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New player in Playa is vidgamer EA

Company plans larger L.A. presence with new digs

Vidgame giant Electronic Arts will locate its Los Angeles megastudio on a 6.5-acre site in Playa Vista, and has doubled previously announced staffing plans at the facility, the company said.

EA announced last spring it would merge development studios in Bel-Air, Las Vegas and Irvine into the Bel-Air facility while finding a permanent, much larger Los Angeles-area home for about 500 game creators. The company now plans a much larger Los Angeles presence, rivaling film studios, with more than 1,000 designers, engineers and animators by 2010.

The move is designed to improve game-design and production efficiency and give EA, the largest independent vidgame publisher with nearly $3 billion in revenues, better access to talent from the region’s schools and Hollywood. The EA L.A. division is headed by John Batter, a former exec with DreamWorks/PDI and the former DreamWorks Interactive unit, which EA took over.

The company will occupy two buildings at Playa Vista’s Water’s Edge development, with about 250,000 square feet of office space. Amenities will include athletic fields, game rooms, a beach volleyball court, gym, cafeteria and connections to hiking and biking trails along the ocean.

Studio look

The facility also will include sound studios, visual effects equipment, game-testing facilities and screening rooms., with a Hollywood-style front gate and palm-lined entry drive designed to emphasize the project’s similarity to a traditional studio.

“The Water’s Edge campus fulfills our strategy of creating an environment that fosters innovation and great game development,” said Batter. “EA’s business is growing quickly, and Los Angeles is a rich environment for talented people in the visual effects, animation, sound-design and engineering fields. Our goal is to make this new studio the best place to work in the entertainment industry.”

The deal is also a huge boost to long-hobbled attempts to develop Playa Vista, located along Santa Monica Bay south of Marina del Rey and north of Westchester. Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn touted the deal as important for job development in entertainment, and a big boost to the region’s economy.

“EA’s decision to locate its studio in Los Angeles reflects our place on the cutting edge of technology and entertainment,” said Hahn. “The hundreds of high-quality jobs that will come to our city as a result of this will continue to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit that is driving our local economy.”

Developer kingpin Robert Maguire and various partners have tried to build on more than 1,000 acres of Playa Vista since 1989, but environmental concerns have caused repeated setbacks and financial problems.

Maguire Partners in 1997 had to give up majority control of the overall project to a consortium of investors called Playa Capitol. The project suffered another setback in 1999, when DreamWorks backed out of plans to build its headquarters on the western edge of Playa Vista, bowing to relentless pressure from environmentalists concerned the development would harm sensitive wetlands along neighboring Ballona Creek.

Playa player

The opposition continues, but Playa Vista prexy Steve Soboroff said EA’s decision gives the larger development a much-needed boost.

“With EA building the first new studio in Los Angeles since the 1930s, and locating it within Playa Vista, the vision of creating a dynamic place where people can live, work and play is quickly becoming a reality,” Soboroff said.

So far, only the first phase of Playa Vista has been approved, with about 40% of 3,246 housing units built. The project also includes 3.2 million square feet of commercial and office space. EA is the area’s first major commercial tenant.

EA will occupy a parcel Maguire bought from Playa Capital on Playa Vista’s east edge, at the intersection of Lincoln and Jefferson boulevards. Maguire developed the Water’s Edge project with Equity Office Properties, a giant Chicago-based real-estate investment trust. Water’s Edge has been vacant since it was completed about 15 months ago.

EA’s first workers move in later this month, but additional improvements are being constructed that will drag out the transition into next year.

EA merged about 200 employees from three studios into the Bel-Air facility that once housed DreamWorks Interactive. Initial hiring has plumped the employee count to 300, which is expected to double again within two years, then double once more by the end of the decade. It will rival EA’s massive Vancouver facility in size at that point.

EA L.A. will produce new titles based on the “Medal of Honor” and “Command & Conquer” franchises that have sold a combined 33 million units. The company also hopes to develop several new franchises at the Los Angeles facility.