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Interview: EA2D's Mark Spenner on going 'browser and beyond'


EA2D is Electronic Arts's small-team, small-game studio, which just launched Dragon Age Legends on Facebook (today!) and has Fancy Pants Adventures for PSN and XBLA in the wings. We spoke to Mark Spenner, VP and GM of the studio, about these two very different projects. How, we wondered, do these two wildly different things, a console game based on a Flash game, and a Facebook spinoff of a giant RPG, both fall under the same EA2D banner?

"EA2D is 'browser and beyond,'" Spenner told us at SXSW Interactive. "We're trying to push from the browser out." That includes projects like Mirror's Edge 2D, which began as a Flash game and moved to iPhone and iPad, and the new Dragon Age Legends, which was already "beyond" and moved into the browser -- and is also moving back out with a mobile app.

A Facebook game seems like an odd fit for an IP currently associated with super-hardcore, long-session, violent RPGs. We asked Spenner if Legends was meant to expand the audience for the series, or act as a companion piece for existing Dragon Agers. "Both," he said confidently. He told us that EA has observed through forum activity and other online posting that Dragon Age Legends players fall into three categories: people who only play games on Facebook -- "that's their platform;" those who play Legends and are then drawn to pick up Dragon Age 2, and a third "core gamer" category. "They're actually playing Legends while Dragon Age 2 is loading." This style of play will only become more common, he said, as more "companion games" introduce characters that persist in both mobile and console games.

This persistent play explains why EA2D would use a potentially limiting "core" IP for a Facebook game. In addition, the world of Dragon Age is a rich one that was already made. "You have efficiencies, a canon, great history, areas that haven't even been touched in the Dragon Age universe," he said. "We're pretty careful with the BioWare guys about 'we're going to play over here so we don't mess around with anything over here.' We try to stay in lockstep on things. That incredible treasure trove of art, concepts, story, a great universe. We have a little bit of that hardcore nature in the game, but it's a more accessible take."
Fancy Pants Adventures is a testbed for much of the EA2D development process, Spenner said. "In my opinion, where the industry is headed is cross-platform persistence between console, mobile, and browser. What I was trying to figure out with Fancy Pants was, does the tool chain work from Flash to XBLA or PSN, and then does the tool chain work from Flash to mobile, so we can actually build all this in conjunction in the future. I was coming at the same problem from two different sides."

Fancy Pants Adventures has also afforded EA2D the opportunity to work with independent developers, including FPA creator Brad Borne and Over the Top Games, the team behind NyxQuest. "I fell in love with that game," Spenner said. " I was like, I want to work with these guys. Brad was on board with that, so we built a team around that."

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