Electronic Arts visionary Fredrik Loving treats creative work like an Olympic sport
By Stephanie Case
Fredrik Loving is a video game kind of guy, but he thinks more like an Olympian.
“I love talking to athletes about what makes them the best in the world,” he says. “They always say the same thing: train really hard, eat well, sleep well, repeat.”
It’s good advice for anyone, whether you’re running the 100-meter dash or designing a sleek, action-packed video game for millions of users.
Loving is general manager of DICE LA, an offshoot of gaming giant Electronic Arts that’s best known for its first-person shooter franchise, “Battlefield.”
When DICE LA opened their Los Angeles offices in Playa Vista three years ago, the native Scandinavian packed his life into a suitcase and traded Stockholm for Silicon Beach.
Here, he’s assembled an elite squad of game developers who code like the wind and craft hyper-realistic warscapes on state-of-the-art hardware.
It’s every game-crazed kid’s dream gig, and it wasn’t long ago that Loving was in their shoes.
The best moment of his life was unwrapping a Commodore 64 — a boxy eight-bit computer with a chiclet keyboard — on his eleventh Christmas.
“I even remember the smell of the gift when I opened it,” he laughs. “It was a magical machine. It could do anything in my mind.”
For fun, he’d spend hours engrossed in the stories on screen.
“Back then, adventure games were a lot of text, no audio and really no visuals,” Loving says. “So I really used my imagination to put these worlds together in my head.”
These days, technology does a lot of the work for him.
Loving remembers the first time he tried a virtual reality game at DICE LA. He snapped on a dark pair of goggles and was swept into another dimension.
“It blew my mind,” he says.
When Loving’s coworker got a turn, he was so engrossed in the visuals that it left a bruise. He tried to lean on a desk he saw in the virtual world — and fell flat on his face in the real world. The two burst into laughter.
“He was so in the moment that his brain connected the dots and thought there was a table there,” Loving says. “That’s a very powerful thing.”
Still, Loving says there’s a disconnect between technology’s possibilities and gaming’s reality.
“We’ve only scratched the surface of what we actually could do with games,” he says.
Companies like DICE LA are in a heated race to create more enthralling storylines with slicker graphics on rapidly evolving platforms. It’s tough competition, and new innovation “literally happens every day,” says Loving.
To keep up with that breakneck pace, Loving and Christian Grass, the team’s director of product development, constructed a work culture that’s almost a training regimen.
“We have certain bursts where we’re extra-focused,” says Loving — and when deadlines loom he means it. The workplace is stripped of distractions. There’s no perusing Facebook or Twitter. Healthy breakfasts and lunches are catered in, and designers discuss their work while they eat. The entire building is abuzz, absorbed entirely in making games.
“It’s about getting the most out of people and their creative spirit when they’re at work,” Loving says, “but then they should go home, enjoy life, have fun, rest, come back and do the same thing again.”
Train hard, sleep well, eat well, repeat.
All that focus gave the studio a big win in 2013: “Battlefield 4” debuted to solid reviews, and copies sold in the millions. But DICE LA hasn’t rested on those laurels, and the hype for their upcoming projects is considerable — both from the players and the developers themselves.
“There’s this energy in the office — you can almost touch it,” Loving says. “It’s a very special thing.”