EA's tips and tricks for winning the mobile gaming battle


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NEW ORLEANS--Playing any game to win means knowing the rules. Electronic Arts has competed in the gaming industry more successfully than most: The 30-year-old company has seamlessly transitioned from the console segment to the mobile space, and in February reported fiscal third-quarter mobile and handheld digital revenues of $84 million, up 25 percent year-over-year. Smartphone gaming revenues increased 70 percent over year-ago totals, while revenue from subscriptions, advertising and related sources grew to $67 million, a 14 percent spike. EA also is jumping onto the free-to-play bandwagon: Its first freemium title, The Sims FreePlay, launched across Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS platform in December and eventually topped the App Store's countdown of the highest-grossing iPad apps. 

EA CEO John Riccitiello opened his playbook for mobile gaming success here at the CTIA Wireless 2012 conference, divulging some of the key lessons learned from the company's move onto mobile devices. "Games, more than any other mobile app category, are driving dramatic growth across the industry," Riccitiello said during Wednesday morning's keynote session. "Mobile has become a game platform--it's a peer to [consoles]."

Riccitiello said that future growth hinges on these four rules for understanding the collective gamer psyche:

1.    Add a central processing unit to any device, and games will dominate that device platform. "Games will be important on every device with a CPU," Riccitiello said, citing gaming's popularity across a range of connected products and predicting a similar fate on smart TVs. "When cable consumers have the option to play games, television content will become less popular," he said.

2.    Consumers prefer brands they recognize. According to Riccitiello, 26 of the top 100 App Store games extend properties already popular across other media. While acknowledging success stories like Rovio Mobile's blockbuster Angry Birds, he said the odds of mobile gaming success will always favor "publishers with globally recognized brands," explaining most gamers gravitate to titles and concepts they already know from companies they already trust.

3.    It's not A or B. The winner will be A and B. In other words, mobile gaming will not wipe out consoles or vice versa; instead, the two platforms will complement each other. Riccitiello pointed to the example of television, which did not kill off the movie business despite Hollywood's initial fears, and said EA franchises like The Sims can comfortably co-exist by delivering unique but complementary user experiences across both mobile and consoles. "Mobile and social don't erode the console business--they enhance it," he said.

4.    Games are forming their own ecosystems. All games must offer connected experiences that span multiple devices, social platforms and operating systems, Riccitiello said. "We play cross-platform and cross-device," he said. "No one is locked into one platform or device manufacturer." Riccitiello noted that EA offers its FIFA soccer franchise across 13 different gaming platforms, all connected by its EA Sports Football Club live service, which brings together players across different devices to forge a single interactive ecosystem. "It's all about connecting experiences into one vibrant community," Riccitiello said.

That vibrant community will boost the mobile industry as a whole, Riccitiello concluded. "Sixty-seven percent of all mobile apps revenue comes from games," he told the CTIA audience. "Games companies will be your most important partners."--Jason