Electronic Arts knows that digital content and distribution is the only way it will survive. The days of growing fat on selling millions of DVD discs with Madden NFL on them are over. To that end, it’s investing in every different corner of the digital market. Steam’s got the PC distribution market on lock down? Let’s open Origin. Mobile and social games are where people are spending? Let’s buy Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies studio PopCap. EA wants to stay the biggest fish in the pond even as that pond changes into an entirely different ecosystem.
One of the other ways that EA plans to evolve is cross-platform play. That is to say, EA wants the people playing its games to play regardless of what device they’re using, whether it’s an iPad, a PC, or an Xbox 360.
Speaking with Gamasutra and The Wall Street Journal this week, EA chief operating officer Peter Moore said that his company is building the infrastructure to accommodate the cross-platform future. “The company has a vision and a mission, which we don’t talk a lot about externally, but you find it a lot when you go to the office,” said Moore, “In broad terms, we talk about uniting through play, bringing people together through play. The mission is to build the world’s best digital playground with fun for everyone, anywhere, anytime. We think that the future of gaming is cross-platform play, always having something with you that’s a gaming device, but everything you do connects.”
Electronic Arts has pushing heavily in this direction with even its properties directed at core gamers. Mass Effect 3 in particular was built around this concept. In order to get the best ending in the game, players need to raise their score in the game, but it could be raised by playing the story, the online multiplayer, as well as other games like Mass Effect: Infiltrator on iPad and iPhone and Mass Effect Mission Command on Facebook. From a creative perspective, EA created a massive experience that wasn’t bound to a single machine but grew out of multiple sources common in its audiences’ lives.
From a fiscal perspective, EA was pulling in money through digital distribution, retail sales, and even advertising support through social networks, a perfect storm of luring in and retaining a customer.
EA’s cross-platform strategy could yield remarkable artistic experiences and genius acts of leisure. Its sports titles alone could be transformed by cross-platform play that went beyond team and franchise management on PCs or mobile devices. That future however has to not bleed players dry. If EA is going to survive, it has to be more than just forward thinking in how it networks game experiences.