EA pins future on digital subscriptions, microtransactions

In a Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference today, EA Sports President Peter Moore hinted at EA's plans for the future with longstanding franchises like FIFA and Madden. Digital distribution is looking mighty sexy to the media giant.

During the call, Moore fielded investor questions centered mostly around the bad year the video games industry suffered during 2009 and how they plan to improve for 2010. Moore didn't dwell on too many of the reasons for the decline (shrinking music games category, late price cuts on hardware, etc.). Instead, he stressed that the future for EA looked a whole lot brighter with a shift toward digitally distributed content.

"When I look at my world of EA Sports, Tiger, NFL, the ability to bring that to life on mobile is huge," Moore said. "Great IP that is recognizable is king on this platform. [We] also see it as a great on ramp to our console games."

Going forward, Moore hinted at plans to extend the life of "packaged goods" like box games by layering a digital media experience into the product. So for example, with Madden NFL 10, you can manage your teams on your iPhone with a companion App. It sounds like EA plans more integration features like this for all its franchises -- including EA Sports Active.

Fitness games present an interesting opportunity for EA. EA Sports Active brought a whole new audience into gaming and now has a user base that's more than 50% female. "This is a consumer that is actually moving their dollars away from Adidas or Nike and into EA Sports," Moore said. "The one thing that we should all pay attention to is that interactive fitness takes us into a different category [where EA competes with Nike and Adidas.]" Moore said that "topical" downloads for fitness games would push their appeal and satisfy EA's digital integration goal.

Their star fitness game, EA Sports Active, presents a challenge to EA's vision, however. Nintendo acts as a gatekeeper of digital content on the Wii; so EA might not be able to implement a subscription- or microtransaction-based service the way it plans to with the Madden franchise on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

EA won't abandon the Wii, however, like some companies. "We're great believers in the Wii," Moore said. "When you look at where we've been successful, it's been [in building platform-specific experiences]." EA is no longer interested in porting games to the Wii and even with the releases of Microsoft's and Sony's motion controllers, the company plans to stick with developing games for the Wii from the ground up.

In closing, Moore said to expect good things from FIFA 11 with it being a World Cup year and to look forward to EA Sports MMA for 360 and PS3. He didn't say when we can expect EA games on PlayFish or when Madden will go microtransaction/subscription -- but it's pretty clear that's what's coming from EA in 2010.

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