NBA Live 15

A Candid Conversation About NBA Live 15
by Matt Bertz on Aug 07, 2014 at 04:00 AM
Platform PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher EA Sports
Developer EA Tiburon
Rating Everyone

NBA Live executive producer Sean O’Brien is a realist. While he and the rest of the team at EA Tiburon’s are determined to put EA’s basketball sim back on the map as a destination experience for hoops fans, he knew going into to the project that it would take several years before the game would have a chance to stand alongside NBA 2K, which has been going strong uninterrupted for more than a decade. While NBA Live 14 was hammered pretty hard by game reviewers, that didn’t stop the developers from marching steadily ahead with their vision for the future of basketball games. In a candid conversation at GI headquarters, O’Brien opened up about the problems the developers faced last year, the strategies the team is putting into place to improve the basketball series with Live 15, and how the leadership change at EA is affecting game development.

As we spoke about when I visited you in Orlando last year, your team was fully aware that Live wasn't going to reach parity with NBA 2K in just one year. But did it meet your expectations for where you wanted to be after a year?
Good question. I would say, oddly enough, that I think we did everything we could do in those 11 months. Mid-to-end of October was when I first came back to EA. That gave us almost 12 months from the day I started until Gen 4 hardware shipped. In that time we had to build a team because we had a fractured team that didn't ship NBA Live 13. Some talent was there, and some upgrades and different skill sets were needed.

So we had to do that, we had to figure out what we were going to build for 14, and obviously just wrap our heads around what the hardware was going to look like, what we could do, and what we needed to do as a basketball game. It was a challenging year for us. We're not making any excuses, but that was kind of our startup; that was where we began.

Given the mountain we're trying to climb, I'm proud of the effort that we put forth. I'm proud of where we got to, even though where we got to wasn't good enough. I feel odd saying it, but I know what went into that year and what the guys and girls did to put us in a position to actually ship software even though the software wasn't very good.

I don't think it was as bad as it was reviewed. I think we actually had a lot of better momentum post launch – our commitment to being really transparent with the journey that we're on allowed a lot of players, fans, and media to see that we're serious about this, that we too admit this isn't where we wanted to be. It was a first small step for our journey back. Long story short I'm extremely proud of the effort, I'm proud of where we got to, but we're nowhere near being done.

This is different for every team because I know that with a huge team like Assassin's Creed, which has multiple studios working in concert, it can be really hard to see how it all comes together until right up until the end, but when did you guys have an idea of what that final product was going to be like for Live 14?
Honestly, I think from the start. We had to make decisions on things like technology and art assets, so I would say by early calendar year – January or February – we knew where we were going to net out.

It's also looking at it across multiple products. I'm trying to look at our basketball business as just releases. Gone are the days that we're shipping a game every calendar – we're going to ship multiple releases throughout the year that will get us where we need to get to. Release one, which was going to be at the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, wasn't going to be what the game is in my head, but the vision I have, I see it, and I know how it's going to come together.

By early in the year we had to make those decisions on what we had to keep from Live 13 whether we wanted to or had to, what we were going to fix, and how long it would take. I'll give you one good example...scanning different assets, from heads to uniforms to accessories to footwear, we had this different approach. When we basically wrapped our head around what this approach would be it was February or March, and the NBA season lasts until April. We had to build the technology to allow us to do it as well, so that wasn't something that you were going to see in Live 14, but it was a part of our strategy and a part of our approach that we were going to execute against for 15. So did it make sense to re-do every single asset in the game to make it look as good as we needed to do knowing that we're going to change that approach and strategy in the following year when we built our rig and then actually have the time to go out and work with the teams and the players to get the assets done? That's one of the things where we had to sacrifice short term, knowing that the long-term plan will get us to an enormous upgrade over last year. And I don't even say that lightly. It's enormous.

Did you ever have discussions internally about NBA Live not reaching your quality bar right out of the gate, and therefore maybe scaling the price back for the consumers?
I'm not going to lie – we had discussions about that. I think one of the things about price point is…I know why you're asking that, the basis being the quality of Live 14?

Not only that, but also because it was three years since someone had played a Live game and you were trying to get people invested again. Offering it at a lower cost can bring more people in to see what you are doing with maybe a different set of expectations.
There's definitely that approach and there's that discussion. There are different schools of thought as to how you do that and how you win back market share. One of the ideas that we're going to go forward with is hands-on trial. You can do that by lowering your price point, or you can do that by offering free trials. We'll have a free trial for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this year. There are not many trials on PlayStation 4; I think we're the first EA game to do it. It's something that we're committed to.

We are also – if you look at our approach – just taking some of the communications group, taking a concierge service with anyone who posts something on our social channels whether it's Facebook, Twitter, our website, or message boards. Having that direct dialogue with them, and then sometimes sending games out to guys who are nonbelievers or don't want to spend the $60. We're engaging them whether it's a demo, a trial, or a game copy. We're trying to encourage play and do everything that we can to listen to what our fans are saying to help create the vision and end product of what we're doing.

Would Microsoft or Sony even allow you to ship a launch game for less than full retail at the launch of their new consoles?
I don't know that answer. I would imagine between EA, the NBA, Microsoft, and Sony it would be a very challenging discussion, but I don't know that for sure. So yeah, there was discussion around that, and there is discussion around that moving forward. We saw what 2K did back with selling NFL 2K5 for $20, and it's an interesting strategy, but we feel like whatever we end up doing, the software will speak for itself and that's what's important. We know it's a journey to gain back just the faith of the players in what we are trying to do. I don't expect people to read what you write and say, "Wow, I'm going to buy Live now. It sounds amazing." I would expect that it's going to take multiple years for us to convince people. Once they try it, they may start liking it, and it will get better along the way and they'll like it more. As a company we know that it's going to take time.

Read on to learn about NBA Live 15 visuals, game modes, and the leadership change at EA.

Talk to me about the new visuals in NBA Live 15.
One of the things we did was adopt a scanning technique, which isn't new – it's something that's been around in film and everything for a long time, as well as the lighting technique that we adopted, which is an image-based lighting technique. Those two things allowed us to recreate the characters and all the clothing materials that they wear in a way that we hadn't had before. You'll see a lot more detail in skin – we literally scanned all the skin. With the uniforms you can see the different types of materials, footwear, socks, knee braces, neoprene sleeves, wristbands – everything has been scanned. We've redone every single asset in the game – this is not an exaggeration. That combined with the image-based lighting allows us to recreate our characters in a way that we have never done before.

Do you have to scan each player individually, or is there a workaround for those you can't get access to?
Yeah actually there is. We apply the same technique. Basically what the scan gets you is the proportions of someone's head, the likeness, and all the detail there. We have the same approach where we take that same detail and put it onto a sculpt. An example would be Russell Westbrook. He didn't sit down and scan with us. We have a group of character modelers that are very strong at creating these sculpts. If you look at Russell, we sculpt his head as we normally would, and then we apply the same sort of detail and that philosophy around getting the detail like the skin pores, the wrinkles, etc. That gives you a very similar result. If a scan is an A-plus or an A, then [the sculpt] like an A or A-minus. It's up to us and how much time we spend on each individual athlete that we don't have scanned on how strong the likeness is. Westbrook is a guy who looks very strong and that's because we spent a lot of time on him.

It seems like their eyes are fixed on the ball.
Yes. Eyes are interesting. We spend a lot of time bringing life into the eyes because it's such a big part of the facial performance. You can see there is a little more life in the eyes and there is eye-tracking for the ball. There are eyes that move as a part of an expression – it's just the believability. A lot of the stuff we've done this year to help sell the facial performance. Some EA Sports games have had problems with what we call a “frame one” problem – they look great in a screenshot but when they start moving they kind of lose it. A lot of that comes down to facial performance as well as animation in general with the body. But speaking about visuals, it's been a big focus on what we're trying to accomplish. There's great athlete scans that look amazing, and if they just fall down from a performance side then we lose. We're really trying to get this believable character initiative underway. It's a pretty big jump over last year.

The detail we're able to have in arms, tattoos, body types – we have all new body types this year as well. You see the differentiation between LeBron James and Andrew Wiggins – you see his long neck, skinny body, even the difference between his legs and LeBron. We're finally getting to that differentiation that players expect.

How do you deal with player tattoos? I know at tattoo artist whose ink was featured on Ricky Williams’ arm on the NFL Street cover sued EA Sports a couple years back. Do you have to get releases from the players?
It's something that's handled through the league.

One of the things you did differently with Live 14 is introduce Live Seasons, which I believe you called a "strategic risk." How was the user response to that? Was it a popular mode when you rank it against the other options available?
Yeah, absolutely it is. It's a different way of playing the game as you know. It's a shorter, bite-sized opportunity. One of our goals as we move forward into the Gen 4 experiences is to show that we do have that live service, so we're creating an experience, not a product or a packaged good. We also want to maintain relevancy throughout the course of the NBA season. I think the Big Moments feature within Live Seasons is a perfect example of that. When something great happens in the league the night before or that same night, we're able to put forth a challenge or scenario type nugget that allows you to experience that same thing. It's one of the modes, along with Ultimate Team, that from a connected standpoint people are really enjoying.

So is Live Seasons in the top three for modes that people spend time playing?
Yes – Ultimate Team, Live Season, and then our traditional Rising Star and Dynasty modes. You really see a difference if you look back five or eight years ago – it was all about Dynasty mode. The evolution has happened because the NBA as a league in particular and its players do a great job with what they do socially. It's a highlight driven sport. We see highlights all the time, we hear players talking about their games, and the league is promoting all that stuff as well. I think the NBA specifically is a league that does a great job of surfacing all the cool stuff that's happening in the league, whether it's a specific performance or a team's winning streak, and the players are talking about it so it's always top of mind for us as sports fans. For us to actually do that and ensure that we have that relevancy is super important. I think moving forward it's going to be something that we see more and more of. I'm reading something online, I'm watching something on television, and then if my video game doesn't support the same thing and isn't up to date, then there is a disconnect there. Right away it becomes something that's less important to me or less impactful in my life. For us to do that, we're getting away from that dynasty mode where there's that fantastical approach to it where I can just do whatever I want. It just gets away from realism a little bit, and I think there is definitely a segment of our audience that enjoys that and wants that control, but I think the evolution is happening through that connected experience and live services.

Does this mean by extension that Dynasty mode is becoming less prominent in your development cycle?
I would say yes right now. What we're trying to do is incorporate some of the cool moments and the control you have either as a coach, player, or general manager within other game modes. There are certain things about the control you have to draft a player, trade a player, to try and sign a contract that we're trying to bring into some of our other modes. I think it's taking what was great about Dynasty mode – and still having it there because there are people who want it. It’s just having a solid system with better – for us – better simulation results, having the right players traded or signed as free agents, the right teams wining – having that simulation engine that is buttoned up and really solid, but then taking some of the cool concepts that has always made the dynasty mode great and bringing them into other modes.

You mentioned you want to hone in on making the simulation better. Is that the core focus for this year?

I had some strange results with the sims last year. Martell Webster leading the Atlanta Hawks to the championship.
Yeah. I would say both modes, Rising Star and Dynasty, there are a lot of improvements to the backbone of both of those modes. Without having a great sim engine, great progression, or great performance trackers, the modes are garbage. Without those things and without the game looking and playing great those modes fall down, so I'm confident in saying that with the improvements we're making visually, with gameplay, and the backbones of those two modes, they're going to be a lot more fun this year. And just a whole different user interface and user experience. We've completely changed what our menus look like and that follows through in all the different game modes as well. It makes it easier to navigate and explore.

Did you tweak the trade logic to let you trade future picks?
I know we messed with trade logic, but I don't think we allow for that to happen, no.

What are you changing with Rising Star? Is that mode getting another pass?
What we did this year was ensure that the backbone of that league – the performance tracker and how everything is tied into the game works properly. Last year just wasn't a very good or fine-tuned experience.

We chose not to go down the path of cutscenes. I honestly don't think we'll ever go down that path. What Fight Night Champion did so well a couple years ago, I want to do it a little bit differently, and you'll see that moving forward. We're going to invest in a single-player mode. We're going to invest in Ultimate Team and online team play. As I said the focus on 15 is the core of the game – focus on gameplay, visuals, and onboarding. Making sure that stuff is tight. I think you even wrote last year if I remember correctly that you thought Ultimate Team and Live Seasons may have been cool, but ultimately it falls down because the game experience isn't any good. The converse holds true as well. If the game plays great and looks great, all those modes are going to be that much more fun and that much more engaging. But then for 16 and ensuring that we have a great online team play experience  – a fresh take on that for basketball – ensuring that we really hit our single-player mode and do it in a way that isn't a me-too to what 2K does or what Fight Night Champion did and do it in a different way. We took a small step toward that direction this year. And ensuring that we have a fresh and slightly different take on Ultimate Team as well for basketball. I think there are different opportunities in basketball with Ultimate Team than there are in other sports because the impact that one player can have on your team. And because of just how much of an identity all the players have and how important that is. I follow all these guys on Instagram and on Twitter and you're like, "I think I know who that guy is" and we don't really do that in our game. So is there a way to tie those two things together? That's what we're going to focus on.

I know you said the focus is on Ultimate team and online head-to-head. Are you bringing anything new to the table with Ultimate Team?
Not yet. I think you are going to see that moving forward. For us, we're basically building Ultimate Team from scratch. We added the auction house to this year's game, which wasn't in last year.

Read on to find out what EA has in store for the EASBL, what commentary changes are coming to Live 15, and the new tutorial approach.

Last year you had too many other elements to tackle so you didn't put the EASBL into the game. Is that coming this year?
That's not coming this year. We don't have any online team play in this year's game but it's something that we're exploring moving forward. I think it's a big part of when we talk about our game being a live service, having that ability to compete online and compete with your friends. We want to make sure that this year we shore up our online head-to-head, we shore up gameplay, and we shore up visuals. So it's really the core of our game that we're focusing on. From there, our challenge for Live 16 is to ensure that we have a new take on what online team play looks like. Take what it used to look like in Live, what it looks like in NHL, and what it looks like in FIFA, and put a spin on it that is a little fresher and obviously suited to the game of basketball.

I don't know how much time you've spent in Dota 2, but Valve's spectator system, which is all built within the game's infrastructure, is pretty impressive. Is EA exploring that for sports titles? It seems like it could be a great fit for the sports label that could be shared across the games.
I think it could definitely be shared. A lot of our online team-play technologies and concepts are shared as well. I think there's definitely potential for evolution into that same sort of spectrum.

Do you have the same commentary teams as last year?
Yes. We're working with Breen and Van Gundy, as well as Jalen Rose. We’re trying to get Jalen a little more involved as well. I'm not sure if you're aware of all the live updates we did with Jalen throughout the course of the year. I thought that stuff was really cool. We're going to continue to do even more of that as we go along since it’s something our fans responded to really well, and it's just a cool feature.

The purpose with Jalen is to first act as that host, sort of what he does so well on his podcast on Grantland and his work as a studio host for ESPN. We marry the two and give you a bit of that flavor as well as with those live updates to provide you relevant info about what's going on in the league and then do some call-outs and shout-outs to people who have done some cool stuff in the game. If someone does something cool in Ultimate Team, or we have a challenge over the weekend, we call those people out – or if people are active on our social channels talking about the game. It's just like a cool reward for being engaged in what we're doing.

Last year I felt like the commentary was pretty wooden between Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy. It was stilted and didn’t flow very well. What's your approach this year?
We're taking a new approach to get more banter. We're recording more with them together in the studio at the same time and getting a lot more banter going on that you would normally see and then having that banter interruptible. I think 2K does a really good job with that stuff. Dissecting what we think they do best, that's one of the things they are really good at. You kind of get that back and forth and then it's interrupted at the right time. If we're talking and something happens, naturally we just sort of stop and say, "Did you see that?" That's what we need to have happen, so I think commentary is getting a lot better. We just recorded with those guys end of last week, so a lot of that stuff is still coming in.

One of the things we talked about last year when I visited to discuss the Ignite engine was the sharable element that allows developers to collaborate across EA Sports titles. Are there elements of that in this year's game?
Yes. The rag-doll physics is an EA-built technology. It's the same thing you'll see in NHL and FIFA I believe in certain cases. I'm not sure if that's what UFC is using or if they built their own. We have a procedural based locomotion system – the same thing you see in Madden and FIFA, and what we also do is add different one-offs that are less procedurally based and provide more contextually appropriate and realistic looking motion. It doesn't really impact your playing experience, but it just looks like how it's supposed to look.

Last year you put up Twitch streams to get people up to speed on how the game played. What are you doing with tutorials this year?
One of the challenges last year was people not knowing how to play the game. They hadn't played Live for a couple of years, and we had a different control scheme and different feel than NBA 2K – we always have. We didn't do a good job of teaching people to play. It was interesting to see even people who bought the game on day one who just were like, “superficially it doesn't look very good and I'm not having any fun playing it.” The more they started playing and the more we started doing Twitch streams and they started playing again it's like, “Well it's not horrible. It still doesn't look good but there's actually some interesting things from a gameplay side of things that are kind of unpolished.”

This year our focus with on-boarding is to showcase the game and really deliver a bit of a wow moment initially where you see the delta from what the game looked like last year to what the game looks like this year, and secondly teach you how to play the game. What some of the basic controls are, what some of the advanced controls are, and do it in a way that's a nice flow. It's all happening when the game is downloading anyway, so you are doing something there, and then we drop you into a cool five-on-five experience. We're spending a lot of time on that and it’s going to come together in the next couple weeks.

For the on-boarding process are you taking a FIFA approach with minigames that teach the player?
If you noticed, we have a 3D front-end that we're not using right now. The foundation is layered so that's not just an image; it's a 3D environment. So the tech is there for us to move forward with going back to the way that Live used to be or that FIFA is for the most part now is that you're always playing. It's not an open world game within a game, but it's just providing you more opportunities to sit and play the game. We built all these things that kind of sit in here and add these depth modes that you'll see. Most of them are a part of the onboarding experience that you can go back and experience. You can then go back in the shootaround mode that we added in February. We added a five-on five practice, and all of these different ways that you can focus on some of these more drill based things to hone your skill. So it's all the foundation for something that I think will be pretty cool.

The off-the-ball A.I. was one of the glaring faults from last year.
Yes. We're developing something right now called the quick action. If you played NCAA Basketball 10, it had it in it. Here's the challenge with basketball games. I play the game a certain way, and you play the game a certain way. You expect certain off-ball motion or moving to happen a certain way, and I expect it to happen a certain way. Based on how I play, if I like to attack the basket and try to get to the rim on every single possession, I'm expecting a certain type of motion and I don't want a guy to run automatically into my path, but he doesn't know where I'm going because the game can't predict that stuff. So if I'm on the foul line extended on the left side and there is a guy on the baseline. If I'm expecting that guy to stay still because I'm going to the basket, but then he starts cutting at the same time I do, then there is four people right there and you get this crowded-kids-soccer-sort-of-looking game, and then no option to penetrate and kick. So what we're going to do now is let you know when there is opportunity for motion based on who you are and where you are. If I'm LeBron on the perimeter, maybe the opportunity is just to clear out and let LeBron go one-on-one. If you're LeBron, L1 will come up and give you an icon. If you press it, the contextually appropriate motion will take place. It's a really cool feature that allows me to control the motion based on how I want to play the game. If I don't expect a lot of motion to happen I don't have to trigger it. If I want a contextually appropriate motion to happen, I press that button and the guys clear out and I know what's happening and can initiate my action.

Are you changing playcalling at all to give players some sort of visualization?
Yes. We've created an option where you can turn that on. Whether we default with that on or off, we'll see, but there's an option for you to turn that stuff on and make it more predictable.

Read on to learn about the new faces working on Live 15 and how EA's new leadership is changing the development environment.

Who are the new faces you brought in to help with Live 15?
We hired three engineers, and the guy who runs gameplay, Connor Dugan, who most recently was on UFC for a minute and SSX. He was a line producer for SSX and worked with me on basketball for a long time. Prior to that, Ryan Santos was a guy who worked on NBA Street and NBA Live up to 10, then he left to work at Blast Radius for a while and then the Jordan account. A real basketball head. He's a designer so he does a lot of different things across our game.

The nice thing I found out this year was after we filed 14…it was a really hard year. This year has been hard too, but some of the s--- that just was broken. Stuff like basic things. I always go back to this example – our profile save/load system just was f------ broken. Just was completely ignored and a disaster going to 13. The thing about sports games, you don't have to worry about certain things. There's certain things like the gameplay is head-to-head online, you can go into a game, you can load up teams and arenas – it just works and you try to make it better and focus on the things that our end player would see. We had to do all this stuff under the hood just to get to the point where our nose was above water and it was really hard on the team. And then to get hammered in reviews and all that hard work and guys were like, “What the f---, why am I doing this?”

There was that response for the rest of the week after we shipped. Guys were really defeated and hurt by it, but the cool thing for me was to see that next week everyone started rallying and it was just this moment of, “F--- this, we can do this and let's make the game better.” That was really a moment for me where I knew we were missing some key people, but for the most part we had the DNA on the team and the culture that we could do this, because it's not easy. It's not for the 9 to 5er. If we want to catch up as quickly as we do and be as aggressive as we need to be, you need to be committed, so it was cool to see the team didn't turtle, they actually stood up and we were able to make the game so much better in the months after we shipped 14 in November and then continuing to lead into this on a shortened development cycle. That's the other thing too, we're working on 10 1/2 months from launch, and then we need to launch again. So that extra six weeks, you can do a lot of s--- in six weeks in production. That's the other challenge we're faced with, but no one's making any excuses, and I'm really amazed at what we were able to accomplish so far this year. We're just going to keep going.

Is your team size relatively the same as last year?
Yeah, big. It's a big investment. EA's really, you know, we're not making much money on this game. And we're spending a lot of money.

I was curious to see what Peter Moore's answer would be about NBA Live when we asked him at E3. He said he is still 100-percent behind the project.
Absolutely. It's cool, everyone from the board and [CEO Andrew Wilson] all the way down. The fun thing will be once we build the game that the company really believes in; we'll start spending a lot of money on marketing it as well. That's just a natural thing. Even our approach to last year's game, it's a very honest and humble approach of knowing we're not trying to sell this game, I'm not trying to convince you to buy it, I'm trying to get you to try it. I think that's the difference from the different approach where EA I think can come across as very sell-y, and I don't want that. I want people to believe in what we're doing and to understand what we're doing, and then try it for themselves. If they like it, that's great. If they don't like it, I'd love to hear why and then take that into consideration as we build this moving forward.

There's this undercurrent in certain parts of game journalism where being transparent and admitting when something that you put in the last game wasn't good enough and then telling people you're going to work on it is considered a fraudulent approach. The logic being you knew you were selling a “piece of s---.” What's your response when you read or see something like that? 
I don't like it obviously. I think EA especially gets labeled with a lot of stuff like we're just trying to pull one over on a consumer. There may have been a day when we did try to do that, but I think it's the furthest thing from the truth now. I think the examples we just saw last week with Dragon Age and Battlefield: Hardline getting pushed because they aren't good enough, if you hear Patrick Soderlund and Andrew Wilson talk you hear what they say in an interview and you hear what they say internally, it's absolutely the culture that these guys are building. It's all about product quality.

I can still understand there is a legacy around that we're trying to sell you on everything, but I think if you looked at every piece of promotion or communication we did around 14, it was never selling. To use our one example, I wasn't trying to sell this game. I think we even said that for us it's not about revenue right now. It's about building a great game and having people be a part of that. We're going to reward our people who have been with us since day one. They will be a part of this journey, and we communicate with them on a daily basis, and they see what's happening and want to be a part of it. That's cool. It's somewhat of a crowdsourcing or Kickstarter approach to it. It's one of the things I most embrace about working with Brad and our communications team is allowing me to just be the guy that I am, which is very transparent, very humble, but at the same time confident.

I don't feel comfortable selling, because I want people to be the judge and make up their own minds. For me, it's about listening and building a game that we all want and we think is going to be great and having people along for that journey but also letting them know it's a journey. When Sam Presti took over the Oklahoma City Thunder and they just drafted Kevin Durant and made some trades, he's not telling season ticket holders that they're going to make the NBA Finals. He's like, "we're going to some day. So you can choose to be in now and enjoy that ride because it's going to be pretty cool when we actually get there, or you can choose to hop on along the way, or you can choose to not believe and not be a part of it.” That's kind of the approach that we're taking. I know we'll get there; it's just a question of when. If you want to be a part of it and give feedback and help shape and build this, awesome. Your voice is going to be heard, but yeah, it's never about trying to sell that season ticket in year one.

A lot of developers in the PC space have taken the early access approach, where users can jump into early builds of the game and give valuable feedback in its construction. Do you wish you were able to do that on consoles?
Kind of. It's something that there are so many moving parts. It's so complicated with licensing, our corporate structure, the console first-parties – all those different things make it a lot harder, but it's a similar approach. I think you see, and I wouldn't think that our guys would take credit for this, but it's the same approach that Andrew is talking about. His language and his belief in that it's players first and it's all about product quality. It's not bulls---. He comes from making games and that's always been his approach.

If you could follow someone like me internally, my conversations throughout the day are all about how to make a great game. Not how to sell the game; how to make a great game. Do we have the right people? Do we have the right processes? Do we have the right roadmap? Do we understand what our players are asking for? That's what it's all about, and that starts from Andrew all the way down. I get emails from Andrew Wilson our CEO talking about animation blending or what's happening here, or it appears in different game states that this is happening. He's playing our games and giving weekly feedback, which just shows the commitment we have to making great games. And then making tough decisions like we're going to tell our board and our shareholders, "You know that Battlefield Hardline game that is going to be pretty big? We're actually pushing it out of the quarter." And being okay with that. That's a big decision, man.

I think also as a company for so long what used to drive me crazy is we would live quarter to quarter to quarter. We're making all these decisions based on, well this has to happen or we have to keep it in the quarter. You don't. I think Andrew said in our town hall last week that it's about what's right for all our players and what's right for our shareholders, and it's not a short-term decision. They are tough decisions, and at the end of the day, they're not really tough because you have to do what's right.

We joke internally that EA only makes eights. Its games are normally decent, but rarely masterpieces. It's just an engine churning out games.
It's very true. If you could be in our conversations internally, it's “how do we break that?” We know that, too. It's about how can we break it and how can we be more innovative. While at the same time sports is great because it's an annual business, and there's a lot of innovation that goes into sports, and sports is – I'm obviously biased because that's what I do – but it's hard to recreate reality.

When you play any other game, that's not a real person. That's not someone you see, especially with the NBA. I know what Kevin Durant does because SportsCenter shoves it down my throat every frickin' day. I know what he looks like, I know how he talks, I know how he emotes, I know how he shoots, I know how he dribbles, I know how he runs. It's hard to recreate that for every single athlete for every single moment of the experience, whereas if it's fiction or if it's fantasy, you've got a bit of leeway there. I think the onus on believable characters that we take on is definitely challenging, but it's cool to try and achieve it. That's what drives us.

First of all, we're not doing it yet, so I wonder if we get closer to doing it if we'll get the credit for delivering that, because it's such a challenging thing. There's definitely a stereotype against sports where, "Oh, it's a roster update" or it's this or it's that. There's got to be a way for us to let people in on exactly what goes into it and how it's so much more than just that. But you're just delivering against what I expect. You're not wowing me in a way where it's something I've never thought of. That's one of the challenges with gameplay in particular. Of course he should run that way, and of course he should dribble and shoot that way, and of course he should emote that way, and it's game seven of the NBA Finals, of course this should feel different than a preseason game. So it's a lot of those things where our bar just for the cost of entry is pretty high.

And you don't just ship one game. With all the different game modes, you essentially ship several games at once.

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