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Riccitiello's Dream: How EA Plans To Maintain Customers Without Marketing Spend
Riccitiello's Dream: How EA Plans To Maintain Customers Without Marketing Spend
October 27, 2011 | By Frank Cifaldi

"We've got an incredibly leaky bathtub," EA CEO John Riccitiello told investors in a conference call Thursday.

Riccitiello was speaking of a problem all video game publishers face: maintaining customers. In a traditional packaged games model, companies are paying substantial marketing costs each year to maintain a customer base.

"Just in the packaged goods business, by way of example, if they're running 10 percent variable marketing costs against revenues, they're running $5 dollars a customer to acquire. And if they're running 15 percent, they're running $7.50. So that's an incredibly expensive thing to do to reacquire your customer every year."

The other marketing challenge Riccitiello is attempting to tackle is the ability for a game maker to cross-promote its other products and services.

"For content makers historically, the ability there has been virtually non-existent," he said, whether those other services be "within a franchise, or cross-franchise, or even cross-platform."

Eliminating these costs is a significant motivator for the company's current strategy to transform itself from a traditional packaged goods maker to a year-round service provider, offering a continuous stream of content for its stable of IPs through both DLC and cross-platform play, as well as additional online services such as its digital Origin platform.

"Our vision with the investments in platform is to solve both problems," he said. "I can't tell you exactly how it works when we solve both problems, because no one's been there before. But I can tell you there are precious few companies that are making great content and added strong platform components that have created a lot of value. HBO is a company that has done that. I believe, frankly, we're similarly situated to create an enormous amount of value here. That is exactly what we're focused on."

It is a vision met with some resistance, though Riccitiello's faith in the strategy is hard to deny.

"Two, three years ago I was telling you that [higher] quality and fewer titles would deliver us into a better revenue and margin structure. That may well have seemed slightly unbelievable a few years ago.

"This may seem slightly unbelievable today, but I'm more convinced of this than almost anything we're working on."

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Tyler Gabriel
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Sounds an awful lot like Valve.

Ramon Carroll
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Does this mean that they will be focusing less on marketing, and more on higher quality goods and services? If so, that sounds like a good way to go.

Daniel Martinez
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Somewhere in a college campus, a marketing undergraduate student with hopes of making it in the Video Games industry is crying.

Harry Fields
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They couldn't have possibly chosen a more smug looking picture of the guy if they wanted to...

It's like I can imagine him saying, "Soon, I shall have enough for the solid gold crapper in bathroom number 5! MWA HA HA A HAHAH!"

Dave Prout
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I'm curious how this differs from the attempted "portal" model of the late '90s web (Excite / Yahoo / MSN). Is the digital "distribution platform race" analogous to the "browser race"?

Craig Page
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Who had the brilliant idea at EA to get rid of in game lobbies and menus for PC games, and do everything through your web browser?

That's not very good for keeping customers, switching from something simple and proven to work, to a new and barely functioning web browser version.

If I owned any EA stock I'd sell it.

Really the only worse lobby setup for Battlefield 3 would have been done through my phone, "press 1 for a quick match", "press 2 to list the servers by lowest ping", "press 3 if you wish you had bought the console version instead".