Peter Moore: Future of EA franchises is free-to-play

Microtransactions to fund the future of FIFA, Tiger Woods, and others as publisher aims to become "the world's leading sports entertainment brand."

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EDINDBURGH--Speaking at the Edingburgh Interactive Festival this week, EA Sports president Peter Moore outlined the way that EA has adapted to the changing marketplace. He highlighted how the company has adapted to negative consumer perceptions and how he sees EA maintaining its relevance into the future.

EA Sports' Peter Moore.

Joining the publisher from Microsoft's Xbox division two years ago, Moore said the move was "akin to being airlifted onto an oil platform that was soon to catch fire," illustrating the point with a picture of a North Sea platform blazing away after an accident. He said the firm was not adapting to the changing marketplace, adding that porting PlayStation 2 titles to the Wii in an attempt to capture some of that market was a failure. And as the rest of the games industry was experiencing 20 percent or more growth, Moore said the sports sector was flat, even contracting.

In Moore's view, the firm needed to hit the reset button and take stock of where it was and where it wanted to take its franchises. There was community unrest with increasing criticism of the firm for pumping out annual roster updates, and it came to the realisation that it had to adapt or die, having "failed to innovate" from 2003 up until three years ago when things started to turn around.

Over the past two years, EA has changed its structure entirely and tackled its criticism head-on, Moore said. Developers have much more contact with users, and the company now monitors the "buzz" around its games via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It monitors user activity up to a year from release to make sure that people who are playing the games are getting what they want and feel that they're being listened to.

Innovation has been a large part of this, with Moore citing FIFA's Be a Pro mode as an example, but the main change has come from embracing online content. This has included purely online products such as 3 on 3 NHL Arcade and FIFA's Ultimate Team, the latter of which has generated $10 million in profit since its launch in March. Moore also talked about the expansion of online updates through tracking and updating--not only of rosters throughout the season, but also through features such as the NBA Dynamic DNA technology that tracks players and teams on a day-to-day basis. Expanding these features will be key to keeping current players on board, according to Moore, as well as drawing in new gamers to its core franchises.

However, pushing into new markets and expanding the reach of EA Sports into growing gaming demographics such as women and families is significantly more challenging. Through EA Sports Active, EA Sports is "finally talking to girls," Moore said, noting that the expansion of that game is going to be key to growing EA's market. Moore said EA Sports Active is not so much a game as a platform that allows EA Sports to "change people's lives" and to pull people into EA Sports games who would never have thought of picking one up.

Talking to GameSpot after the keynote address, Moore said of EA Sports Active: "We feel very bullish…the key is we've got to keep innovating. You're not going to see us churning out expansion packs for it. I can only sell you so many neoprene straps for your leg!" He also promised that more details on the current planned expansion pack will be revealed next week at GamesCom in Cologne.

Looking further ahead, Moore picked up on the success of FIFA Online and NBA Street Online in Asia. FIFA Online has 7 million players, according to Moore, and he revealed that Tiger Woods Online is currently in closed beta. While traditional game retail will be part of EA's business for a "very, very long time," free-to-play online games are "the future of where our key franchises are going," he said. Paid subscription models will be key, but microtransactions will be the company's main way of making a success of these franchises, he said. Moore gave the example of a Tiger Woods game that's initially free to play, but in which 50 cents will get players a better golf club, or a $5-a-month subscription will unlock new courses on a regular basis. While this will mean in the long run that the company will sell fewer discs, it "attacks the barriers to entry" that are the company's most serious stumbling blocks towards further growth.

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