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Former EA CEO: Chasing console graphics on mobile is a mistake

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Riccitiello on the mobile games industry

Game developers aspiring to replicate console-quality graphics on mobile devices to differentiate themselves are making a mistake, according to former Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello.

During a discussion hosted by Casual Connect today, Riccitiello was asked for his views on a number of topics ranging from the future of mobile gaming to what mobile game developers can learn from the console space and vice versa. On the subject of what mobile game developers can learn from console developers, Riccitiello said that during his time at EA, he heard many mobile content creators say: "We're going to bring console-quality to mobile. That will differentiate us from everyone else."

"I think that's a mistake," Riccitiello said. "Investing in better graphics without figuring out what differentiating gameplay you're going to have — without thinking of how gameplay rewards players — is a road to ruin. Prettier games cost more to make. Better games satisfy consumers."

Riccitiello gave an example of strategy games from the late 90s that all adopted 3D graphics, which doubled or even tripled their development costs. "[But] revenue remained the same because they weren't innovating," he said. Meanwhile, action adventure games that went 3D benefited because they offered fundamentally new gameplay experiences that weren't possible with 2D sprites.

"Prettier games cost more to make. Better games satisfy consumers."

"If you're looking at more powerful CPUs and GPUs, think more about how that creates the opportunity to build an experience you've not seen before — a different kind of gameplay," Riccitiello said. "What gameplay wasn't possible before that can be fundamentally optimized?"

Riccitiello also went on to say that mobile game developers need to build brands in order to achieve longevity. He pointed out that, with a few rare exceptions, there aren't many publishers or developers with more than one game in the top 50 on app charts, and very few titles last more than a year in the top 50. In addition, very few developers have had a follow-up game that was bigger success than their first hit.

"You can either hope to be lucky twice, or you can figure out an answer that I think is vitally important for the health of the mobile business," he said. "Developers need to build brands. Games that don't build a brand will not be around in a decade. Will Clash of Clans be with us in 25 years? Madden turns 25 this year. Will Candy Crush be around next year and still be doing a few million a day?"

According to Riccitiello, the mobile game industry is currently seeing a lot of "me-too" games — games that only innovate incrementally by either offering a different skin or theme on the same match-3 puzzle game.

"Incremental innovation isn't going to cut it anymore on mobile," he said. "The next hits are going to come from fundamental innovation."