How EA plans to compete with Fortnite and Roblox in the metaverse

How EA plans to compete with Fortnite and Roblox in the metaverse

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 pour 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 currently the closest thing to a truly immersive and persistent digital world, 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 build customized 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 noticed the revenue-generating potential of virtual platforms powered by user-generated content, or UGC.

“There is no doubt in my mind that ‘The Sims’ will be [as big as Fortnite and Roblox] at some point,” said Samantha Ryan, an EA chief and general manager 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 annotated Q&A, backed by observations from EA’s Q3 2023 earnings call.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

“For my studios, I have Maxis, which is the guardian of the ‘Sims’ series, and Full Circle, which is the guardian of the ‘Skate’ series, and these studios are both working on future projects that are very ‘game-out.’

Game-out is about making sure the game elements and features that people know and love are respected, delivering everything they want to keep them highly, deeply engaged. And then around that we put a layer of in-game tools that our players can use directly in-game, merge and use them with external tools as well, so it’s easy to take things from “outside” and put them into the game. It’s not a surprising strategy because it’s similar to what some of these other companies are doing.”

– Ryan

It’s no surprise that Ryan reached out to “The Sims” in his answer to this question. It’s 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 surpassed by the 173 million and 400 million users that “Minecraft” and “Fortnite” enjoy, respectively.)

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“The Sims” is a series based on the construction of virtual worlds and virtual people to populate them, much like Roblox and Minecraft. Still, as it 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 at the same time. In Roblox and Minecraft, socializing with other players in the game is practically necessary to keep things entertaining; in “The Sims” the core game loops are mostly single player.

About the specific changes that will bring games like “The Sims” closer to metaverse platforms

“We’re working on the next ‘Sims’ game — ‘Project Rene’ is the code name right now — and we did an apartment customization test where they tested how multiple players would build together. Historically, in “The Sims,” ​​you haven’t been able to do that. But it’s something our players have been asking for. They actually hack it in there – there are mods where two people can build an apartment together. So if the modders are already doing it and it’s really hacky and hard to use, of course we should put it in a future game.”

– Ryan

The planned changes to “The Sims” outlined above by Ryan show how the game’s developers at Maxis are well aware of the inherently social nature of today’s leading metaverse platforms. Taking cues from game modders is also important to EA to ensure the final product matches community expectations, and EA has recently begun testing prototype versions of its games with select players, sometimes under NDA, before rolling out the final release.

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Another key change EA has made to bring “The Sims” closer to its metaversal competitors is the series’ recent switch 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 free to enter and welcomed over 10 million new players into the community.”

At the scale of EA’s UGC audience

“The great thing about EA is that Maxis, and to some extent ‘Skate’, have already worked in this area. The “Sims” franchise is 23 years old, and user-generated content has been in that franchise since its inception. “The Sims 4,” which we’re running right now, has over 88 million total uploads to the “Sims 4” gallery—I mean, that’s a lot of content, and we do about 200,000 downloads a day from that same gallery.

We’ve also just announced a partnership with Overwolf to create a destination for downloading mods and custom content, ensuring it’s a bit more moderated and curated. That’s one of the challenges with this kind of content: that people are often afraid to access it. So it’s “The Sims 4” today, and most of the mods that are out there, they make them with in-game tools, but it’s not super easy to access them. So in the future, we hope to make it even easier for people to create and even easier for people to access.”

– Ryan

EA’s partnership with Overwolf is another reason to believe 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’re also served up “Sims” mods when they navigate to the CurseForge homepage.

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“We believe UGC is the future of gaming. Players get more content, mod authors are recognized and rewarded for their creations, and publishers can outsource content creation in a way that’s safe while driving engagement,” said Overwolf CEO Uri Marchand. “Overwolf’s partnership with ‘The Sims 4’ marked a significant step toward unleashing community creativity and making UGC more accessible to the entire ecosystem.”

On the formation of a brand/creator economy in EA’s corner of the metaverse

We have already created branded packs with “The Sims 4”. We’ve done clothing brands, we’ve done big brands, we’ve done community collaborations. We will do more over time – we are just dipping our toes in now.

“The Sims 4” lasts over 10 years, so if we have the same kind of thread, yes, the genius of our players will inspire to create new things. And then we, as a development studio, can decide “hey, do we want to professionalize it?” Are we going to let them become sort of semi-pro modders, like others have done in the Minecraft and Roblox communities?’ There are many things we can do to really keep these games going for many years, with players at the center. It’s a self-sustaining wheel that goes around and the players drive it – and when we see something we can support, we jump in and do it.”

– Ryan

Platforms like Fortnite and Roblox are full of branded experiences created by independent creative studios without the involvement of the platform’s developers. In contrast, most brand activations in “The Sims 4” are the result of direct partnerships between EA and the brands. If EA truly wants to compete with today’s leading metaverse platforms, it needs to support the development of a more robust creator economy that allows brands to activate within the game with minimal involvement from EA itself.

“The future of entertainment is interactive,” Wilson said at Tuesday’s rally. By pushing titles like “The Sims” and “Skate” into the metaverse using a game that approaches, EA is betting big on the continued rise of interactive, immersive and virtual media.

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