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EA to Beef Up Efforts on Games for Mobile Phones

September 03, 2004|From Reuters

Gaming giant Electronic Arts Inc. will boost production of video games for mobile phones over the next nine months, bringing top-selling franchise "The Sims" and a 2005 version of "Fifa Football" to handsets, the company said Thursday.

By mid-2005, EA will offer for download four mobile-phone game titles sold through most major mobile-phone operators in Europe, North America and Latin America, including Germany's T-Mobile, Britain's Vodafone and America's Verizon Wireless.

Compared with the booming video game business overall, the market for mobile-phone games, estimated by consultants at $1 billion this year, has been slow to take off as customers have been forced to settle for simpler games, often with inferior graphics.

And handset design has proved to be less than ideal for zapping alien invaders or sinking a game-winning putt. As a result, top-flight publishers such as EA have adapted few of their titles for phones.

Last year, EA began testing the mobile-phone waters just as rival game publishers Eidos, Ubisoft and THQ Inc. began sinking more money of their own into development.

EA partnered with London-based Digital Bridges to sell "Fifa Football" and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" downloads to handset owners for $5, 5 euros or 5 pounds, depending on the market.

"In the past 18 months, we've sold 1 million downloads. That was enough for us to know that the market has potential," said Gerhard Florin, EA's Europe, Middle East and Africa managing director and senior vice president. He said it would take at least two years for the sale of mobile games to have a meaningful effect on the company's bottom line.

But the potential for the market is strong, Florin said, as more sophisticated handsets with larger memory capacity and color screens are developed to handle gaming.

The decision by EA to use its vast development teams to create its own mobile games is the kind of boost the industry needs to push the nascent market into the mainstream.

"When you look at the big picture almost everyone sees the mobile-phone market as having fantastic potential," said Ben Keen, an analyst with media consultancy Screen Digest.

"What this market needs is a big publisher to step up with its own dedicated team to specialize in this. That's what operators are desperate for: quality. They are getting far too much rubbish."

Digital Bridges will work with EA to develop the network for mobile game playing and work with operators to sell the games, the companies said.

Shares of Redwood City, Calif.-based EA closed up 49 cents at $49.29 on Nasdaq.

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