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EA's new CEO spells out long-term plans, expectations

EA's new CEO spells out long-term plans, expectations

December 3, 2013 | By Kris Graft

Ever since former EA Sports boss Andrew Wilson took the CEO reins from former Electronic Arts chief John Riccitiello earlier this year, he's stayed below the radar.

But at the annual Credit Suisse Technology Conference in Scottsdale, AZ today, he peeked his head out of the trenches to let industry watchers in on his plans for steering the publisher in a profitable direction.

For anyone wondering why EA's board chose Wilson to lead the charge, he explained, "They chose someone internal versus external [the board members] like our strategy as a company, believe we have great talent internally, and they're looking for us to continue a strategy of building hit titles with the foundation of cost management."

Aside from that, Wilson also said they chose someone "of my generation" (i.e., younger than usual as far as CEOs go) as he would take the long-term view as opposed to a "hack-and-slash" way of management that leads to short-lived, immediate gains.

He added, "I'm the first CEO to come up through the studio system. [With that, the board is] saying that games are important. Platform is important, analytics are important, marketing is important, but at the end of the day, the future of this company will live and die based on hit, quality software. They wanted someone with a passion and an aptitude for that."

Wilson said the fact that he led EA Sports for the last few years also helped him land the CEO role. "It was one of the more advanced-thinking of the divisions of [EA] in terms of digital, and our evolution into digital," he said.

Wilson's overarching goal is to keep the company focused, and not get distracted by all of the trends that come and go in the dynamic video game industry. He said he wants to drill down and find the best opportunities in video games.

"We want to get to a view of EA as one company and one team, where we can truly manage and focus the investment on the biggest opportunities." For Wilson, those opportunities include next-gen consoles, mobile, and PC free-to-play in emerging markets.

Speaking of emerging markets, Wilson explained how FIFA Online World, similar to FIFA Online 3, will launch in Brazil and Russia in the lead-up to the World Cup. EA's also examining a way to leverage its UFC license in a free-to-play game in Brazil, where MMA is popular.

"What we're trying to do is make sure we're eliminating duplication, inefficiency, hobby products that ultimately won't drive the long-term profitability of the company," he said.

EA CFO Blake Jorgensen also elaborated on how EA intends to sell its games in the years ahead. Namely, he talked about a focus to reduce the cost of customer acquisition through lower spend on big-budget marketing.

"Longer-term, our real focus is to try to move away from traditional large-scale marketing, heavy TV marketing," said Jorgensen. Essentially, EA intends to get a better bang for its marketing buck by having a direct relationship with its customers through online channels. "We should be able to market to them at a much lower cost," he said.

"Five years in this business is hard to predict," admitted Wilson. But he ventured a guess for three years. He said based on conversations he's had with handset and set-top box providers, the fight for the living room will become more heated for traditional consoles.

"Microsoft and Sony have a real opportunity to build a strong following and a strong install base so they'll continue to be the single-best way to get high-fidelity, high-definition interactive entertainment to your television," he said.

But as Microsoft and Sony try to broaden their market three or four years from now and try to evolve further into all-in-one devices for living room entertainment, they'll be under "stiff competition" from "mobile providers, from Apple, from Google, from Roku, from Comcast, to try to own that living room experience," said Wilson.

"But again, as of now, we think [Sony and Microsoft] are the single best way to get high-definition, interactive entertainment to your TV," he said.

As for EA's continuing shift to digital business models, he said the company currently gets 43 percent of its revenues from digital. "That's been rapidly growing, so I don't think it's unreasonable to think that five years from now it could be a significant share of our topline revenue."

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