EA has said during its latest fourth-quarter earnings call that it’s gearing up for the arrival of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Scarlett. Blake Jorgensen, EA COO, and CFO, briefly touched on the technology infrastructure that will be required for the next-gen consoles and how EA is ready to adapt to this.
For starters, it sounds as if DICE’s Frostbite engine is here to stay, although we may be entering a time where it suits EA to jump from Frostbite 3 to Frostbite 4, should there be any particular benefit to a major overhaul.
“In terms of the new consoles, we’re still in the discovery phase around what exactly that means, but we’ve tried to build our basic engine structure so it can be modified for new consoles or new technology fairly easily versus having it be built from scratch,” said Jorgensen.
“We went down the path of trying to build Frostbite as one of our major engines inside the company. And as a reminder, if you go back many years back, the gen -- going from Gen 2 to Gen 3 was very expensive, but some of that was driven by it [being] the first time we went to HD versus non-HD in the games themselves, as well as going from still [being] on very customized boxes.”
By that, we can infer the customised architecture found in the Xbox 360 and, in particular, the PlayStation 3, was a little bit of a headache for EA. As we progressed to current-gen consoles though, and their standardised x86 architecture which falls in line with PC, it’s probably become a much simpler process. This approach will stretch through to the PS5 and the next-gen Xbox, both of which will be largely the same process to develop for, specs aside.
“When we went from Gen 3 to Gen 4, our costs actually didn't go up at all, and that's because the boxes were designed to have more standardized chipsets,” continued Jorgensen. “You didn't have the HD probably, we're already there, and I think we just got better, as we got better technology. And so our focus is on how do we try to minimize the cost going to the next generation. We'll know more in the next, I'm guessing two quarters or three quarters, as we get closer to exactly what's going to be out there. But our hope is that there is not a big impact.”
Reading between the lines, it sounds as if Electronic Arts itself doesn’t even have the finalised specs for the next-gen consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft likely have their hardware plans in a state of flux, although it appears the specs are going to solidify within the next six months or so. This certainly props up the theory that both consoles could be ready to launch in late 2020.
Considering BioWare’s much-publicised issues with the Frostbite 3 engine during Anthem’s development, we’d be surprised if a major engine overhaul isn’t on the cards. It’s a rod that EA has made for its back in its determination to use Frostbite rather than a more generalised game engine, resulting in an unfamiliar engine for developers and, consequently, buggy games. It looks as if EA is sticking with Frostbite for the long haul though, and it’ll certainly be interesting to see how they adapt to the new high-end hardware that will become commonplace. Let's just hope they're proficient these days, as EA's studios will certainly be busy cranking out all those live service games...