As its Need for Speed racing franchise reaches 100 million units sold, gaming giant Electronic Arts reveals its move onto the Internet next year with Need for Speed World Online. “As we see gamers’ habits in the online space, it was just a natural move. We have millions of fans that have moved into casual gaming,” said Keith Munro, vice president of Global Marketing for the franchise.
With two titles this holiday season, Need for Speed Shift (seen above, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) for the simulation-lovers and the coming Need for Speed Nitro (on Nintendo DS and Wii) for arcade-gamers, there was room for a third pillar in the franchise. Munro said, “The action pillar is still critical, and that’s where Online comes in.” According to the company, it will be the largest Need for Speed ever. There will be several modes, including a pursuit mode with police. Munro said that it will pack “a huge amount of upgrades, with the building up of your car, your reputation, your territory, etc. And not just upgrade possibilities, but self-expression opportunities, customization opportunities.” Need for Speed World Online will debut in the second-half of 2010, after a closed beta.
This will not be EA’s first franchise to make the jump to the cloud. Since May, Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online has been in closed beta. Allowing gamers to play rounds of golf anywhere, it reveals EA’s new strategy to reach a more casual audience on the PC. When it launches for the public in January, Tour Online will be supported by a hybrid of a subscription-freemium model. Players will have a monthly free, reduced for bulk buys, and a pro shop to buy gear to customize their avatar. But, there will also be content available to everyone, “We will always have some type of free to play experience–maybe you get to play 9 holes,” said Craig Evans, Director of Marketing for EA Sports.
With Tour Online, EA has learned a lot. Evans said, “We are taking community feedback and making sure we have something that players want to play on an ongoing basis.” He shared one example, “When we first put St. Andrews up we got several complaints that the grass wasn’t mowed properly–that it was more like an American course.” Within a day the course was corrected. The Beta’s 50,000 players have played over 130,000 thousand rounds of golf–hours upon hours of user behavior to study and learn from, to improve Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, and Need for Speed World Online. Munro said, “There’s a definite sharing of best practices.”
First with the company’s casual gaming site Pogo, and then with this initiative to take the major franchises online, EA is expanding its reach–and diversifying its revenue. “Gaming companies aren’t only making money from people paying $40 a game, but with 200 million users in a freemium model,” says Anu Shukla, CEO of virtual currency provider Offerpal. But for Munro, the move online was about more than dollars, “It really involves online connectivity, acknowledging that’s where our fans are comfortable connecting with friends and playing games.”
And how far will EA go with this migration online? Will other AAA franchises like Rock Band and Madden NFL evolve into a PC subscription model? Evans said, “I definitely think you will see it continue to expand. This is something that is definitely a priority, not only for EA Sports, but for EA as a whole.”