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EA And Activision: A Tale Of Two Social Media Strategies

EA And Activision: A Tale Of Two Social Media Strategies

September 9, 2011 | By Chris Morris

EA and Activision, despite their ongoing war of words, tend to swim in the same waters. Both like the military shooter genre. Both used to like the music genre. And both want to own the MMO market.

To date, that rivalry hasn't extended to the social gaming and mobile space. While EA has substantially expanded into both fields, Activision has been content to sit back and view the fray from a distance. That could be changing before too long, though.

As part of a presentation Thursday at the Citi 2011 Tech Conference, Activision CFO Thomas Tippl addressed the company's apparent reticence to enter the two emerging fields, saying it planned a slow and steady approach, rather than the all-in strategy many companies are taking.

"To date, we've mostly [explored social and mobile] around our existing franchises," he said. "In the future you will see more activity on our part to broaden our social and mobile parts of the portfolio. But it's going to be done in a thoughtful, methodical way and in a way that will tend to create value for our shareholders, as opposed to venture capitalists and private equity firms [that are contributing to] what I would call call a bubble valuation."

That last bit was a mild swipe at EA, which has been accused of contributing to the perceived bubble in the space with its 2009 buyout of Playfish, which consisted of a $300 million offer with an additional $100 million earnout.

But social and mobile are areas where EA and Activision actually have something in common. EA's hip deep in both fields, yes, but it too has been very methodical in the way it has expanded, extending core brands successfully and using the platforms as a place to test new IPs such as Reckless Racing and Spy Mouse, both of which could easily make the transition to console, especially towards the end of the cycle, when mass market audiences are the majority player base.

“What we’re finding is our customers are consuming our IPs across multiple devices,” Frank Gibeau, president of the EA Games label, told me earlier this year. “What we’ve been orienting our company towards is creating IP universes that can exist across those platforms."

Tippl noted Activision's desire to lead the industry when it ventures fully into social and mobile. That's not an uncommon goal, of course, but it's one that will be harder to achieve the longer the company waits. Zynga's firmly in control of the social space, of course, but Electronic Arts has captured the number two spot with 72.4 million monthly active users, according to AppData. (Once again, the drawing power of The Sims continues to defy imagination.)

What's ironic is that while many industry watchers have been focused on the coming battle of these two titans, few have paid attention to Take-Two's interest in the space. That publisher has been poking at the edges, testing for strengths and weaknesses in a seemingly casual manner, but one that could give it an advantage when it really decides to go for it.

Zynga's certainly not ignoring them. Insiders note that the company is in the midst of working on a Civ World competitor, with Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson heading the project up. (And don't forget that Civ 2 lead designer Brian Reynolds is at the company as well.)

Meanwhile, Take-Two quietly announced plans Thursday to bring the original Max Payne to mobile devices, with "connectivity to the Rockstar Games Social Club and boast the same features as its PC counterparts - including HD graphics and high-resolution textures that take advantage of the latest mobile technologies, including incredibly customizable controls and support for wired controllers."

While all three companies are taking different paths in their social and mobile strategies, they'll inevitably end up fighting the same war on a new battlefield. Tippl himself noted that he expects mobile and social to grow "at a double-digit clip for the foreseeable future" - and that's going to wind up being a financial pool no publisher can resist.

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