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Volume 20 No. 41
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New platforms bring ‘virtual’ closer to ‘real’

Every time there’s a console transition in the video game industry, the Electronic Entertainment Expo ratchets up significantly in intensity. And this year was one of those years for E3, where Sony showcased the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft showed the Xbox One. Each is slated to hit store shelves in time for the holiday season.

EA Sports will be a fixture in those console launches, planning to release four of its titles for the new platforms: “Madden NFL 25,” “FIFA 14,” “NBA Live 14,” and “UFC.” For “NBA Live 14,” it will mark a return to store shelves after a tumultuous four-year absence for the franchise. Andrew Wilson, head of EA Sports since August 2011, spoke with staff writer Eric Fisher this month at E3 in Los Angeles on the transition and the state of industry.

Wilson on “NBA Live 14”: We’ve got an understanding of what it’s going to take to finish the game.
Talking to your developers down on the floor, there’s a consistent theme about how they’re now able to do things with the games with the new hardware they’ve wanted to do for years but couldn’t. What is your sense of the possibilities in the new consoles?

WILSON: As game makers and sports fans, our dream for a long time has been to create something that when you walk into a room and you look over someone’s shoulder, you can’t discern whether it’s real or virtual. And I believe that with all the extra processing power, the extra RAM, the extra animation we can do, I think we’re right on that horizon where you can’t discern that difference between real and virtual. And that’s a profound opportunity.

What are your plans going forward with the legacy platforms, particularly with Microsoft intending to also support Xbox 360 for some time going forward?

WILSON: It’s a challenge a lot of industries face. You look at the car industry, and I’m a big car guy. There are some people who will always buy the last generation of a car, because there’s a belief that’s important. And all the faults go away. And there are also people who always have to have the newest technology, and all that’s available. And what car manufacturers have ultimately realized is that those are two separate, healthy markets. I believe we’re doing the same sort of thing here. Our job is to make sure on whatever platform they choose to play on, we give them the best game they’ve ever played.

One of the big appearances on the floor, of course, was “NBA Live 14.” The game has made it to the show floor in prior years, and then ultimately failed to reach retail. The chatter, body language and energy around the title does seem changed this time, though. How do you see this year as different?

WILSON: I’m going to be very conscious of what I say here, because we have been in this position before. But we’re further along than we were last year, and on a new platform. I think we’ve got an understanding of what it’s going to take to finish the game that we didn’t have before. There’s a fire in the belly of this creative team now that I haven’t seen in a while. And you’re beginning to see the fruits of their labors.

You’ve said previously that taking on “NBA 2K 14” and its sales dominance is not going be a one-year effort, or even a two-year effort, but a long-term play. Do you still feel that way?

WILSON: Absolutely. We’ve watched this movie before. We went down this road with “FIFA,” and we’ve got to win gamers back and earn their

EA’s “Madden” and “FIFA” are ready for new gaming platforms.
trust and respect. We are very conscious this is going to take time, but we have the passion and conviction to go after it.

Shifting gears to “UFC,” it’s very interesting to see Dana White up on stage with you again given your prior history. [White in ’09 said he was “at war” with EA]. What has your relationship with Dana been like?

WILSON: I love working with Dana and working with the UFC. I love working with all our partners, and they’re all really great. But Dana has a passion for his sport that might be unparalleled in the sports industry. And we have a shared passion for what we’re trying to do with this game. You see these presentations on stage, and we of course go through various rehearsals and run-throughs so it runs clean. But Dana just says he’s going to show up and speak from the heart. No script. No teleprompter. And we said, “OK,” and he turns up at that moment and speaks from the heart with that incredible passion. And to me, it’s the best testament of the relationship between UFC and EA Sports.

“FIFA” has been at some rather lofty sales levels in recent years as the world’s biggest-selling sports game. Where do you see further sales elevation, particularly through the new platforms?

WILSON: The moment we start focusing just on sales numbers, we’re in trouble. What happened with “FIFA” is that we built a great game with a lot of innovation and everything built from there. But there’s a lot of opportunity in North America still as soccer grows in this country. Latin America, there’s a lot of growth there ahead, particularly with the World Cup in Brazil next year. Asia is also seeing tremendous growth.

What do you see as the future for EA with regard to its license with the NFL and NFL Players Association for “Madden NFL”? [The current deal expires next year].

WILSON: I think we have a tremendous relationship with the league and the P.A. I think they are overjoyed with what we’ve been able to do over the last few years with “Madden,” not just in the gaming industry but the sports industry in general. I foresee us walking together for many, many, many years to come.