Andrew Wilson is the CEO of Electronic Arts. He has held this position since 2013, a time when EA was labeled by the Consumerist Magazine as the “Worst Company in America.” Since then, Wilson has led the company through a rebirth of sorts, tackling projects with what he calls a “player-first” mentality. In 2016, EA enjoyed critical acclaim for many of its big-ticket releases, and the company is seeing growth in smart phone game development, along with development in virtual reality.
The good times are rolling at EA, and Wilson took the time to speak with Chris Plante at The Verge about what the future holds for his company and the gaming industry as a whole.
Here is a brief summation of Wilson’s remarks to Plante:
Wilson envisions a future where gaming will be a part of our lives from the moment we wake up and permeate every aspect of our daily routine. In Wilson’s hyper-connected vision of the future, “From the minute I get up in the morning, everything I do has an impact on my gaming life, both discrete and indiscrete. The amount of eggs I have in my internet-enabled fridge might mean my Sims are better off in my game. That length of distance I drive in my Tesla on the way to work might mean that I get more juice in Need for Speed. If I go to soccer practice in the afternoon, by virtue of internet-enabled soccer boots, that might give me juice or new cards in my FIFA product. This world where games and life start to blend, I think really comes into play in the not-too-distant future.”
Wilson believes this world is possible by 2021, thanks to a 5G network streaming latency-free gaming to every electronic device gamers happen to own.
The CEO likens this immersive experience to the way digital music has become so entrenched in our lives: “Today, by virtue of the fact that almost every device I own plays me music, and services like Spotify curate and cultivate and personalize that music for me, music permeates almost every aspect of my life. It’s moved from being something I have to make a conscious decision to engage with, to something that really surrounds every aspect of my life from the minute I get up in the morning to the minute I go to bed at night.”
Wilson argues that the games of the future will not be defined by genre, but how they connect gamers to a global community: “I think what we start to see is less about [what the game is] — is it a shooter, is it a sports game, is it open world or closed world, is it a linear story or a forked story, is it multiplayer — and more about this one, existing world where we all play a part.”
One of the biggest questions facing the industry is how these virtual worlds will be engineered. Wilson explains that with current technology, virtual worlds are limited in size by the amount of people employed to create them. Wilson compares this limitation to building a structure in real life. The more people working on a skyscraper, the bigger and more complex it will be, and the faster it will be built. However, Wilson sees a future where these structural boundaries are no longer problems.
“Think about a world where we aren’t limited by the core team. Think about a world where we as game developers build kind of a foundational tool set and unleash 6 billion people on the planet to create whatever they think is amazing and what they believe will engage their friends, more than anything we could ever do. The world that we will create will be infinitely bigger than the Earth that we live on, and likely bigger than the solar system that we live in.”
Wilson is talking about giving gamers the tools to code and create their own worlds based on the structural skeletons built by developers, and with this in mind he stresses the importance of teaching future generations how to code: “Fast-forward 15 years into a world where we might speak French or German or Chinese or Japanese, but we all speak the universal language of code”
The challenge of designing games that are compatible with dozens of devices is a daunting one. However, Wilson believes it’s possible to transcend the limits of designing games for specific platforms by creating software that can scale in performance for different devices. He cited EA’s Frostbite engine as an example of how this can work: “We talk a lot about our single engine in Frostbite. It will scale up graphics on a bigger device and scale them down on a smaller device, so that we can build once and publish to many devices.”
Wilson explains that investing in flexible software technology has given EA a huge advantage as a developer: “We’ve been investing heavily on that front for the last four or five years. And we think now, by virtue of that transition, we get more games on the PS4 and Xbox One than any other publisher. You see us now starting to really grow our mobile install base. You see us get to the PSVR and Google VR in the same time frame. That’s the only path forward for us. In a world in which we have to build incrementally for every device, forget the cost implications of that, we literally just couldn’t do it from a person power point of view.”
Speaking of VR, Wilson tackles the emerging medium, claiming that there are three things necessary for it (like any new technology) to succeed: innovative mechanics, a low barrier to entry, and a profound user experience.
Innovative mechanics are the technological nuts and bolts that make VR an exciting and viable technology brimming with possibilities, and a low barrier to entry is just a manageable price point. The third key to success is the one that requires ingenuity and innovation on behalf of the developers—a profound user experience. It’s all well and good to roll out top of the line VR technology and make it cheap, but if you aren’t using that technology to make great games, then what is the point.
“You need the best games. You need the best experience with those games. We’re not there yet. The three biggest categories in games are action-adventure, shooters, and sports. All require you to run around in a virtual space. That, for many people inside VR, creates all kinds of nauseating symptoms. We, as designers and the hardware manufacturers, have to solve for that. Refresh rate and frame rate have to increase, the way we design games is going to have to change. You just can’t take FIFA from the PlayStation 4 straight into VR without making some fairly fundamental shifts at a design level. We’ve got some work to do on the profound user experience.”
Wilson also speaks with Plante about EA’s involvement in the future of eSports and diversity in the gaming world. The interview can be found in its entirety here.