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EA exec Patrick Söderlund's new studio has big plans

Just a few months after leaving his job at EA as chief designer, Patrick Söderlund is ready to announce his…

Just a few months after leaving his job at EA as chief designer, Patrick Söderlund is ready to announce his next venture. Called Embark Studios, the company was revealed tonight on the revenue call for MapleStory publisher Nexon in Tokyo. Embark is a collaboration of various kinds, with Nexon as both a publisher and investor in the exciting studio. Söderlund’s team is not ready yet to show off a game, but the former EA executive has big plans for the future. “We have a mass market, big-scale ambition with what to do,” he says.

To create that, Söderlund says that the studio will use new technologies to build new types of online interactive experiences. The press release announces Embark is filled with buzzwords such as “connected player, large data, speech recognition, cloud computing and advanced AI”. In practice, Söderlund says that it means finding ways to exploit these different technologies to design games that differ significantly from what is currently available.

“Everything stems from a belief that our industry and the future of interactive entertainment will look different than we have today,” he says. “Although there are lots of great games that come into the market every year, it feels a bit like we get more of the same. I think we’re on the way of some changes. I think all of these [technologies] will be combined enable many different experiences to evolve over time, as we have not seen. “

Without any current games to prove it is difficult to get a feel for what this means. (Söderlund says that the studio itself is actually less than a week old at this time.) In the absence of specific, he gives a more theoretical example of the various games Embark can do:

Games today are usually built around a warehouse. You drive around and you shoot people or play soccer. What if you can have 10 abstraction layers of simulation in a game where you can choose to become a farmer or go into politics or join the military or be a professional athlete inside that world? Here are some of the questions in my mind. When I started thinking about them, along with some of the people I work with, I realized that it’s ambitious and almost naive, but I think you have to go down that way to do something extra.

Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney says it is “very rare” for the company to be involved in a venture so early, but it was sold on a combination of Söderlund’s broad vision and experience. Prior to joining EA, he was the CEO of Battlefield developer DICE. When EA acquired DICE 2006, Söderlund continued steadily through its management, becoming one of the company’s senior executives and sometimes EA’s most public face, most recently through some troublesome stretches. “We want to build this future,” said Mahoney about Embark’s plans.

For Söderlund, who says he had “other options” after leaving EA, the new studio is also a chance to come back to being more involved in making games. “At EA, I was always very close to the game performance, as much as I could give the job I had,” he says. “This is a way for me to get much closer, to come back to actually creating games and to design things and build things on my own.” Part of it means keeping on board relatively small. At present, there are only a handful of employees – Johan Andersson, who earlier led up to EA’s Search for Extraordinary Experiences Division, known as SEED – but he expects to have between 15-20 people on board in the next few weeks, with possible number of employees over 200.

And while the ultimate goal is ambitious, the road will get there slowly. “I think starting with a game or platform that can do everything we’ve talked about will be very difficult and very risky, and it will take a lot of time,” explains Söderlund. “My attitude will be different. We should begin to develop games that may share more traditional gameplay experiences, but try to try some important things that I need to prove for the future. I do not feel like getting to the ultimate dream or the one ultimate idea, and hide in a corner for 10 years and show off with something that may or may not work, is the right way for us. “

What about when Embark will release the first match? “I think you’ll see things from us faster than you expect.”

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