Kristian Segerstrale made his name as the founder of two successful mobile and social games companies before becoming Executive VP of Digital at Electronic Arts. He sees a future in which mobility, connectivity, and computing power revolutionize the industry by immersing players more fully in gaming experiences across platforms. For the creators of those games, it means a better understanding of how to reach these consumers, and the types of experiences that will keep them coming back for more.
Kristian Segerstrale uses the word "amazing" a lot. It describes the experiences that he and his employer, Electronic Arts, are setting out to create for gamers growing up in a multi-platform world. It's a big challenge both for EA and the industry as a whole, which, like other entertainment businesses, has had to adapt to the seismic shift brought on by increased connectivity, social media, and the ubiquity of mobile devices. "Amazing" may not always be the reality, then, but Segerstrale believes that EA is the company best positioned to make it happen.
If anyone is able to navigate the rapidly shifting social/mobile landscape, it's the former co-founder of mobile gaming company Glu, and social games developer Playfish. EA acquired the two-year-old Playfish in 2009 in an estimated $300 million cash and equity deal, making Segerstrale the Executive Vice President of Digital for the parent corporation.
Mobility, Connectivity, and Computing Power
According to Segerstrale, there are three macro trends that are driving EA (and the industry) at this moment - mobility, connectivity, and the raw increase in computing power.
Mobility has vastly expanded the number of potential gamers. "Not only is gaming growing on these devices rapidly, but what we also see is an explosion in the amount of people playing games," explains Segerstrale. "It's more accessible than having to own a console or sit in front of a PC."
Connectivity has transformed the way EA thinks of its business all together. "With connectivity, games have become completely different. Now we are running ongoing services where what you do after you get hold of the product is as important - if not more important - than what you do before you get hold of the product," he says. "We no longer measure ourselves in units sold but rather how many consumers have we engaged. It's similar to a consumer internet service."
Segerstrale offers EA Sports' FIFA 12 as an example. The company sold 12 million units in the six months post-launch, but as five million gamers continue to play online in any given week, 20 percent of all the game's revenue has been generated from in-game transactions.
When it comes to Segerstrale's third trend - power - it's all about looking good, graphically speaking. "We had the standard set by the last generation of consoles in the living room, and everything else [mobile and tablets] has been catching up to that." He believes that the increase in raw computing power is setting the stage for a mixed generation box that will create, in EA-speak, "What awesome will look like in the living room for games."
We no longer measure ourselves in units sold but rather how many consumers have we engaged.
Making The Console Social (and Mobile)
While some in the industry have seized upon Zynga's challenges to signal the death knell of social (or "canvas") games on Facebook, Segerstrale maintains that this is simply an inevitable slowing of growth in a space that launched with explosive numbers. While he thinks that canvas games will be just fine in the long run (and EA will continue to develop for them), the bigger picture is the influence they have had across platforms - and especially on the console. "What we are seeing is gaming on mobile, console, and tablet beginning to really embrace the elements that made social gaming grow so fast in terms of the free-to-play models, the connectivity to friends, and the ability to get your friends involved in the game, which ultimately to me is what social is about."
EA has already begun to integrate these social elements within its console games. In the most recent update of its NHL franchise, users can post their in-game achievements to Facebook. Within the first six days of going live, more than 1.1 million users shared their scores. As Segerstrale explains: "Ultimately, the experiences we create are so fundamentally emotional that people want to talk about them. We think that is incredibly important." EA is also beginning to connect its console titles with mobile platforms - giving FIFA players access to their "Ultimate Team" via mobile, or letting Battlefield players have mobile access to the Battlelog system.
Next Level Data
EA's commitment to connectivity echoes the findings of a recent Google report, Understanding the Modern Gamer. For major franchise titles, the report suggests, engagement is extending beyond the traditional release cycle to year-round interaction. Segerstrale argues that the key to improving this ongoing engagement is EA's use of data.
"We use data all the way from our acquisition efforts to our digital game engagement efforts to figuring out our existing consumer base - from what games might they want to play next to what would be a great consumer journey moving forward." Data can tell you simple stuff like where a consumer switches off a video game trailer, but it can also figure out if a level is too difficult. In turn, EA is evolving its culture to allow for the rapid testing of new ideas; giving creators real insight into what consumers think about a gaming experience, thus enabling them to actually alter and improve that experience.
If they get it right, EA can win the ultimate battle: The one for consumers' attention. "This is much more about, 'How do we create something that is truly inspirational for consumers?' Because our real competitor in the games industry is all the other cool things you can do on your mobile or tablet or any connected device today," Segerstrale says.
"Our ambition has to be to create one of those moments in games whereby we innovate and create something that's so new and fresh and different that it immediately captures the imagination for the consumers so they come and spend more time with us."
Written by Anastasia Goodstein