Gameplanet: Euro 2012 – tell us more about this live service you have planned?
Andrew Wilson: A big move overall for us as a brand is moving from product to service, I think we started that first with Ultimate Team in FIFA three or four years ago now where we gave you a new mode to play and ever-changing content within that mode. Then last year we launched EA Sports Football Club, 10 million people signed up for that, and played the challenges we pushed out week to week. Then now, of course, we're adding Euro to the mix. So for us, there's always going to be big annual launches for FIFA; FIFA 12, FIFA 13, FIFA 14, but what gamers are telling us is that they want to engage with the game throughout the year. Whereas they used to play for three or four weeks then put the disk away and go and play something else, now they're saying "hey, we're FIFA fans, we're soccer fans year in, year out, you've got to keep giving us stuff to make this world rich and exciting for us". So that's what we're really doing.
That means we have rolling development with teams that are always creating content. It means we have analytic teams that are always evaluating the billions of telemetry events that happen in our games every day, and making millions of queries into the data to try to figure out how people are playing. And then it's live service teams that then take the content the live dev teams are producing, based on what the analytic teams are telling them, who are then pushing it out to the community on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.
We're at a point where over the last 12 months we've had at least one piece of brand-new content go into the community across the EA Sports brand every day, and that's really based on those three things; live dev teams, live analytic teams and live service teams who interact with the community. So it's been a fundamental overhaul in not just how we're organised, but how we build and deliver content.
Gameplanet: Do you think that the success of FIFA 12, being the most popular FIFA ever, is down to this approach?
Wilson: I think absolutely. Because I think what happens traditionally is there are always new gamers coming into the FIFA universe. Always. But what's happening now is that we're not losing gamers. Typically you would get a batch that would come in right at launch, they'd play for five weeks, and then they would drop off. Now what's happening is that we're getting ongoing engagement throughout the process, and it's because the experience changes as you play. And we got to a point where through January and February, we were hitting record online play days, where the game had been in the market four or five months. Because when you keep the initial community and you add to it week in, week out with new people coming in, it provides a really rich and interesting world. There's more people to play against, and so EA Sports overall, over the last year, has 25 million people playing 10 million games every day. And that creates a really rich world that's really engaging and interesting and changing. So you don't want to go and play something different because you're engaged and invested in what you're doing, and provided there's rich content that makes it exciting and different each day, you keep coming back.
That's lead to the fact that FIFA 12 wasn't just the biggest – we've had record launches with Madden, with NCAA, and with hockey. Six months deep into what we would refer to as a season, we've got more people playing online than we do at launch, and it's never been that way.
Gameplanet: So why did EA stay away from doing anything with the Rugby World Cup last year?
Wilson: For us as a company, we've had a real focus on fewer, bigger hits. The challenge of development gets greater every year, we build now on not three platforms, but I think 13 or 14 platforms, and we try to tie those experiences together and make sure that when you play on a mobile game it adds value to what you do on a PC game, and a console game, and so that nothing you do in that world is wasted. There's just a level of investment required to deliver those types of rich experiences, and we get to a point where we can only do that for so many franchises, and rugby just wasn't the one at that time. We've been focused on FIFA, and american football, and hockey, and bringing our NBA back, and golf. I'm from Australia so I started my career building rugby and cricket games, so I do think there will be a time when we do that again? Yes, I think there will be. But probably in a different context than we did before, and probably in a different context than we see in the market today because the world is ever-changing.
Gameplanet: With that in mind, how do you drive sales for games in markets that aren't ready for them? How would you drive NHL in New Zealand or Australia?
Wilson: In some cases, you don't. There are some products that are global, and there are some products that are more regional, and that's OK. Sports like NBA are growing internationally every year, as are sports like hockey, there's a huge Nordic and Russian following for hockey right now which is really expanding the market beyond the US and Canada market. But at the same time, I grew up in Australia and I played Madden and NHL when I lived there. Hockey for me was something that girls played on grass, it had nothing to do with big dudes beating the crap out of each other on ice, but it was a great game. The quality was there, so we played it. And I learned more about hockey and american football by playing NHL and Madden while living in Australia than I ever did by seeing it on television. Nowadays of course, with cable TV you can watch American Football. When I go home, I can watch hockey, I can watch football, I can watch basketball much more than I ever could when I was a lad. So I think that with the growth of the sport, with the growth of media penetration – whether that's cable television or the Internet – and the quality of our games: investing to make sure that our games continue to be of the highest quality, the most innovative feature set, I think these markets will grow in the future.
Gameplanet: If there was any sport you could create a new EA franchise for, what would it be?
Wilson: I'd love to build a surfing game. Nobody else would play it, but I'd love to build it! [laughs]
I was originally employed at EA 12, 13 years ago now, and we were looking at building a surfing game at the time. I had a background in that sport, and it was something that was very interesting. Some other surfing games launched that just didn't really translate that well into a videogame. I'm not sure it translates well today either, but maybe one day I'll retire and try to fulfill that challenge!
Gameplanet: So no short-term plans to revisit cricket, then?
Wilson: Well, this year we relaunched SSX, we relaunched FIFA Street – two products that we haven't done for a long time that both came back to critical acclaim with great sales, both featured innovative gameplay on both fronts. There's authentic street football with FIFA Street, and over-the-top arcade-driven gameplay of SSX with unbelievable online innovation in terms of how you play, so right now cricket is not a focus for us, we're focused on other things, but we're always evaluating the market and looking for opportunities to bring new experiences to consumers.
Gameplanet: Do you think that motion control hardware has a bright future in sports gaming?
Wilson: I think that any hardware has an opportunity to deliver new and innovative gameplay, whether it's motion control or voice control, or touch pad control on the iPad or iPhone – I think what we do is that we think about how we build experiences that are almost "platform agnostic" at their very core. What is the motivation for that experience? Then we look at how we can use pieces of hardware that people have access to in order to give them innovative ways to access that experience. We just did Kinect for Tiger Woods, that was the biggest overhaul of the golf swing that we've probably done in that franchise for a decade, and by all accounts it really changed the way you play with both motion control and voice control. You're going to see more from us this year with some other franchises with voice control that I think really enhance the way you play the game, and change your approach to the game and make it fun and interesting, and new and different.
So when we look at new pieces of hardware, whether that's motion control or touchpad, or voice control or any other piece of hardware, it's really about how we can use that to access this broader experience that we have around sports.
Gameplanet: Speaking of Tiger Woods, he's not doing so well these days. At what point do you look at celebrity endorsement and decide you need to change your spokesperson?
Wilson: You know, Tiger continues to be the biggest name in golf. He has been for a long time, I think he will continue to be for some time yet, and we have a great relationship with him. We are very happy with that relationship, and we're very happy with the game we make that has his name on the cover. So for us, we're going to continue to drive forward.