After acquiring Jamdat Mobile for USD 680 million in February last year, EA Mobile has been steadily pumping its IP onto phone handsets throughout 2006.
With the company now expanding its reach to include features such as EA Sports Link, allowing users to keep up to date with EA games and sports news via their phone, the world's largest third-party games publisher is expanding beyond simply publishing popular franchises on every available handset.
MobileIndustry.biz took a recent opportunity to sit down with EA Mobile's vice president of publishing Javier Ferreira, to discuss the company's plans for 2007, which include using the mobile as a tool to link gamers across formats and nurturing a community of mobile gamers.
Q: Looking back, what do you think EA Mobile has achieved in 2006?
Javier Ferreira:Well 2006 was really our first year in the mobile gaming space. We bought Jamdat in February and since then we've been very focused on bringing a core proposition to the market, which we've done very successfully. This gives us a great foundation to approach 2007 - it gives us a level of research and design capabilities that is totally unparalleled in the industry which will allow us to innovate in ways that are going to be very exciting.
Q: So what are EA Mobile's plans for 2007 - what is your key focus for the rest of the year?
Javier Ferreira:This year, for Electronic Arts in general, it's all about extending our range of IP. It's about increasing the number of wholly owned intellectual properties that we're going to bring to market and mobile is going to play a very important part of that strategy. We're going to be bringing a lot of new and exciting IP to the mobile space. We're also going to continue to work on our mega-franchises and continue to improve how they perform in the mobile space.
Secondly, were going to have a bigger focus this year on some of the high-end gaming experiences in the market. We're not one of those companies that believe mobile is all about casual gaming, or console IP or any single thing. It's a very diverse platform with all kinds of consumers as our potential customers. Mobile is the only platform that doesn't define its audience.
But at the same time we also believe that one of the ways that we can grow the category is by continuously improving the core gaming experience. We'll be launching games targeted specifically at high-end handsets. But that doesn't mean they have to be 3D or technically specific. Using the example of the Nintendo DS, from a performance point of view it's a 3D system but the top ten selling games aren't 3D games. It's all about playability and fun. What we think is that on some of those high-end handsets we can deliver a better, more fun experience.
Q:So it's more about taking advantage of the handset rather than proclaiming, 'we're going to make all 3D games now'?
Javier Ferreira:Yes, it's about taking advantage of the technology rather than saying, 'we're going to make a lot of 3D games.' For a consumer that's an irrelevant statement. Consumers don't care whether a game is 2D or 3D, what they care about is whether a game is fun. It's not about any particular feature. It's about how to take advantage of an evolving platform to deliver games. We truly believe that the evolution of this industry, at the core, is to deliver better games.
It's surprising that very few games take advantage of the format - it's a phone, but few games use voice or text messaging, or cameras, and all of these functions are built in as standard...
We have The Sims which we develop across multiple platforms, but ultimately the people that buy these are those that already love The Sims. How do we use the mobile to connect all of those people? For EA, mobile is a gaming platform but it's also a media channel. And that's an exciting thing.
Q:What's your take on building community features into mobile games and things such as MMO capabilities? Do you think the penetration of high-end handsets has finally reached that level where such projects become viable?
Javier Ferreira:We're getting there. There are still a lot of things that don't work - some handsets work perfectly, some don't. Different networks behave differently, billing is complicated, and all of this is on the ecosystem side of things. On our side, the development side, it's complex to develop these kind of propositions, but certainly we will invest money on that and it's important to the future of mobile gaming.
From an EA perspective we have already have huge communities already around these franchises. So it's a case of bringing the community together.
Q:The fanbase for Electronic Arts games - The Sims, Medal of Honor, Need for Speed - is already in place, so you're now concentrating on uniting those players?
Javier Ferreira:Exactly, it's a question of plugging it in. It's difficult but we're certainly going to try. We have the game component but the community focused component is going to be about how the consumer playing The Sims on mobile can communicate and speak with the people playing The Sims on DS, PC or PlayStation 3.
Obviously, these formats aren't going to be playing simultaneously, but certainly you're going to have them talking. If you actually look at the mobile internet world, there are very few stable communities out there. It's something very difficult to get right. Even though a lot of companies are going to try that, it's very difficult to aggregate consumers and keep them interested in a single place.
Q:What do you think the key is to capturing, keeping and growing a mobile community?
Javier Ferreira:But consumers don't like that. The key to a community is aggregating a number of people around a common interest - something simple like The Sims or Battlefield, these properties that we have that generate a lot of community interest, and then giving those people the tools and ability to build the house that they want. It's about building things from the bottom.
From a technology and development point of view that's much more complex, because suddenly I don't have to worry about building one house but a number of different people building their own house exactly how they want it. But if you look at the communities that are working in the internet space, those are the ones that are successful.
Q:There's a criticism that companies are trying to force any IP they have onto any available formats. How autonomous is EA Mobile when it comes to making decisions of what's right and what's wrong with regards to bringing EA brands to the mobile space?
Javier Ferreira:EA Mobile is a mobile specialist. There's a tremendous amount of overlap with Electronic Arts' core business, but there are also elements that don't overlap at all. We're going to continue to bring mobile specific propositions to market. They might make sense in the mobile space but no sense across other formats.
Having said that, the strength that we have as a company is the emotional attachment that consumers have to our brands. We'll continue to work on that multiplatform strategy all the way. A lot of the new IP that EA is bringing to the console space this year, we're going to be bringing that to mobile too. It makes sense.
Consumers don't just play on the Xbox. They play on the Xbox and then pick up the DS and then continue playing on a mobile. We want to make those three experiences connected and enjoy the same gameplay mechanic. Although from an organisational point of view EA Mobile is very focused on the mobile market, as a company it's about continuing to invest in this IP and aggregate consumers around these brands and make sure they have relevant experiences on multiple platforms.
Javier Ferreira is VP of Publishing for EA Mobile. Interview by Matt Martin.