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EA and CAA building social games February 11, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in casual games, facebook, games 2.0, gaming, social games, social gaming, social networks.

Gametap reports that EA has a stealth division to build social games:

Electronic Arts is putting some of its biggest brains behind what could turn out to be some of its smallest games.

The brains include former Electronic Arts Los Angeles general manager Neil Young and that studio’s director of artist and repertoire for Electronic Arts Alan Yu.

The two execs are leading a small team in what the company calls EA Blueprint, a new division that will ally with small-sized developers, assisting them with strategic funding and project management…

The products out of EA Blueprint will be both brand extensions of existing EA games as well as original IP. What differentiates Blueprint from any existing business model at EA is where Blueprint games are destined to end up–across various platforms, but with an emphasis on burgeoning social networks such as Facebook, for example.

EA is currently testing the waters with such a game–Facebook Smarty Pants, a repurposed version of last year’s Wii-exclusive trivia title Smarty Pants…

Sources say talent agency Creative Artists Agency is also participating in the efforts of Blueprint, contributing its substantial resources of talent as well as its connections with funding sources to ramp up the division’s output.

I’m impressed with the speed with which EA has reacted to the burgeoning social games opportunity. I’m also skeptical about how well they will be able to prosecute this opportunity. Social games are not regular games with some “viral marketing” bolted on. The best social games have viral mechanisms built into the game design directly. While EA well understands the gaming side, we’ll have to see how well they understand the social side.

I’m puzzled by the reports of CAA’s involvement. If this indicates that the social games will be built around celebrity power and franchise movie properties (as many EA games have been in the past, ranging from the Tony Hawk games to the James Bond games) then this might suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of how social games spread. Virality is driven by friend’s invitations and activities, not by big names.


1. Eric Marcoullier - February 11, 2008

Jeremy — I was having this same conversation with Mark @ Zynga on Friday.

The key to success for social games is:
1) Focus on virality
2) Focus on gameplay
3) Everything else is subordinated

EA will be attacking this completely differently:
1) Focus on brands
2) Focus on gameplay
3) What, there’s something besides brand and gameplay?

EA has historically had far greater success buying vs building, see Pogo vs EA.com, Renderware vs internal middleware, etc.

2. Greg Gibson - February 11, 2008

“While EA well understands the gaming side, we’ll have to see how well they understand the social side.”

The good news here is that the project is spearheaded by Neil Young, who’s long seen the value in social gaming. He’s probably the closest thing to a visionary that you’ll find in EA’s upper management.

I worked for Neil as the web developer on EA’s Majestic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Majestic_%28video_game%29), back in 2000-01. Majestic was an ambitious attempt to deliver a megabudget, mass-market game to players via the web, IM, email, phone, and fax. Viral mechanisms were employed both within the game and to promote it.

In the end, Majestic was a commercial failure, for many reasons. But the amazing thing to me is that it was created at all. That Neil was able to successfully fight for and launch a new property on an untested platform — at EA, of all places — is a massive credit to him.

His association alone gives me some hope for the Blueprint project.

That said…

“Virality is driven by friend’s invitations and activities, not by big names.”

This worries me, too.

3. jim - February 11, 2008

The first EA social game on Facebook – Smarty Pants – would appear to be a marketing piece for the Wii title by the same name. Unless it is a head fake, this is not an auspicious start in my opinion.

4. Social gaming is a tactic not a category « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - March 25, 2009

[…] virtual goods. trackback I’ve been blogging a lot about social games over the past couple of years and have been a big proponent of the space. However, over the last few months I’ve […]

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