Electronic Arts’ third-quarter 2023 earnings call on Tuesday was a mixed bag for the gaming giant, but “The Sims” was a bright spot. As marketing dollars flood into platforms like Roblox and Fortnite, EA sees its popular simulation game as its way of securing a piece of the metaversal pie.
Gaming platforms are the closest thing to a truly immersive and persistent digital world today, and brands have taken notice. As games like Fortnite, Roblox, and Minecraft morph into full-service metaverse platforms, marketers have spent millions of dollars partnering with in-game creators to create custom virtual brand experiences within them.
EA didn’t use the word “metaverse” once during its Q3 2023 earnings call, but the game developer has clearly taken note of the revenue-generating potential of user-generated content-driven virtual platforms, or UGC.
“I have no doubt that ‘The Sims’ will be [as big as Fortnite and Roblox] at some point,” said Samantha Ryan, a senior vice president and general manager at EA who oversees studios including Maxis, the developer of “The Sims.” To learn more about EA’s plans to increase the UGC capabilities of its games, Digiday spoke with Ryan for this commentary Q&A, backed by observations from EA’s Q3 2023 earnings call.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Not surprisingly, Ryan focused on “The Sims” in his answer to this question. It is one of EA’s most popular series, if not the most popular, and “The Sims 4” boasted a total of 33 million players as of October 2022, six years after its initial release. (33 million, while a relatively high number of players for any game, is still dwarfed by the 173 million and 400 million users, respectively, who enjoy “Minecraft” and “Fortnite.”)
“The Sims” is a series that is based on building virtual worlds and virtual people to populate them, just like Roblox and Minecraft. Still, as it currently stands, “The Sims” is more of a simulation game, not a true metaverse platformer. While users can share their creations with each other, they cannot co-create simultaneously. In Roblox and Minecraft, socializing with other players in the game is pretty much necessary to keep things entertaining; in “The Sims”, the main gameplay loops are mostly single player.
On the specific changes that will bring games like ‘The Sims’ closer to the platforms of the metaverse
The changes planned for “The Sims” outlined by Ryan above show how the game developers at Maxis are well aware of the inherently social nature of today’s major metaverse platforms. EA is also important in making sure the final product aligns with community expectations, and has recently begun testing prototype versions of its games with a select group of players, sometimes under NDAs, before releasing the final product. launching.
Another key change EA has made to bring “The Sims” closer to its metaversal competitors is the series’ recent shift to a free-to-play live service model. “The Sims is also evolving and growing as a live service,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson said on Tuesday’s earnings call. “In Q3, we took the base game for free and welcomed more than 10 million new players to the community.”
On EA’s UGC Audience Scale
EA’s partnership with Overwolf is another reason to believe that the company sees Minecraft as a serious competitor. Overwolf owns CurseForge, the largest online game mod sharing platform. Millions of users visit CurseForge every month to download Minecraft mods, and now they also receive “Sims” mods every time they navigate to the CurseForge home page.
“We believe that UGC is the future of gaming. Players get more content, mod authors are recognized and rewarded for their creations, and publishers can safely outsource content creation, while encouraging engagement,” said Overwolf CEO Uri Marchand. “Overwolf’s partnership with ‘The Sims 4’ marked a significant step in unleashing the creativity of the community and making UGC more accessible to the entire ecosystem.”
On the formation of a brand/creator economy in the corner of EA’s metaverse
Platforms like Fortnite and Roblox are full of branded experiences created by independent creator studios without any input from the platform developers. By contrast, most brand activations in “The Sims 4” are the result of direct partnerships between EA and the brands. If EA really wants to compete with today’s major metaverse platforms, it will need to support the development of a more robust creator economy that allows brands to be activated in-game with minimal EA involvement.
“The future of entertainment is interactive,” Wilson said on Tuesday’s earnings call. By pushing titles like “The Sims” and “Skateboarding” into the metaverse using a game-out approach, EA is betting big on the continued rise of interactive, immersive and virtual media.