There is no doubt that video games can play a big role in broadening the appeal of sports around the world. I was at Wembley Stadium for the Giants-Dolphins game there last year, and have seen first-hand the NFL’s desire to grow the appeal of American football in Europe.
It’s not going to be easy, but I never underestimate the NFL’s ability to execute against their goals. Bottom line is that video games can be a great tool to teach sports – my son learned American football and baseball from games, so I’ve seen it right before my eyes and know there are countless examples just like that one.
EA Sports has been criticised for a lack of innovation in the past. Do you feel that view is fair – and how will your new IP help to rectify it?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Launching new IP like FaceBreaker will help diversify our portfolio. But some of the most profound innovations in gaming are happening in our core sports franchises – things like Be A Pro mode in FIFA 08, the Skill Stick in NHL, and GamerNet in Tiger Woods. Quite frankly, I think many people who say our games aren’t innovative don’t actually play our games.
What plans do you have for the FIFA brand, and can we expect the title to change in the ‘Moore era’?
Let’s not forget that the game sold over a million units this year in North America. We will continue to innovate across our FIFA-licensed products. We feel incredibly confident in the team that’s in place, and we fully intend to stretch our critical rating lead over the competition. This is our one truly global franchise, and we’ll continue to invest in it accordingly.
In which areas do you feel EA Sports’ portfolio is maybe lacking?
I feel great about our current line-up of franchises, but we’re also doing a number of things to diversify and expand our business. We need to globalise, and we’re taking many steps to broaden the reach and appeal of our product portfolio. FIFA obviously has global appeal, but this is about more than just selling additional copies of FIFA — this is about truly delivering a global product portfolio.
We’re also committed to creating more approachable and accessible products. We recently announced FaceBreaker, an arcade boxing title that I think will fulfil that objective. Last year, we introduced the concept of ‘Family Play’, where several of our Wii games featured much more accessible controls and really opened up the experience to more than just the hardcore. We have a number of concepts in development that I think will start to evolve the EA Sports experience to something that still appeals to the hardcore but is also less intimidating to casual gaming fans.
Meanwhile, last week we announced a strategic partnership with IMG, the world’s leading global sports marketing and licensing group. They are a superb company that has phenomenal experience in representing athletes, events and companies like EA.
By working with IMG to create new product lines and services beyond where EA Sports plays currently in interactive entertainment, we’re able to expand our brand and provide interested consumers with new ways to become involved with EA Sports.
There seems to be an early emphasis on signing up ‘fun’ IP with a bit more comedy than we’re used to seeing from EA Sports. What’s the thinking behind this?
As we’ve discussed, we’re committed to making games that are fun and innovative and more approachable to a wider audience than what the ‘traditional’ EA Sports consumer may have been. This doesn’t mean dumbing down our games or abandoning what has built EA Sports into the leading sports software brand in the world, but it does mean discovering new concepts that will test the elasticity of our brand. FaceBreaker, EA Sports’ first new console IP since 2002, is a great example of that, and we’re very excited about the direction that game is going in.
Intelligent criticism of our games has never been that they aren’t innovative. If anything, it’s been that they are too innovative, that they have become too challenging. We need to break down the barrier for entry.
Do you feel there is a slight ‘cultural’ bias in the games media against EA because of your size – and how can you overcome this?
It’s simple, the tallest tree always gets the wind. Our size and our rich history makes EA Sports an easy target to some critics. While we have areas where we know we need to double down, FIFA has outscored the competition this year and NHL was considered sports game of the year by game critics in North America. It’s easy to be criticised when you’re on top, but we are getting high marks critically and commercially across our portfolio.
Consumers also get a chance to vote at the cash registers, and what we’re seeing is that our games are as popular as ever. We know we have room to improve and our teams will never rest, but it’s also important to celebrate our successes and the very talented people who are tirelessly delivering innovation.
What is the single biggest challenge currently facing EA Sports?
This goes back to your question about where our portfolio is lacking. We’re still too North-American centric and we’re making the right decisions now to globalise our business. We also always need to continue to improve quality. I feel good about the progress I’ve seen our teams making already at what’s still an early phase in the development cycle on many of our biggest fall franchises.
And I see making our games more approachable a constant challenge that all of our teams are facing – finding the balance between making our games more accessible, while also not alienating hardcore fans that have been supporting EA Sports for nearly two decades.
You’re a very well respected – and I imagine, sought after – member of the global industry. What attracted you to EA Sports when you could have surely taken jobs with any other company in the business?
I’ve made no secret that John Riccitiello’s vision for growth and EA’s new label structure were tremendously attractive to me when I was considering this move. I feel like I’m in a great position, working with incredibly talented development teams on some of the best franchises in the industry. We have real opportunities to grow and continue to improve the EA Sports brand. This was also a great move for me because I’ve been able to return to my roots in this country. I got my start in the early ‘80s working in sports and living in California. The Bay Area feels like home to my family and I couldn’t be happier to be back in sports.
Can EA Sports play a vital role in helping EA overtake Activision Vivendi at the top of the global publishing chart?
Yes – this is an area in which they really can’t compete with us.