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

by Lindsey Francy Feb 2, 2023 News
How EA plans to compete with Fortnite and Roblox in the metaverse

On the earnings call on Tuesday, the gaming giant had a mixed bag. As marketing dollars flood into platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite, Electronic Arts sees its popular game simulation as its way to secure a piece of the metaversal pie.

The closest thing to a truly immersive and persistent digital world is a gaming platform. As games become full-service metaverse platforms, marketers spend millions of dollars partnering with in-game creators to build brand experiences inside them.

During its Q3 2023 earnings call, the game developer took note of the revenue potential of virtual platforms powered by user-generated content.

"There's no doubt in my mind that 'The Sims' will be as big as 'Fortnite' and 'RobOS' at some point," said Sam Ryan, an svp and general manager at the studio. The Q&A was supported by observations from the earnings call of the company.

The conversation has been edited to make it more clear.

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

Game-out is about making sure that the game elements and features that people know and love are respected, and are delivering everything that they would 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 the game, merging and using them with outside tools as well, so it’s easy to take things from the ‘out’ and put them into the game. It’s not a surprising strategy, because it is similar to what some of these other companies are doing.”

— Ryan

Ryan mentioned "The Sims" in her answer. The Sims 4 had a total player count of 33 million in October 2022, six years after it was first released, making it one of the most popular games in the world. The 173 million and 400 million users of "Fortnite" are larger than the 33 million player count for any game.

A series called "The Sims" is based on the construction of virtual worlds and virtual people to populate them. The sims is more of a simulation game than a true metaverse platform Users cannot co-create at the same time. In the games, socializing with other players in-game is necessary to keep things interesting.

On the specific changes that will bring games like ‘The Sims’ closer to metaverse platforms

“We are working on the next ‘Sims’ game — ‘Project Rene’ is its code name right now — and we did an apartment customization test where they were testing how multiple players would build together. Historically, in ‘The Sims,’ you have not been able to do that. But it is something that our players have asked for. They actually hack it in there — there are mods out there 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, then of course we should be putting it in a future game.”

— Ryan

The planned changes to "The Sims" show how the game's developers are aware of the inherent social nature of today's leading metaverse platforms. In order to ensure that the final product lines up with the community's expectations, and in order to test prototype versions of its games with a select group of players,EA has recently started to test prototype versions of its games with a select group of players.

The recent switch to a free-to-play, live service model for "The Sims" is one of the key changes that has brought the game closer to its competitors. Andrew Wilson said that The Sims is growing as a live service. Over 10 million new players were welcomed into the community in the third quarter.

On the scale of EA’s UGC audience

“The great thing about EA is that Maxis, and to some extent ‘Skate,’ have already been working in this space. The ‘Sims’ franchise is 23 years old, and user-generated content has been in that franchise since the very beginnings. ‘The Sims 4,’ which we operate right now, has over 88 million total uploads into the ‘Sims 4’ gallery — I mean, that’s a lot of content, and we do about 200,000 downloads daily from that same gallery.

We also just announced a partnership with Overwolf to create a destination to download mods and custom content, to ensure it’s a bit more moderated and curated. That is one of the challenges with this type of content: that people are often afraid to access it. So that’s ‘The Sims 4’ today, and most of those mods that are out there, they’re creating 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

Another reason to believe that the company viewsMinecraft as a serious competitor is the partnership with Overwolf. The largest online game-mod sharing platform is owned by Overwolf. Millions of users visit CurseForge every month to download mod, and now they are also served sims mod whenever they navigate to the home page

The future of gaming is User Generated Content. Publishers can outsourcing content creation in a way that is safe, while fostering engagement, if they choose to do so, according to Overwolf CEO Uri Marchand. The partnership between Overwolf and The Sims 4 marked a significant step towards unleashing the community's creativity.

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

We have already done 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’re just dipping our toes in now. 

‘The Sims 4’ is going on 10-plus years, so if we have that same kind of thread, then yes, the genius of our players will inspire new things to be created. And then we, as a development studio, can decide, ‘hey, do we want to professionalize that? Do we want to allow them to become sort of semi-pro modders, as others have done in the Minecraft and Roblox communities?’ There’s a lot of things we can do to really keep these games humming along for many years, with players at the center. It’s a self-sustaining wheel that goes around, and players are driving it — and when we see something that we can support, we’ll jump in and we’ll do that.”

— Ryan

The platforms have branded experiences created by independent creator studios without the involvement of the platform's developers. Most brand activations in "The Sims 4" are the result of direct partnerships between the brands and the publisher. It will have to support the development of a more robust creator economy in order for it to compete with the leading metaverse platforms.

Wilson said that the future of entertainment is interactive. By pushing titles like "The Sims" and "Skate" into the metaverse,EA is betting big on the continued rise of interactive and virtual media.