New sector to develop low cost, "indie" games

The world’s biggest videogame publisher is placing some small bets on new ideas.

Though it’s not yet talking officially about the project, Electronic Arts has started a division called Blueprint, focused on developing, at low cost, original intellectual property that can spread across multiple media.

Neil Young, the former head of EA’s Los Angeles studio, is heading EA Blueprint.

“We focus on creating IP in new ways for our media and finding smart ways to spread it across the media landscape,” Young said at an EA-sponsored event during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

EA’s biggest successes have been long-running franchises such as “Madden NFL” and “The Sims,” as well as big Hollywood licenses like as “Harry Potter.”

But the publisher has created very few successful new properties in the past several years. That’s one of the key reasons behind its attempt to purchase Take-Two Interactive, which would bring in valuable franchises including “Grand Theft Auto.”

Blueprint is apparently an attempt for EA to get out of its internal creative rut by taking risks, somewhat along the lines of a studio speciality division like Fox Searchlight or Miramax.

It’s also a way for EA to experiment beyond traditional videogames. While Blueprint projects could start as games, Young said they could begin in other forms as well, citing examples such as the Internet, live events and even clothing.

For vidgame projects, however, Blueprint is tasked with creating lower-cost models than the games EA has traditionally created, which can take more than 100 people and upward of $20 million to make.

“We want to find a new way to make games with smaller teams,” Young explained.

Blueprint has several development teams under its purview, including the ones at EALA working on three games created by Steven Spielberg and the publisher’s Maxis studio, which is making “Sims” creator Will Wright’s new game “Spore.”

In addition, Young said Blueprint will be taking ideas that come from outside of EA, with the Spielberg-created games a likely example. In that respect, Young’s experience working with Hollywood while heading EALA could be useful in forging partnerships with showbiz talent.

Blueprint is part of EA Games, one of four divisions in the recently re-structured company along with sports, casual games and “The Sims.”

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