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Electronic Arts’ major gaming franchises are familiar ones: The Sims, Madden NFL, Bioware’s titles and the series formerly known as FIFA. But besides the moneymakers, it also publishes a series of smaller titles from independent developers under its EA Originals program.
EA Originals have included several award-winning titles, most recently 2021’s Game of the Year It Takes Two. The upcoming game Wild Hearts, developed by Omega Force, will also be published under the EA Originals label.
GamesBeat recently spoke with Jeff Gamon, general manager of EA Partners, about the origins of the label, what they look for when selecting a partner for EA Originals and what EA provides to these game developers.
The EA Originals program began in the 2010s to support independent developers. The first game published under the label was Coldwood Interactive’s Unravel, which was memorably introduced at E3 2015 by its creative director Martin Sahlin. According to Gamon, Unravel was the catalyst behind the program’s creation.
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“That was the genesis of the Originals program. Unravel was an opportunity inside EA, which changed us quite fundamentally from a publisher of big annual iterations,” said Gamon. “It touched everyone — I mean, obviously it was a very moving, touching game. The process of making that with Martin and Coldwood and then subsequently publishing it had quite a profound impact on EA and the people who are close to it.”
Unravel was a noted departure for EA. Reviewing the title for GamesBeat, Jeff Grubb said, “Electronic Arts is not known for dealing in cute. Professional football, military shooters, and Star Wars? Now, that’s EA. But a tiny little creature made of yarn may change that perception… It is showing EA the value in smaller, quieter games.”
Gamon said Unravel inspired EA to publish more games like it, “One of the principles of this program was to support more and more of these studios and bring their vision to a world stage, helping them develop the best possible game they can with resources and facilities that they wouldn’t typically have access to.”
Finding original voices in games
The next games published under the EA Originals banner include Fe, Unravel Two, Sea of Solitude, Rocket Arena and Lost in Random. It was also the original publisher of Velan Studio’s Knockout City. Some of the most acclaimed titles from the label have been from Josef Fares’s Hazelight Studios: A Way Out and It Takes Two.
It was then-EA EVP Patrick Soderlund who put Hazelight and Fares forth to EA Originals after being impressed with the latter’s previous game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Fares revealed in an interview with IGN that even EA was skeptical about A Way Out at first, saying, “[Not] even EA thought it would sell, but they still believed in me. I didn’t care. I was like, ‘This is going to happen.’” A Way Out sold 3.5 million units as of the last report.
Gamon said that finding interesting developers such as Fares is the goal behind the EA Originals program. “It’s fundamental to the way that we partner. We are looking for people with a clear, passionate idea and vision. Part of the reason that we’re attracted to these people like moths to a flame is because of that. It’s a fundamental principle for us to protect that and to give them the freedom to make those choices.”
The partnership with Omega Force, the developer behind the upcoming Wild Hearts, came about when the game was in a very early stage of development. Gamon says there was very little to go on when he first saw Wild Hearts, but he was immediately sold. Omega Force and co-developer Koei Tecmo understood that what EA was offering went beyond a simple publishing deal.
Yosuke Hayashi, EVP of Koei Tecmo, said in a statement at the time the game was announced, “The EA team fully embraces our creative independence and have become invaluable partners offering both development and publishing support. Adding the global resources of EA with our own will help us introduce a new kind of hunting game to a global audience of players and expand our reach into global markets.”
In addition to publishing duties, EA also offers its partner studios access to multiple internal resources such as feedback, insights and other forms of testing. “It isn’t just a publisher relationship,” said Gamon. “We go on these journeys together, and bring to those studios all the resources that an internal studio at EA might have access to.”
In a recent interview with GamesBeat, Wild Hearts Director Takuto Edagawa spoke about how EA pitched in to help during the development process: “Throughout the development process, EA hosted frequent large-scale user reviews, where users would play the game and give their feedback. We were able to get a lot of feedback from a global perspective, which led to a lot of improvements we were able to make. I think we were able to come up with a very high-quality product because of that.”
Gamon added that the EA Originals teams share the developers’ passion and enthusiasm for their games: “We support them in every way that we possibly can and encourage them to be creative, bold and audacious.”
“What we’re actually looking for is people who dare to be different — more bold and audacious… There is a much broader audience for games which challenge conventions and do something different. And those are the kinds of game that I think EA Originals stands for and will champion.”
EA Originals offers a glimpse into what a large company like EA is capable of outside of its core franchises. In the company’s most recent financial report, it noted a marked decrease in net bookings but stated that said tentpole franchises remained strong. CFO Chris Suh said at the time that EA planned to “focus our investments on our best long-term growth opportunities.”
Since EA Originals’ titles do not fall into those franchises, they are likely a more risky investment. Despite this risk, EA Originals provide the developer an opportunity to nurture new IP — and many of these unproven titles have paid off commercially and critically. EA’s success will depend on picking the right teams to invest in.
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