'We Make The Bullets' - EA Chief Talks Console War And Activision Comparisons

Drebin, The 'Metal Gear Solid 4' Weapons DealerThere were two things that I thought might be getting under EA CEO John Riccitiello's skin lately. So when I interviewed him in Los Angeles at EA's E3 booth, I asked him about them. We'd already discussed some other topics, like EA's Wii approach with "Boom Blox" and his view of licensed games (more on that in a later post).

I needed to make sure we hit the two, possibly aggravating, but important topics:

  1. We may be living in a period of gaming history that has more successful platforms than any before it. For a company like EA that splits its attention across all viable gaming machines, is this a good thing or a problem?
  2. Is the new EA, the company proud to back more original content than the old EA maybe ever did, getting stressed at the success of its more sequel-centric -- and larger -- rival publisher Activision?

Riccitiello gave a thorough answer to both and, for good measure, gave a quote about EA's relationship to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo that made him sound like a character from "Metal Gear Solid 4." (To wit: "They make the war. We make the bullets. We'll sell to any of them. ")

Here's our give and take for both questions:

Multiplayer: When they're following E3 a lot of people get worked up about "How did Sony do?" "How did Microsoft do?" From EA's perspective how do you view the fact that there are three strong players in the video game console market? Is that one too many? Would you prefer there to be two? What do you make of the competition?

John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts: The way I look at it is, first off, is having three strong platforms creators is spectacular for us. The metaphor I've used before is this: They make the war. We make the bullets. We'll sell to any of them. We're really pleased with that. And as long as that level of innovation comes about as a consequence of that competition, that's good for us.

Remember, last year we were the leading third-party developer for the Wii. We're one of the leading developers on virtually every platform. Their battle is good for us and the consumer, because the level of innovation there is spectacular. And I wouldn't limit it to the three. Remember things like the Nintendo DS. Remember the iPhone. Remember the PSP. Note that last year one of the top-selling platforms was the PS2.

What's happening is there's more platforms and more choices. And as there's more platforms and choices, there's consumers involved in our industry. And that's really what's best, all that innovation. Don't forget the PC. The PC is one of the fastest growing platforms for games - full stop. Not the packaged good at retail, but businesses like Pogo Online -- go to Pogo.com and you'll see it -- advertising models, subscription models like we've got right out the door here with "Warhammer." It's just a dynamic exciting time for the industry.

Multiplayer: EA for a long time had a reputation among gamers as sort of an evil empire, right? And you guys have rehabilitated your image a lot. People, I think, now have a much more positive view of Electronic Arts and the diversity and creativity coming out of the company. At the same time you have Activision now acting in a lot of the ways people accused EA of being. You see a lot of sequels, less original content. At the same time it looks like Activision is on the rise. I know we're not a financial network, but is that a sign -- or should anybody be concerned -- that EA is going to wake up one day and say: "We need to go back to the old EA way." Or "We need to go in the Activision way"? Or are you confident that the direction EA is going in now is a direction you can succeed in?

Riccitiello: The direction EA is following, which is game-quality first, creator first, that's the winning formula. Our competitors can do what it is they do. Activision and Blizzard and all the stuff they've got. and the controlling interest from Vivendi -- that's another story. They make some games I like, some games I don't. They have some business practices I like and business practices I don't. But, all in all, they're running their business their way. And they're successful with it. The key thing is that I think the best long-term strategy puts creativity and the consumer first. If we get that right, we'll be as successful as we want to be.


Next: Riccitiello explains what EA's approach to licensed games is and what mistakes of the past he's determined not to repeat.

"MGS4" image via GamePro.com