Interview

Firemint buyout designed to boost our creative leadership on mobile, claims EA's Barry Cottle

Firemint buyout designed to boost our creative leadership on mobile, claims EA's Barry Cottle
Just as with the firm's buyout of Chillingo last October, EA's swoop for Australian studio Firemint came somewhat out of the blue.

Well, for the press, at least. From EA's perspective, bringing a developer such as Firemint into the fold – equipped with franchises such as Flight Control and Real Racing – made perfect sense.

While Chillingo focuses on fostering relationships with independent studios and start ups, Firemint has a proven track record for delivering quality, both in terms of the standard of gameplay on offer, and the amount of downloads its titles tend to mop up.

Speaking after the deal was announced, EA Interactive's executive VP and general manager Barry Cottle told PocketGamer.biz that Firemint simply ticks all of the publisher's boxes.

"EA's keys to success in mobile revolve essentially around three pillars; quality, speed and scale," said Cottle, adding that delivering original IP is a crucial part of competing in what is the "open, fast moving iOS space".

"Because these new platforms are very accessible for game developers, we're seeing a lot of small shops getting into the game with new, creative titles. At EA, we can choose to bring these developers closer to us through companies like Chillingo, which we acquired at the end of last year, or indeed when the cultural fit is right and a deal makes sense, by bringing the studio into the EA family."

State of independence?

In essence, Firemint's roster of "talented developers and great IP" made it a prize purchase, though Cottle is adamant that EA isn't looking to impose its will on the studio.

"Firemint will become a studio of EAi and remain in Melbourne," he confirmed. "The team will continue its focus on making great games based on original IP."

Crucially, Cottle said the buyout should have no impact on Firemint's 60 strong workforce and, broadly speaking, its integration with EA will follow the model utilised with previous buyouts.

"As we have done with other studios that have joined EA – Bioware, DICE, Playfish – the goals is to preserve what they do best in terms of their creative thinking and the ways in which they innovate, and add the additional resource and scale of EA," he said.

Move mania

But Firemint wasn't the only firm EA moved for this week. Alongside its acquisition of the Australian studio, the publisher also purchased Mobile Post Production (MPP) – a cross-platform porting and development specialist for smartphone.

MPP's role, in Cottle's view, will be to enable EA to swiftly and easily target multiple platforms with key releases – key releases it will be looking to Firemint to deliver.

"In mobile gaming, being first to market matters, and the fragmentation across operators and handsets is growing," he said.

"In terms of speed and scale, EA was first to the iPad, Kindle, Playbook and Xperia Play. The recent acquisition of MPP will extend our lead on these new platforms, and future platforms, with their proven technical and engineering leadership. So, we think that Firemint and MPP, with the distribution and publishing power of EA, helps fuel our leadership position."

Following Firemint

The fact that Firemint forms on part of what's quickly become a chain of acquisitions in the mobile market highlights just how seriously EA now takes the digital arena as a whole.

Indeed, Cottle claims the publisher's digital revenues hit $500 million last fiscal year, with EA looking to bring in $750 million in 2011.

"We're always looking for talented teams that could become part of EA," Cottle concluded, suggesting that Firemint could be the latest in a long line of mobile moves in the coming months and years.

"In the industry in general, we think you’ll see more of these smaller scale acquisitions of studios dedicated to mobile and social gaming moving forward."

If EA's buyouts of both Chillingo and Firemint are any indicator, chances are those acquisitions will come with very little warning indeed.
Thanks to Barry for his time.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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