Electronic Arts looks to Wii to drive sports growth

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Video-game publisher Electronic Arts Inc ERTS.O unveiled two initiatives on Tuesday to breathe new life into its sports business by making games that are easier to play and customized for Nintendo Co Ltd's 7974.OS popular Wii console.

Nintendo Co's Wii game console is displayed at an electronic shop in Tokyo's Akihabara district January 24, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Key games such as “Madden” football, “NBA Live” and “FIFA” soccer will come out in special versions for the Wii, which has become the best-selling game system by drawing in older and female players with friendly graphics and simple motion-sensing controls.

EA is also starting a sub-brand dubbed Freestyle that will be home to a new set of games not tied to any existing league and therefore free of expensive licensing rights. The first game will be “Facebreaker,” a cartoonish and whimsical boxing game due out in September.

“We can’t be blind to the fact that different consumers are coming into games now and shame on us if we can’t evolve and develop something for that crowd,” Peter Moore, head of EA Sports, told Reuters.

EA expects to have sold about $1.3 billion worth of sports games in its fiscal year just ended in March, accounting for more than a third of total revenue.

Known for their sharp graphics and attention to detail, EA’s sports games are among the industry’s best-selling titles each year. But many gamers have criticized them for including few groundbreaking new features and increasingly complex controls that make them tough to play.

Showing off this year’s lineup of sports titles at a new conference in EA’s Vancouver studio, Moore said the company had not forgotten about its core fans who want the most realistic experience.

“While we have no intention whatsoever of dumbing down the experience that we all love and that drives this multibillion

dollar business ... we need to make sports games more approachable,” Moore said.

Caught off guard by the Wii’s success following its launch in late 2006, EA tried to adapt its sports games to the Wii, an effort Moore admitted amounted to basically tacking on the motion controls without changing the core game.

Moore, who joined EA from Microsoft Corp's MSFT.O games division to head up the sports business last September, said the new approach to the Wii marked a dramatic rethinking of what those players wanted from a game.

The model was “Wii Sports,” a title from Nintendo included with every Wii that took bowling, baseball, golf, tennis and boxing and reduced them to a handful of simple motions.

“We learned some hard lessons. That was the type of sports experience they were looking for and we saw that and decided we needed to redefine what our sports games were about,” Moore said. This year, EA’s top sports games for the Wii will have “All-Play” added to their titles.

While versions for Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony Corp's 6758.T PlayStation 3 will be similar to previous years, the "All-Play" titles will have options to use simpler controls and quicker games.

“It’s like how swimming pools have a deep end and a shallow end. EA Sports has really only built a swimming pool with a deep end. It’s intimidating for a lot of people to jump right in the deep end. With All-Play, we’re building a shallow end,” Moore added.

Editing by Andre Grenon