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EA could replace annual sports games with live services

CEO Andrew Wilson says approach to Korean and Chinese markets could be extended globally, publisher is looking at subscription model for mobile games

Electronic Arts has come to rely heavily on its annualized sports titles to provide consistent revenue, but CEO Andrew Wilson is considering a future without them. Speaking to Bloomberg, Wilson said he can see a day coming where the publisher sells evergreen Madden or FIFA services, rather than the succession of annual releases that has helped sustain the company for the past quarter century.

In some markets, the company is already there. Wilson said in Korea and China, EA prefers to incrementally change a core sports game like FIFA with regular updates, and big new "code drops" coming every four years or so instead of annually.

"There's a world where it gets easier and easier to move that code around -- where we may not have to do an annual release," Wilson said. "We can really think about those games as a 365-day, live service."

Streaming and subscription services have already disrupted other media like music, movies, and books, and it's only a matter of time before they have a similar impact on video games, Wilson said, but it's also raising new questions for developers. While a Led Zeppelin album works the same way whether someone listens to it on their phone, a home stereo system, or in the car, games are heavily influenced by use cases.

"When we design a game that lives in a true streaming world, we have to think about screen size and session time," Wilson noted. "How does a Madden game that exists in the cloud manifest on your mobile phone, one minute at a time? How does that manifest on your 60-inch TV, an hour at a time?"

Wilson also said that EA is considering moving toward subscription models in the mobile market. While free-to-play is still the dominant business model in mobile games, Wilson said apps like Netflix, Spotify, Tidal and the like have shown that App Store users are increasingly amenable to subscription business models, which has prompted EA to consider what value it could provide players using the format.

"I don't think we're there yet," Wilson said, "but it's something we're looking at."

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Latest comments (2)

Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive9 days ago
The amazing thing is that people have been buying the same games over and over again each year for this long without really realizing it. A roster update is not worth a full $60 and not all iterations of sports games are significantly different year after year.

The only downside to the subscription model is that every few years comes a stand out version of your favorite franchise that you may want to hold on to. With a continuously updated product, you may not be able to keep playing your favorite version of it.
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Casey Anderson Game Data Analyst, Big Fish Games8 days ago
Interesting idea, but it seems unlikely, since EA's Ultimate Team accounts for something like ~20% of their revenue and redesigning it fit alongside a subscription model would create a lot of risk.
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