With the dramatic shift in gaming business towards new business models, even the big game publishers are starting to recognize the importance of keeping gamers happy long after they make the initial game purchase. “We’ve stated a long time ago that our aim is to become the number one digital-pure-play game company,” says Electronic Arts’ Executive VP of Digital, Kristian Segerstrale. “We think about designing in such a way [that] we can operate ongoing services whereby consumers have new and interesting things to spend their money on over time.”
Segerstrale spoke at length with Game Industry International about EA’s move away from a boxed retail model to long-term revenues, but the short version is this: sustained user engagement, driven by user interaction as well as design choices, is the key to success.
For starters, Sergerstrale points to the successes of the FIFA franchise. Nine months after launch, it’s going strong. “We still have between four and five million people in any given week playing the game,” he says. According to Raptr gameplay data, FIFA was the most played sports game of 2011 and 2012.
“What we’ve found is that if we’re able to generate sustained minutes per user of play, monetizing that engagement is actually a question of smart design,” according to Sergerstrale. “We can create opportunities and value for our consumers whether that is through player packs, being able to upgrade things, by saving time, by finding some way of personalizing your experience, or helping you be more individual in the player community.”
What do all those things have in common? They solve player problems…a core tenant of the Community As A Service philosophy. If a game maker understands their fan base and how they play, they can then give players something to invest in on a personal level which loyalty, and that in turn translates to players investing both time and money in the game.
Sergerstrale sees EA’s Battlefield properties as another prime example. “The engagement levels in Battlefield are staggering,” he says, “because of Battlelog. With the rollout of the various new map packs and stuff, you have this huge, super-vibrant community that contributes to the overall gameplay, the overall reason why you should be playing.”
Another huge component: social sharing. Letting gamers interact with each around the games they love to play even when they aren’t playing has a major impact. “Make them a very important social community,” says Sergerstrale. “It doesn’t have to be user-generated content. It can just be the way they play, that they ultimately contribute to events in the game. I think what you will see more from us going forward is to empower people to share and be more social.”
You’d think it would be easy to execute on such a vision, but it’s definitely been a challenge for EA, as well as many other traditional game publishers. With its roots squarely in selling games at retail, EA’s business model has been defined by creating big launch campaigns for a game, getting lots of people to buy the game at a high price point when it comes out, and then move onto the next game to market for gamers to buy. It’s encouraging to hear EA recognize the importance of supporting long-term user engagement, and we’ll keep an eye out on how they plan to do so. Sergerstrale believes they still have work to do. “Business practices are the hardest thing to change,” he says. “What we’ve really done was to take all those bits of learning from social and mobile and all those other places and plow them into the center of how we drive the key franchises forward. It’s a very exciting position to be in, and clearly we need to deliver on it.”
Read the full interview here.