It's no secret that EA has pushed hard into the social space over the last several months. With Facebook titles like The Sims Social
, the Battlefield 3
community service Battlelog
, and FIFA 12
's EA Sports Football Club
, the company has shown a strong desire to push persistent social connectivity.
In fact, recently-appointed EA Sports senior vice president and head Andrew Wilson believes these very social features will be the key to success across all of his division's titles, spanning everything from FIFA
, and beyond.
According to Wilson, who replaced former EA Sports lead Peter Moore a few months ago
, the stat-tracking and social comparison features that debuted this September with FIFA 12
's EA Sports Football Club are just the beginning of the division's new drive toward a persistent experience that exists across all of EA's sports titles.
Gamasutra recently sat down with Wilson to get a better sense of how he plans to embrace social connectivity, and what this strategy means for the future of EA Sports.
Have there been any notable changes to EA Sports' strategy since your appointment?
I'd say there haven't been any huge changes in strategy so far, and the reason for that is because the way our strategy has been built over the last couple of years is that it's less of a top-down approach, and more about what the newest technologies or innovations are driving us towards.
I went into the organization last year [as senior VP of development] and said, "Listen, I'm looking at how people play games, and tell me if you think I'm wrong." First, I believe that gaming in this generation is about connecting with your friends. Then, it's about interacting with a social experience from more than one console -- because right now I play on multiple consoles, and I feel that my time on my mobile phone is wasted when I go back to my PS3.
I think we need to deliver some longevity in the experience, almost like an MMORPG does, so you don't have to restart every year. The reason people play WoW
for years is because it stays with them. I think it's really about consistency across years.
So that's what I think. I asked the team to sit down with the people who play our games and ask them if that's what they
think and they came back and said, "You're right, they do
want to connect with their friends, they do want to get to a point where no time is wasted, and they don't want to restart year-after-year. So we're really fostering that with everything we do, and building that on top of our foundation, which is still that quality of gameplay experience.
Speaking of persistence and social features, it seems services like EA Sports Football Club emphasize data and stat comparison over direct person-to-person interaction. So how do you define "social" in the context of EA Sports?
I think that's a good question, and let me try to take one step back and define what we believe "social" is full-stop, regardless of how it manifests in EA Sports. So, for you and I to be social, the first thing we need is a social identity; we have to know who each other is. EA started investing in our core identity system about five years ago, so now you are identified as the same person regardless of what game you play or what platform you play on.
The next thing we have to do is we have to give you a way to connect, since there's no social interaction without connection. So what you've seen in the past is us driving features in our games that allow you to play head to head.
Now, the third part is slightly different, and that is this notion of "collect, build, play, share." If we go all the way back to playing marbles a hundred of years ago, or collecting sports cards 50 years ago, every social interaction on the playground is about asking, "What is my collection, what is my measurement against you, how do we play together, and how do we share our collections?"
When you look at EA Sports Football Club, every challenge you take identifies you within your group of friends, and everything you do moves you up and down the social measurement platform with those friends.
So for the fans that you have an affinity with in your club, or fans you have an affinity against in another club, you're always measured against them for what you've collected, what you've done, and what you've shared. It's all about moving you up and down this social measurement graph.
How do you maintain that single social identity when EA Sports Football Club is sport-specific? How do you extend these social connections across games -- like with FIFA and Madden titles, for example?
I think there's two difference pieces to that puzzle. One is based on who I am as an ID reference point, and the other is what I establish around that ID reference point. Since the ID stays the same across titles, it allows me to tie different things to it. As a FIFA
gamer, I'm going to tie all my FIFA
entitlements, achievements, attributes to that ID, and that's how I'm going to measure myself against FIFA
Then when I play Madden
, I'll establish Madden
entitlements and achievements tied to the same ID. Then I'll have a Madden
group and a FIFA
group that I can go measure myself against. Then there's the next layer up, where there are people who play both.
I think it's similar to Facebook; Facebook has been considered the answer to social, when I think Facebook is just a good metaphor for social. So, on my Facebook page, I have my close friends that I share certain things with, and I share a big social measurement graph with them. Then there are the people that I work with, and I share a different set of attributes with them, and there are other people that I share even less with.
Using Facebook as a metaphor for how you interact with human beings, we share things at different levels, and the same is true for games. Players share certain things with their FIFA
gamers, certain things with their Madden
gamers, and certain things across the board to all gamers.
Continuing the Facebook comparison, that platform provides users a singular destination to interact with all the groups they belong to. With FIFA and Madden, those communities exist across separate games, so how do you connect these groups without a similar destination?
The short answer to that question is yes, players need a destination to go to. The slightly longer answer is that I think we're in a different phase. Five years ago, if you had asked that question, I'd say, "Of course we have a destination, it's EAsports.com!" Job done.
Five years on, however, what we recognize is that the destination exists in the ether, and we just have to make sure that data is accessible from wherever you are. For instance, that data might be accessible from the front-end screen of any game you boot up, or maybe a hub that we put up on Xbox Live, or EAsports.com, or your Facebook page, or an iPhone app. For us, it's all about data. It's less about pushing you toward a destination, and more about pushing you toward a destination you're already at.
Another thing you mentioned earlier is that you want to connect sports titles "across years." That seems to go against the history of sports games in that they're put out annually as isolated releases. Can you explain how you plan to connect them?
It all goes back to the concept of you as an identity, and you build up value in that identity. You build up achievements, friends, you build up a persona of value. What has happened to date is that you have to start a new identity every year, and that's just an odd thing to have to do.
While we expect that you'll still want the latest technology and the latest features, you don't want to rebuild who you are in that world from scratch every year. When we say we're connecting experiences across years, we're not saying that we're not going to give you the newest technology and features, we're saying all that value you've built up will stay with you. If WoW
told you that you had to had to start from scratch, you'd stop playing!
What do you think this means for the viability of annualized disk releases? Can this model survive when everything around it becomes persistent throughout the year?
That's a good question -- and a challenging one -- and one that we're still working on, in all honesty. The reality is, while we can give you some experiences every week to keep things fresh, some things take a long time to build.
Our belief is that there is always going to be a desire to build and deliver these long-range feature sets based on the latest technology available. I think there's still a place for an annual release, and there will be for a long time yet, but that doesn't hinder our ability to keep things fresh week-in week-out.