David DeMartini is a busy man, as head of the EA partners he has more to deal with than a single mother of octuplets, and still has time to grant Prima a few minutes of his precious time. As well as asking him questions he wouldn’t answer about what guys behind Modern Warefare have been up to since their dismissal, we find out about Bulletstorm, Crysis 2, as well as a potential sequel to Portal, and what EA looks for in the developers they work with.
Prima: What are your expectations of BulletStorm? Do you see this as a massive game?
David DeMartini: Let's not call it Call of Duty or Medal of Honor massive, where I'm thinking Call of Duty maybe 15 million units, Medal of Honor maybe seven. It could be very much like Gears.
It's new IP, so let's hang that around its shoulders if you will. But it's a great game. Multiplatform with multiplayer elements - it's way deeper than you see on the surface. It's something that looks like wicked fun, but then you get into it and you're hooked in based on all the hard work they traditionally do to make a full-bodied game that has all the depth of features and story in a light-hearted wrapper.
Some people mistake the light-hearted wrapper for a light-hearted game. This is a big gaming experience and people are going to be stunned as we release more and more information over the next couple of months about its depth and how good it actually is.
Prima: What about Crysis 2? Did Crytek ask for more time, or was the delay about avoiding the busy Christmas period?
David DeMartini: A game like Crysis and a team like Crytek's never going to be intimidated by being in any window. But they will always be very careful of not releasing a game until it reaches its full potential. As we collaboratively evaluated when's the right time for it to be ready, 22nd March was the perfect window for the game to hit its maximum potential.
It's going to be another 90-rated game from Crytek. It's going to be on multiplatform for the first time. They just showed a glimpse of the multiplayer. There's a lot of information that will be forthcoming with regards to the depth of the number of multiplayer modes, maps. I can say there's an entire team [Crytek UK] working on multiplayer alone for that game in England, so you can imagine how strong the multiplayer mode will be.
Now standing on platform one...
Prima: You have a long-standing relationship with Valve. What's happening with Portal 2? Will you publish it?
David DeMartini: We're still talking about it.
The interesting thing with Valve is they always make great games. They ship them exactly when they're going to ship them. They're a high-quality partner, and they demand excellence from anybody they have a relationship with. You earn their business every single time. We're in the process of earning their business yet again for Portal 2, and we're very optimistic because of our close relationship. We do a lot of business on Steam. They do a lot of business with us on the distribution side.
The biggest mistake studios make is they get too big too quickly. A one-team studio that has a great IP quickly wants to get a second team started, a third team started. And many times they want to do things in different genres, which is incredibly difficult.
With Valve and Insomniac, they're able to play in different genres with multiple team studios, and still execute to the same level of excellence across genres, across teams. That's when you know somebody has truly arrived, is when they can have multiple teams working on multiple IPs, all delivering a 90-rated quality. That's a studio that really knows what they're doing.
Prima: How did the deal with Insomniac deal come about? What attracted you to them?
David DeMartini: This is going to sound like EA speak, but I'm not an advocate of people working on games for a single platform. It's limiting.
I understand why it happens. I certainly understand why Sony and Microsoft are willing to pay to get developers to make games just for their platform. But you can maximize the value of your studio by developing high-quality IP on multiple platforms. It gets you out to the broadest audience. It allows the game players to play on whatever platform is their preference. It doesn't force them down a particular type.
With Insomniac, they've been working with Sony for so long so successfully - great partnership. What was most rewarding was to be able to work with Ted [Price]. They were open to the idea of multiplatform development. To be able to convince them, if you will, or offer them an opportunity that was so compelling that they would decide to break out of the mould they've operated under for a long time, it's a risk for them.
But it's going to be a huge value driver for them: the creation of new IP, multiple platforms, it's going to be a great opportunity for them. I have all the confidence in the world they're going to execute on multiplatform because they're Insomniac.
Prima: Did Insomniac initially want to do their game exclusively on the PS3? Did you convince them otherwise?
David DeMartini: No, I don't think so. They had a really good creative idea. I don't think they had a predisposed opinion as to whether it would be only on the PS3 or multiplatform. They talked to a number of parties I'm sure, and fortunately we were able to convince them we'd be the right place for them to go. It's gone even better than I would have expected from the beginning. They're highly collaborative. They take tremendous care in listening to early feedback from consumers.
At the end of the day, sometimes you get into a room with your partner and you convince yourself about something. The best thing to do is get out there. Fortunately I don't have to put my $60 down. I get the games for free. The best persons to talk to is the consumer, who's going to have to spend their hard-earned dollars at the end of the day, and ask them their opinion on some of the early ideas and get some of their feedback.
Early on, you need to be listening to their feedback so when you get to the end you're not surprised by anything they have to say.
Prima: When will we find out about what Insomniac's up to for you?
David DeMartini: We were just talking about some potential ideas with regards to an event we might have to put on for all these titles we have. But we'll make sure to invite you to it.
Prima: Are they doing groundbreaking stuff?
David DeMartini: It would be impossible for me to say no to that. They're doing what Insomniac does. Insomniac makes really high-quality experiences that consumers love, and they're doing that again. They are breaking some ground with regards to gameplay. But I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Yeah, they're going 4D.'
Insomniac regularly has set a bar at 90 in Metacritic. I think this game is going to exceed that bar. It is a really great creative idea that they're executing on marvelously so far. There's a lot of time between now and the finish line, but based on their track record, I'm highly confident they're going to get there. I think sooner rather than later we're going to be sharing some early concepts on that one because they've made so much progress. They're in a great position.
The maturity of their technology and their team allows them to make a tremendous amount of early progress. They can take some of the concepts to consumers in a rather developed form, and get feedback. We're just in the middle of that feedback loop and they're making great progress.
Prima: I bet it felt great signing the Respawn Entertainment guys.
David DeMartini: It did. But probably for a strange reason. Most people would say, "you stuck it to Activision". People who look at Vince and Jason think, oh, you know, a couple of guys, highly successful, how much trauma could they be going through? They got fired by Activision. No matter how you slice it or dice it, no matter how many opportunities you have on the other side, getting fired is not fun. It hasn't happened to me yet - I don't know, there's still time. It could happen.
It was really rewarding to present them with an opportunity which allowed them and their families to land on their feet, and for them to start building a new thing together and open a new chapter of their lives. The Activision part, we win some, they win some. It goes back and forth. I don't see it as some big competition.
David DeMartini: No. We need the whole industry to be successful. Sure, I want EA to be the most successful, but I don't want Activision to fail. It's like going to a bad movie. Sometimes movies are so bad you don't go to any movies for a while because you're burned by whoever made that last movie. I don't want consumers spending money and playing bad games. I want them to play good games.
I want EA to be the most successful and that's my singular mission in life. But whether it's THQ or Activision, I don't want them putting out bad product either because it's just bad for the industry. The thing that happened with Jason and Vince was not great for the industry because they got fired. But them landing with us and having an opportunity to build a team and start from scratch is great for them.
I know everybody is going to say, "Well what are they working on?" The thing everybody needs to remember is they were starting at absolute zero.
This is two guys who really know what they're doing having to go find a place for the team, buy chairs and desks and furniture, find new technology from the ground up, and pull a team together. I need to get HR people. There are contracts. There are all kinds of things and administration that need to take place. Amongst all that administration they've pulled together the core of a fantastic team and they're starting to work on a whole bunch of ideas to try and find what is going to be the one right idea for us.
Prima: So they haven't settled on what they're going to make for you?
David DeMartini: Not yet.
Prima: Then there's no point asking what game they're making for you.
David DeMartini: I could tell you but I don't know, so I couldn't tell you, I guess. It's like the Pope coming from the group of cardinals. You just wait for the smoke to come up and they share with you. We're sitting there waiting for the smoke to come up and when it does we'll call you.
Prima: So there will be an even longer wait to find out what Respawn's doing.
David DeMartini: More so than Insomniac.
Prima: How did that deal happen? Did you have a relationship with them beforehand?
David DeMartini: I had never met them before. I met them after they got fired. Certainly by reputation - you can't work in the games industry and not know the two guys that worked on the biggest thing in the history of the industry.
After they were tossed out of Activision... Talk about getting sacked, if I hadn't of got a hold of those guys through the agent, I would have been fired. When those guys are available...
But everybody in my position did exactly the same thing. As soon as they were gone from Activision and it hits the wires, I'm sure THQ was there and EA was there and Take-Two was there and Ubi was there and everybody was talking to them. We just happened to have the right pitch.
Prima: How did you seal the deal?
David DeMartini: I thought it was my charisma and charm - that tipped it over the top.
Prima: Suda51 teased a Tokyo Game Show reveal for his new game. Does that make sense to you?
David DeMartini: Yes.
Prima: It's a horror game. Are we talking big-budget, multiplatform? His recent work's been on the Wii.
David DeMartini: PS3 and Xbox 360. Suda is highly creative. He would say as well as we would say, this has been a learning experience.
It was a little riskier to sign a highly regarded developer and creative force in Japan. [Shinji] Mikami's involved also. I'm dealing with two of the biggest names out of Japan. EA has not historically done a lot of work with developers in Japan. The whole communication thing is a challenge. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to work with each other. How much feedback we give them, they give us.
The goal of what he was working on was to try and take his amazing creative energies and for us to try and help him Westernize those ideas. I don't know if we've nailed it with regards to how much we've been able to do that. But we've allowed him the opportunity to fully explore his creativity.
Prima: That's dangerous with him.
David DeMartini: Well, it's dangerous, or is it what people expect from him? The key thing is not for us to tone down Suda if you will, or try and Westernize Suda, but it's to try and make sure the game gets broad enough exposure that more people appreciate it.
No More Heroes and his other games, they're all highly critically acclaimed, but it's like a boutique movie where it's highly acclaimed but it doesn't get into all the theatres so not everybody gets a chance to see it.
Obviously with EA's publishing and sales team, we're going to have this game in all theatres. It's going to be in all the retail outlets. People are going to get an opportunity to finally listen to what you guys have been writing about Suda for a long time.
These games are great. They're overlooked a little bit - the non-Western or European wrapper these games typically have - and get through the game and you'll really see the magic that's in there. That's what we're shooting for here.
We didn't try and Westernize his ideas. We let him explore his ideas fully. Now we're going to Westernize the sales and marketing approach so it gets out there and is known by as many people as possible, to give him the best opportunity to sell to a ton of people.