It's No Longer Just a Video Game; It's a User Experience

EA Sports Changes the Game With Add-ons, Expansions, Mobile Play

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YORK, Pa. ( -- The first Tiger Woods video game, released in 1999, was available as an off-the-shelf disc for the Sony PlayStation console or the PC.

Today Tiger Woods games, including the just-released "PGA Tour 10," are available for PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, Nintendo DS, Xbox, PCs and mobile phones. Gamers can download new golf courses and equipment, buy expansion packs, play in live online tournaments, stream play to a PC or Mac and order up a specially created iPhone app.

BIG MONEY: At the low end it can cost $10 million to $15 million to develop a game and another $3 to $5 million to market a blockbuster.
BIG MONEY: At the low end it can cost $10 million to $15 million to develop a game and another $3 to $5 million to market a blockbuster.
Marketing has followed a similar course. In 1999, EA Sports, publisher of the Tiger games, ramped up ads and PR for about six weeks before the game launched and for a few weeks after, with typical gamer-magazine print and sports TV buys. Today EA Sports develops a marketing plan for each platform and type of content and runs it all year.

"The cycle for marketing has changed. We call it "the Tiger 365 experience," and it's every day, 24/7, whether that's in the living room, while on the train or while in the office on a conference call," said Craig Evans, EA Sports director of marketing. "The fire and fanning mentality just won't work anymore."

Ubiquitous content
The days of selling one console and a prepackaged game disc are numbered, as consumers increasingly adopt and clamor for more and different kinds of video-game experiences where and when they want them. Ubiquitous video-game content -- from downloadable add-ons and expansion packs to online and mobile-phone play -- offer consumers an irresistible combination of convenience, choices and low cost.

"It is changing the industry from one that was based on products to one that is based on relationships," said Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group. "It's shifting to become more of a services industry where the relationship, instead of being fleeting and based on the release of a title, is pervasive and based on updates and online relationships."

That also means a major shift in how the $21 billion industry takes games to market in the U.S. The frenzied, media-hyped and consumer-anticipated "big day" new releases will still occur, but the marketing strategy is changing to address the many different ways people could possibly consume each title.

"Initial release at retail is still the most important market. ... But if you want to expand your audience, you will have to address the different platforms" said Michael Cai, analyst with Interpret.

EA, for instance, still does the six-week pre-release marketing blitz for Tiger Woods games, but it also does online and cross-platform marketing for its iPhone app, for example, and its upcoming streamed direct-to-the-computer Woods game.

Cost burdens
That makes an already expensive process even more costly. Analyst Ted Pollak estimated that at the low end it costs $10 million to $15 million in development and another $3 million to $5 million in marketing for blockbuster titles. And blockbusters are exactly what publishers are aiming to create. Those titles, such as "Tiger Woods PGA Tour," "Grand Theft Auto," "Halo" and even "Guitar Hero," are the ones that have the most traction with additional content.

David Cole, analyst at DFC Intelligence, who just finished a newsletter article on "the new reality of video-game consumers," said the shift could be painful.

"Any scenario I come up with has major downward implications for publishers," he said. "For the revenue of a $5 to $10 product to match the revenue of a $50 product, they need to sell five to 10 times more. ... The companies that succeed will be the ones who can find all those incremental revenue streams. Until now, most of the industry has not been good at exploring small niches. They're good at the $50 to $60 blockbuster push at retail. ... But they can't just put it in a box and walk away anymore."

EA's Mr. Evans said, "We're actively marketing all the time with the goal to keep [the consumer] actively playing the online game or enjoying the experience on the iPhone so they keep coming back. The holy grail is when we can bring these all together, so if you're playing a round at Sawgrass at home and have to go to work, you could grab your iPhone and pick up where you left off. We're not there yet, but we will get there."

"This changes everything, and I doubt anyone has completely thought it through yet," Mr. Enderle said, adding that there is a positive side to all the change. "It does provide the opportunity to have a much steadier revenue stream and vastly deeper customer relationship."

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