Ten months after stumbling his way through Rock Band at Microsoft's E3 2007 press conference, Peter Moore is back in the spotlight. The former showman of Seattle's shock departure from the platform holder came less than a week after Eurogamer's last interview with Moore. Now firmly installed as EA Sports supremo, Moore used this month's Season Opener event at EA Canada to re-emerge from self-imposed public exile, not just to showcase the publisher's latest sporting wares, but also to launch himself back into the media frontline and evangelise the changes he's implemented since sliding into his big, leather Mr President chair.
Whether it was unveiling the studio's bold new casual strategy, limbering (and dressing) up in the ring with world-beating bruisers, or appearing in contorted digital form in several of EA's upcoming titles, Moore's mark was stamped all over the event. This was his vision, and he's very clearly been itching to tell us all about it. Once he'd ditched the iridescent boxing garb and slipped into something a little more 'executive', GamesIndustry.biz caught up with Moore, as candid and forthright as ever, to tackle him on his roles past and present.
Q: It was good to see you in the ring this morning, looking great in your robe.
Peter Moore: I'm never afraid of making a fool of myself as you well know.
Q: You're certainly never afraid to get involved, and it was good to see you back out in front of a crowd again yesterday. Is it fair to say you've missed being centre stage over the past year?
Peter Moore: Well, it was a very high profile role I had at Microsoft and I thoroughly enjoyed being a protagonist for Xbox, being the face of the business and running the business as well. But I like to think that the work we're doing here is equally important. We're doing a lot more work now, as you've seen from the Season Opener - it's less about me.
I enjoy it and I enjoy having fun. [EA's PR] talks me into doing some weird stuff. There was going to be a lot worse than that at one point. I was gonna be in a mo-cap suit and it was gonna get ugly. That would have been the jiggles you saw there. You know me, I have a lot of fun - it's a fun industry. What's not to like?
Q: Couple of quotes that stood out to me in the presentation you gave yesterday. "Our games can be too hard sometimes"; "there are issues of approachability". I also notice there's a Satoru Iwata portrait on the wall over there talking about games for the masses [commemorating his 2007 visit to the studio]. I couldn't help but notice an irony - aren't those the sort of problems that Xbox currently has?
Peter Moore: It's a very similar branding problem. When we moved from Xbox to Xbox 360, the Xbox was the shooter box, the hardcore box; it was black, it was aggressive in its design. The advertising - you remember the champagne ad in the UK of the baby being born? It was very dark.
That, if you will, set the tone for the Xbox brand from that moment onwards. Here at EA Sports we have a similar problem; I don't think it's quite as big a problem as we had at Xbox of taking a piece of hardware and all the content, and moving to a more mass-market. I think we did a reasonable job of going from black to white, the architectural design being more organic, from "It's good to play together" to "Jump in".
But the same here, we run a very large, hardcore business that is a little bit out of position for Nintendo Wii consumers coming in. You don't want to lose that core consumer, but you've got to go after and captivate the masses and find a way to bring them in.
We used the analogy of a swimming pool, which people have mocked us for. But it's a good analogy. EA Sports was the deep end, right? You either jumped in, you sank or you swam, or you were intimidated and didn't go near the water. We needed to provide a shallow end. So things like All Play for the Wii, the Freestyle brand, provide that shallow end that you can get in and hopefully move down the pool, which we want you to do. But unless we do that, we're really out of position.
Q: And having tuned in to this change, that Nintendo has done so much to push and that you talked passionately about yesterday, did you feel that towards the end at Microsoft, with the way the company is structured, that you weren't able to pursue this goal there, as you can now?
Peter Moore: Microsoft has different motives for getting into the business. We saw it as a way of being in the living room, being a major player, building some great games, but really looking to a consumer that was more technically able. Linking in MSN Messenger, Zune, all of the things we felt would provide a much broader experience.
It's two different companies. You've got the hardware, software, services mentality of what Microsoft needs to do, and then you've got us who are pure software play, but are also gravitating to a service-oriented company. But our consumer segment is so wide, and the industry is changing enormously. We really were feeling about six months ago that we needed to do a completely different job on the Wii. We needed to build the games from the ground up, and we needed a more approachable face for the brand - at the same time not dumbing things down.
I saw a number of stories today: 'EA Sports is dumbing down the experience'. I must have said three times yesterday, we're not dumbing down the experience. As you've seen in the games, there are ways to help you along. Tiger Woods is a great example with Hank Haney [your mentor in-game].
The key is, it recognises how good you are pretty quickly. If you're a hardcore Madden player, you don't need a lot of help. But if you're like me and you jump in and you're not very good, the game helps you along. And that's the key.
Q: Do you think, given the current explosion in casual gaming, that All Play could ultimately become a bigger deal than your core sports titles?
Peter Moore: No, we have a very strong core business and we love that consumer. That consumer is the guy who lines up at midnight when Madden comes out; it's the millions of people who buy FIFA. The new consumers coming in are not obviously that core consumer and I want to make sure our brand means something to them as well.
At the same time, there are people that have come before me in saying what EA Sports is. It's in the game, it's authentic, it's simulated, it's fully licensed. Everything you see and love in the sport you get to play. The Wii consumer says, you know, I play Wii Sports and that feels like fun, that feels like sports to me. We need to have a closer relationship with that consumer with EA Sports as well - but not lose our core consumer. Absolutely not.
Q: You talked yesterday about how, even on a yearly basis, you believe the Sports teams are creating a lot of innovation. Realistically there are clearly limits with what can be achieved with an annual franchise - if required, would you be prepared to put a hold on one of these and give them, say, an extra year?
Peter Moore: Well, if we really felt we were in trouble, that we just couldn't innovate at the level we needed to, yes. I don't think that with any of our franchises, even as difficult as it got with NBA Live a couple of years ago, there was a focus on 'let's take a year off'. That wasn't the case. The team has done phenomenally well; you've probably seen it here. We're making huge steps. We gained 15 Metacritic points this past year, from an admittedly low base.
But I don't think there's any temptation to take a year off and try and catch up. I think our teams now are really starting to get in the flow of not just PS3 and Xbox 360, but as you've seen, really get a feel for what the Wii should be all about.
Q: You've commented recently on how, like a lot of publishers, you're winding back on traditional PC releases in response to the way the market is changing. I spoke with your former colleague [Xbox Europe boss] Chris Lewis a couple of months ago and we were talking about the disc versus digital issue. His words were that pretty soon discs would be an "historic phenomenon", and he suggested there would be a real shift in the next "12-18 months". Do you agree with that prediction?
Peter Moore: No, I don't think... Chris is right: physical media will ultimately go away. I think it's a lot longer than 12-18 months. But at the same time we, like all publishers, have to move online, have to find ways to deliver our consumer bite-sized entertainment less expensively, if you don't want the whole USD 50-60 experience maybe. And yeah, five years from now maybe we'll go: 'Do you remember when we used to drive to a store to buy a shiny disc with data on and come back and put it in the disc drive?' We'll kind of laugh at that; it'll go right with the 8-tracks and everything else like that.
So I think Chris is a little premature in his assumption on that. But more and more we're seeing homes with large home servers being built. The Elite for Xbox has 120GB of storage. This is all tied in with making sure that, should people want more and more content by broadband, you can store it somewhere. We at EA are of the same belief.
Q: There's lots going on with your attempted Take-Two deal... [Drowned out by loud cheering from nearby pool table]
Peter Moore: Just for the record you've got Lennox Lewis, Sugar Ray [Leonard] and [Ronald] Winky [Wright] playing pool. Lennox is a snooker player, I'm sure.
Q: You don't get that in the average development studio.
Peter Moore: No, not three of the greatest fighters ever.
Q: I was talking to [EA VP of communications] Jeff Brown about Take-Two last night...
Peter Moore: He's more colourful than me with this stuff.
Q: Everyone's looking at that deal largely in terms of GTA. EA Sports has a hole with baseball [Take-Two holds the exclusive Major League licence], so presumably you'd be looking forward to this going through at least in those terms?
Peter Moore: Yeah, we wish we had baseball. As I'm sure you know, when the NFL determined it only wanted one partner in this space, we bid competitively for that and were fortunate to get the licence. Take-Two went out and got the exclusive third-party licence for baseball, which leaves many of us here as baseball fans a little sad.
We all love the game and it's incredibly popular at this time of year in North America. It would be one of the benefits should the deal get to some conclusion, but there's a long way to go before that deal is... and I think Jeff was quoted as saying '50/50'? Good old Jeff. But I can't comment further on it.
Q: The timing of your departure from Microsoft. You'd been there a while, were the figurehead and achieved a lot. And 2007 was seen as a huge year for Xbox with the quality of the software and the window of opportunity it had to make a mark before PS3 really gained momentum. Sony has just claimed PS3 has overtaken 360 in Europe, and 360 is struggling in other areas. From your point of view, was there a sense that you were getting close to the limit of what you could achieve with market share, and maybe it was time to move on?
Peter Moore: No, I think it was two things, and I've said it over and over. My family wanted to get back to the Bay area; my daughter graduated from Berkeley a couple of years ago and she works at Edelmen public relations and wanted to be back in San Francisco. My son never moved to Seattle - he graduates in two weeks from Berkeley. And we've lived a long time in the Bay area, and as much as I thoroughly enjoyed working at Microsoft there was really a yearning for getting back to what we as Brits living in America call home, which is the San Francisco Bay area.
And you get to the point in your life where you say, do I live where I work, or do I work where I live? For me, I would rather live in the Bay area, nothing against Seattle, and there's only really one job I would have taken to leave Xbox and that's president of EA Sports.
And I wouldn't have come to EA if the label structure wasn't in place; there was really no room for me [before then]. But when [EA CEO] John Riccitiello called me and said 'here's what we're doing' it was very tempting, and we got into a conversation.
The combination of taking my previous 17 years... People think I'm a videogames industry veteran. No, I'm a shoe dog. I worked at Patrick for many years and then at Reebok. And melding that love and knowledge of sport, particularly being a European and having my finger on the pulse of what's going on in Europe, as well as having a really good knowledge of sports in America for a Liverpudlian.
And then bringing videogames experience. It's all, as you saw in the presentation, where sports and games collide right at EA Sports. So it was a combo of a great job, living back in the Bay area, and yeah it broke my heart leaving Microsoft, but sometimes you have decisions to make and this is one I did. There was no 'I think it's a good time to leave'. None of that.
Q: Do you still feel an emotional connection to Microsoft?
Peter Moore: Oh, of course you do. You do, but from the point of view that I now work for a company that's multi-platform third-party, and you like to see your friends do well - I think there's some serious money involved over there - and I'm still in contact with them.
At the same time, my goal is to grow EA Sports, and I need the PS3 to continue to gain momentum, I've got to readjust my brand on Nintendo Wii, I've got to look at what we do on PC. I'm hung, drawn and quartered in a lot of circles over some of the decisions, but the PC for sports has serious business challenges. We're continuing with FIFA and NHL on the PC because of strong interest and good business opportunities. But our consumers have moved to where they enjoy sports on their widescreen TVs and in their living rooms. It was purely a business decision - we can't afford to lose money on PC franchises.
Q: Do you still think 360 is going to win this generation?
Peter Moore: Ah, you know, it's interesting. You hope that everybody does well. The thing I love about this generation is that, and I said this a long time ago, all three platforms have set up stalls that are very distinctive. It's not like in the old days, when Dreamcast and PlayStation, then PlayStation 2 and Xbox were all crowding into a similar space. Depending on what you want out of games now, there's three distinctive platforms.
Clearly Xbox is about online, connectivity and social entertainment; the Wii is about fun and pick-up-and-play and getting off the couch; and the PlayStation 3 seems to have benefited from the GTA launch well, and we're starting to see some hardware numbers and it's finally started to pick up speed. So what you've got now is three platforms doing well.
When I started in this business everybody said never can more than two consoles ever be successful, but I'm not sure that's the case. We're seeing good numbers from Xbox 360 on a fiscal basis, and the statement that I made and that Robbie [Bach] reiterated that it will be successful in terms of profitability this year looks like it's going to happen.
I saw Kaz Hirai apologise this morning on some of the problems. But they're turning a corner and Nintendo continues to go from strength to strength. I was on a retail tour last week in Arkansas, Minnesota and Texas and in multiple stores you couldn't find a Nintendo Wii. How stunning is that, two and a half years on?
Q: Is it a relief now not to have to be partisan about hardware?
Peter Moore: I was partisan because I truly believed in what we were doing. I was there from the get-go with the 360 from the launch. And I look back at the days of looking at the designs and figuring out the launch portfolio, getting our pricing strategy, getting our launch, figuring out when we could ship Halo 3, could this game Gears of War actually drive hardware? I enjoyed that, but now I've got different problems. I'm delivering ten franchises every year on multiple platforms, but I love it, I really do. The atmosphere here in Vancouver particularly, what a great facility this is, great people, it's a lot of fun.
Q: Finally, now Phil Harrison's moved over to Atari, are you going to start picking on them just to keep the old rivalry going?
Peter Moore: Well, DG's there as well and [Atari CEO] David Gardner's such a nice guy. It's very difficult to pick on David Gardner. Phil and I... I think the consumer really likes to think that, in the old days when it was Kaz, Reggie or I, and Phil a little later on, we actually disliked each other.
We're competitive, we have a lot of fun, we're all personalities. I think the industry benefits from having personalities that enjoy talking to the community. I've got a blog going now and I'm usually vilified every day, but that's the price of having a blog. We're trying to talk to our community in a different way, and blogs are a great way of trying to get a personal experience. But we put people up there and people just love to bitch and moan.
Q: That's the Internet for you.
Peter Moore: That is the Internet. But we'll continue to communicate, we'll continue to give news, and if they continue to bitch and moan that's their right.
Peter Moore is president of EA Sports. Interview by Johnny Minkley.