The popularity of online play has grown rapidly in recent years, and Electronic Arts says it will be even more crucial to its business in the coming years. In his opening address at the London Games Festival's Games 3.0 conference, EA UK vice president Keith Ramsdale said, "Online is a massive and significant opportunity for this industry."
"Within the next five years, companies who don't reevaluate their business models to deal with the growth of online gaming will, quite simply, miss out," he continued. "If you look back 30 years, the big US TV networks--ABC, CBS, and NBC--had 90 percent of the TV market. They were so dominant they resisted change. Today these three same networks account for less than half. The reason being? They viewed the rise of cable as irrelevant."
Ramsdale went on to highlight some of EA's current online offerings. FIFA Online, which is available exclusively in Korea and Japan, now has 5.6 million unique users. EA's five million microtransactions in the game have racked up $8 million (£5 million) in revenue, according to Ramsdale. In addition to doing so for Warhammer Online, the company's first massively multiplayer online role-playing game, the publisher has incorporated subscription-based payments into its more traditional sports games. FIFA 09's Adidas Live Season provides weekly updates to player stats in six domestic leagues, and while the first league is free, extra leagues cost more.
Ramsdale also expressed his opinions on the ongoing UK game classification debate. He put his weight firmly behind Pan-European Games Information (PEGI), saying, "We believe self-regulation is the only possible way to classify interactive entertainment today and particularly in the future. PEGI is the only feasible option." And while it still remains to be seen what impact the credit crunch will have on the industry, Ramsdale believes that the industry can weather the economic downturn. "The fundamentals of our industry remain very strong." The trend to look for value forms of entertainment during financially tough times means that games offer a "compelling value proposition," he said.
For more on Warhammer Online and FIFA 09, read GameSpot's recent reviews. We'll have more coverage on the London Games Festival over the coming week.