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Here's why Glu is an excellent strategic fit for EA

GameRefinery's Wilhelm Voutilainen explains how EA's $2.1 billion acquisition of Glu Mobile fills some notable gaps in its product portfolio

It's only February, but we've already seen several significant acquisitions in the games industry in 2021, with EA's purchase of Glu Mobile for $2.1 billion the biggest so far. The acquisition of Glu is EA's largest investment in a mobile studio, and follows the acquisitions of Jamdat, Chillingo, Hands-On Mobile and Industrial Toys.

We decided to take a deep dive into some of Glu's top-grossing titles to understand what drove EA's decision. Beyond the apparent dynamics of revenue generation, we also wanted to see how the Glu portfolio enhances and strengthens EA's roster in terms of target audience fit, motivations and other factors.

For this analysis, we've taken a look at four of the highest-performing Glu titles to see how they fill two apparent gaps in EA's portfolio. The titles are Design Home: House Renovation, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Covet Fashion and MLB Tap Sports Baseball.

*Revenue numbers in this article reflect iOS revenue for the select game(s) and are estimates of actual performance.

Gap One: High-grossing, female-centric games

The ability to monetise the lucrative female gaming segment on mobile is likely the primary reason EA bought Glu. EA's catalogue of big-earning female-centric titles has been looking limited and outdated, driven mostly by The Sims Freeplay which earned over $3 million from November 2020 to February 2021, and The Sims Mobile, which took $2.6 million in that period, based on data from 30 iOS app stores.

In terms of overall performance, Sims Mobile has struggled to maintain a sustained top-grossing 200 position. The classic title Sims Freeplay enjoys more success in gross revenues, but it is already ten years old -- ancient in mobile terms -- and is falling behind the newer game in terms of graphical fidelity.

Looking at the demographics for both Sims games, they're very similar in terms of gender, age and motivations.

The Sims Mobile

Figure 1. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Sims Mobile

Figure 1. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Sims Mobile

The Sims Freeplay

Figure 2. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Sims Freeplay

Figure 2. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Sims Freeplay

In both Sims games, player motivations skew heavily towards expression forms -- collecting treasure, roleplay, and emotions and customization/decoration -- and a sense of mastery and completing milestones. Both titles also have a strong player desire to explore and collect treasure.

The Sims Mobile and Sims Freeplay Player Motivations

For every game in our database, using data from 10,000 gamers and applying data science and statistical modelling, we've developed the ability to establish the core motivational drivers for each game we track. Each game has 12 possible drivers that are scored from one through five, which can establish the fundamental motivations that drive the players of that specific game. The orange drivers are then mapped against the average for the genre to see how the game fits.

As an example, here are the motivational charts for both EA Sims games. In both cases, we have put the top three drivers below and what they mean.

Figure 3. The Sims Mobile player motivations

Figure 3. The Sims Mobile player motivations

  • Expression: Customization & Decoration -- I like to express myself through visual customization and decoration of characters, items or buildings, and showing it to others.
  • Expression: Role-playing & Emotions -- I like to experience a wide range of emotions by diving into stories and narratives and assuming the roles of heroes or villains.
  • Mastery: Completing Milestones -- I like to experience a sense of completion through achieving milestones and thresholds each more demanding than the last one.
Figure 4. The Sims Mobile player motivations

Figure 4. The Sims Mobile player motivations

  • Mastery: Completing Milestones -- I like to experience a sense of completion through achieving milestones and thresholds each more demanding than the last one.
  • Expression: Customization & Decoration -- I like to express myself through visual customization and decoration of characters, items or buildings, and showing it to others.
  • Exploration: Collecting Treasure -- I like to experience a sense of accomplishment by finding new items and characters and completing collections.

Design Home: House Renovation

It's easy to see why Glu's roster of high-grossing, female-centric tiles is very appealing to EA. We've already seen how much Sims players value expression and customization, and Glu has several female-oriented, top-grossing casual titles -- including Crowdstar's customization titles Design Home: House Renovation and Covet Fashion. These games are all about customization, whether homes or outfits; there are similar customization elements to The Sims but with quite a different twist.

Although adventure title Kim Kardashian: Hollywood sits in a different genre to The Sims, Design Home: House Renovation and Covet Fashion, the games share similar story elements, and roleplaying also threads heavily across all the games. As you'll see, there is a strong commonality in demographic profile fit and motivations between all the EA and Glu titles for the female market.

Glu's high-grossing title Design Home: House Renovation earned an impressive $13 million on iOS app stores between November 2020 and February 2021, and $10.9 million of this came from the US.

Figure 5. iOS app store revenue for Design Home: House Renovation (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

Figure 5. iOS app store revenue for Design Home: House Renovation (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

Demographic fit is perfect for the Sims audience, with a clear 60% female bias and 62% of players falling into the 25 to 44 age bracket.

Figure 6. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Design Home: House Renovation

Figure 6. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Design Home: House Renovation

Design Home: House Renovation player motivations

Figure 7. Design Home: House Renovation player motivations

Figure 7. Design Home: House Renovation player motivations

  • Expression: Customization & Decoration -- I like to express myself through visual customization and decoration of characters, items or buildings, and showing it to others.
  • Exploration: Collecting Treasure -- I like to experience a sense of accomplishment by finding new items and characters and completing collections.
  • Expression: Role-playing & Emotions -- I like to experience a wide range of emotions by diving into stories and narratives and assuming the roles of heroes or villains.

Player motivations also map well with The Sims and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (see below) with an emphasis on two types of Expression motivation and one type of Exploration.

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood earned $4.9 million in revenue between November 2020 and February 2021. The bulk of this, $3.6 million, came from the US.

Figure 8. iOS app store revenue for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

Figure 8. iOS app store revenue for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

Compared to the two Sims titles and Design Home, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood skews even more heavily female at 74%, with almost half the players falling into the 25 to 44 age bracket. This demographic is the higher than both Sims games and Design Home.

Figure 9. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Figure 9. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood player motivations

Figure 10. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood player motivations

Figure 10. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood player motivations

  • Expression: Role-playing & Emotions -- I like to experience a wide range of emotions by diving into stories and narratives and assuming the roles of heroes or villains.
  • Expression: Customization & Decoration -- I like to express myself through visual customization and decoration of characters, items or buildings, and showing it to others.
  • Exploration: Collecting Treasure -- I like to experience a sense of accomplishment by finding new items and characters and completing collections.

The player motivations for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood also show a very good match for the Sims audience, with two Expression motivations at the top followed by Exploration.

Covet Fashion

This title earned $4.8 million in the same period, with $3.3 million coming from US players. That's very similar to the revenues generated by Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.

Figure 11. iOS app store revenue for Covet Fashion Dress Up Game (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

Figure 11. iOS app store revenue for Covet Fashion Dress Up Game (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

Covet Fashion is the most female-centric of all the Glu titles, with 84% of the players being women aged 25 to 44.

Figure 12. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Covet Fashion Dress Up Game

Figure 12. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Covet Fashion Dress Up Game

Covet Fashion Dress Up Game player motivations

Figure 13. Covet Fashion Dress Up player motivations

Figure 13. Covet Fashion Dress Up player motivations

  • Expression: Customization & Decoration -- I like to express myself through visual customization and decoration of characters, items or buildings, and showing it to others.
  • Exploration: Collecting Treasure -- I like to experience a sense of accomplishment by finding new items and characters and completing collections.
  • Social: Working With Others -- I like to experience a sense of togetherness through working together with friends, acquaintances or even random people while achieving goals and milestones as a team.

It will come as little surprise that the gameplay elements in Covet Fashion that come top in terms of motivations are Expression: Customization & Decoration and Exploration: Collecting Treasure. However, Covet Fashion also offers players a strong sense of social play, especially the desire to play and compete against others, which is not as strong in the other titles.

Gap 2: Baseball

Sports games have always been close to EA's commercial heart, with FIFA arguably its most important franchise. MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020 fills a noticeable gap in EA's roster, which contains FIFA Soccer, Madden NFL 21 Mobile Football, NBA Live Mobile Basketball, NBA Jam, and EA Sports UFC.

MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020

It makes perfect sense that EA would be very attracted to MLB, which grossed $4.3 million across thirty markets between November 2020 and February 2021, with $3.9 million coming from US gamers.

Figure 14. iOS app store revenue for MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020 (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

Figure 14. iOS app store revenue for MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020 (Nov 20 - Feb 21)

As can be seen, MLB skews heavily male, with a relatively even split between the 16 to 24 and 25 to 44 age groups.

Figure 15. Gender and age demographics breakdown for MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020

Figure 15. Gender and age demographics breakdown for MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020

By comparison, as you can see from below, EA's Madden NFL 21 Mobile Football has a very similar outlook, albeit skewing even younger with 55% of players in the 16 to 24 age bracket versus 49% for MLB.

Figure 16. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Madden NFL 21 Mobile Football

Figure 16. Gender and age demographics breakdown for Madden NFL 21 Mobile Football

MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020 and Madden NFL 21 Mobile Football player motivations

For this analysis, we thought it would be interesting to compare MLB to Madden to see how close they are in player motivation fit.

Figure 17. MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020 player motivations

Figure 17. MLB Tap Sports Baseball 2020 player motivations

  • Escapism: Excitement & Thrill -- I'm always looking for the sensation of excitement, thrill and suspense when playing games.
  • Social: Competing Against Others -- I like to experience a sense of power by competing against friends, acquaintances or random people while outwitting, manoeuvering and outlasting them.
  • Management: Strategic Planning -- I like to experience a sense of accomplishment through strategic planning and successful tactical manoeuvres.
Figure 18. Madden NFL 21 Mobile Football player motivations

Figure 18. Madden NFL 21 Mobile Football player motivations

  • Escapism: Excitement & Thrill -- I'm always looking for the sensation of excitement, thrill and suspense when playing games.
  • Social: Competing Against Others -- I like to experience a sense of power by competing against friends, acquaintances or random people while outwitting, manoeuvering and outlasting them.
  • Mastery: Completing Milestones -- I like to experience a sense of completion through achieving different milestones and thresholds, each more demanding than the last one.

It should come as little surprise that the EA and Glu titles have almost identical demographics and motivations. The only difference being that Madden players seem to also like a sense of mastery and competing milestones as a motivation. The games' commonality is of little surprise given that they both map very well against the Realistic Sports genre average, even though that the MLB title spikes more in the management aspects.

Summary

As we can see, EA's purchase of Glu makes a lot of sense. The acquisition helps EA address a weakness by acquiring a suite of high-grossing titles that are very female-friendly and have large, loyal audiences. Plus, Glu's expertise with these genres means that EA is gaining a lot more knowledge and insight into this demographic, which we expect will translate into enhancements for future Sims games.

EA has also plugged the final hole in its sports portfolio with Glu's official MLB license. Will we see EA-style huge seasonal updates versus Glu's model of releasing a new game each year? It's likely, considering how EA is well versed in doing this across all its other major sports games.

Finally, a mention must also go to the other licenses and IPs that EA has brought on board with this deal, including Disney Sorcerer's Arena, Diner Dash and QuizUP -- once the world's largest trivia game. It'll be interesting to see if and how EA develops these games to strengthen its offering with other demographics.

Wilhelm Voutilainen is the US Senior Game Analyst at GameRefinery

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