EA’s new CEO, Andrew Wilson, has an interesting mantra in regards to business. According to Wilson, in an interview with Kotaku, he met rap impresario Russel Simmons who told him, “Human beings have an inherent need to steal, built into our DNA.” Simmons continued by saying, “Well, listen, there are different ways you can fulfill that need. The way we try to satisfy that is that if we sell you something for $20, we give you $25 in value. And by doing so, we have satisfied your inherent need to steal in a positive way. And when people do that, they tell their friends.”
“‘But, if you give me $20 but I only give you $15, you leave thinking I stole from you. And that’s the thing human beings hate the most: to be stolen from. It’s really simple.'”
According to Wilson, that’s EA’s new focus. “Any time we create something, if you’re asking for an investment from the consumer in dollars and time, make sure they feel like they’re stealing from you and that they are getting the best end of that deal and the rest will follow. And that will be our philosophy.”
Part of the shift in focus has to do with public perception, notably EA being voted America’s Worst Company 2 years in a row, which stung the likes of Wilson, Patrick Soderlund and Frank Gibeau. “When we got this the second time around, if you don’t think about it as an executive in the company, you probably are not doing the right thing,” Soderlund said.
“We started thinking about how we don’t want to be viewed as the worst company in America. I personally don’t think we’ve ever been the worst company in America, but it says something. The consumers out there are telling us something. And we actually took it very seriously. This was before Andrew was the CEO. We and [EA chief operating officer] Peter Moore and a couple of other guys in the executive company got together to try to understand what caused people to say these things. And there were some things out there that…consumers told us they didn’t like. online pass was one thing.”
As Wilson noted, it’s not like there aren’t big publicly traded companies that are loved by the consumer. His reasoning? “That’s because the consumers feel like they get value from that company in the investment in their dollars [and] time.”
As such, EA has made steps to make consumers feel like they’re “stealing from us instead of vice-versa.”One example includes eliminating online passes. The other includes the Great Game Guarantee.
However, as EA has noted, one problem has plagued them. Despite John Riccitiello’s commitment to quality over quantity, and subsequent rise in review scores, EA still is relatively quiet on the Game of the Year front. “The demand and expectation on us are higher than they ever have been,” Wilson acknowledged. “We need a mechanism and a process which we can get to better games more quickly. If we can be faulted for anything, over the years, it’s kind of hanging on to ideas or concepts of games too long, driving too hard against them, spending too much to the point that we couldn’t invest in other opportunities and ideas. And a big part of what Patrick and [fellow top execs] Frank [Gibeau] and Lucy [Bradshaw] and I committed to is let’s drive a culture of innovation inside the company that actually starts a lot more stuff but at the same time kills a bunch more stuff before it gets to market so that we can give ourselves more short-term goals to get to that next innovative product.”
However, as has been noted, some of EA’s latest releases, Fuse, Dead Space 3 or Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel, have been met with tepid enthusiasm, if even that. Wilson defended the games, saying, “What I would say is that we create fun. Fun is a tough thing to create. It’s subjective. It’s an emotional calculation of enjoyment over time. That’s what fun is. By its nature it’s subjective. That’s why we get bad albums and bad films and bad books because sometimes you just don’t quite get it right. What I would like to believe is that we will never look back on games, from this point forward, and say, ‘We should have killed that one.’ There might be games that don’t hit like we would want them to or don’t reach the critical acclaim that we want to, but I want to feel like these we did it for the right reasons.”
EA has also continued this train of thought to things such as DLC or post-content, according to Patrick Soderlund. “And I think what’s going to come after that, whether it’s DLC or something else, as long as we take the approach of being player-riven and not driven by a short-term financial decision, players are telling us that Battlefield Premium is a good thing, because they’re buying it, they like it and they look at this and say, ‘Wow this is a great value proposition. I get four or five expansion packs and all these things for $50 that I can play over two years’ time. That’s worth something. Will Electronic Arts make money out of that? Yes, but will the consumers like it and want it? Yes they do. Wholeheartedly. I think that’s an approach where if we come at it from a consumer perspective and we do things that they tell us they want and we do that well, business will follow.”