EA gets casual with ex-ATVI exec

Former Activision Publishing president Kathy Vrabeck tapped to lead new division focused on nontraditional gamers; analysts approve.

Kathy Vrabeck
Kathy Vrabeck

Electronic Arts is getting hardcore about casual gaming. The world's largest third-party publisher has announced the formation of EA Casual Entertainment, a new division established to provide "quick-to-the-fun" games intended for nontraditional gaming audiences. To lead the new division, EA has tapped Kathy Vrabeck, former president at Activision Publishing, where she oversaw the EA rival's worldwide development studios.

Electronic Arts is no stranger to the casual market, with its Pogo.com casual gaming portal boasting more than 11 million monthly users. There's also EA Mobile, formerly Jamdat, which EA acquired in 2005 for $680 million. Finally, The Sims' audience extends well outside the core gamer demographic, and it stands as one of gaming's most successful gaming franchises--casual or otherwise--having sold more than 85 million copies since its 2000 debut.

EA Casual Entertainment will develop and publish games for consoles, PCs, handhelds, and mobile phones. The publisher will announce games, franchises, and licenses for its new division at a later date.

Analysts reacted to the news favorably. Lazard Capital Markets' Colin Sebastian praised the pickup of a "proven industry leader" like Vrabeck, adding that the move provides some insight into which direction recently appointed CEO John Riccitiello wants to take the company.

Nollenberger Capital Partners' Todd Greenwald called Vrabeck a "solid hire," and said the move should help EA leverage casual content it already owns, such as Harry Potter, The Sims, Pogo, and EA Mobile's Tetris for cell phones. However, Greenwald also said that EA isn't exactly the first company to embrace the casual market, noting the successes of Ubisoft, THQ, and Majesco in courting that demographic.

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