"There's probably nothing bigger than FIFA year-in and year-out, in terms of bringing people into the EA family."
So said EA chief operating officer Peter Moore when CVG caught up with him last week at Tottenham's White Hart Lane stadium to coincide with the announcement that the publisher had agreed a deal to extend its role as the Official Sports Technology Partner of the Premier League until the end of the 2018/19 season.
Moore said the key to the long-running football series' recent success is FIFA Ultimate Team, which has allowed EA to engage its customers more directly and frequently than ever before, helping to turn what was once an annual product launch into a continually updated and relevant service.
In the interview below, Moore also discusses FIFA's long-running rivalry with Konami's PES, as well as the growth of football in the United States, and the chances of FIFA returning to Wii U after a sole outing in 2012.
Over the years fans have swayed between Pro Evo and and FIFA - how do you aim to retain the fans this generation?
We made a very distinctive decision in 2006/07, a brand new game engine, you know the PS3 and Xbox 360 were hitting their peak and it was a dogfight with our competitor if you remember in those days - in some regions here in Europe we were number two. We made a distinctive long-term strategic decision to invest in the game engine, to invest in a team in Vancouver that is, as far as I'm concerned, the best sports development team in the world. It's kind of the United Nations, even though it's based in Canada I don't think there are many Canadians working on the game.
And then in more recent years we learned that football is 24 hours a day seven days a week. Certainly as a kid growing up in Liverpool I was fixated on that, at a time when you never got to see live football on the TV apart from the FA Cup final, but still my every living thought was Liverpool FC, how much I hated Manchester United depending on what season it was, and we captured that with this concept of FIFA Ultimate Team.
I was EA Sports president at the time and I can still see it, to the credit of a small team there that had this idea of Ultimate Team, and they said, look, football is every day and yet we ship our game, provide some updates and what have you, but we need to figure out how to capture the passion, drama and excitement of football every 24 hours and not once a week or once a month with an update. So we greenlit Ultimate Team, the team did a superb job of getting it going and has learned a lot over a few years.
Now it's the way we engage our fans and it's not about us having to reacquire our fans every year like a lot of games do. There's this common thread that goes from season to season called Ultimate Team and millions and millions of players that play the game get invested in it. They love the fact that you can go and build your own team. It's just like I dreamt as a kid, of George Best being on the wing for Liverpool, and if we'd had some of the Leeds United players of the era, and that's your fantasy, which Ultimate Team allows you to play out.
So that concept of keeping players engaged, of delivering content, we have a huge team now that focuses on the game that is FIFA Ultimate team, and making sure they're absolutely in synch with the real world of football. We did it during the World Cup and our engagement figures were through the roof, and you're going to see that continue to ramp up.
So it's less about shipping a game, consumers enjoy it, and then we have to go and fight for their attention the following year. This is about true engagement with what football is about. Liverpool don't have to prove themselves to me for me to be a fan, I'm completely invested in the club, and Ultimate Team builds that level of investment in the game and what we do.
"I'm in a unique position because I know darn well, when I was [in USA] in the 70s, there was nobody I could talk to about football."
What's the significance of the new Premier League deal outside of the UK?
This is a global announcement. It's a UK-specific deal, but wherever you go, particularly living in the US like I have for over 30 years... I arrived in the US to play football in the 1970s and it was seen as a communist sport played by European sissies, that's what I was told. You never saw a game broadcast on television. Fast forward to today and there's a great deal of belief that the next ten years are going to be [big], with NBC getting behind it, with ESPN needing to get behind it again having lost the World Cup to Fox, you've got three powerful networks that see the future generation coming through.
Finally all of the millions of kids that have been playing soccer are now fans, and the broadcast element of it has created Chelsea fans, Real Madrid fans, and you can have an intelligent conversation with just about anybody. I'm in a unique position because I know darn well, when I was there in the late 70s, and moved there permanently in the 80s, there was nobody I could talk to about football. I had to call my dad on Sundays, when I could afford it, to find out how Liverpool got on because it wasn't in the newspaper. Now it's just unbelievable and it's pushing hard against the indigenous American sports.
GALLERY: FIFA 15 Premier League stadia
How does the size of the UK market for FIFA compare to the rest of Europe and the US?
As a country on its own the UK is still the number one, but I'm telling you the US is going to push hard this year. The excitement around the World Cup was palpable. Usually American sports fans, once an event like the World Cup or Olympics is over, they go back to baseball or American football depending what's on. Last weekend there were eight Premier League teams in the United States and more people attended a live soccer game watching a Premi9er League team than attended a baseball game. That's stunning to me, and these were friendly games, what they call 'scrimmages' in the US. To pay credit to the teams involved in these exhibition matches they were great workouts, but there was nothing at stake per se.
For me it was stunning to watch Liverpool in Boston, New York, Chicago and Charlotte, and to see an absolute sea of red at the stands. If you listened to the players coming back, they were stunned to hear You'll Never Walk Alone sung by the locals in an American accent. My only regret was that our quarterly earnings announcement prevented me from getting out there so I had to watch the coverage on TV.
Being in second place in the football market has seen Konami take a different approach with the PES series, and its situation has perhaps allowed the company to take a few more risks. Unlike EA, Konami didn't release a PES game on Xbox One and PS4 last year, and the company has also established a new UK studio to work alongside the Japanese development team on PES 2015 for the latest consoles. Given your annual release strategy for FIFA, how feasible is it for EA Sports to make risky or sweeping business and design decisions concerning the franchise?
There are two phases to it. There's the core game itself. We have several hundred people working on that and it's a staggered development process, so there are already people working on FIFA 16. I think some people have the misconception that you finish the game and the entire team goes off for two weeks before starting on the next game, which isn't how it works. You have parallel development that goes on where you have frontrunners that are thinking about what the next FIFA is and in some instances FIFA 17, because there are development and engineering and tech decisions that need to be made.
But I think the real key is Ultimate Team, that's the real differentiator. The levels of engagement that we've built over the past four of five years since the inception of Ultimate Team makes it less about having to prove yourself every year and reacquire that customer. The FIFA team absolutely proves itself every year.
Konami is a fine competitor and we'll take them on. I think their challenge is working out how they can develop a real meaningful online multiplayer element to PES that will compete with Ultimate Team. I think the core loves Ultimate Team. It's 24 hours a day and it captures what's going on in football around the world. The team behind Ultimate Team is very large and it's almost like a war room, where the team is constantly looking at what's happening in England, in Spain etc. I know they're going to do something for Howard Webb by the end of the day, even though he's not in Ultimate Team. We just have our finger on the pulse and that's the FIFA Ultimate Team team's job. [Editor: on the day of our interview, Howard Webb retired as a referee after 25 years and was appointed technical director of Professional Game Match Officials Limited]
Do you have many FIFA consumers who only buy the game every other year?
A lot of our sports games have that, there's no doubt about that, but the people you really care about, the people who really care about football, and there are millions of them, don't take a year off. They want to play a football game, we hope it's ours and Ultimate Team helps it to be ours. Some of them every now and then will buy both FIFA and PES, and if Konami has a product that challenges us we watch it very carefully as you might imagine, as I'm sure they watch us.
They're a fine competitor who has been in this business a very long time, and opening a UK studio to support the core Japanese studio is a great idea, but our teams know what to do every year to keep football fans happy and I'm confident you'll see that at Gamescom when we unveil some of FIFA 15's new features. I feel good about where we're going to be.
What we do is we look at the franchise as a whole across all platforms. If you look back to when I was president at EA Sports and we were just rolling out to mobile phones and getting the tablet game going, and then what we do with FIFA World and FIFA Online in Korea, and then with EA Sports Football Club and FIFA Ultimate Team tying it all together, we look at this as a football experience that is global in nature.
We spend a lot of time and do a lot of work making sure we get the right licences because people want to play as the real players in the real teams in the real stadiums and the real leagues, so there are a lot of people focused on that. Having the FIFA licence also gives us World Cup, which is always a great platform every four years to accelerate where we need to be, and we always find that the year after a World Cup our engagement numbers in our FIFA franchise increase.
"The Premier League have benefited enormously from the partnership, as have we."
The idea of capturing the emotion of what football is all about, which has always been difficult to do in sports games, is a big feature of FIFA 15. As we've looked at the production of football now, World Cup in particular, with 32 high definition cameras, I'm looking at player grimaces when a free kick goes wide or their expressions when a goal is scored, and we need to capture that in the game itself.
Bringing the crowds to life, getting the individual chants in the stadiums such as You'll Never Walk Alone, which will send tingles down your spine when you hear it in the game. For years the crowds were modular and up and down in unison, but now the development team will tell you, and I'm going to challenge them on this, that every individual spectator is different. Somebody is going to look at that and challenge me on it but that's what they say today.
Getting the 3D scans of the player heads is important, because when I first get the game I go and check Liverpool and see how Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling look, and particularly the players who have come in through transfers, so I'll go and look at Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert, and that's what fans do, they want to see how realistic the game is, so we invest a ton in that.
Getting the stadiums right is a big deal for us as well, especially when you have three promoted clubs coming into the Premier League, so the FIFA team set out to Turf Moor, Loftus Road and the King Power Stadium, to make sure we recreate those and that everything is rendered beautifully in 3D and high definition and that's our relationship with the Premier League. As you heard from Richard Masters, Premier League director of sales and marketing, they recognise how much we give them, and how much authenticity we take from them, and they take our reach and telemetry and they understand their audience better through FIFA, and they have benefited enormously from the partnership, as have we.
Looking at PC, you now have free-to-play FIFA World in open beta, and for the first time the PC version of FIFA 15 is being powered by the Impact Engine used for the Xbox One and PS4 versions. How do you assess FIFA's current place in the PC market?
I think there are two customers there. There's the customer that wants to play a full FIFA game on PC and we do that, and FIFA 14 actually did very well on PC. I have to think about it globally, so there's Eastern Europe where PC sports games are popular, the Asian market is a different business model that's primarily free-to-play, and again it goes back to my statement that we need to provide a FIFA experience on every platform in every region, for every wallet, for how much time consumers have. FIFA World is a game I will play, it probably won't take me away from a regular FIFA game because I prefer the twitch game and FIFA World is more card-based, but our job and our agreement with all of out partners is to bring FIFA to all gamers.
FIFA 14 and FIFA 15 weren't developed for Wii U. Is Wii U still under consideration for future FIFA games?
We always look at the Wii U. As you know we're on the Wii with FIFA. We never say never and Nintendo are great partners. We don't say we're not going to do it but at the same time we have no plans to do it right now.
Wii U sales were a bit more encouraging during Nintendo's most recent financial quarter.
They've had a good quarter to their credit so we're always evaluating the situation, always.
As a former EA Sports boss like yourself, has Andrew Wilson's appointment as EA CEO resulted in any changes to how the FIFA business operates?
It probably has a positive impact given that the CEO ran the business. He's got a bigger job than just FIFA now obviously. FIFA is a tent-pole for us as a company, as is Battlefield, Need for Speed, The Sims and our BioWare titles like the Mass Effects and the Dragon Ages. There's probably nothing bigger though than FIFA year in and year out, in terms of bringing people into the EA family and allowing us to be able to provide great experiences. FIFA is the shining star there and it's also the gold standard of how to do digital really well. FIFA Ultimate Team in particular has been absolutely huge for us.