Q&A: EA Sports tackles Xbox Live Marketplace

EA vice president of online commerce, Chip Lange, talks about the direction EA Sports is taking with downloadable content on Xbox Live Marketplace.

Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace has proven itself to be a welcome addition to the next generation of gaming. The online store is a place where publishers can dish out new maps, missions, or vehicles for games and make a pretty penny on the side. But how can sports games, many of which don't have missions, vehicles, and battlegrounds, take advantage of the service?

Earlier today, Electronic Arts revealed its first batch of downloadable content for Madden NFL 07 and NCAA Football 07 that emphasizes the company's new approach to sports-related downloads. Gamers can now purchase video strategy guides and classic stadiums for the football games, and EA promises more content for its entire line of athletically inclined titles.

GameSpot sat down with Chip Lange, EA's vice president of online commerce, to discuss how the world's biggest producer of sports games is taking on the challenge of sports-related Marketplace content.

GameSpot: Can you explain the current mindset that EA Sports has going into downloadable content?

Chip Lange: Sure. The mindset is we love it. We're all big fans of it. We're all huge users of the Marketplace and are excited about the type of creative offerings and opportunities it brings for us to be able to get new stuff to customers to keep the game experience fresh and exciting over the life of the product. So if there's a key message here, it's EA Sports and EA are embracing this whole method of distribution of content to customers. And the pipeline's starting to open up.

And myself being a gamer, it's exciting to hear. The stuff that we're going to be releasing this week is just the start. [Our approach] is like most publishers, just about every game that's on the Marketplace starts with a little bit of stuff, and then over time stuff just keeps coming and coming and coming. And that's what you're going to see here. We'll put some [items] up this week, and that'll be a good start. And what I believe is going to happen, and I'm certainly driving this here at EA with the studios, is there's going to be an open pipeline of content that's going to be flowing on our products that customers can get up there, check out stuff, see what hits their particular fan interest, and pull it down. We haven't had that ability before because the disks have all been locked on their platforms. So this is a real creative opportunity that we're now starting to embrace.

GS: Price points of Marketplace content have always been kind of up in the air. I guess everyone is still trying to figure out how much to charge for what. How did you settle on your price points?

CL: We did a real thorough price analysis of every piece of content that's on the Marketplace right now. And we put it on to a big analytical pricing sheet and compared all the different types of content, quantity, and different price points, and landed at our pricing that way. I can imagine it's probably one of the more thorough pieces of price analytics that have been done on the Marketplace today. We worked closely with Microsoft on it. Those guys have got some great instincts on it. We showed them the content, and that's where we ended up. It was a combination of analytics of what the Marketplace is supporting right now, talking to the Microsoft guys, and considering the franchises that we're doing this with. These are some of the most premium franchises in the business.

GS: Gamers are going to pay $3.75 apiece for classic stadiums. What are they going to get with that download?

Brett Farve and the Los Angeles Coliseum--classic football icons.

CL: Well, I don't know if you've gone into the 360 version of Madden this year and seen the stadiums, but I think the stadium changes the way that you feel about the game. I was playing somebody online a couple nights ago, and we played in Tampa with the stadium with the big ship in it. If you're a Tampa fan, you want to see that. And so you're going to have that same level of experience re-created for some of these classic stadiums--some may or may not be around anymore. They're not stadiums that people are playing in. But if you're a fan of the old-school LA Rams, you know where they played, and I want to show those--I want to fly those colors when I'm playing the Rams. And you'll get the same level of visual fidelity that you get on the stadiums in the game now, but you'll get them for stadiums that certain fans of certain teams don't have the ability to play in the game right now, and we'll be piping that type of stuff through to them.

GS: What about the video strategy guides created by VG Sports? How many will be made for each game, and are they going to be aimed at beginners? Are they going to be aimed at veterans?

CL: It's a pretty good mix of range from beginner to advanced. I think every gamer's going to find something in there that's going to make them better. Right now, we're announcing four for Madden, and they cover the primary aspects of the game. And we're going to be continuing these for all of our sports games, and we'll see what the response is from customers on them. They're about five or six minutes long, and they cover passing, running, pass defense, run defense. I've watched them. They made me a better Madden gamer. You wouldn't know it by my online record, but the goal in the creative design with the VG Sports guys was [the videos] can't be an instructional "how to play the game" video. It has to be a "watch this video to get better, and you have a better chance of beating your buddy across the street."

GS: I also saw that there will be new modes that are going to be available. Can you elaborate on that at all?

CL: I don't have specifics on modes, but it's covering a variety of different types of content that the studio's looking into. We'll be doing all these different things, and quite frankly, we've got a big meeting up in Canada next week to talk more about what the next six-month rollout strategy looks like. Modes are something we're looking at. Different uniforms. Different stadiums. Strategy guides. And quite frankly, there's a bunch of other more out-of-the-box ideas that we're looking at right now that I'll keep you in the loop on as we start to tighten those up. The best news for me is that we're spending a bunch of time thinking about this, and we're just getting started with what we can do here.

GS: Certain downloads, they're aimed at specific markets or fans, like the Rams classic stadium. How's EA going to balance the line between appealing to hardcore fans of a team and making content that appeals to everybody? Doesn't it make more sense to try and hit the entire market with a download?

CL: The answer is yes. But what I find is so much of in the Madden fan base--you talk to just about any Madden gamer, and we saw this with the gamer picks and themes that we put up on the Marketplace last year--people love to fly their colors. So going after the more broad-based market, that's our strategy, but the way that you do that with a game like Madden is by letting people identify with their local sports fan appreciation. And that's where the different type of content really comes into play. So if I'm a Niner fan, I'm going to want to be able to fly my Niner colors. And if I'm a Rams fan, I want to be able to fly my LA Rams colors. And if I'm a Seahawks fan, I want to play in the old Seahawks stadium. Those are things that you just can't do a mainstream solution for because the NFL is a collection of individual local fan groups.

GS: When I think about sports game downloads, I'm thinking about new cars in racing games or courses in golf games or boxers in Fight Night. But these sports are so broad that adding content that reflects the current state of the sport in the real world is fairly easy. But football, NHL, NBA games--they're pretty much all-encompassing out of the box. So besides legendary players and throwback stadiums, what kind of current content, things that can be applied to this season, can fans of Madden, NHL, and NBA Live expect?

CL: I don't have anything I can tell you about today, but the technology on the Xbox 360 has now enabled us to look at the products in a different light. We look at these as living products now. We don't close the book on them after we release it. These are now dynamic products that can be updated with what's happening in the world of sports. Let's say there's some new online gaming strategy that's happening in NCAA Football that people are finding successful to win games. We'll go do a new strategy guide that can reflect that. If something happens in the sport that really feels like it needs to be represented in the game, we've never had an avenue to get there, but now we've got an avenue and we're showcasing that we're supporting the distribution platform. I don't have content to announce to you today, but I would be looking at all the different pieces of the recipe and going, "Hey, wow. Those are starting to feel like the right direction for me as a sports fan and as a sports gamer to get fired up about."

GS: Does that mean maybe regular roster updates will be part of the equation here?

CL: Well, we do regular roster updates now. We've done them on the Xbox, the PS2, and we continue to do them on the 360.

GS: And they're all free. Is that correct?

CL: Yeah.

GS: In terms of the long-term, do you have any projections for revenue from downloadable content?

CL: It's too early right now. My most important initiative right now is starting to get an understanding of the Marketplace, the dynamics, and starting to get the studios to build into their content pipelines postfinal content release. So that to me--that's been the big win this year. Once we start understanding how the market looks and reacts to this type of content, we'll get a better projection idea. So I don't have anything right now.

GS: And looking at the other platforms, PlayStation 3 and the Wii, can we expect similar initiatives on those?

CL: Well, we will figure out the right way to get the right product for the right platform. Right now, I think the online plans for those platforms are still being solidified. And if postrelease content becomes a key component of those platforms' release strategies, there's no company in the world better to address it than EA.

Not as much LA smog back in the 1980s.

GS: Five years down the line, how do you see EA Sports represented on Marketplace?

CL: I think we've got the most exciting content, the most diverse lineup of content, and the content that most accurately reflects what the sports fan hungers for. That's what I've always prided myself on. I've been working in the EA Sports business for a long time and have been really in tune with the passions of the local sports fan. So I want to figure out 25 really exciting ways to make a Philadelphia Eagles fan's experience in our game that much cooler.

GS: Even as a Niners fan, you're willing to do that?

CL: I'm willing to do it. And I can't wait to find 10 ways which I can fly my Niners flag even higher. Even after last week.

GS: EA sponsored organized tournaments--is there any plan to do premium tournaments down the line where people may pay a fee and get some sort of substantial prize?

CL: I think there are multiple tiers of tournament strategies that need to get rolled out over the next 12 months. And I think there's going to be consumer demand for a higher--what's the right way to describe it?--a way for us to get a higher level of game integrity. And if we were to do some type of a paid tournament, which I don't think we've got formally planned right now but it's certainly something we're looking at, where we could, in exchange for a financial entry fee, deliver a higher-fidelity tournament with higher integrity, I think there's a demand for that in the market. I also think there's a demand for just more EA community tournament type things. And you've seen some of that with the Madden Challenge. Customers clearly want to show who's the best Madden gamer, and it's in our passions to be able to showcase and make superstars out of those people.

GS: I know there's some demand for this, but fantasy sports leagues--when are they going to be fully integrated into EA Sports games? Something where you can draft your team, play with 12 buddies, and have Madden set that up for you?

CL: What really needed to happen was the online penetration rates of the consoles needed to get there. And with only 10 or 20 percent of the consoles connected [to the Internet] on the old-generation boxes, it didn't make a lot of sense for us to really push that feature. I think Microsoft's latest number was 60 percent [connected]. All of a sudden, different ways in which you can get your fantasy information become things that we're starting to pay much higher attention to. So I'd look for that over the next one to two years, for that to begin to be much more deeply integrated into the core experience.

I was literally checking my fantasy stats about 45 minutes ago on easports.com. I think the Web experience has gotten to a point now where it's as good as anything that's out there. And now what we do is we figure out how to extend it to different platforms that are connected online.

GS: Cool. And last question, currently the Niners are 3 1/2 over the Raiders. Who've you got in that game?

CL: I got the Niners. But I plan on flying those colors every week.

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Discussion

49 comments
xion2k4
xion2k4

OMG them money hungry mofo at EA have gone way to far think they can try and get more money out of stuff that should be Free (and it was in past versions) man this is one big joke it stories like this that make me sick and the reason they can do this is because EA have the danm madden license what happen to the good old days of take 2's american football games ,which far outclassed EA's any day of the week

e_boulanger
e_boulanger

Roster updates free? What a joke. I tried to get the new roster for EA NHL 07 and I got the message saying that I needed a GOLD account to download it. I don't call that free. Also, I wonder if the downloaded stuff will be usable only with a specific version of the game. If you buy a stadium for example, will you be able to use it with Madden 07, 08, 09, etc... I have my doubts.

_Sam_
_Sam_

nice interview

crunchb3rry
crunchb3rry

How about these greedy bastards put out these EA Sports games every other year so they have more than dinky additions, then charge money for a bi-yearly roster update? The games are on freakin' hard drives and we're still bound to buying a new DVD-ROM every year. These damn games never have much at all added each year. I'd rather buy one every 2-3 years (which I already do) and have a current roster. I remember when EA promised frequent roster updates after Madden went online. That promise lasted about 0.5 seconds. Not a single game had the promised roster update the year after a sequel replaced it.

hemakm3
hemakm3

Can't think of a stadium I'd pay $3.75 for.

Zero_Ice
Zero_Ice

Yea IGN asked the harder questions. This stuff used to be free. Why charge for something that was always included..This is not uniques stuff. Uniforms etc..Should come with the game..The xbox 360 Madden version was totally stripped down.

chikahiro94
chikahiro94

@mr_squibble Sounds like Guild Wars (those profession packs). I think that's a much better method also. Not all of us have the time to unlock every little thing - just buying the ones we can't unlock (due to time or difficulty) would be a nice option.

AndyRaeside
AndyRaeside

Right... Heres my take on this... I live in the UK... games here are bloody exspensive... they are asking for £50-£60 for a brand new Xbox 360 game in the stores... on current exchange £50 a game equals $92 Us Dollars Gamers in the UK cannot afford to be spending $4 on extra uniforms... and then... the question is... why should we ?... this stuff was free before. Ok you maybe had to run a 90 yard kick-off return in Madden to unlock X, Y or Z but the stuff was there... and it was included in the price. So heres point number one... if games companys are going to sell a game... with the view... that they can increase the sales and profits online on the Live Marketplace with exspansion uniforms and stadiums... Then... Why not lower the costs of the games on the shelves ?. They could knock $10 - 15 US Dollars off the price and STILL make a decent sized profit off of online purchases.

agentkooper
agentkooper

That same stuff has been free for years. Now games cost $10 more and we pay $3.75 each for stadium and buy uniforms? Why isn't there a major uproar about this. FIND YOUR BALLS GAME JOURNALISTS!!!!!!! Ask the questions that matter. If the questions are not allowed at the interview, write an editorial and state this. If I buy the game, a few uniforms and a few stadiums it could cost me upward of $100 for a game that is outdated next August and has zero resale value. ASK THE QUESTIONS!!!!!

JayPee89
JayPee89

Why no questions like "Why are you charging for content that should be free?" Gamespot let's these companies pimp them. At least IGN has the stones to ask what's on everyone's mind.

makemeweak
makemeweak

Oh no! $3.75?!? I can't pay that! How will I be able to buy my frappuccino?!?

mr_squibble
mr_squibble

I like the strategy EA is taking with Tiger Woods Golf. A player can unlock extra courses and items in the game by playing it for many hours, or the same player can elect to purchase those items on the Live Marketplace instead. The "extra content" is all in the game from day one. It's up to the player to choose how it is accessed.

bluewitnesss
bluewitnesss

I just want to know when individual gamerpics will be released for our favorite teams. They have the playoff teams from last year up, but what about the rest of the NFL? I don't care about silly, old stadiums that used to house teams that either don't exist anymore or I'm not concerned with. I know when I play Madden I don't notice the stadium all that much. Neither the stadiums nor the gamerpics are all that important, but it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to create gamerpics for some of the NFL and not the rest. I'm a sports fan and I would like to share my team pride with the rest of the xbox live community and instead I get to show them silly stadiums one opponent at a time. Great!!! Just what I wanted!! Thanks!

Jaeme
Jaeme

It seems to me that this is another case of cash before consumer. They are intentionally setting things up to get extra cash out of people who already are paying for a new game every year. If games like PREY can give out entire maps and modes for free then surely the biggest game publisher on the planet can give its main cash flow source a free stadium skin or two. And for those who think MS had anything to do with this nonsense, you`re wrong. MS has no choice but to allow EA to do this if it wants to continue to have EA`s support for it`s console, and no console can survive without EA(cough DREAMCAST cough) especially now in the time of the exclusive liscence. So MS tells EA to get real, then what? it loses all football, plus harry potter, half life(and all other Valve stuff), Burnout, Medal of Honor, Battlefield, and who knows what else? Not to mention that EA liscences the middleware that makes rockstar`s GTA. Would that be lost too?

WillT12345
WillT12345

So i can pay 3.75 for the demolished seahawks stadium, but can't even play 4 player football. EA u suck!

runbmp
runbmp

"Monstromo", Those prices will be applied to whichever console has online capabilities. It might even be more expensive for other consoles because they will have to host the files themselves. MS does not control the prices of 3rd party vendors such as EA. True enough however EA is not the company it once was. I'm sure some OG's remember the genesis days where EA had some real gems... sigh..

NinjaFoot
NinjaFoot

I can tell you the direction EA is taking with this. SOUTH...

mike_mgoblue
mike_mgoblue

If you can buy all of the classic stadiums for $3.75, I think that would be great. I don't think I would want to buy an individual stadium for $3.75!!!

JDO
JDO

What is really sad is that this is just the test prices from EA, I'm sure they know that most people will not buy these at the prices they are selling them at, so in a week, a month, even two months or more they will drop the prices and half of the people that complained will then turn around and buy the items that they were just complaining about. Monstromo, don't blame MS for allowing EA to put this stuff up at the prices they did. What was MS suppose to do, not allow EA to do this? EA will do this on every system they can. The fans are going to have to stop this by not purchasing the items.

boglin3
boglin3

I heard in Madden '08, you just get the stadium and the grass. Players will be 50 cents a piece on marketplace.

chikahiro94
chikahiro94

And to make things even easier for you guys: Electronic Arts Inc. 209 Redwood Shores Parkway Redwood City, CA 94065 Go ahead and google the address if you want verification. Sending a letter will take you 10 minutes to write, and $.37 to mail. Write a nice, sensible letter and politely tell them that you object to their online plans, and why (they'll probably trash anything abusively written). Its cool to vent, but if you only vent here, then its not going to do much good.

chikahiro94
chikahiro94

Side thought: Contact the NFL too. Considering they'll get a royalty off of everything EA sells, they're probably just as thrilled as EA is to sell these things. So consider them to be as guilty as EA. And remember to thank them for giving EA the football market with that exclusitivity deal...

chikahiro94
chikahiro94

@Monstromo "chikahiro94, stop griping about our griping. If I want to vent my spleen I will do so." Never said you couldn't, or shouldn't. I'm just suggesting griping in a fashion that might accomplish more than a moment of relief.

Monstromo
Monstromo

chikahiro94, stop griping about our griping. If I want to vent my spleen I will do so.

highvolts12
highvolts12

I hate everything that EA stands for and I haven't bought a single game from their label in almost 2 years. A revolution starts with one man and the rest will follow.

chikahiro94
chikahiro94

To everyone saying "This stuff should've been included in the game": Welcome to the next-gen feature for publishers and developers. Expect this to be standard on all systems from here on out, like it or not. If you think its a horrible rip-off, I suggest you start organizing boycotts of it now - and by organizing, I mean ORGANIZING - web presence, people handing out fliers at game stores, write-in campaigns, stuff like that, all addressed and focused on EA and every other company selling stuff online like this. Just griping about it here does no good, and quite frankly, even if you think its a rip-off, the average person buying the games might think its cool. Web space is cheap, xeroxing fliers is cheap, email makes communication easy, there are online petitions and all sorts of tools out there to get your message across if you're willing to use them (including the computer you're posting on).

Monstromo
Monstromo

I just don't get it, there are all these really great titles coming out (Bioshock, Mass Effect, Lost Planet, Blue Dragon, the list is big) that seem really inventive and interesting, unique is the word I think of, then Microsoft turns around and gives the green light to letting EA put this horribly dull, lifeless, overpriced nothingness on live? I mean they make such a big deal about the Arcarde content meeting such high standards but they let EA put old stadiums on sale for $3.75, that is nearly the cost of an arcade game? And shame on GS for providing such a huge marquee for such obvious display of self promotion of this pathetic content to unloaded on live. The interview is just one softball after another. It reminded me of one those fakey infomercials with interviews of the makers of crummy exercise machines. Worse yet, EA had absolutely nothing to really say, look at this excerpt: So besides legendary players and throwback stadiums, what kind of current content, things that can be applied to this season, can fans of Madden, NHL, and NBA Live expect? CL: I don't have anything I can tell you about today, I JUST DON'T GET IT. LAST WEEK MICROSOFT PUTS OUT THE TGS CONTENT THAT WAS AWESOME, ALONG WITH DOOM AND THIS WEAK WE GET THE UNDERWHELMING OVER PRICED CONTENT FROM EA WHO SPENT ALL OF THERE MONEY ON THE LICENSES AND HAVE NOTHING LEFT FOR DEVELOPMENT. What is Microsoft and GS doing here? Trying to bail out one of their beloved cash cows. I guess royalties and advertising dollars really carry the day. I am VERY, VERY, VERY, DISAPPOINTED. Clearly the sports content is going to stink on live and Microsoft is going to let EA set the market on quality and price. We are going to be overwhelmed with inconsequential microtransactions.

s3lFc0nTr0l
s3lFc0nTr0l

$3.75!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pretty soon we'll be playing $75 for 1 game (including tax)

hodayathink
hodayathink

From the point of view of someone who only owns three sports games and two for specific reasons: College Hoops 2K5 - "2004-05 Illinois Fighting Illini", Madden 2004 - "Bears playing home games at Memorial Stadium in Champaign", I don't see this as being soo ludicrous. If you don't want the content, don't buy it. If no one buys it, it won't be offered again. But the only stadiums they have to put in the game are the current ones for every team, and maybe stadium for the Pro Bowl. There's no reason to put LA Colliseum or the Kingdome in the main game, because no one plays there. As a matter of fact, can anyone name a pro football game that has LA Colliseum in it? People don't like paying for extra content because there not used to it, but I'd rather they spent the time before development on the things that have to be in the game, and waited until after the game was done to do additional content like this. And this is from someone who won't buy any EA sports game on the next-gen platforms until these games have every single mode that is on the current-gen ones working the same way.

newfg311
newfg311

It would be nice if they would actually get some of this stuff up and going. Every time I check there is nothing available, despite them saying they would have stadiums and uniforms up for download. $3.75 for a freaking stadium!?!? Are they out of their minds?!?! It would also be nice if they would put up some NHL Themes other than Edmonton and Carolina!! Anyway, this is stupid. I can understand paying for these things if the fee is minimal, but this is atrocious.

jcloverboy
jcloverboy

For content that should have been included and usually would be - these prices are too high.

YWAMmonkey
YWAMmonkey

I'm worried they will do this with Fifa 07 for 360, which we already know is missing tons of leagues from current gen versions. If they release these leagues/teams at a later date that would be a good move on EA's part, but if they will charge for them its completely classless.

mj23007
mj23007

This is ridiculous, quit buying EA games for this very reason!

That-B-Guy
That-B-Guy

I wonder when Madden 08 comes out will gamers have to buy all these classic stadiums, players, and other extras that come with the game again or will they just release it with it because it is finished content that can very easily fit on a DVD and/or Blu-ray disc... I really hate all this new downloadable content that's being released recently. If a brand new football franchise is created close to the release of the game and they do not have time to make their uniforms, stadium, and roster that's one thing. But, to nickel and dime you for extra uniforms for teams that have been existance for 50 years is not right.

finalcross
finalcross

It's unfortunate that people will see this and still end up buy items on the Marketplace because they want to seem 'unique'. But if you have to end up spending X amount of gamer points for the same item year after year, it's going to end up costing you an entire game. The bonus material they are offering for Madden 07 is useless. I'm a Seahawks fan and why would I want to download a classic Seahawk Stadium. The Kingdome was demolished for a reason. It was horrible for Football. A true Seahawk fan will know how crappy it was to watch games in that Dome, so why make it available as a classic stadium? When they start offering third jerseys (Jacksonville's Black, Cinci's Orange, etc..) those should be free. You can and have always been able to use them in Current Gen Systems without any need to 'buy' or unlock them (in some cases yes). There is only one saving grace. If EA follows Ubisoft and offers completely new content with their content. If they release Map or Expansion Packs that contain enough additional single-player and multiplayer options, that will for sure get people interested. Or follow PGR3 and have a massive update at a reasonable price.

reece590
reece590

Thats cool..............

AnubanUT2
AnubanUT2

Gargabe!! Absolute garbage. Damn EA just plain out bites. What about a patch for the fatigue issue ... that should have come out FIRST! Video guides ... what a friggin joke!! Just play the game and you'll get better ... BS just BS.

drack48
drack48

I know it's such a bunch of crap you guys. And guess what even when they start putting all these "living" adds in thier games, they will still cost $59.99, what a joke.

tyler2010
tyler2010

falkbridge Again... why are we paying for something that should already be in a $60 game? _____________________________________________________________ I Agree.....Damn You EA!!!!!11111

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

Right on, 29.99 sounds like my kind of price for ANY new game!

falkbridge
falkbridge

Again... why are we paying for something that should already be in a $60 game?

GMAN32X
GMAN32X

If they are going to charge $2 - $3 to download "enhancements" that should already be in the game, the price of the game itself should not be more than $29.99.