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Best of 08: Peter Moore

The EA Sports president talks innovation and iteration, and underscores the importance of being online

Peter Moore's always been a larger-than-life figure in the videogames industry, and his appointment as president of the EA Sports label from his key position at Microsoft last year raised a few eyebrows at the time.

But having settled fully into the role he spoke to during the low-key E3 event in June this year, and offered his thoughts on the evolution of sports titles, innovation versus iteration, and the importance of being online. What is your assessment of the EA Sports business looking back over the past nine months?
Peter Moore

Well, the change was underway when I got here. When we first got here we needed the label organisation, and I wouldn't have come here if there wasn't a clear label structure - I wouldn't have left Microsoft for that.

The first thing we did was build some strategic pillars, and as early as my first week on the job I was in New York and starting to look at how we build a strategy for EA Sports - because this is a different business, it's a different generation, the next five years are going to be unlike any we've seen before and so EA Sports needs to evolve accordingly.

We still have a tremendous core following - EA Sports Nation as I always call them - that buy tens of millions of copies of FIFA and Madden, NBA and NHL. We love those people, we'll continue to build simulated experiences for the hardcore of the hardcore. Dynamic DNA is a great example of how we continue to innovate on top of what we're already doing.

But we're not blind to the different consumers that are coming in, and something like the Wii - which I showed [at EA's E3 press conference] with Natalie [Gulbis] - is how we need to accommodate them. There's no way I could play against Natalie - she practised for an hour, she's very good - but when you gave me All-Play the two of us were immediately having fun, because I could actually take her on and have a chance of beating her.

Our biggest challenge is to adapt what EA Sports is, without losing our core consumer, and continuing to deliver great breakthrough innovative experiences - but we need to do things for the new market that's coming in.

If there's a Chelsea fan out there that loves football, and has a PC or console, but FIFA's controls have always seemed complicated - Wii is a huge opportunity, FIFA on the Wii is going to be great.

The ability for us to be able bring people in - as Nintendo has done very well, and at their press conference it was all about smiling faces - if we don't change we don't actually talk to that consumer. We're still seen as hardcore, difficult, a little bit exclusive if you're a more casual fan.

We've got to bring people in who are not only sports gamers, but sports fans - and that's where EA Sports is evolving. A little bit of new IP, something that's pick-up-and-play, a huge opportunity on the Wii, but still keeping our world class games on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. How difficult does innovation become when you're releasing new iterations of your sports titles every twelve months?
Peter Moore

I think the team starts to look at it, as each year goes on, technology continues to evolve and things become available to us. So NBA - I think we nailed it with Dynamic DNA. I was down on the show floor watching people play it, and people who love basketball understand that - and there are millions of those people (maybe a little less if you live in the UK) understanding the NBA, but when you're here [in the US] and watching it every night, you watch those players.

You've got to do something every year, and not just one thing, but as technology makes itself available and the teams now have time...because we march every twelve months. Nobody else in this industry does what EA Sports does, which is to deliver those franchises every twelve months. The NFL season doesn't wait for Madden to ship - it goes, and we have to be there.

This year Madden's got 85 new features or enhancements - that's already gone gold, so we'll give them some time off, then it's Madden 10. The ability for us to be able to build our feature sets...the teams if you ask them, they'll say they build a laundry list of about 150 things to add - but you can't do that every year, otherwise you can't deliver the product every year.

You pick maybe 60 or 70 things and work out what technology has now allowed, what bandwidth has now allowed - you saw it last year with FIFA and 'Be a Pro' mode and how that changed the way that people look at playing the game. We've seen it with Dynamic DNA.

I think Madden - we're addressing two problems there. We need to continue to bring more people in who are NFL fans, but when they watch us playing Madden and the screens come in, they have no idea what's going on there.

But if you go play it on the Wii now, I guarantee you in two or three minutes...snap the ball, throw the ball - it's that simple, and you can be having fun. You can actually draw with your Wii remote where you want your receiver to run, hit the 'A' button, snap, throw it - and you'll get a completion. And it's immediate fun.

We need to be able to add things every year - it needs to be a game that people feel they need to buy every year, but at the same time it's still football, it's still basketball - they're not changing the rules for us. We're bound by the game in which we're developing for - it's not an RPG, it's not an MMO, it's not an action-adventure. We're not building character, plots or storylines.

It makes it harder - I'll talk about FIFA, and I was in Zurich a couple of weeks ago. They understand what we've done to build the FIFA brand - it's something that I noticed when I came into the industry. As a huge soccer fan, going back almost since I was born, the FIFA brand was never used. Then when EA Sports started building the brand, it's only then that FIFA made it the 'FIFA World Cup'.

So what we've done is to help popularise FIFA, the world's biggest sports organisation - on a par with the IOC I guess - it's actually the videogame that's built that brand. We honour the game, we don't change the rules, and people don't understand the approval levels we have to go through - the FIFA team is sweating it now because of the new kits, and we put something like 700 teams in there, and Nike and Adidas have given us the new kits because the teams have started playing.

Imagine the art - if Liverpool isn't wearing the new Adidas kit, the community would go berserk. Adidas and Nike are particularly good at giving us the digital assets, but we've got to do all that, and do it every year. Every now and again we miss a kit, and you hear about it on the boards, but our teams I think do magnificent work.

It always hurts me when I read the forums, as you know I do, and somebody's complaining that one guy has Nike boots when he wears Adidas in real life...okay, there are some things you can miss. But surely that shows the fans have passion and dedication?
Peter Moore

Oh sure, they're right to criticise. It's tough sometimes to get that feedback, but you feel bad that people are upset about something you make decisions on. At the same time people can nitpick all they like, but they have no idea what it takes to build a game, get it right, and deliver it every twelve months. The Dynamic DNA statistics for NBA is an interesting development - have you spoken to FIFA or anybody else about implementing something similar for the FIFA game?
Peter Moore

Well I think we're already looking at how we apply statistical analysis to the beautiful game - it's a little more challenging with the fluidity, but basically it's just very labour-intensive stuff. You need somebody watching every player, how they move, and somehow aggregate that data, which then needs to be digitised and sent up...that's what happens with NBA, and it's a little easier when there's a handful of players in a court, a very confined space. There are the ProZone stats, which monitors passes, and where people are running and so on?
Peter Moore

Yeah, but you've got to ask yourself, how useful is that? I kind of laugh, I'll get Sky Sports and I'll see Ryan Babel came off, and he ran 6612 metres...but did he fall over the ball every time he did it? It really is the nuance that's the key. You can tell me his heart rate, you can tell me all the telemetry you can get from athletes - that's fine, but it's that nuance you need. Sony's aim is to turn all of the existing PlayStation 2 owners into PlayStation 3 owners, without worrying too much about the kinds of new audiences that Nintendo have gathered in -
Peter Moore

What did Howard [Stringer] say? That it's an expensive niche? Indeed, but while Sony doesn't feel the need to cater to the whole gamete of gamers, EA needs to...
Peter Moore

You just have to be more nimble, so I think what we showed on-stage [at the EA press conference] was a microcosm of what we need to, exactly to your point - you saw a feature that was built for the hardcore in Dynamic DNA that is a really nuanced feature that people who play the game every day want to see.

And then you saw me just swinging the Wii remote and having fun playing a par three course in Nevada - on the continuum of game experiences they couldn't have been any further apart, and yet that's what we have to do. And the biggest challenge for us is the Wii, but it's an opportunity, not a risk - it's something we haven't done well yet, self-admittedly, because we tried to re-interpret simulated sports on the Wii and we hit the reset button twelve months ago and said we had to build these things again from the ground up. And that's what you're now seeing.

Family Play last year was really us just getting our feet wet, and I didn't really like the name Family Play, because it's really All-Play. The ability for Natalie [Gulbis] and I to get on the stage and have fun together - if All-Play wasn't there there's no way she wants to dumb it down to my level, and I can't compete at her level. But of course, I won, and that's all that really matters... Nucleus looks like an interesting cross-platform, cross-title application, but with Sony's proprietary log-in technology, and Microsoft's gamer tags, and Nintendo's Miis... isn't there a danger that users will just become saturated with log-ins and identity platforms?
Peter Moore

For better or worse our industry has always been built on proprietary platforms - the consumer asks why there isn't just one console, but I think it's great that there are multiple companies throwing billions of dollars and giving us great game experiences. If there was just one console we wouldn't get that diversity, we wouldn't get that investment, and we wouldn't get that competition.

At the same time, to be fair to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, they spent billions of dollars just getting going, getting us to where we are today - which is three platforms which are actually flourishing. There are all kinds of arguments about who's winning, who's losing - I'd argue that they're all doing okay. Maybe Nintendo is doing better than okay.

But with that comes proprietary systems - I want my Xbox achievement points, my gamer tag on Xbox Live, and that's going to be different to my avatar in PlayStation Home, and it's certainly different than my Mii on the Wii.

You're right, it fragments it, but that's the nature of the beast. I don't see a détente between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, because they're different experiences. When I'm playing Xbox 360 and I'm on Xbox Live, playing Gears of War, and I'm chainsawing somebody - that doesn't feel like I should be a Mii. And when I'm on Home talking to my friends with that avatar, I'm probably going to be pretty well dressed, or whatever I'd be.

So I just think it's whatever experience you want for that platform. And what does Nucleus add to that?
Peter Moore

Well, we're still working out way through that, but it allows people to see where everybody is, regardless of what they're doing, what game they're on - we're not saying it's EA, it's not EA-specific, and if I want to find out what you're playing right now, maybe Resistance 2 on the PlayStation Network, and I'm playing Halo 3 on Xbox Live... and aggregating all of that data, it's very cool.

For me personally, who knows? But I think there are millions of people that will love that stuff. You see things like Xfire that came in, and MTV bought it for a lot of money. And the idea of social networking regardless of platform that allows people to see and interact with each other - we think that's something worth pursuing. How has EA benefited from the hardware manufacturers' commitment to online play?
Peter Moore

You're talking to a company here that truly believes that every consumer will ultimately go online, whether it's five years from now. You're talking to a company that ultimately believes that physical media goes away, that how we get our media - whether it's games, we're already doing it through music, or if it's TV shows - it's going to go through Internet Protocols more than it is through cable or satellite.

Whatever you want to think about the future, there's no doubt that the Internet and connected experiences will be a bigger part of our lives than they ever have been. I'm always fond of saying that we'll tell our grandchildren that we drove to the store to buy a physical disc. In tomorrow's world we'll have half a terabyte of storage at home, everything will be in there, and we as an industry need to make sure we don't become another music industry.

And EA will lead the charge - by that I mean that we don't get marginalised because we continue to deliver physical discs. We have a cost there that's a drain on the industry, it's expensive, and we have every intention over a period of time - whether it's three years, or five years - of moving this company to be one that is totally digitally-focused, that sees a tremendous opportunity in interacting with our consumer twenty-four-seven.

To be fair to Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, they're now doing it. I have a better insight than most, because when we launched the Dreamcast, people forget that we were getting an online experience through a 56.6k modem, and playing sports games, masking latency, talking to each other.

I said it then, in 1999, that a game will be primitive in five years' time if it's still offline. And this is the way it's going. It's tough to name a game now that's totally offline, that doesn't have some connected state in some way.

And that's going to get deeper and more important to our consumer who expects it. And less intimidating - I think people are still a little intimidated to go and play multiplayer against strangers around the world, but millions of people have said "I don't care."

So as a result this company needs to embrace that, and the industry needs to make sure we're not the next music industry. What impact does that have on retail, because that's a huge part of their business?
Peter Moore

I think retail can play a great part in that - you're seeing retailers figuring out music, doing their own music sites - I think the progressive retailers either embrace what's going on, or the consumer just doesn't go there any more.

So you see Wal-Mart and Best Buy embracing that and finding ways to engage with their consumers online. Whether retail likes it or not, it's going to happen - so they either embrace it and find a business model that makes sense, or they become in the end monolithic.

My belief is that the progressive retailers around the world right now are all figuring out how to make a business model out of it.

Peter Moore is the president of EA Sports. Interview by Phil Elliott. Originally published in two parts in June 2008.

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