Electronic Arts' support for celebrity spokesperson Tiger Woods has been unwavering since the professional golfer confessed to marital transgressions and took an indefinite leave of absence from the sport last year. However, there was some speculation about whether the publisher would be as vocal as in years past with promoting the series before the scandal blew over and Woods returned to action.
It seems that speculation was unfounded. EA Sports today officially announced Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and iPhone and launched its open beta for the browser-based PC game Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online.
If that wasn't vocal enough, EA Sports president Peter Moore spoke with GameSpot this afternoon about the new games, the company's ongoing relationship with Woods, and PGA Tour 11's fate on the PlayStation 2 and PSP. Rarely at a loss for words, the executive also fielded questions on his interest in the Major League Baseball license, Mark Turmell's relationship (or lack thereof) with the new NBA Jam, EA Sports MMA, and the in-limbo Grand Slam Tennis for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
GameSpot: People who follow golf have been wondering how well the PGA would endure Tiger's prolonged absence. He's obviously important to the well-being of the sport. Is he any more or less important to the well-being of the EA golf series?
Peter Moore: We haven't seen an impact. We looked at December sales and then we looked at the year as a whole. The situation with Tiger unfortunately happened over the Thanksgiving holiday going into the holiday selling period, but there was no degradation of sales we could see. Overall franchise sales for calendar year '09 were better than '08.
Like all golf fans and people involved in the business that is Tiger Woods, we wish him the best with some of the challenges he's going through with his family right now, and we give him the privacy he asked for as regards his indefinite leave from golf. But we also hope to see him back on the course as soon as possible.
To your point, he's very important to the business of golf, and those that rely upon him are very eager to see him back. But it's going to be his call when he comes back.
ON STICKING WITH TIGER
GS: How do you respond to critics of your decision to stick with Tiger Woods?
PM: Very simply, he's the world's greatest golfer until somebody tells me otherwise. The AP just a few weeks ago called him the greatest athlete of the decade. And our relationship that goes back to the first Tiger Woods game in 1999 is now in its 12th year. And we're all about delivering the best simulation of world-class sport. If you're talking golf, you have to have Tiger Woods as the first name that comes out of your mouth on that. We're all about delivering the best golf simulation, and Tiger Woods is currently the world's best golfer.
GS: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 isn't coming to the PSP or PlayStation 2 this year. Why not?
PM: We've announced the platforms it's definitely coming to, and that's 360, PS3, the Wii, and the iPhone. We're just trying to look at what platforms we feel are appropriate. If there are any omissions, they've been done for a specific business purpose. Right now, we're announcing what they're on rather than what they're not on.
GS: This isn't the first time EA Sports has passed by the PSP for one of its games. Is the system tapering off?
PM: I never comment on my projections for what a console's likely to do. We look at all the platforms we think this game is most appropriate on and have made the announcements accordingly. If there's something omitted, it may be that we're going to announce it later for whatever reason.
TIGER ONLINE: NOW ONLINE
GS: What's the pricing plan for Tiger online?
PM: We haven't determined the overall business model as of yet. The purpose of the open beta is to experiment with some things. But what you can imagine is a free element that's probably going to be relatively limited--but enough to give you a feeling for what the game experience is--and then microtransactions and subscription-based models. And we're going to work that out over the coming months.
GS: FIFA Online required players to download a client program, while Tiger is browser-based. Why the change? Will you stick to browser-based from now on?
PM: It's got to depend on the situation, and quite frankly, how much stuff you need to put in a game. Golf is relatively thin, and by that I mean, you're standing over your ball and you hit it down a fairway. And we can do that relatively easy in a browser, and that's the key here. Other games, while still using a browser to access them, may require a client that is loaded onto the desktop. You're going to see a number of different business models for us, depending on the game mechanic and the actual intellectual property.
GS: Do you have any sports lined up for Online treatment next?
PM: Not yet, but you can imagine as we learn more about Tiger and use that as a pilot program…that with the IP in sports, we can bring to bear on this type of game experience, it's not a stretch to imagine that we're going to be making more announcements in the future about these kinds of game experiences.
GS: What's the primary audience for these online games? How does it differ from packaged goods retail games?
PM: I think there's a commitment you need to make in packaged goods with a console. I've got to buy a console; it has to be in a particular room in my home. Typically, I need a high-definition TV and decent sound system to take advantage of the software I'm buying. It's non-portable…what we're trying to do here is provide location-free gaming in a click-and-play browser type game with malleable business models that don't require that upfront investment in hardware and a game disc.
We're just trying to make sure we continue to look at the future of games. With the ubiquity of broadband, with the cost of PCs coming down driven by netbooks, we're trying to field more options for our IP on whatever platform our consumers want to be on and wherever they are. And that is not necessarily tethered to the couch.
GS: How do they compare to packaged games in terms of profitability, risk-reward ratio?
PM: There's an upfront development cost, as you can imagine. The business model is going to be a longer burn. We're in the world of delivering annual iterations of our games, and they're seasonal. This is a different model. We're going to be able to iterate on top of this every single day. The game will never change from its core, basic engine, if you will, but we'll add new features, new courses, new equipment, new golfers on a regular basis. You're going to see a different curve to the business model with regards to revenue coming in over a longer period of time, but it's going to have a much longer tail, and it's going to be much more sustainable.
BASEBALL, WII, GRAND SLAM, NBA JAM
GS: Can we expect EA Sports to reenter the baseball genre once Take-Two's exclusivity deal expires?
PM: Every time I've been asked about baseball, I've been really clear. I'm a huge baseball fan. EA for many years was an important part of the baseball license, and when the opportunity arises where we can get back in and contribute the unique flair that EA Sports brings to any sport, we'll be there and very interested. But right now, our competitors at Take-Two have the exclusive third-party license, and we respect that.
GS: Third-party Wii sequels have had some trouble in the market. How'd EA Sports Active More Workouts do?
PM: It's doing well. I haven't seen the latest numbers, but our real focus is going to be on January with a New Year's Resolution campaign. If you watch TV, like the Golden Globes and The Biggest Loser, we've had a very strong flight of network television ads around EA Sports Active and More Workouts. But ask me again in early February after I see January's sales, and I'll have a better idea. We expect a very strong month with the New Year's Resolutions business.
GS: Any update on Grand Slam Tennis for the 360 and PS3?
PM: No, not right now.
GS: Do you have a progress report on EA MMA?
PM: I saw the latest build just before the holidays, and it's looking great.
GS: Can we get some clarification on Mark Turmell's involvement in NBA Jam since he's at Tiburon and the games in development in Vancouver?
PM: Mark's role is more of a broader creative role. He's very talented across multiple sports. It's coincidental--his relationship with NBA Jam. We're not doing it because Mark Turmell is at EA Sports. Mark's a much broader creative force than that, and he's putting a lot of focus in particular on our football properties. So don't link Mark Turmell and NBA Jam together because that is certainly not the case.