At GDC on Wednesday, Electronic Arts COO John Schappert took a break from talking about the continuing importance of disc-based product in order to express disappointment with the legal battle between Modern Warfare
developer Inifinity Ward and its parent Activision.
“I would just say, I'm sure there are two sides of the story,” said Schappert. “[But] I'm disappointed on a couple fronts. ... To think [former Infinity Ward heads Vince Zampella and Jason West are] going to be spending their future dealing with litigation and lawyers rather than crafting the next great experience, I don't think that's good for them, I don't think that's good for our industry.”
Schappert added, “I hope they find a way to make games and focus on that during this period.”
He said that another disappointment to him is that, rivalries aside, the future of Modern Warfare
is in question. “It doesn't feel like anybody wins,” he stated.
Schappert, who referred to Activision numerous times as the “mothership,” said the publisher, EA's primary rival, would rather litigate than make games, and that it uses litigation as a revenue stream. Activision sued developer Double Fine in June last year over the rights to Brutal Legend
, a game that Activision dropped and that EA Partners subsequently picked up for distribution. Activision and Double Fine eventually settled and the game released.
Activision recently fired Infinity Ward's West and Zampella, accusing the two of “insubordination” and breach of contract. West and Zampella went on to sue Activision
for $36 million in royalties and compensation.
Aside from Activision jabs, Schappert said the idea that the industry has moved on from disc-based games is a “misnomer.” Anyone who follows NPD of GfK retail charts would know this, but Schappert said some companies and industry watchers get ahead of themselves when calculating exactly when the industry will be going all digital. “I think the reality is that that's not tomorrow,” he said.
EA is active in non-disc-based business strategies. The company regularly releases paid digital downloadable content to complement its disc-based games. BioWare's Dragon Age
generated $1 million from DLC in just over a week, EA said in November. The publisher also recently shut down its disc-centric Pandemic Studios and then acquired the Facebook game maker Playfish for $300 million.
But physical product often serves as a link to deliver digital content. Right now, EA implements a hybrid business strategy. “What I think we're seeing is an influx of DLC as an extension of these games,” he said. DLC also gets players to spend more time with a game. “... But it all starts with a shiny disc,” he added.
Schappert said that in the near-term, the “biggest blockbusters” in the games industry will be disc-based games with online features. “Publishers need to be thinking of a long-term relationship with their consumers,” and this can be established through digital extensions of physical product. “I think the days of ship it and forget it are behind us now.”
He said that with mobile, consoles, PC, social networking and handhelds, publishers like EA have their work cut out for them. “What's challenging right now is that there are a plethora of platforms,” he said. “...At the same time there's more opportunities than ever before.”