In video games, Electronic Arts owns the gigantic EA Sports franchise. But Jeff Anderson says he didn’t get the memo that it’s a bad idea to start a sports video game company. In spite of the competition, he managed to convince New Enterprise Associates to give his new company, Play Hard Sports, $5 million in venture capital.
The company will make online sports games such as football for “casual fans,” or those who don’t spend an inordinate amount of time playing sports games on consoles. The strategy is to build a strong social community around the games with tournaments, fantasy sports leagues and ladder challenges.
He has taken a different approach and it sounds like he might find a way to live under the shadow of the giant. Until last fall, Anderson was the CEO of Turbine Entertainment, an online game company that has made massively multiplayer online fantasy games such as “Asheron’s Call” and “Lord of the Rings Online” for almost two decades. While the company was successful, Anderson felt he wanted to try new genres.
The company is based in Foxborough, Mass., near the stadium where the New England Patriots play. A huge sports fan, Anderson said it is the “best sports town in the world” and was thus the ideal place to start his company.
He said that he was well aware that EA has a “massive recurring revenue stream” from its sports games, which fans buy every season. He also saw that there is huge growth in the armchair quarterbacks playing fantasy sports leagues, with the demographics spreading beyond console gamers. There has also been a big growth in casual fare online. These games will be shorter than average football video games, with gamers playing one or two games during a lunch hour.
And in contrast to console games, Anderson wants to take a page from the playbook of MMO games: create customer loyalty by allowing them to invest in each character, such as a quarterback, in the game. In his games, you will be able to create teams with players who can get better over time the more that they play.
“I want a character that persists and that I can invest in over time,” Anderson said.
Anderson has a small team now. He says his games will feature good graphics, but not on the same par with EA’s console games. The first games are expected to debut this fall. The games will be part of a site that offers sports news and places for players to interact with other players.
The football games will feature ads, with video ads playing much the way they do in the real games: during time-outs, quarter breaks, and at half time. EA is likely to respond in some way. It already has various features built into games such as adding sports news feeds and the ability to talk with others online. But so far, it looks like Anderson has the monopoly on this particular approach.