Electronic Arts Ups Its Game


By Ian Sherr

LOS ANGELES—People have many ways to play videogames these days, from computers to mobile devices. Electronic Arts Inc. is placing a costly bet that it can tie them all together.

The large game-software company is using the E3 trade show here this week to show the fruits of a plan to develop technology that links multiple versions of a single game played on different hardware—such as videogame consoles, PCs and smartphones—or on online social networks. The new technology means that a user could start a game using a tablet computer and pick up at the same place in the action when later sitting in front of a big-screen TV with a console.

EA’s effort, which it pegs at more than $250 million over roughly four years, is a crucial element in the company’s long-term plan to respond to changes that are sapping the growth from the traditional videogame business. The pressures include the rise of low-priced mobile gaming apps, as well as online casual games that can be free to play.

“At its core, we’re trying to give consumers a single idea across all platforms,” said John Riccitiello, EA’s chief executive. “We’re building ultimately a much more valuable business.”

Today, gamers can buy a copy of the company’s latest soccer title, “FIFA 12,” for Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360, buy a separate copy for an Apple Inc. iPhone, or play the game on Facebook Inc.’s website. But the games don’t exchange information with one another, so progress made in one version doesn’t show up on another.

But starting this year, gamers will be able to log into a Web page and manage virtual teams in “FIFA 13,” trade players and choose outfits. Later, all the changes will show up when they play games on versions purchased for mobile devices or consoles. Additionally, progress a player made on last year’s “FIFA 12” will improve his standing when he begins playing “FIFA 13.” Similar options will be offered when EA releases “Madden 13,” this year’s installment of its popular football-game series.

“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s infinitely hard to do,” Mr. Riccitiello said, with the effort requiring the reworking of games that may eventually cost billions of dollars.


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(Published June 6, 2012, in The Wall Street Journal.)