Gamescom kicks off today, and we spent time gearing up for the big show chatting with EA executive vice president Patrick Soderlund about a host of topics. You may have already seen that EA has reversed its stance on remasters, and is actively discussing jumping into the fray (possibly with Mass Effect games on the docket). We also discussed the changing face of the console market, fan projects, Mirror’s Edge, and major changes to how players will experience the Battlefield franchise.
Having Faith in Mirror’s Edge
One of EA’s tentpole titles for the year was also one of its riskiest. Mirror’s Edge attained cult status last generation with a loyal, vocal fanbase that had been clamoring for more. Depending on who you ask, this year’s prequel, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, either sprinted across the rooftops of success or plummeted to the streets below in failure. It was a polarizing game, but Soderlund is still happy with how things turned out.
“For us, if you look now that the game’s been out for a while, reflecting on it, I still think it’s really good that we decided to build it,” he said. “I’m for the most part pleased with the game as it came out. I’m happy that we stayed true to the art direction and kept that, but kind of evolved it so that it looked and felt good. I think the city as it was designed was cool. I think it was a very ambitious project for many reasons. We got criticized a little bit for a weak story. It’s difficult to tell a story in any medium. I think we also wanted to make the game open and more free-flowing than the first one was. At any point in time when you make any piece of entertainment, people give feedback and we have to listen. We have to listen to what people liked and what they were not so happy with and things that they outright rejected and learn from that.”
Despite the somewhat tepid critical response, it’s too early to count Mirror’s Edge out. Soderlund says it’s far to early to know what will happen to the franchise.
“[Are we] going to build another Mirror’s Edge in the future? I don’t know yet,” he candidly told me. “We are early on in the lifetime of that game. We’re going to have to look at this maybe seven or eight months from now with the lens of the brand itself, what fans said, and in my role, overall performance from a financial perspective. We have the responsibility to ourselves and our shareholders. It’s a combination of many things. Frankly, I think most importantly it is what’s the desire of the game team, and where do they want to take it or do something else. I’ve done this for so long now that without a passionate game team wanting to build something, you can’t get a good product. We have a passionate development team that really wanted to build this. I think they gave it their all. Are there things that we would have done differently or changed? That’s always the case.”
Where Star Wars Business and Fandom Intersect
Earlier this year, a fan group called Frontwire Games stepped forward with a game similar to Star Wars Battlefront called Galaxy in Turmoil. After going public, the group quickly discovered that deciding to use iconic Star Wars locations and vehicles wasn’t as simple has artists putting X-Wings into a game.
Lucasfilm stepped in and informed Frontwire that the nascent studio would not be permitted to use the Star Wars license. The result was that EA took heat for an alleged role in forcing the Galaxy in Turmoil team to move away from AT-ATs and Y-Wings.
The situation is far more complex than that, with EA having paid an undisclosed large sum to Lucasfilm parent Disney for exclusive rights to create core audience games based on Star Wars. While Soderlund had no involvement with the Frontwire situation, he did share his thoughts on fan projects and why this one couldn’t continue.
“What I would say is that we’ve seen back in the day with Battlefield 1942, we had a bunch of mods that truly helped people become aware of Battlefield as a brand and associate a lot of good things with it,” he said. “We saw the Desert Combat mod. We saw several World War II and even a World War I mod that we played and enjoyed. The community of people out there that are passionate about adding to something in existence is, in general, a good thing. I see no badness from that. That stems from passion and desire to build.”
The difference here is that the fan project wasn’t building on Battlefield, Need for Speed, Dragon’s Age, or any other wholly owned EA property. It was based on one of the biggest franchises in the world.
“It’s a lot easier for us to make decisions for brands that we fully own. When it comes to something as big and well-known as Star Wars, there are so many other parts that come into play,” Soderlund explains. “What is considered canon? What can you do within the brand? It becomes very complicated. On top of that, between Disney and EA is a substantial business deal where one partner has paid the other a lot of money to gain exclusivity. Without knowing details of exactly what happened, that’s kind of how I look at it in general.”
Despite Frontwire having to shift gears and abandon the use of Star Wars assets, Soderlund believes there is an important place in the ecosystem for mods and iterative design. In fact, that is where he got his start.
“I grew up from that myself. We started building mods and ideas based on other games that were in the market,” he said. “Battlefield 1942 came about because we were playing a lot of Doom at the time and said, ‘This is cool, but wouldn’t it be cool if you could be in this first-person view, but outside and in vehicles.’ I totally get that, and this passion should not be chilled by any company.”
Read on for Soderlund’s thoughts on the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles coming soon.