EA Games looks to adjust as mobile devices change industry

By Deanna Benjamin

The number of smartphones and tablets is increasing, giving video gamers the ability to play games wherever and whenever they want. This also means console devices will no longer be required.

Many video gamers grew up with gaming devices in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but times have changed as games have moved to a three-dimensional mobile platform.

In a recent New York Times article about the resignation of the top executive of Electronic Arts, it was noted that falling retail sales are tied to the decline in use of game console devices. EA’s total revenue declined more than 15% in the quarter ending December 2012 compared with income in the same quarter of 2011.

Alexis McDowel, public relations director at Electronic Arts, describes the rise of digital as a shift in the industry.

EA came out with “Real Racing 3” for mobile devices and tablets at the end of February. The first two versions were a “one-time download” where a buyer would pay $5 to $10 to download the whole game. Real Racing 3 is free to download.

With free games, money is made through micro-transactions. Players can pay to speed up the game or to buy new cars. The model is called “freemium,” meaning a basic game is free, and consumers pay for extras or premium add-ons.

McDowel said EA Mobile sees freemium games a positive since there’s no barrier of entry, which allows many more people to play a game. Within the first week of the launch, there were more downloads of Real Racing 3 than Real Racing 1 and Real Racing 2 combined.

“This presents a nice opportunity for us and our consumers because they don’t have to pay a cent to download it,” McDowel said. “The game is bigger, deeper and richer than the first two iterations. With 900 events, 46 cars to play and 22-car grid — it’s a massive game and it is for free.”

Promoting a mobile game often takes months before a launch. In McDowel’s case, EA developed a seven-month media relations campaign period to promote the game. This included a launch trailer on social media websites to get consumers excited and a media day in Los Angeles with celebrity Donald Faison, McDowel said.

Manufacturers of mobile devices also have had an impact on the increase in mobile gaming sales, as new devices keep improving to give gamers a more in-depth experience when playing the game.

EA mobile games were highlighted in two Apple Press conferences. Real Racing 3 was the only game presented on stage during the iPhone 5 release in September 2012.

The world’s largest video game retailer, GameStop, also has seen a drastic increase in game-playing on mobile devices. Mario Adams, district manager of GameStop Los Angeles, says his business is benefiting from the shift from console to handheld.

“What we’ve been seeing over the last several years is a huge increase of focus in customers that we’ve never seen before because they (game creators) are supporting the mobile and tablet business,” he says.

Adams says better devices use advanced tablet technology with high definition graphics, quality audio and correlative screens that respond to instant touches. These make games look better and keep gamers engaged.

EA games range from free to $9.99. McDowel said she believes this type of gaming will continue to grow in the next 10 years.

“Mobile gaming presents an incredibly exciting opportunity for our company and it is expanding every quarter. We see companies like Apple and Google continue to grow and put out new devices. We see tremendous opportunities and we don’t see it slowing down any time soon.”

Facts about gaming from GameStop

1. Consumers spent $24.75 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in 2011.
2. Purchases of digital content accounted for 31 percent of game sales in 2011, generating $7.3 billion in revenue.
3. The average U.S. household owns at least one dedicated game console, PC or smartphone.
4. The average game player is 30 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.
5. Thirty-three percent of gamers play games on their smartphones, and 25 percent play games on their handheld device.