EA’s ‘casual’ division EA Play may not, at first glance, be the cutting edge of the company. It looks after family oriented products like The Sims (11-years-old and counting) and Harry Potter (the ninth EA game adaption of that came out last week).
But it’s actually at the centre of its transformative digital strategy. The Sims Social, a Facebook game, was announced at E3 – it takes a game already available in 60 countries and 22 languages with 140m sales under its belt to the biggest social network in the world.Plus, new formats like Wii U and Vita promise mass market audiences – exactly what EA Play makes games for.
“What we’re doing now is taking an IP and putting it across multiple platforms,” explains division VP Jeff Karp of the topline strategy.
But what does that mean for the established retail model, and the long-in-the-tooth console business? We quizzed the EA Play exec at E3 to find out more.
The Sims Social launches later this year and got big cheers at your E3 press conference. Will the franchise’s expansion to a free app on Facebook not cannibalise its retail model?
Not at all. We’ve released similar Facebook games for brands like FIFA and Madden but the result has been incremental. It adds to the experience and hasn’t upset the retail proposition. We have the opportunity to introduce a lot of new players to The Sims and then invite them to try the other versions on PC, mobile or tablet. FIFA for one increased its console and PC business digitally and the Facebook game was a big part of that.
We see the Facebook games as snacks – they are five or ten minutes play, and then you go do something else and come back. But the experience on PC is much more robust and in-depth. The Facebook game is the starter before the main meal on PC in that sense.
On Facebook, Electronic Arts’ biggest rival is Zynga, which has Sim-like titles. Are you hoping to convert its followers into EA fans and Sims players?
It’s less about converting them, but the bigger picture: we have a wider addressable audience than we’ve ever had. The opportunity now is huge: 200m consoles have been sold, add mobile on top and its another few hundred million, then tablets and social… well, you’re looking at a market of over a billion people.
What really excites us about The Sims Social is how it isn’t as prescribed as those other rival games. It’s about forging your relationships in-game with real people. It’s the randomness and unpredictability of life in the game. I think that’s hugely compelling for players and takes us far beyond what other ‘social’ games claim to do – your friends can have an impact on your game and vice versa. That really taps into Facebook overall – it and The Sims share that ‘six to 60 year-old’ demographic. And it really lives up to the franchise’s overall ‘Play with Life’ slogan
Are there any other EA brands that are a good fit for Facebook?
FIFA and Madden have done very well. And Monopoly is doing well.
I ask as CityVille is huge on Facebook, and EA has a well-known City-based Sim game…
Well, we have nothing to announce. But do note that I am smiling at your question.
Noted. How will the Facebook games link up with the established ones? Will there be a way to link the PC and Facebook versions of The Sims?
Well, Origin will be our answer to that. That’s our new platform, the notion of creating a more cohesive set of entitlements from game to game. We’re one of the only firms out there that can create content for multiple platforms, be that console or tablet, and Origin will let us see where you’re going and link those experiences and unlock elements between them.
You mention mobile and tablet a lot. Comparative to what you do on console, how big a market is that for EA?
Our overall strategy is that we want our games on multiple platforms. And we will continue to create great content for PC games and then extend that to other platforms going forward.
Sticking to new hardware: EA announced a huge support for Wii U at E3 thanks to its online elements. But it must also be a format that appeals to EA Play as a division?
Let’s face it, first parties have done very well on Wii, and third parties haven’t. It’s not in our sweetspot – we’ve done our best at it, but it’s difficult to develop there.
Development on the Wii U is more like what we are used to on other platforms. We will still be very selective and make sure we create the appropriate experiences for Wii U, but it is much closer aligned with HD consoles and really significantly expands our addressable market.
There are some compelling ways, be it The Sims, FIFA or other games where that second screen can help. Be that something like an inventory screen, or a different look at the game session.
I think Wii U is going to expand the opportunities for all games to be reimagined, especially the products at EA Play, and really extend our audience. And what about Vita?I think it looks like a great device, but the real challenge for all game handhelds is how they stack up against mobile and tablets. After all, how many devices do people want to carry? We are a platform agnostic business and we want them all to succeed, but it will be challenge for handhelds. Just look at how smartphones and tablets continue to grow and emerge.
Tell us a bit more about Origin. It was mentioned with every demo at your E3 press conference. You’ve name-checked it a lot. It’s seeping into everything you do. It’s clearly a big deal for the company.
Origin is a connective tissue that brings everything together. You’ve seen a lot of these initiatives before in other games – EA has pioneered that with titles like FIFA and The Sims. Origin connects us further, and connects the dots in those strategies, connecting between our franchises.
The unique thing for EA is that it will allow us to make better games, and learn more about the consumer. And we can better address what players do – it will be part of all of our games in the long-term, so we’ll know if they are on console, we’ll know if they are on mobile. It really supports them and helps us do a better job.
How can that kind of service benefit games?
It benefits everyone. The accessibility it provides on other platforms is so unique – whether you sign in on a mobile platform or a PC, you only register once, and from there you can download and browse more content. We don’t expect people to always buy £49.99 games – microtransactions and DLC are ideal for Origin. If you’re playing a game on mobile, PC or tablet – those social platforms – Origin will make it easy to buy games, and will follow and help players wherever they are.
In that sense, EA Origin sounds like a major statement of intent for online. Are you preparing for a world without consoles or these more fixed platforms?
Well, we always think that consoles will be around, but we need to focus on providing persistence from game to game across platforms, speak directly to consumers, provide them new content through things like paid DLC and microtransactions, or just have more telemetry on player activity. That whole service will evolve more over the year ahead.