EA Amps Up the Pressure for Russell Wilson in Madden NFL

In the latest Madden NFL video game, Russell Wilson’s job with the Seattle Seahawks got a lot harder.

A quarterback’s ability to complete a pass is now influenced not just by factors like his historical accuracy rating but also by the pressure brought by the defense. That’s different from earlier editions, which focused on offensive play and made it easier for quarterbacks to consistently succeed.

The change is one of dozens of new features in Madden NFL 15, the rendition of the Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) title that came out today and that analysts including Doug Creutz of Cowen & Co. expect to generate more than $350 million in revenue.

The forecast is for sales of the game, retailing for about $60, and of the so-called extra content available online -- the Ultimate Team players, jerseys, coaches, playbooks and stadiums that can make video-play close to the real thing. Some fans will spend more on the extras than the basic software.

“The margins on Madden Ultimate Team are through the roof,” said James Hardiman, an analyst with Longbow Research LLC who has a buy rating on the stock.

Ultimate Team sales could total more than $50 million and those of the game itself about $300 million, said Creutz, who also rates the stock a buy. For EA, “the opportunity is to get more dollars per unit.”

Revenue from extra content for all its games may reach a record $1 billion this year, according to the company. Madden NFL 15, along with other sports titles, will be a “major contributor,” said John Reseburg, a spokesman for EA. He declined to comment on whether sales would continue to be as strong as they’ve been: Madden NFL extra content revenue grew 350 percent in the quarter ending June 30 from a year earlier.

Seahawks Cornerback

EA, the largest publisher of video games for the current generation of consoles, started the Madden franchise in 1988. Back then it was called John Madden Football, and the Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning coach was on the cover. (Now it’s Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, in line with the company’s theme of making this edition about defensive control.)

The name became Madden NFL in 1993, and in 2004 EA secured the exclusive rights to use the National Football League’s images and players in video games. The extra content -- and the Ultimate Team mode of play where gamers can buy, sell and trade to create their dream squads and compete in online leagues -- was introduced in 2011.

Now “people are playing the game all year round,” said Cam Weber, EA’s general manager for Madden NFL, in an e-mail. “We’ve seen huge increases in overall engagement and usage even after the NFL season is over.”

‘Fresh Experience’

Effects, from grass on a field to sweat on a brow, are more realistic. Even the tattoos on Colin Kaepernick’s famously inked arms are replicated in the digital 49er quarterback.

Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers, the NFL defensive player of the year, called it “kind of scary” how vivid his video-game self looks.

“I’ve seen the transformation of the game since I was a little kid,” Kuechly told the website Bleacher Report. “You thought the graphics were good, but each year they get better and better.”

Michael Hickey, a Benchmark Co. analyst who rates the stock a hold, gave some credit for the quality to powerful new video-game consoles, and said Madden NFL 15 is “getting all the horsepower” out of them.

“There’s a freshness of the experience,” he said.

Last year, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) signed a multiyear deal with the NFL to create exclusive, interactive experiences for Xbox One users. With Madden NFL 15, that means being able to do several things at once -- watch a live televised game, play the video game and get real-time notifications for a fantasy football app. Microsoft is including a free Madden NFL 15 in limited edition Xbox One purchases beginning this week.

EA fell 1.4 percent to $37.62 in New York trading yesterday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sonali Basak in New York at sbasak7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net Anne Reifenberg, Ben Livesey

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