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EA weighs in on next-gen games and the  Battlefield 4  debacle

EA weighs in on next-gen games and the Battlefield 4 debacle

January 28, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Following its third quarter 2013 results, EA execs took to the phones for a conference call that included questions from analysts. Given that its third quarter was the final quarter of calendar 2013, ending December 31, there were two topics that stood out: How the next gen is going, and the company's ongoing struggles with its Battlefield 4 service.

Battlefield 4

If you were hoping for some dish on the Battlefield 4 question, you won't get much -- probably because of litigation pending against the company.

In his prepared statement, CEO Andrew Wilson called the five-platform launch of Battlefield 4 a "complex effort," but said that the "team acted swiftly" to fix problems, an effort that is continuing, and that EA is "confident that gamers will be playing for a long time to come."

Interestingly, chief operating officer Peter Moore said that any weakness in sales of Battlefield 4 were not "linked to any quality issues" but more to do with general player disinterest in the current generation of consoles -- something the company noted was a problem overall.

In fact, Moore is confident that EA will continue to sell the game "effectively" moving forward, despite problems.

Patrick Soderlund, executive vice president of EA Studios -- who once headed up DICE, the studio that produced the game -- answered a "lessons learned" question with what sounded like a prepared statement.

"Based on our prelaunch testing and our beta performance, we were convinced it was ready," Soderlund said. Given that it shipped on so many platforms at once, Soderlund said that it was "different than anything we've seen before with any game," and the company is "taking multiple steps to incorporate what we've learned and integrate them into future products."

In general, the company avoided answering questions on the game as much as was possible, and the analysts didn't press too hard on it, either -- though one did ask if this would mean a rocky launch for Titanfall. The answer there, of course, was "no."


In its quarterly results, EA announced two interesting things: A dominant share of next-gen software sales (at 35 percent of the Western market) along with a weakness in current gen game sales -- "a much sharper decline" than anticipated, per CFO Blake Jorgensen, who said next-gen sales were "well ahead of our expectations" but still didn't make up for the shortfall.

In other words, players flocked to the new consoles, but didn't buy enough EA games to make up for those who abandoned the current gen.

"The uptake of next-gen consoles has been faster than we expected," said Wilson. "The six titles we released collectively sold above expectations and exceeded our third quarter forecasts." Moore, however, does expect next-gen console sales to eclipse 10 million by the end of March 2014.

Wilson noted that, according to NPD research, the company had a 40 percent software market share on PlayStation 4 and 30 percent on Xbox One in the U.S., with "similar" numbers in Europe.

Interestingly, Moore doesn't expect full digital downloads of next-gen games to have a significant impact on retail for some time. It's "something to look at in 12 months," he said, as "consumers have gone to retail to buy their boxes, and as a result have bought packaged versions of that software."

Digital versus packaged goods is "not a black and white issue," said Moore, but represents a "combined economy," as downloadable content and subscription revenues "springboard off of retail sales."

Despite the immediate current-gen declines, said Moore, "I think Microsoft is committed to [Xbox] 360 for a number of years." He expects both Microsoft and Sony to "get behind the consoles" and turn out 10-year console cycles in the end.

Jorgensen said that EA believes current-gen consoles "will be around for some time and a viable part of our catalogue going forward -- and it could grow if the prices come down."

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