Call of Duty Elite has been a big hit for Activision Blizzard, and many suspected for quite some time that rival Electronic Arts would follow suit with a subscription service of its own. Indeed, at E3 this year EA confirmed the Battlefield Premium service ($50 one-time fee), but EA Labels boss Frank Gibeau tells GamesIndustry International that Premium is just the beginning and EA wants to bring a Premium service to its other IP.
Gibeau stressed to us that Battlefield Premium is not a reaction to Elite, but at the same time, he noted that companies attempt to improve upon others' innovations in this business all the time.
"We've launched subscription businesses in our other categories. We had EA Sports subscription before Elite came out, so adding that component to the design is not a reaction. It's something we'd always been considering and we had been looking at. We didn't have it ready for launch and it took us some time to get it prepped. Having said that, they [Activision] did something really innovative and if your competitor does something innovative and you think it applies to what you can do, then there's no harm in doing that," he said. "This is an industry where people have a lot of oneupsmanship and if somebody innovates, you match it or you exceed it."
"We actually think our Premium service exceeds what Elite does - from a value standpoint, from a content standpoint, and longer term we think that we can bring more properties into that offering"Frank Gibeau
Gibeau, unsurprisingly, thinks Premium is a superior offering to Elite. Not only that, but Gibeau indicated that EA is looking to bring Premium-like offerings to other properties. "We actually think our Premium service exceeds what Elite does - from a value standpoint, from a content standpoint, and longer term we think that we can bring more properties into that offering and that'll be great for the business," he said.
As for Battlefield 3 itself and EA's continual quest to outgun Activision's shooter, Gibeau told us that EA took another big step in that direction.
"We're quite proud of what we did with Battlefield 3. We sold about 15 million [units] on that game, which was the number two game in the marketplace last year by a country mile. We grew share and we've been eating into their position. We've always said that if you're going to take on the 800-pound gorilla, it's going to take you multiple years and it's going to take you multiple attempts and that's what we're doing," he commented.
He continued, "So, much like what we've done with FIFA versus Pro Evolution Soccer, where they were the leader in quality, they were the leader in market share, we took a very deliberate, methodical, patient, yet aggressive position to chip away at it every year. This is just the next year in that process. Medal of Honor is a key product for us this year. It's on Frostbite 2 technology. It's clearly the most authentic shooter out there. It's based on the reality of what's happening now. It's designed with Seals. And they're giving us lots of input on what it's like to be in these actual situations."
"It's important that we don't get into a position where we're just milking the franchise and just mailing it in and shipping bad games"Frank Gibeau
Gibeau also seemed to suggest that Microsoft's big Halo 4 launch could have a greater impact on Call of Duty than EA's own Medal of Honor. "COD has done a little sci-fi with their approach, but I think Halo shipping on the same day is going to be a really interesting dynamic in the marketplace where the Halo franchise is beloved in the shooter category, especially for Xbox fans. And Medal of Honor is very differentiated from what they're doing, so it should be a fairly interesting dynamic," he noted.
Ultimately, what matters most for EA is the bottom line, and Battlefield has bolstered that quite a bit. "We grew a significant share and blew away expectations, so it was extraordinarily profitable for us. So we're going to keep at it," he said.
And in what could be considered a jab at the competition, Gibeau added that EA doesn't want to be seen as "milking" the shooter category.
"It's a proven, exciting category that I think has got a lot of life in it, especially as new gen hardware comes online. You're going to get a chance to completely reimagine what that experience can be like. I think it's ripe for innovation. We've put a lot of effort into trying to innovate in the category, not just in the content, but also in concept and in technology and gameplay. The Frostbite 2 technology was pretty big news last year and really changed what expectations would be for the category. So it's important that we don't get into a position where we're just milking the franchise and just mailing it in and shipping bad games... We''ve got to stay constantly paranoid about meeting and constantly exceeding expectations on the game design and fun factor," he concluded.