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Console game company hurries to catch up with apps, social media

| Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 5:16 p.m.

MAITLAND, Fla. — As the world of electronic games rapidly changes, so does EA Sports.

The industry is evolving from expensive console games to free or cheap online, mobile and social games. Maitland-based EA Sports, a brand of global gaming giant Electronic Arts, is seeking to keep pace on several fronts, its leaders say.

Later this year, it will introduce new versions of its “Madden NFL” and “FIFA” titles — two of its powerhouse franchises — to incorporate mobile apps and social-sharing features through Facebook and iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch and Android devices.

The company plans to nurture the next generation of game developers at the EA Sports Innovation Lab it opened June 22 with the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, part of the University of Central Florida.

“We've changed how we are organized as a company and how we deliver content and what that content is,” said Daryl Holt, EA Sports chief operating officer and vice president. “We feel really good about the future. We've grown a business even in what seems to be a very picky and challenging market.”

Computers along the hallways of EA Sports' main campus in Maitland are constantly playing millions of sessions of online games to test how they are performing in the real world. Small teams of developers gather daily along those same hallways for 15 to 20 minutes to discuss goals met the previous day and what each member will work on.

“It used to be that each member of a team was in charge of one aspect of a game, but now each of them knows about and takes part in the development of every part of a game,” said Holt, whose company employs about 800 in Maitland.

Officials said pairing franchise games with social, digital and mobile content, as well as allowing gamers to play from one device to another will grow Electronic Arts' position in the industry.

“The true value of games for Electronic Arts isn't to be strong on one platform, but to strengthen them across Facebook, console, digital and mobile,” said Andrew Wilson, head of EA Sports. “We want to tie these games together for players no matter where they're at and on what device they're playing.”

EA is moving ahead, too. In July it is expected to have new titles ready for Nintendo's new Wii U, a console with a large touch-screen controller similar to a tablet.

Electronic Arts made financial strides with its digital content last fiscal year, reporting a digital revenue stream of $1.2 billion — nearly 30 percent of its $4.1 billion annual revenue. But its overall mobile platform isn't as strong. It has nearly 170 apps in the iTunes App Store, and as of Friday, none was listed in the top 10 games — free or paid.

EA has some catching up to do on Facebook. AppData.com, an independent company that measures app metrics on Facebook, shows EA ranks at No. 8 with more than 40 million gamers.

playing its 24 social games every month. Zynga, the top app publisher in the social-gaming industry, has more than 251 million users playing its 89 games.

EA is hoping to change that later this year by putting “SimCity Social” on Facebook. The app will compete against Zynga's “CityVille,” played by nearly 30 million users.

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