. He's sort of been a friend of Electronic Arts ever since we purchased DreamWorks Interactive, which obviously he was the principal of. And over the course of the last—I think the deal came together maybe a year or so ago now—he started to see what the next-generation machines were capable of doing. He just started getting very excited, and we started talking again about the questions that Electronic Arts was actually founded on—that "can a computer game make you cry?" And he's very motivated to solve those problems too. So we formed the collaboration and have been working with him since then and it's come along great. He's in the studio every week and it's good.

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