EA searches for new location to ensure highest quality product
Electronic Arts, or EA, a leading global interactive entertainment software company, is always searching for the best ways to test their products before they go to market. With several of the most recognizable video game franchises to their credit, including The Sims™, Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer and Mass Effect™, the company wanted a better way of ensuring the best experience for its customers.
In 2006, they evaluated a few solutions, including centralizing software testers in one location and reducing the number of quality assurance sites. This talent would fine-tune a wider variety of games in a single facility.
In its effort to consolidate several quality assurance centers into one, EA sought an area with a concentration of talent. Ideally, their workforce needed to possess a familiarity with gaming systems and software. Additionally, this workforce concentration had to include those with computer technology and software development skills. It was crucial to make sure these potential employees also received the necessary training to meet EA’s quality assurance standards.
The company also required a state-of-the-art facility, capable of providing both a location to test the company’s new products, as well as analyzing the results from the testing.
With such a sweeping change in its structure, moving from a cluster of testing facilities to a concentrated site, EA also looked for the confidence from the community in which it would invest. With this support from the local community, EA could be better equipped to sustain the potential testing center and its results.
Louisiana offers EA talent pool, university partnership opportunities
During the time EA began its search, a new entity was emerging in Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, LSU and the Baton Rouge Mayor-President’s Office came together to form Baton Rouge Area Digital Industries Consortium (BRADIC) — with the goal of courting digital entertainment and software companies.
Once BRADIC and LED became aware of EA’s interests, these partners crafted a solution to support the needs of the software giant.
To fulfill EA’s need for a high concentration of talent, Baton Rouge offered a unique advantage with the talent pool available at LSU and the potential for collaboration with different university programs. LSU offered to renovate a building on its South campus, and agreed that, while EA occupied this renovated building, the University would construct a new state-of-the-art facility on LSU’s main campus. In this new Louisiana Digital Media Center, EA would share space with LSU’s Center for Computation & Technology — a higher-performance computing center engaged in academic and business research, and with the LSU curriculum of Arts, Visualizations, Advanced Technology and Research (AVATAR), which prepares students for the real-world intersection of creativity and technology.
EA would utilize Louisiana’s Digital Interactive Media and Software Development Incentive. The incentive program is the strongest of its kind in the nation. With no sunset date, this Louisiana incentive was a standout, both in the scope of applications it covered and the percentage of credits it offered.
Game on: EA selects Louisiana for new testing center
In 2008, with Louisiana addressing EA’s requirements, the software giant announced plans to open a test center in Baton Rouge — one of only two in the world.
“EA goes to the places where we can find the absolute best talent. That is the No. 1 determining factor of why we choose to locate somewhere,” said Craig Hagen, EA’s senior director of government affairs. “But I can tell you that the tax credit was a very definite factor in our coming to Baton Rouge. Between this building (the Louisiana Digital Media Center) and the tax credit, it would have been hard for us to say no to a deal like that, because you absolutely have some of the best talent in the world.”
The company quickly moved into the renovated facility on LSU’s South Campus. The center carried significant part-time roles to tap into the talent pipeline of local college students and to accommodate their study schedules and lifestyles. Students made up roughly half of the employee roster. EA also benefited from the training services provided by LED FastStart®— the nation’s No. 1 ranked workforce recruitment and training program.
FastStart designed a series of Interactive Training Modules, or ITMs. The ITMs utilize a gaming platform and incorporate game play into the training. This platform felt much more like “play” than “study”— precisely the sort of format tailored to the testers EA was looking for.
EA levels-up to new facility on LSU campus
Since the announcement, EA’s presence in Baton Rouge continues to grow. In February 2013, the company moved into the newly constructed, 94,000-square-foot Louisiana Digital Media Center on the LSU main campus. Initially committing to 220 full-and part-time positions in 2008, EA has exceeded its commitment of an annual payroll of $5.7 million, and now employs approximately 400 people, with employment peaking at nearly 500 in peak testing months.
The Louisiana Digital Media Center also houses LSU Center for Computation and Technology and the LSU AVATAR program that unites faculty from any disciplines and enables students to conduct research and complete projects in virtual environments. By sharing the same facility, these departments and EA can further collaboration and accelerate research.