Just How Do EA Sports Stay Top Of The Game?
Just How Do EA Sports Stay Top Of The Game?
Written Sunday, February 05, 2012 By Lee Bradley
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“We’re in the business of delivering interactive sports entertainment at the very highest level.”

"An EA Sports branded football pitch at EA? It's in the game!"

EA Sports occupies a unique position within the industry, dominating almost every sub-division of an entire genre. American football, soccer, ice hockey and more - it leads the way with huge marketing spends, stellar cover stars and some of the best sports games ever produced.

But it’s not all trophy hauls and top of the table performances. EA Sports has its fair share of failures and criticism too. Accused of running series’ into the ground with constant, needless annual releases, and luring uneducated gamers merely through the strength of its licenses, the label struggles to gain the full respect of core gamers.

So just how difficult is it to stay top of the game? Would EA Sports achieve even a fraction of its success without its multimillion dollar endorsements? And how hard is it to churn out title after title, year after year? We spoke to some key EA Sports producers to find out.

“Each EA Sports title represents the very pinnacle of that sport,” says Grand Slam Tennis producer Thomas Singleton. “Whether it’s FIFA, NFL, NBA, NHL - the list goes on. Having those licenses is crucial.”

With Grand Slam Tennis 2, the label is making an aggressive move into a sport that it has thus far avoided. The game’s Wii predecessor was just a warm up. Now multiplatform, the series must directly challenge the seasoned pros of SEGA’s Virtua Tennis and 2K’s Top Spin.

To achieve that, EA Sports are going in the only way they know how. With top licenses and massive stars. “The Grand Slams are the biggest tournaments of a tennis career, the very pinnacle of the profession,” says Singleton. “Getting Wimbledon and the three other majors was huge for us.”

Rather than attach just one pro to front the project, Grand Slam 2 has plucked a number of the sport’s biggest names from throughout history. “We have the greatest players of the past and present, who’ve had meaningful experiences within the Grand Slam venues themselves. That’s our recipe for success,” says Singleton.

"Tiger Woods' indiscretion put EA in a bit of a pickle..."

It’s an interesting approach, one that perhaps relates to the history of EA Sports’ other titles. Now running for over two decades, the PGA Tour series adopted Tiger Woods’ name around the turn of the millennium. Yet in that case, tying the brand to one individual would have catastrophic consequences.

At 2:30 AM on Nov 27 2009, Woods drove his SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree, in the first of a series of public events that would unravel his career.

Following revelations of a string of extramarital affairs, his subsequent divorce and an extended break from the game, Woods has failed to regain his position at the top of the sport. As his success has slumped, so too has that of the PGA Tour games.

Once one of EA Sports’ best performing titles, experts calculate that series sales have dropped a massive 60% since Woods’ fall from grace. Tellingly, Tiger did not feature on the cover of last year’s game. He was replaced with a flag.

This year, however, Woods returns. Yet EA Sports’ language surrounding the star has changed. “It’s Tiger’s game and it’s his name on the cover. He’s our guy,” producer Mike DeVault told us. “But there are a crop of new golfers coming in, so having someone like Rory McIlroy on the front cover with Tiger… we all see that as a benefit.

“A huge interest for us is to make it more of an international game including more international golfers, with more international courses,” he continues. Once unthinkable, a shift in focus away from Woods is already underway.

There’s more to EA Sports’ success than glossy tie-ins and huge stars, however. The label consistently serves millions of fans, year after year. So exactly how do they do it? Todd Batty is well placed to answer.

"Batty has been part of the EA Sports team for over a decade."

Joining EA Sports as a QA tester over a decade ago, Batty has vast experience across the label’s various titles. Now a producer on SSX, his career has taken in spells on the NBA Live series, as well as NBA Street.

"Iterative sports design is a much different challenge to building a new IP,” says Batty. “It’s a very short development cycle and we have huge expectation from our fans to add a whole new game’s worth of content every year. The same amount of content you would find in a three, four year development cycle.”

EA Sports’ answer to that challenge is to throw numbers at it. “We have huge teams putting tons of features together in a very short period of time,” says Batty.

This production line approach has its downsides, however. Making games for the largest possible audience every year leaves little room for personal expression. “We can't do whatever we want,” says Batty. “You have a licenser and it’s a sim title, so we have to respect the sport and we have to respect what we do.”

“You get tired of making the same game over and over,” he says. “And then what happens is, you start putting in a whole bunch of stuff that reflects the games that you like to play, rather than servicing the game you’re working on.

“That started to happen to me at the tail end of my time with the NBA titles. I started throwing out some crazy ideas and I realised I had been working on them for too long. It takes the game away from the direction that the true fans of the games want.”

And that’s what it all boils down to. Despite EA Sports’ ups and downs, triumphs and disasters, the fact remains that it is uncommonly good at giving its fans what they want. Indeed, according to Forbes, EA Sports ranks in the top ten sports business brands on the globe, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Nike, Adidas and Gatorade. It’s worth an estimated $770m.

"Our secret?” says Batty. “It’s simple. We strive to give the fans what they're asking for, every single year. I think we do a pretty good job of that.”


User Comments
Forum Posts: 913
Comment #1 by Wolfwood
Monday, February 06, 2012 @ 12:17:56 AM
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It's due to them riding famous sports names like tiger woods and John cena ea on it's own sucks

Forum Posts: 1189
Comment #2 by Vapor_N4
Monday, February 06, 2012 @ 01:44:14 AM
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They're riding the success of previous years. Personally I think EA sports games peaked in the middle of the last decade. I still prefer Tiger 04, Madden 05, & Fifa 07 to any years since then. They stopped their baseball series years ago and even though it sounds as if that may be coming back I'm not sure if it will overtake The Show at this point. As far as some sports are concerned they don't even have a real competitor.

Forum Posts: 27813
Comment #3 by mjc0961
Monday, February 06, 2012 @ 02:09:43 AM
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They have money. Money to advertise, money to get celebrity endorsements, money to get NFL players to come to E3 (right after they made fun of Microsoft and Ice-T)...

Forum Posts: 5
Comment #4 by HamMan89
Monday, February 06, 2012 @ 09:37:35 AM
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“It’s a very short development cycle and we have huge expectation from our fans to add a whole new game’s worth of content every year. The same amount of content you would find in a three, four year development cycle.”

I have issue with this statement... I would rather have a multi year development with a bug free release as opposed to a lets release it quick for the cash...

Just my opinion... take it how u will

Forum Posts: 4488
Comment #5 by SimplySupreme
Monday, February 06, 2012 @ 10:54:21 AM
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Football is the most popular sport in the world, bar none. When you target such a big market, it's hard NOT to be successful. Go FIFA!

Forum Posts: 2886
Comment #6 by yewjhin
Monday, February 06, 2012 @ 12:49:37 PM
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They're far better than the money ripoffs of 2K Sports, I'll give them that.

Forum Posts: 41468
Comment #7 by Terminator
Monday, February 06, 2012 @ 06:25:38 PM
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I agree with number 4, yearly cash grabs aren't cool and look how many of the EA Sports games have had bugged trophies or other nasty glitches.

Forum Posts: 26
Comment #8 by Jenna4PromQueen
Tuesday, February 07, 2012 @ 12:20:45 AM
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I wish they would make another college baseball with all the teams in it and not just the Top 25.
Would like to see deeper rosters in Tiger and Tennis games.

That being said EA has no competition and i think it hurts us (consumers) because they can do what ever they want and if you want a sports title you have to buy it from them.
The only series that they had competition was NBA and they haven't released a game in 2 years because 2K put out a better game so they scraped series.

Forum Posts: 291
Comment #9 by brandaman69
Wednesday, February 08, 2012 @ 09:10:48 PM
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their only competition is activision so its no surprise

Forum Posts: 2886
Comment #10 by yewjhin
Wednesday, February 08, 2012 @ 10:54:31 PM
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@9, name a sports title developed or published by Activision in the last year


Thats right. They don't have any except for Tony Hawk and NASCAR. Activision isn't into doing sports.


Forum Posts: 496
Comment #11 by personausermike
Thursday, February 09, 2012 @ 06:25:42 AM
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They BUY small developers and sports brands, and like Dante's Inferno to God of War and Kingdoms of Amalur to Skyrim, try to copy better games by throwing money ad advertisements, meanwhile Skyrim>KoA and GoW>DI still. They are the evil company that started online passes, and since idiots bought them, other companies said "hey that game sucks and they still bought the pass, so let us follow"

Forum Posts: 241
Comment #12 by illninoese
Thursday, February 09, 2012 @ 01:33:13 PM
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They also have the worst servers in video game history. Fix that problem before you rehash another FIFA game with a shit physics engine.

Forum Posts: 11
Comment #13 by timewarp
Friday, February 10, 2012 @ 04:36:35 PM
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That's what makes their rivalry so weird. You'd think they wouldn't have a reason but it's like EA Games almost finds some kind of joy in annoying Activision like they created the rivalry just to troll Activison.


I actually have a problem with that as well, espcially how they have huge exceptations from their fans to create a whole new game worth of content, EA Games expect us to make the games for them?! Well me I'd be ok with because I want to be a games designer myself but they expect THEIR fans to make a games worth of content for them. Ounce again EA Games finds a new ground of bullshit untouched by Activision.

Forum Posts: 410
Comment #14 by skatinghamstar
Saturday, February 11, 2012 @ 01:38:15 PM
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EA has the very best game testing experience, they treat us like royalty and talk to us like we actually matter...EA campus is 10 minutes from me. Their vending machines are even branded with the EA can't even get upstairs without first going through security and receiving a guest pass...

Forum Posts: 719
Comment #15 by Scorpkahn
Saturday, February 11, 2012 @ 02:15:44 PM
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"Tellingly, Tiger did not feature on the cover of last year’s game. He was replaced with a flag."

Holy shit, this made me fucking wet myself with laughter!

Forum Posts: 91
Comment #16 by Funeral Bringer
Monday, February 13, 2012 @ 12:50:13 PM
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That made me laugh too

Forum Posts: 62
Comment #17 by dougzter_87
Thursday, February 16, 2012 @ 10:43:37 AM
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Two words.....Dirty Tactics

Forum Posts: 397
Comment #18 by TheViper561
Friday, February 17, 2012 @ 02:23:24 PM
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EA Sports has not made a good sports game in a while. Aside from Tiger Woods Golf and may be Fifa, they are always in last place. EA in general sucks.

Forum Posts: 622
Comment #19 by Scottyb6546
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 @ 05:28:49 AM
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With every new EA game I get more annoyed/frustrated with them so to me it's not long before they fall and I am a Fifa man but after the last 2 seriously thinking of the Pro Evo swap

Forum Posts: 8
Comment #20 by SparkyTomm
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 @ 11:47:32 AM
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Tehy so dont stay up top of their game tey suck with servers(fifa 10) they suck with codes that are ment to be free and dont works (Skate 3) and they suck with the trophies to reach peticular levels (Dragon Age:origins) LOL in other words EA SUCK ARSE and should not put things on games that can not be done within the game ^^ thier online good game is Mass Effect 2 witch i enjoyed other than that NO EA are SHIT

Forum Posts: 8
Comment #21 by SparkyTomm
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 @ 11:49:14 AM
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oh and if anyone knows how to conatact them please please please tell me as i want my money back on shit i bought from them ^^ or at least the map packs that i should of got with the game i bought (i buy games NEW btw)

Forum Posts: 19
Comment #22 by 12Guage
Tuesday, March 06, 2012 @ 06:21:04 PM
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@19 ProEvolotion is so much better on gameplay

Forum Posts: 0
Comment #23 by plagas13
Thursday, March 08, 2012 @ 10:00:35 AM
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they will stay on top for as long as people watch sports. They want to play as there favorite teams and players and ea gives that

Forum Posts: 39
Comment #24 by brian pumpher
Saturday, March 10, 2012 @ 05:28:26 AM
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ea sucks

Forum Posts: 27
Comment #25 by mrkennyschafer
Saturday, March 10, 2012 @ 11:42:41 PM
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ea doesn't have to re-create a new game every single year they just use the base coding and add the new things. i personally think it works for titles like Madden with little changes every year. a lot of other title they really destroy though and it's sad that they have that much of a company and very few games are polished.

Forum Posts: 3506
Comment #27 by TiNnYzEuS
Saturday, March 24, 2012 @ 03:05:37 AM
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Ea stay at the top because they deserve it, personally i think all their sports games are the better quality/graphics and gameplay. Tiger woods games would be my favs and there is no other golf game that comes close. I do like the fifas too and they are top of there game with familiar controls every year making the change to say pro evo that little more confusing so that we all stay with the familiar fifas.

Forum Posts: 977
Comment #28 by Doomsdayman
Saturday, March 24, 2012 @ 05:02:06 PM
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EA use's Yuri's mind control.

Forum Posts: 132
Comment #29 by bulletproofcupid
Wednesday, April 04, 2012 @ 07:22:29 AM
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EA have worked hard for years, to build a business which can spend the kind of money no-one else can. And like they say themselves, they give the fans what they want. Not what some developer with an Ego thinks people want. And yes, they give alot back to the sports which they make the games from, at a cost to them. Which means when it comes to support they have the backing of the sports industry. Smart business is why they are successful, they turn a huge profit year in year out because they know how to run a boardroom. Simple

Forum Posts: 85
Comment #31 by Sadist4life
Monday, April 09, 2012 @ 11:46:01 PM
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As much as I hate EA, I admit they do know how to source for some of the best licensed soundtracks (Madden NFL series for example).

Forum Posts: 2350
Comment #32 by jqtaxpayer
Sunday, April 15, 2012 @ 02:46:13 PM
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"Once one of EA Sports’ best performing titles, experts calculate that series sales have dropped a massive 60% since Woods’ fall from grace."

Horse hockey. The drop in sales is due to a lack of progression in the series -- every year, same courses, no new features other than the fact that you have to buy your DLC courses all over again. I DL'ed every real course for Tiger '11, which means I've got far more courses than anyone who buys '12 or '13 but am playing, essentially, the same game. Show me why I ought to buy a new golf game every year because I haven't seen a compelling reason yet.

Forum Posts: 213
Comment #33 by Adzer2
Saturday, April 28, 2012 @ 06:20:57 AM
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They buy out smaller successful developers and take the franchises as their own, like Westwood Studios(Command and Conquer) and Maxis (The Sims).

Their sporting franchises have been majorly successful due to the lack of competition in the early years, having the licenses for Fifa is a massive thing, if Pro-Evolution ever got the level of Licences that EA have, they will be on equal footing. Alot of Fifa's moves lately have been geared towards money grabs, Ultimate Team, Euro 2012 DLC, its seems the Fifa franchise is falling from grace

Same goes for any Golf game, right now Tiger isn't as Marketable as he once was, there are plenty of other golfers that could help create a rival franchise (McIlroy, Oosthuizen, Scott) Or a rival developer might just go without having a lead golfer in the game and just have the superior content

Forum Posts: 40
Comment #34 by Skydancerofchaos
Sunday, April 29, 2012 @ 02:35:50 AM
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They buy out the competition and make it so that they're the only football franchise(other sports too). It has nothing to do with them making amazing games. I still play the 2k4 football from time to time because it's nearly the best football game I ever played. Other than NHL, I hate all EA sports titles. They're inferior to and so much less fun than all franchises like Blitz, 2k Football(before they killed it dead), or other sports franchises like The show and 2k Baseball. EA sports games generally just straight up suck.

Forum Posts: 12
Comment #35 by polygonpainter
Tuesday, May 08, 2012 @ 05:13:33 PM
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I feel EA should spend some time in development and make one sport game (per sport, like one football game, one basketball game, etc.,) but come out with yearly updates for each new season in sports. Hopefully this will give them more time to develop and make a quality sports game instead of the shit that spews from their company....

Forum Posts: 294
Comment #36 by phish5529
Tuesday, May 15, 2012 @ 04:47:51 AM
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so around november 2009 is when there was a massive drop in tiger woods sales, if anything, woods in the papers probably helped sales go up.... i am pretty sure it is around this date when EA introduced the network pass. It is the network pass that is your failing, it just pisses us all off!

Forum Posts: 1573
Comment #37 by poetic_justice_
Sunday, May 27, 2012 @ 12:47:48 PM
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They stay "on top of the game" by spending money on franchise names (Woods, Madden, etc.) instead of REPAIRING AND UPGRADING THEIR SERVERS!

Forum Posts: 2100
Comment #38 by idloveacupoft
Friday, June 08, 2012 @ 07:03:17 PM
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I don't think their servers are great and they do have a lot of money to spend on big names, franchises, etc...I also don't think they should release games (some games) yearly because there are usually problems with them. Instead they should look to earn respect the right way by making huge additions to the gaming community, rather than throwing out the same stuff (slightly modified) yearly.
Then again it is the money that speaks the most, and they have enough sub-companies out there to make other games; they are in the most desirable position

Forum Posts: 174
Comment #39 by XxDeadpoolxX
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 @ 11:53:44 PM
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For starters there isn't much competition for them especially in Golf and Football and all they really do is change one or two things in the game throw in a roster update and call it a "new game".

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