EA exec says publisher fully committed to mobile

Opening GDC, John Batter sends a message to programmers, gamers, industry: EA Mobile is for real. NFSU will act as flagship title; up to 20 more franchises to appear on mobile devices in the next 12 months.

SAN FRANCISCO--When it comes to mobile games, the traditional publishers have been selective about their commitment of resources. Primarily, the way into the mobile space has been via partnerships, licensing agreements, or timid toe-dipping via internally created product.

Today, during his GDC Mobile keynote address, John Batter--the former general manager of Electronic Arts' Los Angeles studio, who last year segued into his current position as EA Mobile GM--put the industry on notice of EA's commitment to dive into the mobile sector.

"The last time you checked, EA wasn't in the business," Batter said. But after "dipping our toes" in the sector via two internally produced mobile titles, Tiger Woods and FIFA products, the shrink-wrap powerhouse is ready to implement an aggressive strategy, according to Batter.

The most tangible evidence of that strategy is the upcoming internally produced mobile title, Need for Speed Underground, the first game in a flight of an unspecified number of mobile games that will tap between 15 and 20 additional Electronic Arts franchises this year. Bottom line, dozens of EA products are on the way.

"Community and quality will drive growth" for Electronic Arts in the mobile space, Batter told an audience of about 700 attendees that packed an enormous conference room at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center.

Introduced by GDC Mobile Symposium cochair, Robert Tercek, the chief marketing officer of mobile game publisher Mforma, what Batter had to say was both encouraging and provocative.

"When the consumer loves what we're doing, we're all going to make a ton of money," he said at one point in the presentation. Of course, what many in attendance recognized is when EA enters a market, it doesn't always do so to create benefit for all; it often does so to dominate.

"They are moving in [to the mobile sector], and it's going to change everything," one small-sized mobile game developer said on the condition of anonymity. Another comment, from a high-ranking official of a triple-A publisher expressed awe at the strategic perspective Batter revealed. "I'm impressed with their understanding of what it takes to succeed," the executive said.

Long-known as a consummate strategist, Batter said EA would apply what it had learned in the traditional marketplace to mobile. The focus will be on services; community, via enabling a shared experience through the game; the addressing of digital rights management (DRM) issues; and an ongoing connection with the consumer via a dedicated live team that would design and implement new content and provide ongoing customer service.

"We will be franchise-focused and connected, allowing the consumer to interact anytime, anyplace," Batter said. "It's not about genre," he added, "but about building a community around a franchise consumers are passionate about."

Batter said he expects PSP-like quality on mobile handsets in 2006 or 2007 at the latest and is focused on extending the game experience EA is known for--exemplified by what he calls "the Madden Experience," to pull one gem out of his hat--and extend it across all platforms, including mobile.

Overall, Batter is intent on building out his now 30-plus-person department and focusing on delivering "quality content to a new platform." With EA's bankroll, as well as its suite of franchises waiting to make it to mobile handsets, he has an opportunity to make quite an entrance.

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