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EA's Former CEO Says Free-To-Play is About Game Design, Not Business Models

John Riccitiello gets a few things off his chest about the gaming industry.

By Mike Williams. Published 8 months ago

From 2007 to 2013, Electronic Arts was under the management of chief executive officer John Riccitiello. It was the second time Riccitiello had a part of EA's operations: he was the company's chief operting officer and president from 1997 to 2004. In March 2013, the company announced that Riccitiello would be stepping down at the end of the month, probably to let shareholders know that EA's soft financial performance was something that could be turned around. Now he's out of the publisher again and watching his plans continue to unfold from the sidelines.

In an interview with GamesIndustry International, Riccitiello spends a long time talking about a lot of things. Somewhere in the huge interview, he takes a moment to talk about free-to-play. Free-to-play gaming is the latest rising spectre that's finding its way into console games, not unlike tacked-on multiplayer modes. It's something that's great when done right, but can be downright maddening when done wrong. EA has found good business with free-to-play style modes in its games, primarily with the Ultimate Team modes of Madden, FIFA (pictured above), and NHL.

"If you think deeply about free-to-play, it's not just a business model, it's a game design," replied Riccitiello when asked about free-to-play. "So inherent in the game is a mechanic where the management of the money or the resources that you want them to spend is fundamental to what is enjoyable to the product. When you're trying to work out how far you can get in a game with a certain amount of resources, that is a game design feature. It's an enjoyable feature, the management of resources to accomplish a goal."

Riccitiello also noted that good multiplayer gaming is based around having "a completely level playing field," something that usually isn't the case in games with microtransactions.

"The majority of people who play shooters never even play the single player. What they're really doing is playing multiplayer. Core to what their definition of what makes a good multiplayer is that it's a completely level playing field," he added. "I hate to break it to you, but mobile games with microtransactions don't provide a level playing field. Unless you consider that the bag of gold I bought to offset my lack of skill is level with you because you're more skilled with your thumbs than I am."

Riccitiello believes its key to find games where resource management tied to money is a boon, not a bane. Games based around cards tend to work out rather well, a game like Bioshock would not.

"If you think about BioShock, I was completely captured by Ken Levine's world. I didn't want to be interrupted to resource manage. You can do virtual items, but then it becomes something different," Riccitiello said. "So it's a different concept, the level of investment is different. We've already seen Battlefield premium, which was a sort of mini-subscription for a lot of added content. But I don't know if any of those games would have been anywhere near as good as they are if they were driven by microtransactions."

"My only point is that there is more to game design than resource management around the money that you put into a game. There are other things that are equally as good or better in terms of satisfying entertainment. In those circumstances, I don't think we're going to see a free-to-play model prevail."

The full monster interview is available over at GamesIndustry International.

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