August 9, 2022
Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we have an exclusive interview with Electronic Arts’ mobile chief, Jeff Karp, on the company’s transformation and the current state of the industry. Also: GameStop’s NFT moderation mess and remote events falling by the wayside.
Electronic Arts, the sports game publisher that spent years neglecting the mobile gaming market, couldn’t have picked a better time to jump in the deep end.
Last year, EA spent close to $4 billion acquiring its way to a stronger position in mobile. After a period of furious M&A that saw EA’s biggest competitors shell out many more billions to do the same, the video game market has begun to slow down, wiping billions from the business through share price, consumer spending and revenue declines.
EA mobile chief Jeff Karp isn’t worried. The head of EA’s mobile gaming division, who rejoined the company in 2020, said EA is in a position to not only weather the storm but also thrive in a more cross-platform game industry.
Mobile is a key pillar of EA’s live service future. In many ways, EA’s investments in mobile are intertwined with its transition into a live service company, because the mobile market helped pioneer many of the business model and monetization strategies that free-to-play, live service games depend on.
Live service also means cross-platform. The approach of taking its existing brands and finding new ways to grow them beyond the console market has become the cornerstone of EA’s live service approach.
EA has cracked the code. Two central components of EA’s live service, cross-platform push are accessibility and monetization.
EA’s approach appears to be working, especially for FIFA. The company said last week that in fiscal Q1, FIFA Mobile had its best-ever quarter in the six years the company has been releasing mobile ports of the franchise.
“I think we’ve done a great job with FIFA,” Karp said, noting that the mobile division at EA is growing and many of its new releases are proving to be quick hits. “Those are things we’re quite proud of. Also understand there’s a ton of opportunity and a great road ahead for us.”
— Nick Statt
Read the full interview here.
They created Digital People. Now they've made celebrities available as Digital Twins: Soul Machines co-founder and CEO Greg Cross and his co-founder Mark Sagar, Ph.D., FRSNZ are leading their Auckland and San Francisco-based teams to create AI-enabled Digital People to populate the internet, at first, and soon the metaverse.
“We have seen historically that bad actors will often be tolerated because the people with the skills and power to remove them do not focus their efforts there … To put it simply, we disagree. In our view, removing harassment and abuse from our community is not only the right thing to do, it is also good business." — Don McGowan, a lawyer well known for his work with The Pokémon Company, detailed his new employer Bungie’s aggressive legal offensive against cheaters and harassers in an interview with Axios last week.“We didn’t end up cutting that much ultimately from the open world, but I know from the original designs there was a pretty significant scaling back of what the team had hoped at one point that they could deliver on. We knew that we needed to truly deliver a quality experience [and] scope our ambitions to make sure that the stuff that we did ship met expectations.” — Joe Staten, a veteran Halo developer who returned to the franchise in 2020 to help Microsoft finish Halo Infinite, opened up about the game’s strained development on the Game Maker’s Notebook podcast.
Google is combining streaming and fitness. The company wants to more closely integrate Android TV with fitness trackers to enable interactive workouts in the living room.
Rockstar’s astounding sales success. Take-Two Interactive announced quarterly earnings on Monday, disclosing that Grand Theft Auto V has sold more than 170 million copies to date. Red Dead Redemption II also passed 45 million units sold.
Google sues Sonos. In its new lawsuit, Google alleges that Sonos is violating a number of voice assistant patents. It’s just the latest in a long series of legal disputes.
Ubisoft is being eyed by Tencent. The French publisher has had a bad year, with canceled projects and poor sales. Now Chinese gaming giant Tencent is eager to become the largest shareholder in Ubisoft, Reuters reported. Tencent currently owns about 5% of the company.
Activision continues union-busting tactics. Activision Blizzard has deployed the same anti-union law firm it used to try and squash organizing at Raven Software to undermine a new unionization effort among QA workers at Blizzard Albany, Kotaku reported.
Netflix insiders talk of a culture shift. Things have changed at Netflix in recent months, with the company now more focused on hit shows than prestige projects, according to employees who spoke with Insider.
Unity taps Microsoft’s Azure for cloud needs. Game engine maker Unity announced a deal on Monday with Microsoft to migrate some of its creative tools for building 3D assets to the cloud using Azure, which could make them more accessible to developers.
GameStop’s NFT store has moderation problems. The struggling Funko Pop retailer landed in hot water last week when someone bundled other developers' HTML5 games as NFTs and sold them on GameStop’s new crypto marketplace, without the commercial license to do so, Ars Technica reported.Ryan Reynolds has struck a deal with fuboTV. Talk about unlikely bedfellows: Maximum Effort, a production company co-founded by Reynolds, is getting $10 million in fubo equity in exchange for a first-look deal.
COVID-19 forever changed industry events throughout the world of tech and gaming, giving rise to hybrid showcases and stringent safety measures that broke down barriers to entry for many speakers. But as event organizers itch to get back to the way things used to be, both health precautions and hybrid events are falling by the wayside.
The company behind the Game Developers Conference told game writer Heidi McDonald last week it’s no longer accepting remote presentation proposals for its San Francisco event next spring, after returning earlier this year with a mix of in-person and remote presentations via video conference. Many in the gamedevelopmentcommunity expressed frustration over the decision, especially after a coronavirus outbreak during GDC 2022.
TwitchCon, an annual gathering for the game-streaming platform’s sprawling community, is returning to San Diego this October after a three-year hiatus, but organizers said last week they will not require masks, proof of vaccination or testing. The company cites “current local guidelines,” but similar events like San Diego Comic-Con, also held at the city’s convention center, required masks and proof of vaccination just last month.
“Welp,” McDonald wrote. “It was great while it lasted.”
— Nick Statt
They created Digital People. Now they've made celebrities available as Digital Twins: Soul Machines is at the cutting edge of AGI research with its unique Digital Brain, based on the latest neuroscience and developmental psychology research.
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