2006: EA Sports: Swinging into the mainstream

On the other end of the spectrum from Buick and American Express is Electronic Arts, sometimes linked to a genre of rebellious, skateboarding youth who spend their days in front of computer screens.

But despite the stereotype, the company has emerged as one of the foremost developers of mainstream sports video games through its expanding line of EA Sports products.

Nothing has contributed to EA’s sports success as much as John Madden’s popular series of football games. But one can’t discount the impact of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour game, which industry observers say transformed golf into a legitimate video game category.

“In the past there’s been PGA Tour Golf and Jack Nicklaus Golf, but it was pretty terrible,” says Andrew Reiner, executive editor of Game Informer magazine. “(Tiger’s game) isn’t selling millions and millions like Madden, but EA has put a face to it and added realism. . . . It’s an awesome game.”

EA officials declined to release sales figures, but suffice it to say, the company has enjoyed a financial upswing since EA partnered with Woods in 1999. In the past three years, worldwide sales have nearly tripled to $96 million from $35 million.

Though Reiner says Tiger’s game may have hit a ceiling (there is only so much interest in golf after all), he adds that EA will have a chance to reap new sales with the advent of next-generation gaming consoles, such as the Nintendo Wi, which feature motion-sensing controls.

Before Woods, EA’s golf games were targeted exclusively at hard-core golf fans, says Amy Bartlett, an EA product manager. But that changed with the debut of Tiger’s game. It drew the attention of regular (non-sports) gamers and began attracting a global consumer audience.

Such growth, obviously, is attributable to Woods’ enormous appeal, but also to game improvements Tiger has implemented himself.

Bartlett remembers when Woods was in the process of changing his swing a couple of years ago.

“He struggled that year and lost the No. 1 ranking to Vijay (Singh),” she says. “But he would always say, ‘It’s all going to come together.’ ”

When it did, Woods insisted upon incorporating some of his actual swing changes into his virtual self.

Says Bartlett: “So we suited him up in a motion picture studio in Orlando and went through every club and captured it for the game.”




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