As its digital sales and services continue to grow, Electronic Arts is looking to double down on live service games. In EA’s recent quarterly financial results and on the subsequent earnings call, EA COO and CFO Blake Jorgensen emphasized that live service games drove a strong quarter for the company and will remain a major focus going into 2020.
“Looking ahead, we are doubling down on live services combined with our core franchises.” said Jorgensen in a statement issued with the quarter’s results. “We’re investing in games that people play for longer and engage with much more deeply.” Overall, 68% of EA’s $1.35 billion in revenue for the quarter was digital, a 7% increase over the same period last year.
“Live service strength in Ultimate Team, The Sims 4, Apex Legends, and FIFA Online drove performance significantly above last year,” Jorgensen said on the earnings call. With year-over-year unique player counts up in FIFA and Madden Ultimate teams, and the monthly average of The Sims 4 players up 40%—for a game first released in 2014—EA’s evidently not seeing its live service approach drive away players in these established franchises.
As for Apex Legends, the newest property amongst the company’s live service leaders, EA says it will remain focused on expanding the reach of the battle royale into next year. EA’s earnings report notes that Apex Legends has had 70 million players since it launched in February of this year. On the call, Jorgensen said that EA is still looking to bring Respawn Entertainment’s battle royale to more regions and platforms, including mobile.
EA’s focus on Apex as a live service game has implications for the publisher’s other shooter franchises. EA CEO Andrew Wilson announced that DICE’s next Battlefield title would not be released until fiscal year 2022 (starting April 1, 2021), so as to benefit from larger install bases for the PlayStation 5 and Project Scarlett. During the investor Q&A portion of the call, Jorgensen said Apex would be EA’s main shooter focus over the next year—and while a sequel to Titanfall 2 “certainly could be a title in the future” according to Jorgensen, for the time being the team in question at Respawn will remain “hyper-focused on Apex.”
Another franchise taking a break is the NBA Live series, which Wilson announced will not have a 2019-2020 installment. Like FIFA and Madden, recent installments of NBA Live have also incorporated EA’s Ultimate Team live service approach, but continued to struggle relative to 2K’s NBA titles.
Though EA is touting its successes with live service titles, they’re hardly a sure bet. As EA discovered with the disastrous launch of BioWare’s Anthem, and as Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot recently touched on in the wake of Ghost Recon Breakpoint’s release, a shaky debut for a live service game can entail a months or years-long uphill battle to improve it and win back fans’ trust. As Bethesda recently demonstrated with Fallout 76, that hard-earned trust can also be lost yet again with further missteps.