EA Mobile's Simpsons Extra Effort
After Mitch Lasky's infamous 2006 GDC Mobile "You're All Doomed" keynote address, it was easy to imagine a 2007 mobile game landscape as dominated by EA as the console market is now.
In fact, the opposite turned out to be true. The behemoth publisher has actually lost marketshare to Glu, Gameloft, and the rest of the top-tier as it transitioned Jamdat employees into EA employees. By all accounts the transition seems to have progressed smoothly and rapidly (besides the loss of Lasky himself to Benchmark Capital), but there's still no denying that EA Mobile in the first half of 2007 was not quite as scary a competitor as EA Mobile in the first half of 2006.
Still, EA Mobile is the largest, most successful mobile game publisher by a wide margin. And after taking a look at the company's Q3 and Q4 line-up at the revamped Electronics Entertainment Expo in Santa Monica earlier this month, Modojo gets the distinct impression that the company is going to be much more proactive at getting those marketshare points back than it has been thus far.
Arguably the best-looking mobile title EA showed off at the show is also the best indicator of its renewed sense of purpose - The Simpsons: Minutes to Meltdown. We spoke with Producer Bryant Bustamante about the company's interest in going above-and-beyond making "just another licensed game."
Making The Simpsons The Simpsons
"We had a lot of help from the show's writers in refining the in-game text," Bustamante noted. "In fact everyone at Gracie was absolutely fantastic to collaborate with. They have these amazing resources to pull from - art assets of every building in Springfield, Homer in every outfit imaginable, you name it."
This desire to exceed the authenticity expectations of Simpsons fans is the first indication that Minutes to Meltdown might not be your typical licensed mobile game. EA, along with every other licensee, has been guilty of at least occasionally putting out titles of, to put it gently, not the highest quality, confident in the fact that the game would still achieve a guaranteed level of success, by virtue of the license itself. But Minutes to Meltdown represents a concerted effort to "get it right," and not just a desire to get a product out the door as quickly as possible.
"We were forced to take some liberties with the layout of Springfield itself - we sort of had to make our own mobile version of Springfield," Bustamante explained. "But we made sure the most iconic areas - the Simpson home, the nuclear power plant, the Kwik-E-Mart were all represented, and that there were all kinds of details only hardcore Simpsons fans would recognize."
He continued, "Mr. Pinchy the lobster can be found in the Simpson kitchen, you'll see 'Shelbyville sucks' graffiti littered around town... these are the sorts of details we wanted to make sure we included. And it's here that Fox and Gracie really helped us. Those details are really what brought out 'The Simpsons' of out this Simpsons game."
Technology & Product Mixes
In addition to the company's desire to not allow their licenses to just sell themselves (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix also looks great), Bustamante also touched on some other focuses within EA Mobile, while cryptically hinting at others.
"We developed some new multiplayer technology that will be deployed shortly in our Pictionary mobile game. It features four-player cross-carrier multiplayer," he said. "This multiplayer infrastructure is something we'll be putting to use in other titles moving forward as well.
EA Mobile's greatest competitive advantage is undoubtedly the strong mix of internal EA brands and licensed properties it inherits from its parent company, and although the company is well aware of this fact, is still isn't prepared to allow those licenses to make of the entirety of its product mix.
"Our [mobile] product mix is given a lot of thought - we intentionally put a lot of thought into striking the right balance between licensed brands, EA brands, and original IP," Bustamante said. "We have a few pieces of unannounced original IP that we're especially excited about, but I can't quite talk about them yet."