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EA knows it has a lot of catching up to do to compete with Zynga on Facebook
EA knows it has a lot of catching up to do to compete with Zynga on Facebook
May 4, 2012 | By Tom Curtis

May 4, 2012 | By Tom Curtis
More: Social/Online, Business/Marketing

Over the past several years, Electronic Arts has continued to push its business into the digital sector with web-based social games like The Sims Social and Bejeweled Blitz. The company is currently competing with and Wooga for the number two spot on Facebook, but CEO John Riccitiello thinks the EA has a long way to go before it can compete with a juggernaut like Zynga.

"When it comes to Facebook, while we're number two, I'd say we're a distant number two, and [Zynga has] lapped us by about three times," Riccitiello said in a recent interview with NPR's Morning News.

Zynga obtained such a strong lead by becoming one of the most intelligent data-driven companies on Facebook. By examining player information and creating content that matches their tastes, the company has been able to grow its game network to some 273 million monthly active users.

That data-focused approach has worked well for Zynga so far, but Riccitiello isn't sure if it's sustainable in the long-term.

"The companies that are focused exclusively on social games think of themselves as data companies, sort of analytics companies, they're not really in the entertainment business. I think that will eventually die -- consumers want to be entertained; they don't want to be data-managed," Riccitiello said.

While entertainment might be EA's focus, that's not to say that data analysis doesn't impact the way it approaches social games. In fact, last year EA hired its first global chief technology officer to implement technologies that will allow the company to better predict what consumers are looking for.

Adding to Riccitiello's comments, EA CTO Rajat Taneja told NPR that his job is to "apply techniques like machine learning and neural nets to figure out what will happen next so that we can tailor the game and the experiences to delight our customers."

By leveraging both classic game design and the modern data analysis techniques, EA hopes it can close the gap and Zynga and go toe-to-toe for the number one spot on Facebook.

Zynga, however, doesn't appear too worried about losing its hold on the social market, as it has used the last several years to perfect the way it manages data to grow its numerous social games.

"We've spent three or four years building this infrastructure, and we already understand the problems in this space. I'm not trying to be dismissive, it's just that we haven't found people in the game industry who do this," Zynga chief engineer Kostadis Roussos told NPR.

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Jerry Pritchard
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Even if EA now owns PopCap, trying to compete with both Steam AND Zynga?!? I'm sorry, but they need to stop and take major reality check.

Brett Williams
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If companies like EA won't try to compete then who will? You can't just assume because someone is bigger in that space that you don't have a chance. Smaller companies make these types of strides every day, why can't a large company try?

I'm confused why trying has become a bad thing.

Eric McVinney
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@Brett - I think you misunderstood Jerry's comment. EA should be on the same level, if not at least near it, by now.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I for one find it interesting that EA is the "small dog" now. Things change quickly it seems.

Terry Matthes
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I think it's more like they're a big dog in a new yard.

Mac Senour
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I remember being told through channels, while at EA, that there was no money in virtual goods and I had to present my product as a CD in a box or not at all. That was 2007...