Electronic Arts’ CEO Imagines a Year Without a New Madden Game

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  • Andrew Wilson sees subscriptions one day replacing game sales
  • As more sales go digital, live services become more practical
Electronic Arts CEO on Cloud-Based Gaming, eSports

Electronic Arts Inc. Chief Executive Officer Andrew Wilson said there may soon come a time when the video-game publisher doesn’t release a new annual version of hits such as FIFA 18 and Madden NFL 18 and relies instead on online updates or subscriptions.

“There’s a world where it gets easier and easier to move that code around -- where we may not have to do an annual release,” Wilson told Bloomberg TV host Emily Chang on her show “Studio 1.0.” “We can really think about those games as a 365-day, live service.”

The video-game industry has been shifting from sales of physical discs to online delivery over the past few years. That includes everything from full-game downloads of new titles to in-game purchases of gear or fantasy sports-like rosters of players.

Electronic Arts, based in Redwood City, California, already offers a mobile version of Madden, its popular football game. Since 2014, the company has offered EA Access, a $5-a-month service that allows customers access to a library of games. New titles are added about six months after their initial release.

Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson talks to Bloomberg’s Emily Chang about cloud-based gaming and growth plans.

(Source: Bloomberg)

In the latest sign of an industry shift to a subscription model, GameStop Corp., the largest standalone video-game retailer, announced a new program last week that lets customers borrow pre-owned games for $10 a month.

Wilson, a 43-year-old Australian who became CEO four years ago, said he’s a big fan of Spotify, the music streaming service that picks different playlists for him when he’s driving to work or exercising at the gym.

Great Disruptor

“The greatest disruptor to the consumption of entertainment media in the last five years has been the combination of streaming plus subscription,” Wilson said. “It’s changed the way we watch television. It’s changed the way we listen to music. It’s changed the way I read books.”

Even with the shift to digital though, the video-game industry still relies on splashy new holiday releases to drum up excitement -- and gifts from grandma -- for their biggest titles. They have also positioned their games as far more advanced graphically than mobile games, and thus better played on souped-up personal computers or consoles.

Although Electronic Arts released the Madden NFL Mobile game three years ago, it hasn’t released a new version, preferring to refresh the existing product at the beginning of every season. The user base has continued to grow, Wilson said. There are challenges, however, to shifting to an entirely online world.

“When we design a game that lives in a true streaming world, we have to think about screen size and session time,” he said. “How does a Madden game that exists in the cloud manifest on your mobile phone, one minute at a time? How does that manifest on your 60-inch TV, an hour at a time.”

Augmented reality could be one of the technologies that bridges the gap between the streaming world and the real one, Wilson said. One day players could earn rewards based on how many eggs they have in their refrigerator at home when they are playing The Sims or get online points for real life drills at soccer practice before playing FIFA. Geolocation tracking could make such events possible, according to Wilson.

“There’s a world not too far away from now where video games move from being a discrete, conscious experience to an indiscreet, subconscious experience,” he said.

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