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Interview: EAi, Playfish On Bringing Electronic Arts Brands to Social Networks

EAi head Barry Cottle and Playfish co-founder Kristian Segerstrale talk to Gamasutra about the synergies in their $300 million deal -- like "bringing social gaming to other digital
As Electronic Arts acquires social gaming company Playfish today for $300 million, both companies see the deal as a major step to leadership in the fastest-growing space in gaming. "The social gaming space has just exploded over the last few months... just between April and September of this year, social gaming has gone from 100 million active users to 250 million active users," Barry Cottle, senior VP and general manager of EA Interactive, tells Gamasutra. EA Interactive -- or EAi -- is the company's group focused on web and wireless, and the division under which Playfish will now operate. Through EAi, the publisher had been working on establish a strong presence in social networking, but this acquisition gives EA "the chance to establish ourselves in a leadership position overnight," Cottle says. He explains that a similar strategy -- taking an established, experienced team and giving them EA's brands and infrastructure -- has helped the company gain a major foothold in the mobile space, where its games regularly occupy top 10 slots among the iPhone App Store's game offerings. "This was the logical path," says Cottle. It's access to those brands and infrastructure that made the deal an attractive one for Playfish too, says Playfish co-founder and CEO Kristian Segerstrale, who joined Cottle in discussing the acquisition with Gamasutra. "As a company, when we started, we set out to change how the world plays games," he says. "As much as we've been growing very quickly, we've also been looking at various ways to grow even quicker," says Segerstrale. "The thing that struck us is, in our discussions with EAi, the reason we're so excited is it really accelerates that mission." Not only does Playfish now have access to EA's global publishing resources, says Segerstrale, but it also has access to the company's brands. "We're also able to look at some of those best-loved franchises in the gaming industry and see what we can do with those on social networks," he says. "There's a much bigger arsenal at our disposal." Segerstrale says Playfish is also looking forward to expanding to other platforms. "We're very excited about bringing social gaming to other digital platforms," he says. "There's a very significant convergence happening -- we'd love to be on all connected devices." According to Cottle, Segerstrale will continue overseeing Playfish as it joins the EAi group, which will operate as a standalone business unit to execute on these synergies. "It's the right way to go about building the business," Cottle concludes. "Our competitors are startups; fast-moving, nimble companies. We need to remain nimble and fast, with a focus on innovation... that's how we will operate."

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