As Electronic Arts reveals FIFA Online
, a free-to-play PC version of the company's popular soccer franchise, EA Sports head Peter Moore says the company will likely consider buying more social gaming studios like recently purchased Pet Society
Designed for gamers with broadband internet connections and "average spec" laptop and desktop computers, FIFA Online
will offer 30 licensed leagues, 500 clubs, and over 15,000 player. The downloadable title will enable players to acquire players, upgrade skills, and receive unique apparel by earning in-game currency or through microtransactions.
EA will launch a closed beta test in Europe with 20,000 players, followed by an open test in June with hundreds of thousands of gamers. The publisher plans to release an English language version of FIFA Online
in June 2010, then put out the title in other languages across Europe and North America some time during the 24 months following.
The company is no stranger to the free-to-play space, having released microtransaction-based games under its "Play 4 Free" brand, including Phenomic's BattleForge
and DICE's Battlefield Heroes
. It's also working to establish a presence in the social gaming market as evidenced by its $300 million purchase of Playfish late last year, and it might not be finished buying up studios yet.
"You're seeing a focus in our [mergers and acquisitions] activity being on companies that will enhance our digital strategy," said EA Sports's Peter Moore in an interview
with Reuters. "It allows you to go out and go get more friends, get more people involved. You're building a labor force quite frankly that helps you build your game and be more powerful or more relevant in that game environment."
Moore added that social games are a way of compensating for revenue lost from packaged console video games. Just two weeks ago, EA reduced its financial forecast
for the fiscal year ending March 31, cutting its yearly guidance from $3.6 to $3.9 billion, to $3.6 to $3.675 billion, due to a weak European market and a holiday quarter that didn't meet expectations.
He also said social games are a potential source of new ideas and better titles for the mega publisher. EA's Playfish acquisition is already paying off in that regard. Moore commented on lessons the company's picked up from the developer, saying EA is "learning an awful lot about a very different type of game experience than we are used to doing."
EA is already releasing social game adaptations of its console titles -- most recently, it worked with developer Lolapps to release a Facebook game based on Visceral Games' Dante's Inferno
. It has nearly 4.5 million users, according to
AppData. Moore acknowledged that the company is using social networks primarily as a marketing tool but is now looking at building games in conjunction with Playfish.