Speaking at the MI6 game marketing conference in San Francisco, EA Sports president Peter Moore discussed his division's traditional strengths, the changing needs of the marketplace, and the company's overall philosophy.
Moore began his Gamasutra-attended keynote virtually, digitally inserted into a 3D basketball video game – and then joined the event in person, first acknowledging that EA Sports has a clear identity and existing market. “We're embedded in the lifestyle of global male youth,” Moore said.
But while “core sports” are already very strongly understood by EA Sports, and the company has a great deal of strength there, a more untapped market exists, one with more growth potential: “lifestyle” and other sports.
The exec pointed to five “strategic pillars” -- capture the core, which the company must continue to do; captivate the masses, which means reaching out to those who are not already part of the heavily-male core; globalize, expanding out from EA's traditional North American base; expand the brand from a video game company with a core competency in sports, to a sports company with a core competency in video games; and digitize, with social experiences, microtransactions, and other types of nontraditional methods.
Captivate the Masses
“You can't simply take what you're doing on the PS3 or Xbox 360 and port – that's a dirty word – down to the Wii,” Moore said. EA had to learn that lesson, and start from the ground up with new Wii experiences.
And the system has particular sports that make sense due to its controller, such as golf ane tennis. “EA has never shipped a tennis game,” Moore pointed out, but it will do so for the first time this year.
On a more unique note, the company is also launching EA Sports Active, personal training software for the Wii that looks to be a much more in-depth take on the Wii Fit
A leg pouch that holds the Wii nunchuk portion of the controller allows the game to more closely monitor leg movement, with the main remote detecting arm movements; some exercises use the traditional two-hand controller setup.
“We as a brand drip with testosterone. We are male-fueled,” Moore said of EA Sports – the company had to reconsider how to market something like Active
, including bringing in new personnel more in touch with the expected audience, which will trend much more heavily female.
Capture the Core
Of course, the bigger part of EA Sports' overall focus is on its primary sports franchises, and how to keep the core fanbase buying yearly versions of a game again and again.
Moore boasted that, to that end, over the past year, every one of the EA Sports franchises saw a Metacritic year-over-year rank increase of at least three points. “That's the question our teams have to answer every year,” said Moore. “Why do I buy it again?”
For example, the company introduced its “dynamic DNA” feature to last year's NBA game, adding new player stats on an ongoing basis rather than simply on the yearly disc, and the feature is now spreading to other EA Sports franchises.
The company also gets in touch with its base through “lifestyle events,” which it frequently conducts in conjunction with the leagues behind the various sports, and holds at places like sports stadiums and major retailers.
Also key is social networking such as Twitter, Facebook, and others – as well as conducting messaging “in a self-deprecating way,” to help soften the often negative image EA Sports has as a global behemoth.
For example, a YouTube user found a glitch in a Tiger Woods game that had its title character standing atop a water hazard and making a drive – EA responded by producing an online-only video
of the real-world Tiger Woods hitting a ball onto a lily pad in a water hazard, walking across the water, and sinking a shot. The video ended with the slogan, “It's not a glitch. He's just that good.”
In addition to bringing up updates and microtransactions, Moore referred to the widely-publicized ads bought by Barack Obama's presidential campaign across a number of EA Sports games.
In the run-up to the election, the campaign knew it had to solidify support from young males in certain areas, who needed to be prodded to get out and vote. The ads were dynamic and localized. “Obama's team placed, almost a zip code level, across battleground states, something they knew would attract the demographic,” Moore said.
Also important to digitization is free-to-play experiences on the PC, something EA is looking into more and more heavily, to access people who “don't call themselves gamers but do call themselves sports fans” -- people who almost certainly have access to a computer, even if they don't spend money on video games.
Giving them free experiences can get them invested into sports gaming in general, and EA Sports in particular.
Accessibility vs. Approachability
Rounding out his talk, Moore mentioned EA Sports' four internal pillars: authenticity, competition, inclusiveness, and approachability.
He painted a distinction between “accessibility” and “approachability.” Much talk is made about accessibility, he said, but more important is approachability.
Expanding the audience isn't just a matter of making something comprehensible when the controller is in the player's hand – it's getting them to feel comfortable with even attempting the game in the first place.