EA’s DICE boss on in­no­va­tion, vir­tual re­al­ity, and (not) be­ing the bad guy


Over the past 16 years Karl Magnus

Troeds­son has worked at al­most ev­ery level of the game in­dus­try, start­ing as a level de­signer and artist for de­funct PC de­vel­oper Unique be­fore be­com­ing a pro­ducer then ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer for EA’s DICE stu­dio in Stock­holm. To­day he is the VP, gen­eral man­ager and CEO of EA’s Swedish and Amer­i­can DICE stu­dios, and is over­see­ing Vis­ceral’s work on the next Bat­tle­field game: Hard­line. Speak­ing af­ter EA’s E3 con­fer­ence, Troeds­son dis­cusses the new con­sole gen­er­a­tion, Bat­tle­field 4’ s teething trou­bles, and why EA re­ally is a com­pany will­ing to take risks. DICE helped launch the new con­sole gen­er­a­tion with

Bat­tle­field 4. What kinds of games do your stu­dios con­sider to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of new-gen­er­a­tion play? Each genre, each game, each team will have a dif­fer­ent an­swer to that ques­tion. I al­ways find that in the tran­si­tion to a new gen­er­a­tion of con­soles, there are a lot of buzz­words around [like] ‘ev­ery game is go­ing to use move­ment’, and that’s not true. Early on we de­cided hu­man move­ment, from Kinect or some­thing like that, isn’t suit­able for a very fast-paced genre like shoot­ers, but there are some [new] el­e­ments that are re­ally cool. You can have more in­for­ma­tion pushed to a tablet or some­thing like that. Press­ing the but­ton to cap­ture footage and share it is su­per-cool, and suits us re­ally well.

The most im­por­tant part for us was the sheer raw power of these con­soles, mean­ing that we could go to 60fps for our game and then push the bar so we could go to 64 play­ers on con­soles as well. For DICE, those were the key com­po­nents for go­ing nex­tgen. At last year’s E3, that didn’t per­haps ful­fil people’s fan­tasy of what next-gen­er­a­tion games would ac­tu­ally be. But I ac­tu­ally think now, when people start play­ing

Bat­tle­field 4, they’ll re­alise that it’s been [a core change]. We’ll see where we go in the fu­ture. There might be voice com­mands we start us­ing more… What are the most dif­fi­cult chal­lenges your stu­dios have faced over the past few years, as new con­sole hard­ware has emerged? In the state we’re at now, most games are shipped on three plat­forms: cur­rent-gen, next-gen and PC. We need to stop say­ing ‘next-gen’ at some point. If you have any kind of am­bi­tion – which most game teams do – you want to max­imise your game on those plat­forms, right? That means you have more work to do. If you want to bal­ance mak­ing a great game with be­ing suc­cess­ful busi­ness-wise, those are the per­mu­ta­tions you need to cre­ate. We had [been] plan­ning for this for quite some time from a tech­nol­ogy per­spec­tive with Frost­bite, of course, and when we did Bat­tle­field 3 there was al­ready a lot of work go­ing into the en­gine to pre­pare us for the next-gen­er­a­tion con­soles. At the same time you can never pre­pare all the way be­cause the XDKs and SDKs are al­ways com­ing in late. This year and next year I think we’re go­ing to start see­ing that game teams are re­ally ma­tur­ing. Hard­line rep­re­sents a very dif­fer­ent take on Bat­tle­field. Did you push for in­no­va­tion among the DICE stu­dios work­ing on the new con­soles? In­no­va­tion has been a bit of a buzz­word for many years now. Some people as­so­ciate in­no­va­tion with large, rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes to an es­tab­lished fran­chise. That might be true, but if you have a long-last­ing se­ries of games you have to be care­ful about that as well. You need to think about the in­cre­men­tal steps [be­cause] you can’t alien­ate your old fan­base. Well, you can if [that’s your choice], but we don’t want to do that. In­no­va­tion can come in dif­fer­ent shapes and forms. In [ Hard­line’s] case we’re in­tro­duc­ing a brand-new set­ting that comes with new weapons, new ve­hi­cles, gad­gets, etc. You can ar­gue [whether] it’s in­no­va­tion or not, but it’s a big change for us. In a fran­chise like Bat­tle­field, when we in­tro­duced vault­ing an­i­ma­tions, you can’t put that as a back-of-the­box fea­ture, but to the core es­tab­lished [play­ers] that in­no­va­tion is the one they were wait­ing for. On the other hand, you might in­tro­duce more dy­namic con­cepts like ‘levo­lu­tion’. I know that people hate that word; we still haven’t found a bet­ter word to de­scribe it. How did you go about pre­par­ing Vis­ceral for work­ing on DICE’s long-time fran­chise? We wouldn’t have asked Vis­ceral to build a Bat­tle­field game or trusted them with it if we didn’t think they could deliver. We haven’t tried to change the way they work. I strongly be­lieve that es­tab­lished teams have a modus operandi, a way of work­ing, a cul­ture… and if you start work­ing with them, the wrong thing would be to go in there and try to change their core val­ues. You maybe give some hints, tips and tricks re­gard­ing how they are sup­posed to go about things, be­cause you have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence with build­ing BF games, but you don’t mess with that core cul­ture. You can chal­lenge part of it, but if you feel that you need to go in and change some­thing like that, you prob­a­bly en­gaged the wrong team. I’m con­fi­dent with the team that Steve Papout­sis is run­ning and the

en­tire stu­dio they have in­side of Vis­ceral, mostly be­cause we have col­lab­o­rated with them for sev­eral years. Vis­ceral built one of the ex­pan­sions for BF3.

Hav­ing a new stu­dio build a game in an es­tab­lished fran­chise is a big task and a lot of work to take on. A lot of mus­cle mem­ory that an es­tab­lished team has, the new one doesn’t. Lots of people have been trav­el­ling be­tween the two stu­dios in Stock­holm and Cal­i­for­nia just to get that knowl­edge across. Build­ing a BF game is such a huge un­der­tak­ing; there are people from all over EA in­volved. There’s al­ways one stu­dio that owns it and car­ries the bulk of the work, but when it comes to ac­tu­ally ship­ping and fin­ish­ing a beast like this, there are a lot of people in­volved. There are people from BioWare in­volved, even. Nat­u­rally we have some people at DICE help­ing out with some parts of the mul­ti­player, but the core game is still be­ing built by Vis­ceral. We just draw on the ex­pe­ri­ence we have in­side the com­pany. To what ex­tent are you plan­ning to in­vest in VR? I wrote a paper on VR when I was a young guy in school, back when The Lawn­mower Man was re­leased. VR had a bit of an up­take then. Now it’s back, which is su­per cool and I’m per­son­ally re­ally ex­cited about it. We are def­i­nitely in­ter­ested in it – we’re do­ing tests and play­ing around with it – but it’s not like we’re jump­ing on it and build­ing a VR-only BF game. It has clear lim­i­ta­tions. Again, most shoot­ers are very high-paced, pre­ci­sion-based games, and when you try these things out you find they can be an overwhelming ex­pe­ri­ence for you as a hu­man be­ing, with re­gards to your spa­tial aware­ness. That doesn’t go hand-in-hand with some­thing where you want to pixel-shoot some­thing in an FPS game.

I think we’re go­ing to start to see dif­fer­ent ver­sions of VR as well. I think there’s go­ing to be a spec­trum here. Are you go­ing to Google Glass’s aug­mented re­al­ity, or is it full ‘al­ways im­mersed in the world’ VR? I’m re­ally glad to see that the hard­ware man­u­fac­tur­ers are putting ef­fort into this – like the Mor­pheus, etc – and it’s some­thing we’ll con­tinue to play around with. We have some cool ideas about what we could do in­side of an es­tab­lished fran­chise like Bat­tle­field, and we’ll see what hap­pens in the fu­ture. Why did it take an en­tirely new con­sole gen­er­a­tion to

re­vive Mir­ror’s Edge, and what makes it so wor­thy of re­vival when it was so un­suc­cess­ful be­fore? It starts with that game idea – do we be­lieve in this? Then, do we have a team that is pas­sion­ate about build­ing it? Af­ter Mir­ror’s Edge we took some time for se­ri­ous [think­ing]: what are we go­ing to do with this game? Is this a one-shot or a fran­chise-to-be? Is it just a lovely mem­ory for people or should we ac­tu­ally do some­thing else with it? We were in that state for quite some time, fo­cus­ing on Bat­tle­field and other stuff as well, but then this team stepped for­ward with an idea say­ing, ‘Here’s what we want to do with the Mir­ror’s

Edge IP’, with some changes to it com­pared with the first one which I can’t go into here.

But there were some key changes to the core recipe which ba­si­cally, for a lot of people, just made it click: ‘That’s a game that needs to be built’. It’s such a good idea, and now ev­ery­thing fits to­gether. So then it quickly be­came a pas­sion project, which a lot of people are very ded­i­cated to build­ing. The rea­son it de­serves to be built now is that we think we have a great idea for a game. It’s not a long-last­ing se­ries just yet, but we be­lieve we have some­thing that people are go­ing to en­joy and that’s why we’re go­ing to build it. Bat­tle­field 4’ s launch was marred with bugs and prob­lems that dogged the game for months. How can you re­as­sure play­ers about the fu­ture of the se­ries? Let’s start by say­ing that we ac­knowl­edge the fact that people have had prob­lems with the game. I won’t go into de­tail re­gard­ing what went wrong. What I want to say is that, from the get-go, we’ve been ded­i­cated to fix­ing this. It has taken some time, to the point where we de­layed DLC and did sev­eral things in the back­ground that people didn’t see. We have the whole fam­ily of DICE teams [on it] and people at Vis­ceral have been help­ing out, mak­ing sure that Bat­tle­field 4 is what it is to­day. We’ve patched it and im­proved it even fur­ther. We’re go­ing to keep tak­ing care of our games.

Nat­u­rally we’re ded­i­cated to mak­ing sure that the next game we launch, Bat­tle­field: Hard­line, is go­ing to have a bet­ter launch, which is why we have a beta al­ready. But it’s about look­ing at, and tak­ing care of, our prod­uct. There’s one thing I want to get across, which I think is re­ally im­por­tant here: some people say, ‘You’re an­nu­al­is­ing the fran­chise now – does that mean you’re go­ing to give up on the other game?’ I want people to keep play­ing BF4. Our com­mit­ment to BF4 is go­ing to con­tinue, even af­ter Hard­line is out – fix­ing prob­lems, fix­ing bugs that might oc­cur, bal­anc­ing is­sues, and even in­tro­duc­ing new fea­tures. We are go­ing to be com­mit­ted to run­ning games more in par­al­lel; pre­vi­ously we ran them more in a se­rial way. That ex­pan­sion has led to the for­ma­tion of a new Los Angeles stu­dio, but how much of DICE LA is com­prised of rem­nants from Medal Of Honor de­vel­oper Dan­ger Close? The old Medal Of Honor stu­dio is not the DICE LA you see to­day. When we formed that stu­dio we had a cou­ple of key re­cruits on the old team when they moved over. When you look at the spread of talent in­side that stu­dio now, the ma­jor­ity are new re­cruits. I can’t wait to


start talk­ing about what we’re do­ing there, but that’s for the fu­ture. I know [Dan­ger Close] car­ries some neg­a­tiv­ity for a lot of shooter fans – they didn’t like Medal Of

Honor. The se­nior talent in­side that stu­dio comes from the old DICE Stock­holm of­fice. It’s a bunch of Swedes ba­si­cally run­ning the stu­dio. What has the cul­tural change been like at EA over the past few years? Is the door still open to IP

ex­per­i­ments like Dead Space? Ab­so­lutely, other­wise we wouldn’t be al­lowed to build [the new] Mir­ror’s Edge. We have new things boil­ing in the back­ground that we’re not ready to show in full. At the con­fer­ence we gave a sort of sta­tus re­port and showed a work-in-progress ver­sion of some games, and for me that’s a sig­nif­i­cant change for the com­pany and how we think about things. We can dare to show prod­ucts that are in pro­duc­tion and say, ‘It’s com­ing when it’s ready – don’t ask about an end date be­cause per­haps we don’t even know yet’. I know there’s a big ap­petite from my boss, Patrick, and his boss, Andrew Wil­son, to have a cre­ation process for new IPs with­out los­ing fo­cus from our es­tab­lished fran­chises. There’s def­i­nitely some re­ally cool things hap­pen­ing in­side EA, both from a games per­spec­tive and also from a com­pany per­spec­tive.

There’s an In­ter­net fol­low­ing that likes to call out EA as the big bad wolf in the in­dus­try, but I can tell you this: I’ve been work­ing at DICE since 2001. We were pur­chased by EA, and I think EA is one of the most cre­ative com­pa­nies there is. It con­sists of a lot of people who are very pas­sion­ate about build­ing and pub­lish­ing games, but es­pe­cially from my per­spec­tive, about de­vel­op­ing games. We do this out of pas­sion. We want to build the best games we can. I think if you go to Cri­te­rion or BioWare or any other stu­dio, they will in some shape or form tell you the same thing. We’re re­ally pas­sion­ate about what we’re do­ing. In­side of the fam­ily of EA we feel very good about it. Nat­u­rally it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­vince people, show people who we are and show our pas­sion. That is, I would dare to say, a lit­tle bit of what we tried to do at this year’s press con­fer­ence: ‘Here we are – this is us, the people be­hind the game’. Ac­tivi­sion has said that the in­dus­try has no room for small games. Is that some­thing you agree with? I won’t talk about their strat­egy, but our strat­egy is slightly dif­fer­ent. We be­lieve there is room for new ideas and for new IP that can come out of the gate and per­haps not be bil­lion-dol­lar fran­chises from the get-go. Putting that on a new IP from the be­gin­ning is not the right way of go­ing about it. I’m a strong be­liever that if you have a great game and a pas­sion­ate team [and] a con­ver­sa­tion with your fans, then busi­ness suc­cess will fol­low.

That’s not al­ways true – you have great games that come and go be­cause they didn’t man­age to get their busi­ness side to­gether, but if the fo­cus is on the game team and the cre­ative side, that’s usu­ally a good recipe for suc­cess. At the same time, there is the re­al­ity that we want our games to be suc­cess­ful. It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to think about the busi­ness part. I know that talk­ing about money can al­most be a for­bid­den sub­ject for some people. I don’t think it should be, though. We’re run­ning a busi­ness as well. We’re in this busi­ness be­cause we’re pas­sion­ate about mak­ing games, but one doesn’t come with­out the other. Why does EA seem to have a hard time con­vinc­ing people of its pas­sion for game de­vel­op­ment? I ac­tu­ally don’t re­ally know. I think with ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion that grows to a cer­tain size, people start to ques­tion it a bit. We have made mis­takes in the past, per­haps we made some bad choices and busi­ness de­ci­sions… Ev­ery com­pany does that. The only thing we can do then is rec­tify that and show people that this is what we’re about now. I don’t think that it’s unique to EA, but what I think is unique right now is how we talk se­ri­ously about this in­side the com­pany: we don’t want people to per­ceive us like this, we don’t agree with the im­age that people say we have, and we want to show them who we are. That in­volves per­haps let­ting people look a lit­tle bit closer at what we’re do­ing.

The Bat­tle­field se­ries has long been DICE’s bread and but­ter, so it’s lit­tle sur­prise to see EA look­ing to ex­plore the breadth of its ap­peal by in­tro­duc­ing Hard­line

EA took the new Mir­ror’s Edge to E3, of­fer­ing a glimpse of the game far ear­lier than it or­di­nar­ily would, or per­haps should. Its de­but was lit­tle more than con­fir­ma­tion that the game still ex­ists

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