EA Motive boss: ‘Cancellations in video game development shouldn’t be a taboo thing’

“At first it was a bit complicated, I’m not going to lie,” Patrick Klaus, General Manager of Motive Studio, tells me. We speak via Zoom after another public briefing from his team on his upcoming remake of Dead Space, Motive’s highly anticipated revival of the space survival horror series due out January 27th. But the focus of our discussion is much broader than Dead Space – considering Motive’s past and looking to its future, where a massive new Iron Man – the studio’s most ambitious project yet – now stands. on the horizon.

Until recently, Motive felt like it had flown under the radar. Founded in 2015 as EA’s new Montreal home for former Assassin’s Creed co-creator Jade Raymond, it took the studio five years to deliver its first game: the generally well-regarded Star Wars Squadrons. By this point, Raymond had already been gone for two years – poached by Google to work on the ill-fated Stadia. Meanwhile, an ambitious new IP the studio had been trying to build — shown publicly in 2020 by EA via a brief snippet of concept footage — was still struggling to find direction.

“My predecessor was gone and it was still a young studio that hadn’t been shipped,” Klaus says of Motive, when he joined Raymond in 2019. “Motive had contributed to the Battlefront 2 campaign, but it was a very young studio, and I would say the first two years were really [about us] searching for our identity and purpose, like some of these other more established studios.” Motive isn’t yet a household name like other EA teams like BioWare or Criterion might be, Klaus agrees – but that, he hopes, will change.

Motive’s upcoming Dead Space remake.

“I remember, literally the first day I joined, I did kind of an open AMA thing, and one of the employees asked me what my vision was for the studio,” Klaus recalled. “And I was like, ‘wait a minute, give me some time – I want to listen to you all find out what you love to do’. What are our teams passionate about? What is EA would like us to be tactically, strategically? [Let’s] see if we can find this place. And it took a little while, it took us shipping [Star Wars Squadrons]. Because success breeds success and it brings confidence.”

By the time Klaus joined, Motive was already working on Star Wars Squadrons after a successful pitch to EA’s top brass. Seeing it released the following year was a big milestone for Motive, Klaus recalls. “It was huge for confidence,” he says. “Talking is important, words are important, but keeping pace and delivering is pretty crucial in our industry.”

From there, the plan was for Motive to release its own new IP, a project named Gaia that it had been incubating for years behind closed doors. EA showed a few seconds of basic test footage at E3 2020, where a character could be seen hovering over buildings using a jetpack, before moving some physics-based blocks around. It has been described as “a very ambitious and innovative new game” that puts “power and creativity in your hands”. Eventually, however, the project could not find its feet.

Patrick Klaus, Managing Director of Motive.

“We had a really good time,” says Klaus. “The search was for breakthroughs in gameplay, and through prototyping, through iteration, trying different things that were going to bring new gameplay experiences,” he continues. “Something that was going to be fresh, unique, that could create a kind of autonomy for the player – whether in a creative or narrative setting. [way]… We were playing with these things, pretty cool things. After two years of design, I decided, with the support of [EA] seat, to disconnect the plug. The level of risk – to be commercially successful when we were a relatively young studio – was just a bit too high.

“Cancellations in video game development shouldn’t be taboo,” he continues. “There is nothing taboo [about it]. It’s part of the creative process and the uncertainty that comes with exploring different things. The one thing I thought was really important at the time was that it wasn’t a call to EA executive headquarters. It was our call. That was our call to say, considering where we were as a studio – a relatively young studio, a new team, [that it was] Very ambitious. We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew. And a new IP, as a studio…given you have families…You want to make sure you have the sustainability and you’re setting the teams up for success and I take responsibility for the calculated risk taking very seriously.”

So what then for Motive? “You need good B-plans to keep building a studio,” Klaus says, “and you know, those B-plans very often end up being amazing A-plans. Dead Space was the first thing, so we could step in and have more ambition, then with Iron Man we have the opportunity to take things to a whole new level.”

Not everyone at Motive was initially sold on the idea of ​​reviving Dead Space. The sci-fi horror-survival series was created by now-closed EA studio Visceral, while many of that team’s former employees were now at Krafton-owned Striking Distance Games, quietly building a successor. witty. For Dead Space fans, however, Motive’s announcement to bring the series back received an enthusiastic response.

“There is a lot of passion for the [Dead Space] IP within the studio, but I will say there were also employees who were a bit neutral, on the fence,” Klaus recalls. “But today they want to keep doing Dead Space forever. We kind of transformed them from neutrality to absolute love of IP, which is a credit to the team and what we’ve been doing – the lore, the fantasy of Dead Space.”

Motive's original IP, codenamed Gaia.
Test images for Motive’s original IP, codenamed Gaia.

Motive has been boosted over the past year by its progress, which has manifested itself in relatively transparent looks at game development that Klaus says has generated helpful constructive feedback and positive energy. “It’s a healthy kind of cycle,” he notes, and one that he’d like to see repeated with the studio’s big Iron Man project in the future. It’s partly for this reason that the studio announced its Marvel project so early, while it’s still in pre-production. Other factors here were a desire to recruit staff to help do this and an attempt to get ahead of leaks. (“Although you can’t do that – I’ve accepted that you can never anticipate leaks!” Klaus admits.)

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime, to take a beloved superhero IP and have the opportunity over the next few years to make a great AAA action adventure game in its own right. in the Iron Man fantasy,” Klaus continues. “We take it very seriously. It’s also a bit daunting, isn’t it? Because it’s going to be big, and there’s going to be a lot of expectations from millions of players. We’re going to keep the thread I had to say has become part of our DNA – dealing with intellectual property with confidence, humility and passion.

The project will tell “an all-new Iron Man story,” though beyond that, Klaus isn’t revealing much. “The gameplay opportunities are really exciting,” he says. “So you’ve got Tony Stark, you’ve got Iron Man and I can just let you imagine what kind of gameplay opportunities might come out of that… It’s got to be big. It’s got to have innovation. It needs storytelling convincing.

“We need time to try some things and make sure we land on a creative vision and creative direction that will be fresh, unique, and different from some of these other Marvel games or action RPG games out there,” concludes Klaus. “It’s a big, big goal before we go into production.”

And what about washed Gaia? “Maybe there will be opportunities in the future for some of this work to come back in one way or another,” he continues, laughing as I suggest that his gameplay featuring a character in a jetpack could return in Iron Man – a game ostensibly about a character in a jetpack. “We continue to learn,” says Klaus, “every day.”

Kimberly B. Nguyen