EA Sports tackles casual

EA Sports Tackles Casual (iStock)EA Sports is generally considered the heavy hitter when it comes to sports games. However, the EA Sports brand was having difficulty expanding in the Wii era. About a year ago, in order to revitalize the division, the company brought on Peter Moore as CEO from Microsoft (where he famously got tattoos of upcoming flagship titles). Moore’s focus has been on easing the accessibility of their sports titles while retaining enough of the core mechanics as to not alienate existing audiences – a delicate balancing act.

At the Paris Game Developers Conference, EA Sports Executive Producer and VP David McCarthy mentioned the possibility of sports peripherals. Initially, it seemed that EA Sports might be planning the release of a peripheral packaged with a game, similar to EA’s wildly successful Guitar Hero series. However, in later discussion, McCarthy emphasized creative use of the Wii controls instead, pointing out that packaging a peripheral with a game required a careful approach.

Days later, EA Sports announced the All-Play Wii Sports titles, five games ranging from Golf to Soccer. While more complex gameplay would be available for dedicated sports gamers, all five titles feature easier and more “casual” gameplay modes for less experienced players, combined with a more social focus.

Sports games are an important genre for marketers, as they offer the most accepted form of in-game advertising. Because of the integration of ads with professional sports, gamers see in-game advertising with real life brands as increased accuracy, rather than as a distraction (assuming the brand is appropriate for the placement). Unfortunately, the Wii does not have any method for dynamic in-game ads; static placement during game production is the only option. My guess is that the All-Play titles are a litmus test for a larger initiative, and the success or failure of these five games will either push the company into a new direction for other titles and systems, or divide titles into casual or core games, avoiding the attempt to appease both crowds. Should a sports-themed game be released for the PC, Xbox 360, or Playstation 3 with as wide an appeal as the Guitar Hero games have garnered, it will vitalize dynamic in-game advertising unlike any title to-date.