EA spots gaming promise in Apple Watch, iPhone 6 (Q&A)

EA says the newest crop of smartphones from Apple allow its teams to create console-quality games. Plus, it's looking into making games for wearables.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
3 min read

Apple CEO Tim Cook showing off the Apple Watch James Martin/CNET

If Electronic Arts has its way, the next time you look down at your watch, one of its games could be looking back at you.

The video game giant has two of its teams investigating how to make wearable games, another indicator that these once-niche devices could soon move into the mainstream.

EA and Apple have a long history together. Trip Hawkins, one of EA's co-founders, came from Apple. The game maker has also been featured in Apple's press events, showing off some of its latest apps, like the hit car racing game Real Racing.

Most recently, EA discussed its plans to bring its game coding tools called Frostbite to mobile devices, along with popular titles like Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. The company has about a dozen mobile games planned for release over the next year, including a version of its FIFA Ultimate Team soccer game, a new puzzle title from the Peggle brand called Peggle Blast, and a new entry in its Sim City franchise called BuildIt.

Now EA is investigating wearable games as well, looking to see if the watch can do more than just play Flappy Bird.

Frank Gibeau, head of EA's mobile game efforts, spoke with CNET about his impressions about Apple's devices, and what they mean for the video game industry. The following is an edited Q&A:

Q: What struck you most about the announcements today?

Gibeau: What we saw was an announcement around some new handsets that, when you combine the capabilities of the retina display, the A8 processor, the capabilities of Metal we talked about mid-summer, along with 128 gigabyte storage, you're kinda getting on par with next-gen consoles in terms of what's possible in gaming, which is moving the market straight into EA's strike zone.

We like the idea of being able to take mobile gaming from a visual fidelity, production value, and performance standpoint up a notch, and the good news is that a lot of the technology investments we've been making, like Frostbite, will begin to pay off as the new handsets come out.

Frank Gibeau Electronic Arts

We saw Activision choose to release its Skylanders console game on the tablet as well. Are we going to see the phone and the tablet treated as another console?

Gibeau: There are still some profound differences between how you approach them and how you bring them to market.

We'll do things like in the sports business where we release apps for Madden and FIFA in the same window (as the console game) but for a lot of our other products, they're stand-alone dedicated mobile experiences because the platforms are still pretty profoundly different.

If the technological capabilities are getting similar, how are mobile and console still so different?

Gibeau: The user experience is different. The session lengths on console are an hour, the session lengths on mobile are two minutes, so there needs to be profound differences between the two for them to be successful. They will continue to be symbiotic and complimentary for a while.

It's not just a checkbox as another platform because of its profound differences.

What do you think of the Apple Watch?

Gibeau: One of the things we're intrigued with in the mobile division is seeing wearables emerge as a gaming platform. We think we're in the early stages of that, if you look at Oculus and its relationship with Facebook, and Google Glass. Now with Apple's big announcement with the watch, there's a trend here where wearables are going to increase in performance, capability and unique functions over time that we believe will enable gaming experiences.

In fact, we have two teams prototyping wearable experiences that are not only standalone, but also some ideas where you can actually use the fitness component in the watch that can unlock capabilities in the game that might be on your iPhone. Or you could do crafting or some other auction trading on your watch that goes back into your tablet game that you might check out later when you get home.

So, we're pretty excited about it; We think it's very early days. But for EA, the emergence of another gaming platform is compelling for us.