EA Sports President Peter Moore Talks Tiger, Madden and Gaming Culture
Over the last year, however, EA has been hit hard by the broader downturn in the video game sector -- in 2009, sales of game titles dipped 11 percent in the U.S., and sales of the latest Madden title were far lower than expected. In November, EA announced that it would lay off more than 1,500 employees, and last month EA issued a pessimistic sales outlook for the 2010 calendar year, which disappointed Wall Street and sent the company's stock tumbling.
And on top of all that, there was the Tiger Woods scandal, which put the company in the awkward position of having to defend its relationship with the golfer, whose name has adorned EA's lucrative golf game for over a decade. Unlike many of Tiger's marketing partners, EA -- along with Nike -- issued numerous statements of support for Woods during his ordeal and has no plans to end its relationship with him. That said, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR '11, which debuts in June, features Woods and Irish player Rory McIlroy on the cover, the first time Woods has shared cover space with any other golfer. (The company says it planned to put a second golfer on the cover before news of Woods' infidelities became public.)
Needless to say, it's a particularly important time for EA Sports president Peter Moore, the veteran British marketing executive who came to EA in 2007 after successful stints at Microsoft, Sega of America and Reebok. Last week in Los Angeles at the World Congress of Sport, Moore, 55, sat down with FanHouse for a wide-ranging discussion about his company, the future of Madden, the challenge of making a good basketball game, the quibbles of adult players, and of course, Tiger Woods.
Here is an edited transcript of the discussion.
FanHouse: Given the initial disappointment about sales last year, are you concerned that consumers have "Madden Fatigue"?
Peter Moore: Of course you worry. The goal we have is to present to the consumer a compelling reason why you should buy Madden every year, the onus is on us to do that. You do that through innovation, through new features, and in a connected world, through great opportunities for online tournaments. But the onus is on us as a developer and a publisher to do that. I have to prove to you every year why you should buy it.
The Wii changed the contours of the industry. Some critics have pointed out that some of the core EA Sports games, notably Madden, have not translated as well on the Wii. How do you respond to that -- and what plans does EA have for the Wii going forward?
We've committed to the Wii, and Tiger does great on the Wii. Where our challenges have been are in the core sports of football, basketball and soccer. The consumer who's been buying us in the past want exactly what we've been giving them -- which is high-definition graphics, fluidity of motion. We've conditioned that consumer to get a HDTV, to get the surround sound, to sit back and play a great game. And all of a sudden you're bringing a different experience with the Wii, which is standard-definition, and doesn't have all the control mechanisms that our players have come to expect. So it's a different experience and therefore a new challenge.
This year, you're going to see us bring back NBA Jam for the Wii, which we think will be brilliant for that system. I can play Madden better than I can play basketball, there's too much going on in basketball games, but Jam is perfect for the Wii. It's cartoonish, it's simpler, it's "Boom Shakalaka!" and it translates well.
Speaking of basketball games, why do you think there has not really been, to date, a real superstar basketball game a la Madden is in football, or FIFA in soccer or Tiger for golf.
I'm not a programmer by any means, but I know enough to say there's this physics and fluidity thing that we're still working through with basketball. The guys who make basketball games will tell you that basketball creates a unique challenge that's different from what they face with, say, creating an American football game or hockey game.
From a programming and engineering standpoint, following the bouncing basketball adds an element that you don't have in football or other sports. The fluidity of motion that's required in basketball makes it the most exposed sport in terms of the restraints of what you can do with the hardware that we have now. That's my opinion, anyway.
What sport do you see providing the next big video game hit?
It's simple -- mixed martial arts. There's no denying that younger consumers are more enamored with MMA. It's got some strong global reach already. We don't have the UFC license, but we're building our own brand and hoping to, if you will, create our own circuit as we've done with our Fight Night series.
When, exactly, will EA's MMA game debut?
This year. (LAUGHS)
How concerned are you about piracy? Given the sophistication of online pirates, are you more concerned about piracy as more of the video game industry migrates to the Web?
I don't worry about it -- it's our problem to digitize our content so that it can't be pirated. I think people have a sense of fair play, but you can obviously modify a console to play a pirated game. But the vast majority of people don't do that because they are recognizing that it's stealing.
Why was Rory McIlroy added to the cover of EA's newest Tiger Woods game?
We did a Ryder Cup deal in October, before the Tiger news, which pushed [the game] into online team play and for the first time ever we have team golf in the game. The pre-eminent example of team golf is the Ryder Cup, and when you want to exploit what that is, you've got to put more than one player on the cover. And Rory McIlroy couldn't be better. We needed a European representative. We love the young, up-and-coming guys. He's No. 9 in the world, a young Irish golfer, and he's no doubt going to make the Ryder Cup team, which is something else you have to consider. So that's how it happened.
How is EA's relationship with Tiger Woods different than, say, his association with Accenture, which dropped him after the scandal broke? And why has EA decided to stay with Tiger?
[For Accenture], he was an endorser who was interchangeable. They're in a different business than us. We're in the world of golf, they're in the world of business services, utilizing someone as an endorser for that. As I've always said, he's the world's greatest golfer until someone proves to us otherwise. We'll find out pretty soon obviously, but we see him as a golfer, we're in our 12th year with him, and he's in our game, obviously. We see a very clear distinction between Tiger Woods, the golfer, and Tiger Woods, the husband and father.
On average, how often do you play EA games or video games in general?
I try to experience all of our games but I would never characterize myself as a "gamer," because I know what that means, and I'm not that. In my cube I don't have any consoles, in my home I've got an Xbox 360 and PS3.
There are many adults in their 30s now, like me, who came of age with the video game systems of the '80s and early '90s -- Atari, Nintendo, Sega -- but aren't active players anymore. One persistent complaint from the over-30 demographic is that today's games are too complicated or hard to play. What feedback do you hear from adults -- and are you interested in cultivating older players?
We hear the same things all the time from adult men: "I've got no time," "My wife won't let me," and "When I picked up the controller, I couldn't figure out what to do." Well, there's not much I can do about the first two factors, but accessibility is something that we're very aware of, and it's something we need to fix. How do we make it more accessible so you can pick up Madden and not feel like an idiot after playing five minutes because you just cant get the hang of it.
With the migration online, we've become much more sophisticated with our telemetry in finding out where you're getting stuck. For example, there are something like 330 plays in Madden. Our research tells us that the average player chooses amongst 13 plays. That tells us that maybe [the playbook] is not a part of the game that we need to expand or focus on.
Is there a place in the marketplace for a sports role-playing game? Or something along the lines of Grand Theft Auto that incorporates real athletes or teams?
People have been talking about sports role-playing games for years. I'm not sure how interesting it is, and there are some approval issues as well with leagues and players. You get into the issue of "Do I have the right to put, say, T.J. Houshmandzadeh's life in the Seattle nightclubs into the game. Then it becomes like The Sims games, and that's a whole different experience. You do see us focus on "General Manager" modes in our games, but that's different than a whole role-playing experience.
Reebok just did a thing with Lewis Hamilton, the Formula 1 racer, an "alternative reality game." Reebok had him as a hero in an action-adventure game, with no racing component at all. He's actually chasing down art thieves. It's interesting. Does it really work? I don't know.
How hopeful -- or worried -- are you about consumers' willingness to spend on video games? Do you foresee any price cuts of games?
We're never sanguine because we recognize that people have a lot of choices before they decide to buy a video game, which for the great majority of people is a luxury purchase. You don't need it, it doesn't pay the rent or pay for gas, so we're always on the lookout to provide as much value as we can.
There's a cost to these things and right now when you look at the industry, $60 feels about right. Development costs creep up, but you get to the point where you look at the business model and you say this is what we need to get for this game.