Electronic Arts fascinate any industry observer. Strip away World of Warcraft and they are probably still the world’s biggest game publisher. They publish more genres of games and on more platforms than anyone else. In John Riccitiello they have an intelligent boss who says, and often does, many good things. They publish some of the very best game studios in the world. But they have been extremely unprofitable for some time now. And they are an organisation in fundamental philosophical transition.
Old school Electronic Arts brought high profile IP licenses that someone else had built. Harry Potter, James Bond, Lord of the Rings (three British authors there), NFL, NBA, FIFA, Catwoman, etc. They then built an adequate, but nothing special, game and advertised it like crazy. Then they would make the minimum changes they could get away with and launch it as a sequel. Sometimes every year.
It was cynical and profitable but it was taking EA nowhere, they did not own the brands so they were not building value in the company. And they weren’t doing much for gaming.
New Electronic Arts creates original IP, which they own, they try and build quality too, by concentrating on Metacritic as an internal management yardstick. And they do interesting things. But there is a problem, the industry has moved on. In this console generation having a good game is no longer enough. Now you have to lead the genre. And that means building a brand, something that EA don’t have much practice of.
And so to Tiger Woods. This is the worst of old school EA cynicism.. They even gave it imaginative names, like Tiger Woods 2001, Tiger Woods 2003 and Tiger Woods 2005. It was a sausage factory producing distinctly average sausages. But all that has changed with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 for the Wii. They have obviously applied my rules for Wii development:
1) Don’t do shovelware. You are just damaging your brand(s).
2) Write Wii specific titles. Don’t port. You have to respect the interface difference.
3) Understand that most Wiis live in the lounge. And most other consoles live in the bedroom.
4) Polish, lots. Then polish some more.
5) Realise that you have to provide entertainment for the population at large. FPS titles are not a good idea.
6) You need to market completely differently. PR in women’s magazines will work a lot better than adverts in game magazines.
7) Talk to your wife/girlfriend. They understand the Wii better than you do.
And what they have created, using Wii MotionPlus, is the best golf video game ever. GameSpy said: “Tiger Woods 10 on the Wii is the definitive golf game. Beyond the high level of immersion from the Motion Plus controls, and the many months worth of entertaining game modes, this version welcomes the widest ever audience to a “sim” sports game. EA is leveraging the Wii perfectly.”
Electronic Arts have taken one of their tired old franchises and made it into a world beater. But they have missed a trick. They don’t need Tiger Woods any more. They could have called this John Riccitiello Golf and sold just as many. They could have built a brand that they own that they could manage and profit from for ever.
So whilst they have had an epiphany with regards to product they still have a long way to go to having the brand epiphany they need. When you own a genre with your own IP is when you have truly arrived. Call of Duty and Forza show the way.
And if Electronic Arts can show this much genius with MotionPlus just imagine what they will be doing with Natal.