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EA mobile boss: Freemium haters a "vocal minority"

EA mobile boss: Freemium haters a "vocal minority"

Tue 02 Apr 2013 7:35pm GMT / 3:35pm EDT / 12:35pm PDT
MobilePeopleGDC 2013

Nick Earl says market has spoken in favor of free-to-play, no premium mobile games on his 2013 schedule

There's a vocal contingent of gamers online who don't appreciate free-to-play business models, but their complaints are being drowned out by customers speaking with their wallets, as far as EA is concerned. Speaking with GamesIndustry International at last week's Game Developers Conference, EA All Play senior vice president and general manager Nick Earl gave that feedback as one of the reasons he's pivoting sharply toward free-to-play models instead of the pay-once "premium" business model.

"The market has spoken very loudly that that's the model they like," Earl said. "Even though there's some vocal minority that don't like it, ultimately the numbers would show that they and others all support the freemium model better."

"Even though there's some vocal minority that don't like it, ultimately the numbers would show that they and others all support the freemium model better."

Nick Earl

Earl pointed to the company's Real Racing 3, which upset some gamers for the way it incorporated in-app purchases. While there was vocal criticism online, Earl noted the free-to-play game's four-and-a-half star average customer review on iTunes with nearly 40,000 people having rated the title.

"I think initially they were a little bit annoyed because the all-you-can-eat model makes sense for them," Earl said. "That's the kind of people they are. But at the end of the day, they're going to pay to eat, if that's their choice. And they're happy doing it."

While the company tries to balance business results with customer satisfaction, Earl said, "At the end of the day you kind of have to look at real numbers. The old proverb, 'You can't please all the people all the time' is just so true."

As a result, EA is focusing heavily on the free-to-play market. Earl said his label accounts for up to 80 percent of the mobile titles EA releases, and that he has no plans to release anything premium this year. While he doesn't expect the all-you-can-eat approach to go away completely, he did say it would continue to lose ground to free-to-play efforts.

Beyond that, Earl's current mandate for the mobile side of game development is "fewer, bigger, better." That's the same approach EA took four years ago with the packaged goods side of its business, devoting resources to projects to try and improve not just the quality of games, but also their ability to meet scheduled release dates. When asked if that's the right approach to take in light of the company's struggles and the recent resignation of CEO John Riccitiello, Earl described it as an investment that's about to pay off.

"The stock price over the last four years is probably less about the quality of games and more about a changing industry that we were arguably a little late to adapt to."

Nick Earl

"The stock price over the last four years is probably less about the quality of games and more about a changing industry that we were arguably a little late to adapt to," Earl said. "Over these four years, we have rebuilt our infrastructure and changed our culture. We have very much become a company that is truly in transition to be a fully digital one. And the numbers show that as the overall mix was changing across the industry and our numbers were not in aggregate showing growth, the stock price reflected that. I would argue that this strategy will pay off over the next four years. And it was kind of a painful four years to get ready. Sort of like getting ready for winter, we found the nuts and squirreled them away. And now we will see the dividends of that work."

However, there is still work to be done, and Earl doesn't pretend EA has the mobile world completely figured out just yet. For instance, the company doesn't have enough data on historical conversion rates to judge whether audiences are embracing it more. Anecdotally, he said there has absolutely been an increase in the percentage of the audience who makes purchases in freemium games, but it still appears to be dependent on genre, and even platform. For example, core games have higher conversion rates than casual games, and casino games tend to do better on Android. Earl said it's tough to pinpoint why one type of game does better on one platform, but he did say the markets are trending toward one another. As a result, he expects performance to homogenize across Android and iOS in the next year or so.

33 Comments

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
Popular Comment
And then EA wonder why they have PR issues. This "vocal minority" are otherwise known as "hardcore gamers" and are the reason EA ever had a business in the first place.

Posted:A year ago

#1

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

961 1,759 1.8
Popular Comment
Or maybe they've found a new market. Love to know why they're taking flak for that, it's a primary job description for most execs.

Mobile is the same, possibly even more extreme. A core group of whiners giving it the "we want a million dollar game for a buck", whilst the rest of the world just keeps quietly forking money into the FTP games.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Jeremie Sinic

43 18 0.4
Might be that Real Racing 3 has good user rating. After all, it's the best-looking "game featuring cars" out there, made with a AAA budget. Still, I believe what they earn on one end they lose on the other end.
I for one would gladly spend 20 bucks or more for a one-time full unlock IAP that would let me race car and do tweaks that actually feel meaningful to the gameplay, as opposed to refilling the gas tank or changing the oil (seriously?!?). Instead, I just gave up on the game without spending anything after figuring out that the game is a sort of Car Repair Shop Manager 2013 with the racing elements as an add-on to the main game.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeremie Sinic on 3rd April 2013 3:16am

Posted:A year ago

#3

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus

461 754 1.6
Does it *really* matter, though? Despite all the complaining that we do about EA, when you really think about it, our options have never been larger.

So the Simpsons game sucks. Oh well. Last I checked, I just downloaded six amazing Android games for $8.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Sam Spain Studying computer Science (Games Development), The University of Hull

17 3 0.2
Most consumers vote with their wallets and most people seem to agree with freemium so far. I just think EA will learn less about what content they can put in a freemium game and more about what they can take away.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Christophe Danguien games developer

70 83 1.2
I think this guy got it wrong or is stupid. People playing on FTP aren't people who will always stick to games or will definitely buy the whatever FTP game sequel...when the "vocal minority" are the hardcore gamers who will buy sequels and will make them money if they make a good game...If he was to survey every people playing on EA games, I don't think he will see a majority of yes we want to play on FTP and pay for extra petrol for the tank or the new whatever sword...

But he says whatever he wants and get you whatever numbers whether true or not to justify his decisions

Posted:A year ago

#6

Jeff Wayne Technical Architect

83 37 0.4
Always get a good chuckle out of mindless plebs using the "vocal minority" as their throw-away defense.

Posted:A year ago

#7
"...only make games they like, or games like in the good old days, or games they would want to play :)"
If you don't like your game your players won't either. Unwise to say this is not a route to success.

Posted:A year ago

#8
There's a vocal contingent of gamers online who don't appreciate free-to-play business models,
EA will have to understand that trying to bully the market - and even try and censure the voice of those that disagree - is not very intelligent. We know they are hurting, and are scrabbling to find a dependable business model, but trying to control the publicity is not the answer. I would also question GI.biz if this advertorial is an accurate reflection of the overall situation - or just more free EA publicity?

Posted:A year ago

#9

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 815 2.9
Popular Comment
Give the first hit for free. Exploit human weaknesses to addict. Make them pay for more.

This sounds familiar to me somehow. Isn't there something else that follows this pattern? Something equally erm... entrepreneurial.

That is to say that, personally, I am not a fan of this model. I find it underhanded and quietly deceptive.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 3rd April 2013 3:09pm

Posted:A year ago

#10

Andrew Ihegbu Studying Bsc Commercial Music, University of Westminster

473 187 0.4
EA release multiplatform so much these days. I would much rather they release a game that actually gives me something of value to leverage that, or pushes an envelope (like a mobile game that also unlocks DLC on a console game) than playing a game that costs me a buck to refuel, bases itself around comparing stats with my friends (and nobody else I know plays it), and for all intents and purposes may as well be singleplayer for me.

I'm not playing freeemium on a singleplayer game, sorry. I like storylines and progress without pay too much, and FTP lacks those in droves.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
@Kevin Williams - That's exactly what I was getting at, though you said it better. Going after a lucrative market makes total sense, no one can deny that, but to sneer at the people who aren't buying into it when they buy your other products is just unnecessary from a publicity point of view.

Posted:A year ago

#12

Nick Parker Consultant

306 186 0.6
I hope the new CEO at EA will ensure that the press can't interview anybody. I know it's really annoying as an analyst to interview industry heavy weights with a PR chaperone sitting in, but recently we have seen EA execs giving interviews that companies of similar stature would not permit.

This is a global industry so we should stop singling out differences between just the various western cultures and consider the vast interest, in equal measure, in all gaming business model experiences from every culture.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 941 0.7
@ Dan Howdle - Totally agree with what you wrote.

"Give the first hit for free. Exploit human weaknesses to addict. Make them pay for more.

This sounds familiar to me somehow. Isn't there something else that follows this pattern? Something equally erm... entrepreneurial.

That is to say that, personally, I am not a fan of this model. I find it underhanded and quietly deceptive."

Posted:A year ago

#14

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
Vocal minority? says who? some EA exec who blames EA terrible stock performance on "a changing industry" as if industries in the global market place are suppose to stay what? static?
In 5 years as the company tanks more they will probably say stuff like, "its kickstarters fault, and the backlash against the F2P pricing model, who could of foreseen such things".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 3rd April 2013 5:15pm

Posted:A year ago

#15

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 815 2.9
Popular Comment
It's not making a game so absorbing people must play otherwise we'd all be playing and all be spending money, It's about abusing addictive paterns and flaws in human psyche.
Exacly this.

Make good games and people will play them. Exploiting human weakness to generate revenue has little/nothing to do with making good games.

Posted:A year ago

#16

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
I see games as art, the really great games are timeless and the experience they give us stay with us for a lifetime. When creating a game thats is how I think games must be approached IMHO, let artist be creative, do their thing and when they get it right, monetary rewards will often follow.

This whole monetization and F2p approach to game making however just reeks of corporatization and cheap tricks in attempt to make some quick cash and truth be told, there is probably a market for this fast food approach to game making, but lets be honest with ourselves, this approach doesnt lend itself to making this industry better.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
Eric, this industry crashed once because of companies abusing the consumer, via pushing out incomplete and trashy games. If this industry becomes synonymous with corporate F2P fast food crap with most games being little more than fine print like con jobs, this industry can be in trouble again. Its already priced itself into a corner, so if most games become little more than attempts to pick pocket people via some half ass cute looking game mechanic, people will be turned off by "gaming". That is just but one of just many ways this F2P crap can hurt the industry.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 3rd April 2013 6:53pm

Posted:A year ago

#18

Anthony Chan Analyst, CPPIB

103 99 1.0
I think there are many who are working for small shops that need to get back to working - instead of focusing hate at EA for percieved destruction of the gaming industry, gamer confidence, and gaming in general. EA is a large publishing house, and they have done what works for them, and there is a following that loves them for what they have done. As in all internet hate, it is the work of the vocal minority. The "opressed". The "entitled". The egotistical and the the just.

As somebody astutely pointed out these are hardcore gamers, and EA has lost them. That represents opportunity for all of you. Instead of complaining about how EA is screwing you over, take what they have given up and work with it. Small shops thrive by finding niche markets where large corp always gun for the general public - or the majority. There is money to be made in both.

Let EA milk the cows, while you guys hunt the elusive rabbits.

Posted:A year ago

#19

Anthony Chan Analyst, CPPIB

103 99 1.0
Eric, this industry crashed once because of companies abusing the consumer, via pushing out incomplete and trashy games. If this industry becomes synonymous with corporate F2P fast food crap with most games being little more than fine print like con jobs, this industry can be in trouble again. Its already priced itself into a corner, so if most games become little more than attempts to pick pocket people via some half ass cute looking game, people will be turned off by "gaming". That is just but one of just many ways this F2P crap can hurt the industry.
I would love to hear your definition of crash... because from an economics perspective the gaming industry has crashed just like every other consumer good market. The car market has crashed. The tech good market has also crashed. In an economy where money is finite, income growth is limited, and general wealth of the majority is stagnant; these markets are always hit first. Games are not goods that we need to survive, and as such, sales will drop in down economies.

The gaming industry fell because there were so many upstarts trying to capitalize on the mobile revolution and general success of the consoles while the markets were edging past the peak. Consumer demand fell - not because of the quality of games got "worse" as implied - but because money supply tightened. Unfortunately, simple supply and demand economics say the small upstarts that were created in the last 10 years got screwed. Too many makers of games, not enough buyers. This is where big companies versus small companies gets important. For the general public if you have limited wealth, why try the little guy's product, when the big guy's AAA project is more of a "sure win"?

Posted:A year ago

#20

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
anthony, does a drop of 97% constitute a crash?

The North American video game crash was a massive recession of the video game industry that occurred from 1984 to 1985. Revenues that had peaked at around $3.2 billion in 1983,[1] fell to around $100 million by 1985 (a drop of almost 97 percent).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_video_game_crash_of_1983

There were several reasons for the crash, but the main cause was supersaturation of the market with hundreds of mostly low-quality games which resulted in the loss of consumer confidence.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 3rd April 2013 7:11pm

Posted:A year ago

#21

Barrie Tingle Live Producer, Maxis

400 218 0.5
@Christopher Bowen
Hey now, The Simpsons Tapped Out is a great game.

The thing this article doesn't really cover is that while the vocal minority which I find myself under raise their voice it doesn't mean that those playing the Freemium games approve of the model either. Give something away for free and people are likely to use it. The key in all this is how many of those people will then pay for it. Those are the true "supporters" of Freemium and the number of people that play vs those that pay to play is a vastly different number.

Posted:A year ago

#22

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
People also buy day-one DLC, and just look at how much anger that sparks off. It's not a case of if they pay, they like it, it's a case of if they pay, they can tolerate it because they just really want the game and all its content. They may hand money over grudgingly, but don't confuse "tolerate" with "like".

Posted:A year ago

#23

Anthony Chan Analyst, CPPIB

103 99 1.0
The North American video game crash was a massive recession of the video game industry that occurred from 1984 to 1985. Revenues that had peaked at around $3.2 billion in 1983,[1] fell to around $100 million by 1985 (a drop of almost 97 percent).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_video_game_crash_of_1983

There were several reasons for the crash, but the main cause was supersaturation of the market with hundreds of mostly low-quality games which resulted in the loss of consumer confidence.
Todd, didn't your school teach you to be careful when referencing internet sources? One, you are referencing the crash of 1983/1984 to the slowdown in the video games sector in our era. This event isn't even in our decade, let alone our century. Two, your quote listing game quality as a cause of the crash and applying it to the slowdown of the video game sector in the past 10 years (Year 2000+ onwards) is stretching. Third, your quote that you have selected as truth and fact is referenced from an article in an electronics game magazine (Katz, Arnie (January 1985). "1984: The Year That Shook Electronic Gaming". Electronic Games 3 (35): 3031 [30]. Retrieved 2 February 2012) - hardly any merit regarding economics and finance.

I think you have a greater hate for big corp, and new business models that stretches beyond what is in this article. I understand this, as most small developers cannot afford to utilize the current business models for revenue generation being employed by the big boys. As such, you criticize them for ruining an industry. I will level with you and admit yes, there is a lot of freemium and F2P software that quite honestly sucks. However, that is not a problem of the business model, nor is it a problem of the mentality that money is God.

At the end, the point of being in the business is to make a good game, however the more important point is to sell it and make money. F2P works for big corp because they have capital to start, making games more an investment than an actual project. But this is the industry of the 21st century, and this is the way it will stay. (maybe somebody should write a Wiki article about the state of the industry in this century)

Posted:A year ago

#24

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

961 1,759 1.8
>> "Give the first hit for free. Exploit human weaknesses to addict. Make them pay for more. This sounds familiar to me somehow. Isn't there something else that follows this pattern?

Yep. The word you're stretching for is.... capitalism. Not a friendy word on this leftie website, but it is nonetheless the type of society we have to earn a living in. When everyone else wants to sit in a circle singing cumbaya, I'll join in last. In the meantime, I need to go exploit my fellow man.

You should probably go look up "exploit" in the dictionary too. It doesn't mean what you probably think it does.

Posted:A year ago

#25

Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd

1,021 1,470 1.4
What a coincidence. There are no EA mobile games on my 2013 purchase plans. :)

Edit: Come to think of it there are no EA games on my 2013 purchase plans.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 3rd April 2013 11:45pm

Posted:A year ago

#26
It easy to make a bad free to play game and those games generally don't sell well. It's another thing entirely to make a well-designed free to play game. Innovation does exist in the social/mobile space and it does exist in free-to-play. I don't understand the hate around it. One man's trash is another man's treasure and if someone's happy to spend $1 to unlock a level or spend $3 to speed up a game process, then why not let them? There's a reason games like Candy Crush Saga are loved despite being free to play. It's a pricing model that works for other markets, not just the "hardcore" one.

Posted:A year ago

#27

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 815 2.9
Popular Comment
@Paul

First: Do not patronise me. We are having a discussion, and though our points of view may be at odds, your assertion that I somehow do not couch the true meaning of the words I use is as unhelpful as it is incorrect.

Second: Exploitation in this particular sense, though I confess it has more than one is to operate methods which take advantage of weakness in whatever form that might take, rather than play to a particular strength. Capitalism is a broad term for supply, demand and free enterprise, and can equally account for open, honest buying and selling of wanted/needed merchandise and services as it can for the type of underhandedness reliant on weakness.

Those complicit in such a system stand around shrugging their shoulders to the tune of that's just the way it is. I choose not to shrug, not to comply. I tender that there are conscientious, altruistic and moral ways to take part in a capitalist system. And then there are not. Simplifying the term 'captialism' to rally popular misconception is just demagoguery. The subject is more complex than that.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 4th April 2013 10:48am

Posted:A year ago

#28

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
It's quite simple really, if you don't like F2P, then don't pay them any money. If all games go F2P I'll just read a book or something instead.

Posted:A year ago

#29

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing

1,186 1,273 1.1
The comparison with a all you can eat buffet is flawed and short sighted.

Microtransactions are not competing with full priced games. The proposition is not about $5 for a day of fun in a freemium game vs. $60 for a game offering fun for a weekend or two. It is about the $5 freemium snippet vs. a $5 full experience on Steam.

1300 games below $5 and 2500 games below $10. That is the competition freemium models will face. Independent games, older games, heavily discounted games effectively advertising their sequel.

EA needs to stop optimizing its approach to conducting business and start optimizing its approach to what constitutes a healthy platform to sell games on.

Posted:A year ago

#30

Todd Weidner Founder, Big Daddy Game Studio

430 1,027 2.4
Todd, didn't your school teach you to be careful when referencing internet sources? One, you are referencing the crash of 1983/1984 to the slowdown in the video games sector in our era.
In our era? who said our era? what does that even mean, isnt this still my era?
as far as your point 2 and 3? they are laughable as well. Nowhere did I state anything close to what you are referring to in your point 2, and your point 3 is weak. So you are saying that there wasnt an industry crash in 84? ridiculous

I stated This industry crashed once because of companies abusing the consumer, via pushing out incomplete and trashy games
and then back it up with FACTS.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 4th April 2013 7:14pm

Posted:A year ago

#31

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

961 1,759 1.8
>> First: Do not patronise me. We are having a discussion, and though our points of view may be at odds, your assertion that I somehow do not couch the true meaning of the words I use is as unhelpful as it is incorrect.

Oh come on Dan. You were impyling that the FTP model is the same thing as illegal narcotics trading. It just isn't though, is it. If you don't want someone taking apart your statement, don't make a daft statement. This has nothing to do with our difference of opinion.

Re: "Exploitation", I was referring to my use of the word. In the sense of "making use of a resource" and not the usual media ballbusting useage "taking advantage of and abusing" sense. We all make use of each other to further our existence - that's just how society works. Sorry if that is also patronising, but some things need to be restated from time to time.

Our first foray into the FTP model might be our last because it makes us no money, or it might be our last because we make so much money we can play pool all day instead. But in either case I won't be able to force customers to pay me against their will. And that point should be the end of the debate.

If you don't think paying the microtransaction money is worth what you get for it, then don't. Else do. End.

Posted:A year ago

#32

Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst

88 68 0.8
I'd just like to point out that many people in this discussion will have played warhammer 40k or similar with few complaints. They will have spent the equivalent of hundreds of pounds on what amounts to a pittance of materials. Usually these will have taken the form of smaller transactions, less than the value of a AAA title and some as little as 2 (paints, brushes, etc).

So let's recap - free or cheap rules (theoretically, you only need one copy per club and photocopies or kindles are rife).
No subscription.
Expensive monetised components required for gameplay.

Yup. I think Games Workshop have demonstrated running such a service is viable in the long term and that hard core gamers will accept it.

Posted:A year ago

#33

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