EA regrets initially soft Wii support

CEO John Riccitiello says company "bet on the wrong horse a little bit" by focusing next-gen development on Xbox 360 and PS3.

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When the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launched in November 2005 and November 2006, respectively, Electronic Arts was there with a full slate of games. Each system received the latest iterations from the publisher's Need for Speed, Madden NFL, NBA Live, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchises. The Xbox 360 also welcomed FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, while Fight Night Round 3 arrived on the PS3 just weeks after the console's launch.

By contrast, only two EA games made it to the Wii's launch: Need for Speed Carbon and Madden NFL 07. Though he wasn't yet appointed to his current post as EA's CEO, that's something John Riccitiello regrets, as he explained at the company's annual meeting of stockholders yesterday.

Taking questions from the audience, Riccitiello was asked about several years of less-than-stellar performance on the stock market. He responded first by saying that the company is aligned behind the goal of driving shareholder value, but acknowledged that the company could have better handled the recent transition between console generations.

"[This transition has been] harder because of the complexity," Riccitiello said, "and harder because unfortunately, we bet a little bit on the wrong horse in focusing so much on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and to a lesser degree on the Wii. And let me assure you that almost all of us in the industry made the same judgment. So after so many transitions of guessing exactly right, we got this one a little bit wrong and we're dealing with that now with strong investments on the Wii."

One of those investments--a studio dedicated to developing specifically for the Wii--was announced roughly a week after Nintendo's system launched.

Later in the session, Riccitiello touched on the Wii launch again when asked about which of the company's competitors keep it up at night.

"We're all fairly paranoid, so a lot of them keep us up at night for different things," Riccitiello replied. "There aren't companies that are really directly comparable in all areas. But if you're looking for companies that we admire and might well keep us up at night, I think about companies like Ubisoft, that made a quicker and more forceful move against the Wii and Nintendo DS, and that's showing in their results. [They're] insightful, and they create an awfully large number of great titles. No question, there's a lot to admire there."

Riccitiello also specified China-based The9 and Korea's Neowiz, saying the companies are doing online gaming better. In recent years, EA has purchased a 20 percent ownership stake in Ubisoft, roughly 15 percent in The9, and 19 percent of Neowiz. However, he did not restrict his comments to EA's partially owned ventures. He also addressed All-Pro Football 2K8 maker Take-Two Interactive and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater publisher Activision.

"When you've got a competitor like Take-Two on the sports side and they launch a football title using some of the industry legends, you want to make sure that ends up being a blip and is not repeatable, because we like to defend our franchises aggressively," Riccitiello said. "With Activision you worry about Guitar Hero against Rock Band, or Call of Duty against Medal of Honor."

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