LOS ANGELES – Over the next year, Electronic Arts (EA) said a majority of its mobile game titles will become free, representing a seismic shift away from the premium games market.
"We started to see that freemium was coming in, and it took us a long time to move over," Nick Earl, who heads up EA's mobile and social worldwide studios, said. "In all candor, we are behind."
In an interview with AllThingsD at E3 this week in Los Angeles, Earl said the dominate model will be "freemium" in mobile. As with other game makers who depend on this model, EA will allow players to download the games for free but then will charge a fee to buy virtual goods that enhance the game.
"We are all over that," he said. "There will be a few one-time download games in the future, but they are such the exception, and the norm will be freemium games."
As an example, EA currently charges $5 for "Madden NFL 12," $5 for "Need for Speed," $2.99 for "The Sims 3" and 99 cents for "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12" on the iPhone. A short list of free titles includes "Monopoly Hotels" and "The Sims FreePlay."
This summer, Earl said to expect the launch of "The Simpsons" on mobile, which will mark the beginning of the transition.
EA is one of the largest mobile games developers on both Android and iOS, but it also represents one of the biggest holdouts when it comes to shifting to free.
Over the past couple of years, companies have found it easier to gain large audiences by making the games free and then monetized through virtual goods. Players, who get hooked to the game, can often end up spending more than they would have originally if they paid for the game upfront.
Earl said it has taken EA so long to make the transformation because it requires a different skill set to build a one-time download. Freemium games act like a live service, which have to be able to support thousands of daily active users.
He said that as part of the switch, EA will end up spending more time and energy on each title and ship far fewer games.