Patrick Soderlund, senior vice president at EA Games Europe, based at DICE in Sweden, is in charge of all EA game development in Europe. That means he's responsible for everything from racers Burnout and Need for Speed: Shift to action titles Battlefield and Mirror's Edge. So, when we had the chance to chat to him at E3, we couldn't pass it up. Want to know what Patrick thinks about Forza 3 and what's happening with Mirror's Edge 2? Of course you do. Read on.
VideoGamer.com: What's your typical work day like?
Patrick Soderlund: My job is overseeing all of the development we have in Europe. A normal week for me includes some travel, playing a lot of games and feedbacking on them with the teams. I think you'll find different executives inside this company and probably other companies, some of them are really involved with game development and some aren't. That's where I come from. I'm a hardcore gamer myself. I've designed games, that's what I do. I come at it from that perspective. I care about what we do. I care about quality. I care about trying to please the audience out there that are playing our games.
VideoGamer.com: What are the studios you have under you?
PS: The DICE studio in Sweden, which is obviously Mirror's Edge and Battlefield. We have Criterion in the UK, Burnout. We have a studio in Germany called Phenomic, which is a RTS free-to-play studio, and then we have the guys in London, Slightly Mad, which is not a wholly-owned EA studio, but they work exclusively with EA.
VideoGamer.com: So, DICE, how excited are you about what they're putting out here at E3?
PS: Here we're showing Battlefield 1943, which is an Xbox LIVE/PSN $15 game. I'm really excited about that game because it takes that kind of game to the next level. We have a hard time making people understand that it's a $15 game. That's our biggest challenge to be honest. It's a small little neat thing, and a lot of people like the tribute to 1942, and that's getting overwhelming positive reactions. We have Battlefield: Bad Company 2, of which we're showing multiplayer. The team has taken a substantial step forward from what the first one was. The first one we were OK with. To be very honest, I know that we can do better. It was a good first attempt, but for the next one we're going to come back with a really, really strong game. I'm truly excited by that too. Criterion doesn't have anything here. They're at home working on something secret that I can't talk about.
VideoGamer.com: Can you tell me if it's a racing game?
PS: Maybe. You never know, right? The Battleforge guys don't have anything here. We just moved Battleforge to free-to-play, which was a smart move. We're seeing a lot of uptake in traffic and a lot of micro-transaction revenue, which is the whole intent. That game will do well as a free-to-play game.
VideoGamer.com: Was the decision to do that purely motivated by micro-transactions, or was it to get more people to play the game?
PS: If you look at the game, we knew that it was going to be a hardcore experience. We shipped it and we knew that we were going to go free-to-play at some point. In retrospect we should have gone free-to-play from the start, because that's what that game's about. I think we can do well in the western world but I also think that game has a huge market potential in Asia to be honest. I'm psyched about that. It's a small, different obscure game but it is important for EA in other ways, because it's testing new ground with free-to-play. It's a game that can break into Asia we think. It's important from that perspective. I realise that it isn't a blockbuster like a Call of Duty or a Need for Speed, but it has a nice little place inside our portfolio anyway. It's important even if you're a big company to try and have a diverse portfolio, not just only focused on the $25m products. I think you're seeing that with other publishers as well. I'm really impressed by what Sony's doing with Free Realms. That to me is really cool. That's a fun game, right?
And then obviously the last one is Need for Speed: Shift, which is a very important game for the Need for Speed franchise. Let's be honest we haven't been able to keep up the quality of that franchise. We haven't done well with that in that aspect. We've actually sold well. It's commercially successful but eventually if you keep delivering a sub-par entertainment experience to your consumer eventually they're going to go away. I think this proves that we've turned a corner and we're going to get back to quality, which is what the franchise deserves.
VideoGamer.com: Why did you decide to make Need for Speed a sim?
PS: Here's how we looked at it. We basically said, how can we get Need for Speed back to an 80 plus-rated franchise? It all comes down to the people that build the games, right? We met with the Slightly Mad guys in London and we just said, this is a team that knows how to build quality. I think we can help them reach out to a mass market by adding the Need for Speed flavour and branding to it and help them with some of the design challenges that they suffered from before. So it was actually more of a drive against quality and an opportunity to hook up with that developer that made us make that decision. It was entirely quality focused. One can argue that that was a stupid play from a consumer perspective because arguably an action game would have a broader market, but the most important thing for us was to protect the quality of the franchise. That's the reason why we did that.
VideoGamer.com: Because it's a sim it's going up against Forza 3, which was a big part of Microsoft's media briefing. I've spoken to the guys at Turn 10, and they're quite aggressive and confident in their game. Is there room for both of these games, because if you look at what Bizarre and Black Rock are doing with Blur and Split/Second, they're doing more action-oriented racers than sims.
PS: Let me tell you this. I think Split/Second looks great. I'm going to have a good time playing that. Blur to me is completely underwhelming. I don't understand what's up with that game to be honest. That's an official statement. Forza, I'm very confident we have a better game than them to be honest. Talking to the press, looking at the nominations, that's clear. So, I'm glad that they're confident but I'm as confident as they are.
VideoGamer.com: In terms of what you're looking for from games developed in Europe, does every game have to get that magic 80 per cent Metacritic rating now?
PS: Listen, I'm a firm believer in that quality ultimately sells. I could not wake up every morning, go into work and have the ambition of working on something that wasn't as high quality as we could ever imagine or get to. That doesn't mean that we're always going to get to a 90 rated game, but unless we have that drive and ambition I'm not going to work in this industry anymore. I can't see the point in trying or achieving or aiming to make a 70 rated game. I just don't get it. To me it's all about giving the consumer, the person who spends the money on this, the best possible experience for his money. If you talk to John Riccitiello, our CEO, he's a firm believer in the same thing. That's why I think you're seeing a big change at EA. The people who run the company have that passion and desire to create the best possible games out there. Again, it doesn't mean we're going to succeed every single time, but as long as we have that as a drive and motivator, you're going to do a lot better than if you don't have that.
VideoGamer.com: What's happening with Mirror's Edge? It's a game that divided opinion. What's planned for the franchise going forward?
PS: Mirror's Edge, again, was one of those things where we took a very, very... it was a risky move. It was a bold move, a very innovative and inspiring move. The game wasn't perfect by any means. We would have liked the game to sell better even though the game has sold better than most people think. You will see another Mirror's Edge for sure. It's just a matter of when that time is and what we do with it. We have a small team on it and I'm excited about what we do.
Need for Speed: Shift will be released across Europe on September 17. Battlefield 1943 will be available in June for Xbox 360 and PS3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is scheduled for release in Q1 2010 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.