The preamble before any interview tends to last only a few seconds.
We normally ask a basic question. Such as: How have you found the show? They give a brief response, and the interview begins.
As MCV sat down with EA COO Peter Moore at White Hart Lane – the home of Tottenham Hotspur where EA announced its latest deal with the Premier League – it was Moore that broke the ice.
“So what team do you support?”
What followed was a five-minute conversation about Leeds United. Moore regaled me about the glory years of my football club, which largely happened before I was born.
I’ve heard these stories before, of course. Yet to hear them from someone with such a distinct US accent is a novelty. What do Americans know about the beautiful game?
Not that Moore is any typical American. Liverpool-born, he has been a football obsessive his entire life. But even if he never lived on our side of the Atlantic, that wouldn’t preclude him from knowing about UK football. In fact, over the last five years, football (or rather, soccer) has become the second most popular sport in the US. And the Premier League is watched by millions every week.
“Earlier this month, more people watched a friendly game of soccer than watched baseball in America,” says Moore.
“That is stunning with regards to the size of baseball and how many games are played. Over the summer we had nine Premier League teams visit. There was Spurs for a while, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and City, going from place to place Wherever they were going there were huge crowds.
“And our numbers for FIFA in the US continue to grow year after year.”
Of course, this recent US obsession can be partially tied to the World Cup.
“It’s the sixth World Cup since I’ve been living in America and I’ve seen nothing like this,” says Moore. “That had a lot to do with how the US team were doing. But more than that, the drama of the Brazilian collapse, and the timing of the games... it was almost like America stopped. Wherever you would go, whenever there was a game on, you’d look in and walk past a bar and everybody was watching the game. That’s huge for us.”
And as the US’ love of soccer grows, it’s through games like FIFA that these new fans become experts, says Moore.
“FIFA never knows whether to like this or hate this, but
if you say ‘FIFA’ to an 18-year old kid, they’re going to
say ‘video game’, not the ‘International Football Federation’.
But FIFA gets what we do. We introduce people to the sport.
You can talk to kids who have never been to the UK but can
tell you why Arsenal will always finish fourth. It’s based
on what they’ve learnt through the game.”
Peter Moore - COO, EA
“FIFA never knows whether to like this or hate this, but if you say ‘FIFA’ to an 18-year old kid, they’re going to say ‘video game’, not the ‘International Football Federation’,” he continues. “But FIFA gets what we do. We introduce people to the sport. You can talk to kids who have never been to the UK but can tell you why Arsenal will always finish fourth. It’s based on what they’ve learnt through the game.”
This is why, when I ask if FIFA can realistically keep growing, Moore shoots me a look as if I had just asked a ridiculous question.
“It better grow,” he says. “Not least because it’s a great game. We know we have a competitor that feels good about its product, too [Pro Evolution Soccer], and we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re coming off the momentum of a World Cup, we had a great season in the Premier League last year. When I think about the leagues around the world, eventually Luis Suarez will be playing in Spain [former Liverpool striker who was bought for £75m by Barcelona] and there’ll be interest there. What we’ve done well with our game, and via modes like Ultimate Team, is capture those exciting beats of the season as it goes on with things like Team of the Week and Team of the Season.”
FIFA this year is a bit of lone wolf in EA’s line-up. There’s no Need for Speed and Battlefield has been pushed back. Is there more pressure on FIFA as a result?
“Not really,” dismisses Moore. “We have Dragon Age Inquisition. And The Sims 4 is big for us. People forget about that, but it’s a wholly owned piece of IP, which we can deliver on an open platform – the PC. And FIFA will continue to grow.
“Quarter by quarter we don’t look at it that way. We moved Battlefield as a player-first decision as it needed extra time. We don’t worry about having to live up to our quarterly numbers. We worry about living up to the reputation of the game to our fans.”
Back in 2012 EA released a tie-in for the European Championships. It wasn’t the usual retail boxed release, but rather DLC for FIFA 12.
This year the firm went back to Plan A with its official World Cup game, creating a boxed title for Xbox 360 and PS3. Yet Moore is still not entirely satisfied.
“Digital-only was too early with the Euro game,” he says. “That was over two years ago. There was still a great demand for physical media at that time.
“This year’s World Cup game sold well and we’ll make sure retailers clean out their inventories and move onto the next thing. But what we’ve learnt is that FIFA is a 365-day experience. People are just so invested in Ultimate Team.
“When we delivered World Cup Ultimate Team [for FIFA 14), most of our players moved to that. The idea of them coming out of their investment in Ultimate Team and then coming to an event-based game... people were loath to do that. Still delivering [the World Cup game) physically was important as a global product. But when we get to the World Cup in Russia in 2018 we’ll see where the industry is at and what consumers want. Do we do another standalone World Cup game or is it embedded into Ultimate Team?”
Not that retail needs to worry, adds Moore. As more stores learn to benefit from digital, the news that the next World Cup game may not be released in a box is not something that should create undue concern.
“The world’s top retailers have seen digital coming for many years and have embraced it,” says Moore.
“Living in America, GameStop has done a fantastic job. It has learnt the lessons of the music industry. You don’t try and push digital back, you embrace it. GameStop talks a lot about the digital opportunities that they present their customers with. It’s very aggressive in this space. And GAME does the same in the UK.”
Peter Moore was at White Hart Lane to announce a new deal between EA and the Premier League. The two have held a licensing partnership that stretches back almost 20 years and this year EA’s Canadian studio has rendered every Premier League stadium and scanned over 200 real player faces for FIFA 15.
But there’s more to it than that. Fans will have noticed EA Sports’ logo appearing during live matches. It is on referee shirts, besides the match stats, and now EA is sponsoring the Goal Decision System, too [the tech that sees if the ball crossed the goal line].
EA Sports has become its own brand. But Moore says the publisher views it more as a seal of quality.
“Quarter by quarter we don’t look at it that way.
We moved Battlefield as a player-first decision
as it needed extra time. We don’t worry about
having to live up to our quarterly numbers.
We worry about living up to the reputation
of the game to our fans.”
Peter Moore - COO, EA
“Great brands act as a comfort blanket for the level of quality or authenticity,” he says. “And we live up to our tagline: ‘It’s in the game’ and that helps us hugely. That’s what the EA Sports brand is about.
“We don’t spend money specifically on the EA Sports brand. It’s like the seal of good housekeeping – if you see that on a product you know what you’re getting. We’re very proud of that.”
Moore adds that the firm now measures its success not so much on impressions, but engagement. And that’s true of its franchises.
EA historically would tell MCV that FIFA is still tiny compared to the actual sport that it simulates. The firm would say there is still a lot of room for it to get even bigger.
But today, the rhetoric is less about growing FIFA’s audience, but rather making sure that these gamers keep playing, That long after the game is launched, they are still booting it up and spending money on things like Ultimate Team.
“I’d like to grow the experience rather than the game,” says Moore. “I remember being presented with a crazy idea in Vancouver in 2009. Someone was saying we should start to think about fantasy, and what we dream of as football fans. What would it be like if you or I was in the midfield playing alongside Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson?
“In Ultimate Team, you can live up to that. I remember walking into someone’s cube in Vancouver and it said ‘Ultimate Team’ on the White Board. We green lit and invested in it and the rest is history.”
He adds: “As football fans we think about this sport every day. As a kid, Liverpool dominated my life. It was the great days of the early 1970s and it’s all I ever thought about. We’ve captured that lightning in a bottle with Ultimate Team. It’s alive every single day, just like the world of football is.
“Our job, our mission, is to get even more people involved in Ultimate Team.”