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Sports games like Madden and FIFA are winning, but they may not keep their lead

Electronic Arts’ investor’s meeting on Tuesday highlights that, even as games like Apex Legends hold strong and the next Battlefield is delayed, the wide-ranging EA Sports catalog is the focus for now.

Its athletic backlog, including FIFA 20 and Madden NFL 20, sees new life by satisfying sports fans’ desire not just for the sports themselves, but the social aspect of sports, according to Blake Jorgensen, EA’s chief finance officer and chief operating officer . FIFA 20 eclipsed 25 million unique players, aided by last fall’s addition of the 5-on-5 Volta mode. As for Madden, CEO Andrew Wilson called it a “cultural icon,” which just had its biggest year ever thanks to, the CEO suggested, new modes added post-launch.

But at a time when real-life sports are on indefinite hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, both Jorgensen and Wilson stressed that the future is unknown.

“The biggest unknown for us right now is two things: The economy [and] what is the effect if the sports calendar does not start up at some period of time,” Jorgensen said. He also pointed out that right now the only way people are “getting their sports engagement is through our games, and that’s a huge benefit for us, but what we don’t know — cause there’s no precedent on this — is what happens long-term if any of the sports seasons get delayed any further.”

Wilson added that, historically, EA Sports titles’ ever-popular Ultimate Team modes have not relied directly on real-world sports and instead have driven engagement with in-game events entirely of their creation, keeping fans close to the leagues they love. “I actually believe that there’s an opportunity for us to do that for players even if sports are delayed or don’t make it back this year.”

But COVID-19 was not the only elephant in the room for the EA Sports banner as 2K’s announced NFL game looms over Madden’s legacy. Wilson reaffirmed EA’s “very, very strong” relationship with the NFL. “We look forward to building NFL games for many years to come,” he said, seeming to shut down any speculation as to whether the EA and NFL relationship is coming to its end.

As for EA’s troubled NBA series, which has spent the last decade alternating between launching in disarray, getting delayed, or taking a year off, Wilson said, succinctly, “we have nothing more to announce at this time, but we have a great relationship with the NBA.”

Overall, EA is doing better than expected, even outpacing its own projections across most metrics and noting that the closure of physical retail stores has not affected sales.

“Sales are currently above where we expected them to be this time of year,” Jorgensen said.

Nonetheless, the call was colored throughout with cautious optimism as the world continues to deal with the pandemic.

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