With social and online gaming exploding with hundreds of new startups, developers and titles, it would seem that bold, small-scale innovation is where the game industry is headed. Not so, according to Electronic Arts Chief Operating Officer John Schappert, who — while remaining supportive of social gaming development, particularly in light of his company’s acquisition of PlayFish — sees most of the money flowing to established titles and franchises. He spoke at today’s GamesBeat@GDC conference.
If any company knows the value of expansion packs and cross-platform games, it’s EA. Its Sims brand has been given new life again and again with sequels and a slew of expansion packs adding fresh gaming experiences, virtual goods and capabilities. On top of that, it has the distinction of being the number one game publisher for mobile phones, and for the iPhone. Its PlayFish buy broadens the audience even more for well-known games like its EA Sports offerings, Command & Conquer and Left 4 Dead, which it distributes.
Schappert is feeling pretty good about the company’s future, despite quarterly losses, and even though PlayFish’s regular user base has fallen from 59,000 to 52,000 since the deal went down. EA is at the right place at the right time, as far as he’s concerned — launching its highest-quality games, the ones that build EA’s reputation — on different platforms, like smartphones and web interfaces. Schappert said EA anticipated volatility following PlayFish’s absorption, blips that should be ironed out once the social gaming space matures.
He also acknowledged the importance of keeping a healthy balance between so called “packaged games” or its “shiny disc business” and its direct downloads and digital content. There’s no doubt that downloadable content is the way of the future; EA made $1 million in one week with Dragon Age’s downloadable content, Schappert said. But the industry isn’t going to migrate to the web overnight, especially when you take all types of gamers into account. He expressed some skepticism about whether social gaming will turn its hype into a solid business.
Despite all of the new platforms and opportunities popping up in the gaming space, gamers may not even want to catch up.
“Consumers today want to buy fewer games overall — games they can share with their friends and that allow them to extend their experiences,” Schappert said. “Because we are going to be shipping fewer titles, we need to make each of them as big as possible.”
While he briefly touched on Jason West and Vince Zampella’s recent exit from Infinity Ward, he took the high road and steered clear of saying anything controversial.
[Photo by JP Manninen]