Last year, EA Sports dove into digital delivery in a big way, first by offering Season Ticket subscribers early access to the full – albeit temporary - version of Madden (and other key titles) in downloadable fashion. While I expect similar offerings this fall, Stevenson makes it clear that Madden is nowhere near making the full digital-only leap.
“I think what we’ve learned from that is there’s always going to be a place for retail,” he said. “There are a lot of great retailers that are out there like GameStop, Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy. We had a community event where we had some of our biggest brand evangelists come out to the studio. We were talking a lot about digital delivery and a bunch of them said – one of them in particular – ‘I love the idea of having that box. I collect them. I still like going in line at midnight, then driving home and being excited.’ A bunch of people said ‘yeah yeah, me too!’ while some others said, ‘meh, I’d be fine if it was just digital’.”
“That experience has been around since the beginning of time, and I think retail is always going to play a really important part for us,” he continued. “I also think there’s ways that we’re going to continue to embrace digital, such as things like Madden Ultimate Team and other DLC initiatives that we’re trying to drive.”
The overall experience will become the key, as big-time games have shifted from being tied to a single disc in a console to a brand that encompasses the game, the web, social media, and mobile devices. Yet the market changes so rapidly – and violently – that a single heavy investment in a platform that doesn’t pay off can be disastrous.
One luxury that the Madden team enjoys – although it certainly doesn’t come cheaply – is its exclusive deal with the NFL and NFLPA to make games featuring the league’s real teams and players. That mitigates disruptive technology to a degree, although you can never tell anymore when the tables can turn.
“It’s really funny, because ten years ago you could’ve predicted five years forward pretty well,” laughs Stevenson. “Now we’re at a point where Instagram showed up out of nowhere and all of a sudden it’s being sold for a billion dollars. Who would’ve thought that? Who would’ve thought that Twitter would become a legitimate news source where, for example, political candidates would announce their candidacy? So for us to kind of forecast 3-5 years from now is challenging. Fortunately for us, we work so closely with our first-party partners we have an idea what their vision is, and we can get behind that. So I think we’re just going to see how the consumers react to the next generation of technology and go from there.”