EA CEO Riccitiello: We’re Taking Dead Aim At Zynga

The last ten years have been kind to game publishers. The mainstreamification of console gaming has led to enormous sales numbers, budgets rivaling Hollywood’s, and an arms race between the majors to create the next big game. But while EA and its ilk were buying up development houses, expanding like crazy, and having franchise-measuring contests with each other, an unperceived menace was growing in the dark bosom of Facebook. As millions flocked to the new platform, EA continued churning out sequel after sequel until they almost sequeled themselves into a death spiral.

Now the gaming giant says it has learned its lesson, and is ready to take on the new kid in town: Zynga. EA’s CEO has gone on the record saying they hope to hit $3 billion in digital revenue in the next two or three years. Big talk, but is it in EA’s DNA?

One former EA executive jumped ship to join Nexon, which is pulling in nearly a billion a year and is expected to announce an IPO soon. If Mahoney had been able to steer EA in that direction, I’m sure he would have, but chances are the suits were too pleased with the growing income from the console business and didn’t want to go chasing butterflies like casual gaming.

EA CEO John Riccitiello is speaking at a US Chamber of Commerce event today, and prefaced his talk by mentioning some big wins by the company in the social space. Their Sims Social game has over 53 million users, and their total user base is approaching 100 million. Sure, that’s less than half of Zynga’s, but considering how poor EA was doing in this market just a year ago, it’s definitely worth celebrating. Tripling your user base over a quarter? You better believe there was champagne involved.

Their goal, naturally, is to surpass Zynga in users, and Riccitiello has set a $3 billion goal for online revenue. They have a head start on Zynga there, as the move to further monetize their major franchises through subscriptions and DLC is only just starting to really take hold. They are already making over a billion a year in online sales, but the ways in which EA and Zynga earn that money are totally different. Whether EA will imitate Zynga or take its own path isn’t easy to foresee, but it seems to me that the hard part is yet to come. Repackaging The Sims for a social setting was a cakewalk. Successfully repackaging Battlefield and their sports franchises is another task altogether. At least they’ve got Popcap now. At all events, it’s better than Activision’s approach of sticking their heads in the sand.