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EA Mobile doubles down on free-to-play

EA Mobile doubles down on free-to-play

Thu 10 Jan 2013 8:17am GMT / 3:17am EST / 12:17am PST
PublishingDevelopment

EA All Play's Nick Earl on the success of The Simpsons: Tapped Out and the future of the freemium model

Electronic Arts' mobile-focused All Play label saw out 2012 on a four-month high. After buckling under the weight of demand on its initial release, The Simpsons: Tapped Out relaunched on the iOS App Store in August, made a dash for the upper reaches of the top-grossing charts, and has since refused to budge. In October, it was the highest grossing game in the world for four straight weeks, attracting 2.8 million DAUs at its peak, and rounding out the month with a Treehouse of Terror pack that was played by more people than watched the TV series' own Halloween special. It's in the top-grossing chart right now, in fact, sandwiched between Clash of Clans and Hay Day in third place.

Popcap's admirable back-catalogue aside, The Simpsons: Tapped Out is one of EA's most significant mobile hits since its very public transition to digital began. Other EA products can be found among the App Store's most lucrative games - FIFA Soccer 13 is in fifth place, for example - but Tapped Out is particularly important because it is free. According to Nick Earl, senior vice president and general manager of All Play, from here on the £2.99 being charged for FIFA will be a rarity.

"EA sees mobile as the tip of the spear, the key growth area for our digital strategy"

"EA sees mobile as the tip of the spear," Earl says, "the key growth area for our digital strategy.

"For the most part [it will be free-to-play]. There will be some exceptions here and there, where it just makes sense to offer a one-time paid download, but for all intents and purposes freemium is what we're doing going forward. From here, you'll really see freemium rule the day.

"Freemium games are really driving our direction from a business model perspective. We're huge believers in the model. Not only is it here to stay, it's also really going to power the spread of mobile devices."

Successes like All Play's Tapped Out and The Sims Free Play have strengthened that resolve. In relative terms, EA entered the mobile gaming market during its pre-history, acquiring Jamdat for $680 million several years before the existence of either iOS or the App Store. It was a lot of money back then, and it still sounds like a lot of money now, but it enabled EA to become what Earl terms "king of the hill" of premium priced mobile games. What we now know is that there was another, much bigger hill just beyond premium, and EA was slow in staking a new claim. According to Earl, that changed in 2012.

1

"We probably didn't anticipate the transition as well as we would have liked," he says. "We had such incredible infrastructure built around premium games, and we were very strong on feature phones. We were getting out games in that fashion to many, many millions of devices.

"It takes time for any big, established business to go through a change this profound. To speak candidly, we probably should have done the transition a little faster, but I will say now that we have fully transitioned. This is the focus for us going forward."

The broad strategy for EA's mobile content is similar to that introduced to guide its console projects: fewer, bigger, better. But not necessarily more original. When I ask Earl about what 'fewer, bigger, better' will mean for EA's mobile release slate, his answer arrives as a list of the most commercially viable IP available to the company: The Simpsons, Battlefield, The Sims, Tetris, Scrabble. When you're reaching out to more casual players who are swimming in easily accessible and largely similar options, a recognisable brand is still one of the few reliable tools for building an audience.

"The dollars are going towards these core games, and for EA that's hugely, hugely encouraging"

"We're really getting behind the big ones, and we're making sure we hit a high level of quality with deep feature sets," says Earl, roughly describing EA's formula for success on the App Store. "These games are a little bit like a TV show. You have to constantly create and distribute new content to the audience, so logistically you want to do less and you want to focus on making it good.

"This isn't about sending people from new game to new game to new game. It's about building really strong game brand experiences and regularly supplying content."

The underlying goal seems to be that rarest of things in mobile games: permanence, longevity. The average mobile gamer is seen as so fickle that many developers create ostensibly persistent products fully expecting them to be obsolete in a few months or less. Earl doesn't see this approach as particularly healthy, but so far there have been very few brands that can stand alongside Angry Birds as real mainstays of the mobile space. In that sense, the market is still wide open to a degree that hasn't existed with consoles for many years.

2

And high quality products with depth of experience will be more important in the coming year than ever before. After several years of John Carmack and various other soothsayers anticipating mobile devices more powerful than Xbox 360s, 2013 may offer a clearer understanding of just what that means for the games - through projects like Scattered Entertainment's The Drowning, which purports to be the mobile equivalent of a console blockbuster. Infinity Blade and its sequel pointed towards a large number of core gamers who are not the principal target of the overwhelming majority of mobile games. What they are given often feels compromised, and yet they are the most willing to pay for what they play. According to Early, the popularity of games like Clash of Clans and Rage of Bahamut can be taken as indicators of where the market is heading.

"The Freemium space really caters to gamers who are conditioned to pay, and they will spend a lot on these games"

"The dollars are going towards these core games, and for EA that's hugely, hugely encouraging, because this is our sweet-spot," he says. "Most of our expertise is around building experiences for that market... It's really welcome news that that's where the market is heading from a grossing perspective. There'll be growth in casual games, and I think we're well positioned there, too, but the strategy/RPG core gamer is also there in a big way, and they'll be spending more and more money and time on these games."

The time for premium pricing on mobile games may well be over already. The market is still young, and it will no doubt change and grow in the coming years, but for Earl it's a matter of "human psychology": something for free is always preferable to something you pay for, and once that line is crossed it will be difficult to go back. Indeed, Earl suspects that the most suitable market for premium games, the core, will be more enthusastic about freemium than anybody.

"The Freemium space really caters to gamers who are conditioned to pay," he says. "But the result of that is they really like the freemium model, and they will spend a lot on these games. I think it's going to be hard to move back to the one-time download price model.

"We're building our business, our infrastructure, our teams, our organisation and our culture around the freemium model."

29 Comments

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
1) Kristian Segerstrale has transformed EA for the better in a big way. The best thing to happen to them for years.

2) Certain other medium and big console publishers must be wondering if they have missed the boat and if their business is now on burning platforms. The answer is yes.

3) Like it or not, FTP is the future of gaming. Very soon the market just will not be prepared to pay up front for a game.

4) Last time I looked Supercell, with just 2 titles on the App Store, was out grossing EA with hundreds. There is still a lot to learn about this market.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Samuel Verner
Game Designer

123 208 1.7
@3)
i dont think so. core gamers want high quallity and a complete gameexperience. especially for singleplayer games with multiplayer mode. the free 2 play bussiness model does not fit to these needs. no matter what some people are promesing. aaa buy2play games will allways have a huge customer base.

Posted:A year ago

#2
On a personal level, I agree with you, Samuel.

I spend a lot of time, not to mention cash, on gaming, but mobile really doesn't offer the sort of experiences I want at the moment, and I see very little indication that it will any time soon. I'm not sure if free-to-play has much to do with that, but the unaddressed market Earl describes is definitely out there.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,372 1,018 0.7
3) Like it or not, FTP is the future of gaming. Very soon the market just will not be prepared to pay up front for a game.
Meh. The market is actually quite broad, when you think about. As an example

http://www.joystiq.com/2012/10/25/assassins-creed-3-is-ubisofts-most-pre-ordered-game-ever/

The url says it all.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 731 1.4
Popular Comment
"One Business Model To Rule Them All". It makes no more sense than looking at WoW a few years ago and saying "look at all the money that game's making, soon all games will be subscription based".

Posted:A year ago

#5

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
Some considered discussion about FTP:

http://uk.ign.com/articles/2011/08/02/death-of-the-disc-based-game
http://www.ibtimes.com/freemium-games-make-80-10b-mobile-app-market-2012-flurry-report-936872
http://www.videogamer.com/pc/star_wars_the_old_republic/news/bioware_on_subscriptions_vs_free-to-play.html
http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngaudiosi/2012/07/11/riot-games-league-of-legends-officially-becomes-most-played-pc-game-in-the-world/
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/32322/Turbine_Lord_of_the_Rings_Online_Revenues_Tripled_As_FreeToPlay_Game.php#.UO7ItqV7P8s

I just cannot see the public, once they have become accustomed to getting games for free, being able to get their heads around why they should pay up front for one.
What gaming is like on the iPhone will be coming to your living room television soon. Hundreds of thousands of games downloadable for free over the internet. Why would anyone pay upfront for something on physical media when this is available?

Posted:A year ago

#6

Chris Billson
QA Compliance Analyst

1 1 1.0
Not that I necessarily agree with that quote, but surely the key difference is that one model (subscription) raises the barrier to entry, while the other (F2P) effectively removes that barrier entirely. With this in mind, the latter model would always be the more likely candidate to proliferate.

That said, I think as long as there is a market for story driven, single player focussed games, then pay-up-front will always have a place in the industry. It’s difficult to introduce micro-transactions into that equation without polluting the overall experience. And I don't think consumers in general have much tolerance for that.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 731 1.4
Popular Comment
@Bruce
Why would anyone pay upfront for something on physical media when this is available?
Because I don't want to be pestered for money while I'm playing the game. I hate marketing. I hate adverts. I don't want to see ANY of it while I'm playing a game, so the option to pay up front to make penny pinching begging schemes go away and never bother me again would be VERY welcome. This comes from the point of view as a customer, not as a developer.

Posted:A year ago

#9
Popular Comment
Dave says it best.

I hate the waffalium. I dont care if its free at point of entry. i dont what those blasted ads, aand pesky pop up barriers reminding me to pay more to advance or buy more lives. If I wanted pesky, i'd buy a arcade machine!

Posted:A year ago

#10

Carl Silvers
Researcher

22 25 1.1
GTA VI as F2P?

Battlefield 6 as F2P?

Saints Row V as F2P?

No thanks, I'll pay up front and enjoy no adverts and/or on-costs.

F2P is engaging with *new* gamers in great ways, but there's still a *lot* of us old-school gamers that enjoy immersive games, are willing to pay up front, and we generally have enough disposable income to pay for them. Discs *may* be dying a long slow death, and maybe DLC is the way forward for AAA titles, but the F2P model is just one of many ways to enjoy gaming.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Hugo Trepanier
Senior UI Designer

152 127 0.8
F2P on AAA single player experiences could work well if handled in an episodic format. Get the first episode free, pay for additional chapters if you like the game enough to continue. Think of it as having more of the game broken down into bits of DLC as opposed to just one or two chapters, which is often the case today. The downside of this is that, considering a majority of players don't finish their games, few customers would actually buy all your episodes. On the other hand, a wildly successful game could carry on for months or even years with enough support.
Hundreds of thousands of games downloadable for free over the internet. Why would anyone pay upfront for something on physical media when this is available?
Bruce, why does someone with your level of intelligence and knowledge still repeatedly confuse F2P with digital delivery? Two totally different things. You can also buy a full game and have it delivered to your PC or console without ever touching a box or a disc and it doesn't have to be F2P for that to happen.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Carlos Bordeu
Game Designer / Studio Co-Founder

57 70 1.2
Bruce - have you read the people's opinions of the IGN article you are linking? (see the comments section). Those are consumers and it is pretty clear the vast majority of them hated the article or disagreed. The comments against the article have up to over 1000 'likes'. I think the voice of that many consumers against the view of one journalist who wrote that piece is hardly a case for supporting your opinion on this matter.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Carlos Bordeu on 11th January 2013 12:05am

Posted:A year ago

#13

Samuel Verner
Game Designer

123 208 1.7
Some considered discussion about FTP:

http://uk.ign.com/articles/2011/08/02/death-of-the-disc-based-game
http://www.ibtimes.com/freemium-games-make-80-10b-mobile-app-market-2012-flurry-report-936872
http://www.videogamer.com/pc/star_wars_the_old_republic/news/bioware_on_subscriptions_vs_free-to-play.html
http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngaudiosi/2012/07/11/riot-games-league-of-legends-officially-becomes-most-played-pc-game-in-the-world/
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/32322/Turbine_Lord_of_the_Rings_Online_Revenues_Tripled_As_FreeToPlay_Game.php#.UO7ItqV7P8s

I just cannot see the public, once they have become accustomed to getting games for free, being able to get their heads around why they should pay up front for one.
What gaming is like on the iPhone will be coming to your living room television soon. Hundreds of thousands of games downloadable for free over the internet.
your vision of f2p differs from the reality of the consumers. f2p works for some kind of games and for some kind of targetgroups. but not for all, or the majority.

Why would anyone pay upfront for something on physical media when this is available?
because he wants:
- a high quallity / high budget game, which you wont get from a "rolled out" f2p release
- every content in the game available instead of been nickeld and dimed for every little piece in the game
- a nice gameflow instead of a boring grind (which is needed to support a f2p game)
- no ads in his game
- a game where he isnt constantly poked to use the social and other incentivized features and beeing beaten if he doesnt

f2p is not THE new and only model. its a pretty old one, which currently becomes overhyped by people without much knowledge about it.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Samuel Verner on 11th January 2013 9:42am

Posted:A year ago

#14

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
@ Samuel Verner

Most games downloaded/sold in the world are already FTP.
In other words up front payment is in the minority of games and their share of the total is decreasing rapidly.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,372 1,018 0.7
Actual concrete statistics please, Bruce. Considering that the vast majority of games on all 4 consoles and PC are pay-up-front, I can't see it being "most games", personally.

Posted:A year ago

#16

Samuel Verner
Game Designer

123 208 1.7
Popular Comment
Most games downloaded/sold in the world are already FTP.
In other words up front payment is in the minority of games and their share of the total is decreasing rapidly.
1. downloads are not revenue
2. downloads are not active users
3. downloads are not pay-users
4. arppus of most f2p games are extremly low and arppu of AAA titles is extremly high
5. core gamers dont consume the same kind of games like casual or social gamers
6. endless masses of low quallity games cannot make it up for one high quallity game. if someone wants quallity, then he is willing to pay for it instead of playing a low quallity game.

...and so on... i could probably write several pages with points like these why your assumption is wrong. statistics are allways a matter of how you interpret them. in the case of world of warcraft tons of people interpreted it as "most of the players on the mmog market are paying for the wow concept with a fantasy gameworld and with a subscription model behind it". they all drove their games against the wall with this assumption, that they can hit the lottery with a wow clone. look at the old republic. 200-300 million wasted for a sci-fi wow clone, because someone wasnt able to draw the right conclusions of all these statistics out there.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Samuel Verner on 11th January 2013 11:14am

Posted:A year ago

#17

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,716 598 0.3
@Morville O'Driscoll

How about 1.7 billion app downloads in one week. Mostly games and mostly FTP?
http://blog.flurry.com/bid/92809/Holiday-2012-Delivers-Historical-Worldwide-App-Downloads
In 2013 1 billion download weeks will become the norm.

The "old" game industry really is a niche.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bruce Everiss on 11th January 2013 11:24am

Posted:A year ago

#18

Samuel Verner
Game Designer

123 208 1.7
1,7 billion and whats the conversion rate of it? whats the arppu? how many people logged in several times after the first installation?

1,7 billions of zeros is just a zero.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Samuel Verner on 11th January 2013 11:55am

Posted:A year ago

#19

Justin Biddle
Software Developer

147 425 2.9
@Bruce

And how many of those 1.7 billion generate income for the FTP game makers. I really don't get why you can't accept that the two can co-exist? It's like the pc is dead debate all over again. Has history taught you nothing at all. That argument was backed up with impressive statistics just as you currently do with FTP. As history has proven those statistics were misinterpreted.

The only reason I can see you argue so strongly that paid for games are dead is that you must feel them a threat to your own business. If FTP games are viable (and they most certainly are) they will survive perfectly well alongside paid games as they actually currently do.

Relax Bruce FTP games will survive even if paid for games and consoles do as well. They're not a threat to you. You don't need to be scared of them.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Justin Biddle on 11th January 2013 11:40am

Posted:A year ago

#20

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

714 495 0.7
@Bruce
Your viral marketing is starting to burn up people. I suggest you stop...

(Yeah, I said Viral Marketing, because I can't believe someone who thinks like you can work inside the industry inside "Marketing" and say stuff like that. If all the economist think that way no wonder we have a economical crisis in Europe)

Posted:A year ago

#21

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

714 495 0.7
And up-front payment gives... profit!

Ask your beloved Zynga about that share, please...

Posted:A year ago

#22

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

714 495 0.7
@Bruce

Why would anyone pay upfront for something on physical media when this is available?

Ever heard of "Studio Reputation"?, it is something F2P companies do not have apart from being greedy money gathering machines (aside from Blue Byte, which tries to make a difference)

Posted:A year ago

#23

Bjorn Larsson
CEO & Executive Producer

9 4 0.4
Aren't XBLA and PSN trial/demo versions a (really old) form of F2P, albeit perceived as more fair than micro transactions? There are certainly many console gamers who appreciate the “teaser” approach.

Lodsys issues aside, it is a little sad that App Store culture has not really embraced the classic demo -> full game upsell tactic, it would probably have helped many iOS core titles come off as more respectable.

Posted:A year ago

#24

Lewis Brown
Snr Sourcer/Recruiter

194 41 0.2
I'm sure there are many more MAU's or download numbers in the F2P space, I have a number I have downloaded problem is Im yet to spend a penny on them? and 80% get played once then forgotton. Not to say its not a great business model but lets have some reality about facts and figures.

Posted:A year ago

#25

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 731 1.4
@Bjorn - In a way, yes. It's more a question of granularity of purchases. To me it's like going to buy a bag of maltesers and have the shopkeeper refuse to sell me the whole bag, but sell me them one at a time and saying "would you like another? Also why not try an M&M too? How about a Crisp?". I'd probably punch him in the face.

Posted:A year ago

#26

Bjorn Larsson
CEO & Executive Producer

9 4 0.4
@Dave - it is hard not to agree with your analogy on a personal level, although I suspect F2P is also very much a generational habit (as is young vs old -- touch input vs tactile -- to some extent).

Posted:A year ago

#27

Craig Page
Programmer

381 216 0.6
Does EA and Popcap make anything that runs on Android? I seriously can't tell, because the Android marketplace is filled with so much spam. I guess they do if the first 50 search results for "Plants vs Zombies" and "PvZ" are all game guides, unless they're guiding you on the iOS and WP7 versions of the game.

Posted:A year ago

#28

Renaud Charpentier
Lead Designer

60 125 2.1
May be look at another industry: Big budget movies that ask for an upfront ticket price make billions. In the same time extremely popular TV shows are broadcasted "for free" with add support. They both exist, they both grow, and to push the comparison, they have much in common with our games structures. The movies are "one shot" experiences, with sequels if successful like our big console/PC games. The Shows runs much more as ongoing "services" that continue to add contend (new seasons) as long as their (server) population is high enough... when their population (MAU) drops they are closed down, like any F2P.

The world, be it biological, cultural, economic, politic, is too complex for a single unique solution to prevail, and when it sometime happens, cataclysm ensue, breeding diversity again in the ruins of any ultra dominant system.

Posted:A year ago

#29

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