In his three-year run as CEO of Electronic Arts, Andrew Wilson has done the seemingly impossible.
In 2013, core gamers held a hostile view of the company – and investors weren't much happier. It was a gaming giant that made money, but not a lot of friends in the process. But since Wilson took over, shares are up over 175 percent, and the company has turned things around with players, going so far as to host a pair of open-to-the-public events in lieu of a show floor presence at E3, the annual video game trade show.
And Wilson says that while no decisions have been made about next year, he can't imagine this as a one-shot experiment.
"In a world where you're competing against more companies, more platforms, more business models [and] more content, staying close to your player is the only path to success," he says. "We can't turn our back on our players or the community leaders."
EA is also trying to more deeply incorporate player feedback into its games. Beyond gathering thoughts from players at EA Play, the event it's holding this week, the company also has been a leader in incorporating player data into its design process.
"Every time they play, they send a message," he says. "Every time they connect with a friend; every time they choose a menu option, they're sending a message. We're watching to see are there places they're getting stuck? Are they having difficulty connecting with friend? Are they having a challenge with the game? Is there something that will deliver a new way to play that's not being experienced?"
To a lesser extent, that player feedback is also being factored into the company's release schedule. Many were surprised that EA will not release a new "Star Wars" game this holiday, especially given the strong performance of last year's "Star Wars Battlefront". (The action shooter has sold over 14 million copies life to date, according to the company.)
Wilson says the lull was not due to developer delays, but was by design.
"What we've come to understand is our players have said 'hey there are some games we just don't want every year. We want to understand the depths of this game,'" he says.
One of the ways to explore those depths will be via virtual reality. EA will offer a "Battlefront" add-on that's built for Sony's Playstation VR this fall
Virtual reality is an area of growing interest for the company, says Wilson. And while he's not ready to commit to the technology completely, due in part to the price point and form factor of headsets, he likes the potential.
"Escape and immersion are very core to why we play," he says. "When we design a game today, we have to design around a special disconnect. We've got to make you feel you're on [the Star Wars planet of] Hoth. We've got to give you that feeling and convince you to ignore your surroundings like the couch and table and carpet. Virtual reality eliminates those barriers."