Q&A: EA Sports' Chip Lange
The marketing brains behind EA Sports Nation tells us why the Premium Pass--and the partnership with Dodge--makes sense.
Yesterday, Electronic Arts announced a special members-only area within the Madden 2005 playing field. The Dodge-sponsored Premium Pass will give gamers who sign up all sorts of goodies, the most significant of which, according to EA, is the right to play with and against the highest most competitive Madden players in gamer-created leagues.
EA Sports Nation vice president, Chip Lange, spoke with GameSpot shortly after the news broke and explained why gamers benefit when deep-pocketed partners foot the cost of high-priced online features.
GS: How will the Dodge brand surface in the game?
CL: Inside the matchup lobby, and also in your different pages throughout the EA Sports Nation Web site. For example, if you go onto the Web and check your stats, or if you're scouting an opponent those types of pages are going to be presented by Dodge.
GS: Is this really what the Madden gamer wants?
CL: To give you context a lot of our hardcore Madden guys have been asking for a place where they can get online and compete that was separate from the general populace. This feature set is going to enable these guys to have a backstage-pass mentality. It's based on a couple of years' worth of listening to what league consumers wanted.
Dodge has signed up to sponsor these features this year--and that [branding] will surface in the product inside the matchup lobbies. This is opposed to diving into a charge model this year.
GS: It sounds like a charge model isn't far behind.
CL: I think it's fairly widespread knowledge that, at some point, our industry is going to move into some form of a business model online. Xbox did it two years ago, [but] everybody's exploring different areas of that.
The different business model we're taking into the market this year is one that kind of hits two objectives. It's giving us a revenue stream that is able to justify the development expense required to build out these features, and it's not being delivered at no expense to the user. And, Dodge gets a win out of it because they get access to a highly valued customer demographic.
We tried to think of all the different people who were going to be involved with this and try to make it as much of a win, win, win for everybody. Based on the people we've talked to, people seem to be pretty excited. This was the model we settled on this year.
GS: If Dodge hadn't partnered with you, would gamers have seen these features as a fee-based suite?
CL: We didnt plan for the alternative. We had multiple people try to jump in and sponsor this.
GS: Will any other EA games support the Premium Pass?
CL: We havent announced anything other than Madden now.
GS: Are you considering other games?
CL: Our most active online community is Madden. It's also the place where the most intense online gaming competition goes down every year. I want to make sure that what we're doing has got the right feature set that the customer is responding to--and that we're able to make sure that it works at a quality level that people associate EA Sports with. Before I say "here's where we're going to go," that we're going to do this on every single title, and we're going to do it starting tomorrow, the strategy was to pick one [game], do it well, do it right, figure out what the responses from the consumer population [was], what are they liking, what are they not liking, what do they wish they had more of, and then figure out how to roll this out on a wider scale.
GS: Why do you need to collect credit card information?
CL: We did [substantial] research on this. It's basically another way to identify the user and get people to feel like they've got a commitment to making the online experience fair and stable. When you put up your credit card, your relationship to that company changes. The entire spirit of this Premium Pass is to design a group of online users who are more serious about this than the general population. The theory behind this is that they're going to be much less likely to cheat if a company has a validated e-mail address and a credit card number. It's going to make it a lot harder for you to create multiple accounts, to cheat, and to hack.
What we're trying to do is to get people to put skin in the game so we know exactly who you are, where you are, and that you establish value with the rep rating that you're going to be building throughout your EA Sports career.
GS: Any other ways you intend to leverage the credit card database?
CL: Other than using it to validate who you are and to make it the basis for a formal EA-created account that is going to [make it] difficult for you to build a new one--no. I play a lot of massively multiplayer games, and I treat those characters that I play seriously because I've got not only my own time and personal emotion wrapped up in them, but also my credit card and e-mail account.
GS: Can you tell me what Dodge paid for the right to partner with EA?
CL: No. The announcement here is that this is a new business, and the business model we are taking to market is a sponsorship model. We're hoping that we can continue to do really cool things with online opportunities going forward. We see it as a road map to the future to making the games more exciting.
Companies can't sustain the kind of feature development consumers are going to demand in the future without a sustaining business model underneath it. I think people are thrilled with the products EA Sports makes because we are able to attach a business to it. That's what we're doing here. This year, the features are being delivered to the end user free of charge.
GS: How long is the agreement?
CL: I can't discuss the specifics, but you know what? Stick around with EA Sports and you can figure it out.