EA is one of the most prolific first party publishers on the App Store with hundreds of games for iOS available. While it has seen its share of problems and growing pains, it has successfully launched everything on iOS, including high-priced premium franchise games and top grossing free to play games. Let's talk with Nick Rish, VP of Mobile Publishing, about how the App Store changed EA.
148Apps: How has the App Store changed the way EA does business?
Nick Rish, VP of Mobile Publishing, EA: Developing for the App Store was not as big of a transition as one would think, since EA was an early adopter of mobile gaming development. In 2004, before most were considering the mobile app revolution, EA established a mobile team to develop games with access to EA veterans and IP. Then we made a very smart acquisition of JAMDAT mobile which solidified us in the #1 position on mobile and multiplied our mobile development experience in house. When the iPhone launched in June of ‘07, we were making games for feature phones and Apple’s click wheel iPod. When we first saw the iPhone, we immediately saw it as a game changer and as an incredible challenge. Although we knew how to build for shorter development cycles, the interruptible gameplay sessions, quick load times and limited screen space posed a lot of new challenges that we needed to prepare for. Discoverability for instance. On the carrier feature phone decks, you sat alongside a thousand unbranded games and let your brands do their work. On the App Store, the number of games quickly became tens of thousands of games, so we had to adapt marketing practices to become more similar to the online world where the market is crowded. We needed effective keywords, as well as icons and titles that told a story in a small amount of space. We also were presented with new development challenges such as touchscreen, accelerometer, landscape & portrait view, etc. This meant sharing best practices with multiple teams became critical.
148Apps: If you have one single success within EA you'd like to highlight from the past five years on the App Store, what would it be?
Nick Rish: If I’m picking one success, I think it would be the limits we pushed with Real Racing 3 for the iPhone 5. We work closely with Apple to create the most innovative experiences for their devices, and no other company has the mobile scale that EA does to release quality content on such a short timeline for new devices. We could have followed the market and made a freemium drag race game or an arcade-like experience, but the Firemonkeys really wanted to push the limits of the a true racing experience with Apple’s new device. The authenticity of the cars, the lighting effects, the detail of the tracks and the stunning racing environments make me incredibly proud to work at EA. This is the type of game that when done right, sits itself above the competition.
148Apps: In the five years since launch, the App Store has gone through considerable changes. The number of users has skyrocketed along with downloads, prices for paid apps has stabilized way lower than many expected, free to play has dominated the top grossing charts. If, knowing what you know about the App Store now, you could go back and influence EA five years ago, what would you say?
Nick Rish: I would say to embrace free, live services as they are our future. Build expertise internally for those models within Studio and Publishing. We were running a premium house five years ago focused on shipping a game and moving on to the next one. Now a game needs consistent updating to keep users engaged. The shift is evident when you look at games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out which has been on the App Store leaderboards since its launch 40 weeks ago has had 20 updates since then. It’s like we were in the music business releasing individual tracks and now we’re putting out television shows that may go on for many seasons. It’s really important to create new stories, characters and episodes that our players will enjoy. When I looked at the App Store Sunday morning, 9 of the top 10 grossing games were all updated within the last 30 days.
148Apps: What have you seen on the App Store, outside of EA, that has surprised you most?
Nick Rish: The technology of these devices has improved greatly, yet most games have not felt the need to press the limits of these innovations. Five years ago if you showed me the tech specs of the current Apple devices, I would have predicted big, one time download games dominating the charts. Franchises like Need for Speed or Battlefield. It’s been quite the opposite where well-polished, lighter strategy games are dominating the charts. Gamers on this platform are willing to forgive a lack of deep storylines, realistic characters and epic battles in place of great text, cute characters and engaging mini-battles. Think Clash of Clans or Plants vs. Zombies. In fact, we’ve yet to see an FPS emerge that can stay in the Top 25 Grossing for any significant period of time. It will get interesting when we start to see billion dollar franchises engage their years of experience and resources towards making lighter strategy games that are optimized for richer graphics, deeper stories and epic battles.
148Apps: Any predictions for what the App Store will be like five years from now?
Nick Rish: Yes and I’d like to also give you Wednesday’s Powerball numbers... I believe the environment will be still be full of rich content. Probably less Publishers, but still a lot of games. It will support different types of devices, because Apple never stops innovating and EA will continue to be there in full force. We are committed to Apple and its users and will rise to any challenge that’s placed in front of us.
To celebrate 5 Years of the App Store, we’re giving away 5 of EA’s most popular paid games (Ed: See the full list on our sale round-up page.) The giveaway starts today and runs for a limited time.
Many thanks to Nick Rish for his time.