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EA's plan for a record year revolves around ongoing games

Apex Legends hopes are high as it heads to mobile and China, while the publisher projects unit sales of up to 8m for single-player Jedi: Fallen Order

With its revenue and net income down in its 2018-2019 fiscal year financials, EA is nonetheless projecting a significant turnaround in the coming year that will seemingly rely heavily on ongoing game services and the planned release of Apex Legends on mobile, as well as in China.

In today's earnings call for investors discussing its full year and Q4 financial results, EA executives acknowledged that after a year of being "challenged by things that did not go as planned," and in which at least 400 employees were laid off across the company's Australian, Japanese, Russian, and other locations, the company foresees a turnaround. EA is currently predicting a rebound in the coming full year to $5.38 billion in revenue, which would put it up 9% over this year's total. That would be a new record for EA if reached.

How does EA plan to get there? Not necessarily riding on unit sales, at least according to guidance given during the call. EA hopes to see a total of four major sports title releases in 2019 (FIFA, Madden, NBA Live, and NHL), but made safe projections for the remainder of its coming releases. The company expects to sell between six and eight million units of its planned Star Wars game, Jedi: Fallen Order, and four million of this year's Need 4 Speed release. There's also a Plants v. Zombies shooter in the works for which EA is projecting "low single-digit millions" in sales.

That leaves EA Original Sea of Solitude, for which EA did not offer projections. Notably, all of these planned releases will hit in Q2 or Q3, with EA having no currently announced plans for Q1 or Q4. That may change at EA Play next month, but at the moment it appears EA will be looking toward ongoing games as a service offerings such as Apex Legends to meet its Q1 guidance of $1.13 billion.

Apex won't shoulder the burden alone, of course. Also during the call, EA announced that both FIFA 18 and 19 remained strong, last year seeing over 45 million unique players across PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. And to go with that, EA has over 500 million active player accounts (largely driven recently by Apex Legends) and 3.5 million subscribers across EA Access and Origin Access combined.

During the call, multiple executives emphasized the importance EA is placing on those subscriptions. Since players use those subscription services to try new games and series they've never played before, EA uses that engagement to decide what new games to add to Origin and Access, what future titles to greenlight, and what new games, genres, and IP to pursue. It will also be experimenting with bringing its subscription services to more platforms in the future, as it announced this morning bringing EA Access to PlayStation 4.

But still, there seems to be a lot riding on Apex Legends. The free-to-play battle royale has been the fastest growing new game EA has ever had, and nearly 30% of its players were brand new to EA entirely. It's also entirely digital, a factor which likely contributed to nearly half (49%) of EA's full game sales on PS4 and Xbox One in the last 12 months being digital.

For the coming year, EA expects Apex Legends to book between $300 and $400 million as the company looks to updates to the game to be announced at EA Play in June. But the game is also planned to follow in the footsteps of its battle royale brethren, Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. COO and CFO Blake Jorgensen said during the call that EA is "in advanced negotiations" to bring the game both to mobile, and to China.

Though he did not provide a timeline, the Chinese release seems likely to be a way off, especially given the backlog of game approvals being worked through following the Chinese game license freeze last year. Both Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds are still pending approval in the country.

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