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EA's Gibeau On 'Winning Them Back One At A Time'

Quality issues have in the past earned Electronic Arts no shortage of criticism from hardcore gamers, and EA Games label head Frank Gibeau concurs, telling Gamasutra, "I think our quality slipped", and explaining how the firm's game improvement plans shou
Quality issues have in the past earned Electronic Arts no shortage of criticism from audiences, especially hardcore gamers. But EA has highlighted its big push to change that impression -- bringing the EA Games label under closer scrutiny than ever. "I think our quality slipped, and that was one of the things -- as an assumption and then an objective -- that I brought to this job," says EA Games label head Frank Gibeau to Gamasutra. He explains his mandate: "We are going to improve the quality of our products, and we are going to create IPs that have the same resonance as some of the top ones we're seeing in the industry." So what was Gibeau's quality turnaround strategy? "I think there's incredible designers and creators inside this company, but the talent was being stifled or prevented from really manifesting itself into great games," he says. "That was really job one, to figure out how you unlock that talent and how you find room in the business plan to give yourself the time to create the hits -- hits meaning games that are averaging north of 80 on Metacritic, as opposed to being in the 70s or lower." Though Gibeau admits raising the quality bar is "a long process," he says EA Games is off to a good start in the first part of the year. At the close of EA's first fiscal quarter in 2008, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello said that among the early returns of the company's "change agenda," the quality of its games had begun to rise. In that same quarter, Battlefield: Bad Company's debut led a doubling in sales for EA, and Gibeau picks that title and Burnout Paradise as examples of quality improvements, while he looks ahead to Spore, Warhammer and Mirror's Edge to show the fruits of the change agenda, too. "We've really given the teams the autonomy, the flexibility, and the time to really get after quality in each of these different franchises," he says. "And while we're not perfect, I think we're definitely making strides here." And Gibeau's still not satisfied. "We need it to be higher, and we're going to continue to press and push to make it that much better," he adds. But while EA claims the quality evolution is well underway, its stock has been slow to respond. Earlier this summer, CEO John Riccitiello somewhat infamously told VentureBeat, "I don't think investors give a shit about quality." After three years of not meeting expectations, said Riccitiello, investors were justifiably taking a "wait and see" position. But high-quality games ought to translate into more sales, which should please investors, even if it takes time for quality improvements to impact long-term sales results. "Strategically, you've got to find a methodology that allows you to orchestrate all of these different game releases into a financial plan," says Gibeau. "But it all operates off the idea that good games generate good profits." "Frankly, they generate long-term, enduring profitability, and when you cut corners on quality and ship a game that's a 65 [on Metacritic] in order to make a quarter, you might make the quarter, but I can guarantee you that the gamer customers are not going to be happy and they're not likely to buy the sequel in any sizable numbers." In fact, Gibeau adds, unsold units might come bouncing back due to sales over-estimations. So his strategy is simple: Make great games. "We've been there where we've been pumping out games, and you can look at the reception and the response from gamers out there and our fans kind of start diminishing. You can't get that back," he says. "The only way you get that back is by making great games and winning them back one at a time. That's what we intend to do and are doing."

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