While companies like AT&T and Accenture were quick to drop Tiger Woods as a spokesman following a string of unscrupulous scandals, EA Sports president Peter Moore never wavered in his support of the world's best golfer. In fact, EA Sports just announced a new line of Tiger Games that will be available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, and iPhone this June.
"We have a completely different relationship with Tiger than somebody like AT&T who puts their logo on his golf bag or a company like Accenture who uses him as a front man, and I say that in a complementary way, for their products and services. These are service-oriented companies and he is solely an endorser. In our case, we're in our 12th year with Tiger and we signed him because we knew he was going to be the greatest golfer of the modern era, and that's what he is," Moore explained to me over the phone just hours after announcing the upcoming 'Tiger' video games. "In the 12 years we've been with him, he's won 56 PGA Tour events and 64 tournaments in total, including 12 majors. AP called him the best athlete of the last decade…not golfer, athlete. Our relationship is so much deeper. He is our product. He's in our product. Our product is golf, and when you talk golf, you talk Tiger Woods. So this is a very different relationship than a company that simply uses him as an arm's length endorser."
Here's what else Moore had to say as we talked Tiger, Project Natal, and the future of sports video games.
Jon Robinson: Do you see browser-based games like 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online' as a way for EA Sports to try to get back into the game on the PC?
Peter Moore: I certainly think it's going to be an important part of the future, absolutely. When you see the browser or different ways of looking at the PC platform, particularly for sports because as you know, the PC has been a little bit of a challenge for us over the last couple of years in terms of sports video games. We see this as an important day for us because we've opened the Tiger beta up now to anyone who would like to play. And when we look at our future, we really see these types of gaming experiences leading the way.
The game disc isn't going away for a long time. That's a billion dollar-plus business for us and will be for years to come, but the real growth opportunities is to bring new consumers in, build new business models, and just about everybody has a PC, and on that PC is a browser, and if that's what you got, then you can play 'Tiger Woods' golf right now for free. And then looking at the new business models, whether they're subscriptions or micro transactions, we'll be learning a lot over the next few months in beta, and then finally commercializing it and seeing what happens.
Robinson: Do you have a set price in mind of what you might charge someone to play 'Tiger Online' per month or per year?
Moore: Not yet. That's part of the learning of the open beta, testing this thing out with large amounts of people. We're already getting tens of thousands of people playing, and when you sign up for the beta, you have to do a little work and give us some feedback in order to have a free experience, and that's really important for us. So we'll be testing subscription models and other types of things people might be willing to buy in micro transactions and what people like about the game and what they don't. When you add that all up, that's why you do the beta, to ramp up for full commercialization. Like I said, this is an important day for us. It's the beginning of something fresh and exciting, and again, our core business isn't going away for many, many years, but like any company that's on the move, we have to be looking and going where the consumer is, and right now the consumer is saying that $60 is a lot right now for a game, especially if they still need to go out and buy a console, and more than anything, maybe they just don't have the time to sit down and play for a couple of hours. But with 'Tiger,' you can play three holes in about seven or eight minutes between e-mails, shut it down, then come back the next day and pick it up exactly where you left off on the course.
Robinson: Is that the best thing about playing 'Tiger Online,' the fact that you can stop your game and pick right back up where you left off whenever you want?
Moore: Absolutely. If you're online and you're doing e-mail, if you're like me, you need a break. So you go on and play two or three holes, and if I left my golfer on the fifth hole in the rough on a Tuesday, then I click back on Friday, 30 seconds later I'm back on the rough where I left him. That's what I like about it. He's sitting there and he's waiting for me.
Robinson: Do you fear any backlash by consumers or parents for sticking by Tiger for these video games, especially since so many kids are playing the Wii version of the game?
Moore: I recognize people have opinions about this, but again, our focus is on Tiger as a professional golfer. We recognize that he's going through some real severe personal challenges and we've given him some distance there and we wish him and his family all the best, but our focus is about Tiger the golfer. I've actually only received one handwritten letter from somebody that disputed our position, but I probably received 50 e-mails directly to my inbox from people who somehow found my e-mail address supporting our position of supporting him as an athlete. And when I look at the blogs and the forums, I'd say we're probably 90-95% positive here in what we're doing, understanding the distinction that we're recognizing Tiger Woods the golfer and not Tiger Woods the person.
Robinson: One thing that I noticed about the announcement was that there was no Project Natal Tiger game announced. Is this going to be a separate game, or will 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11' be compatible with Natal when the motion controls ship?
Moore: We haven't announced anything yet, but we've had great success with 'Tiger' on the Wii, particularly with MotionPlus controls. The game just became exponentially better. So we're looking very closely at all of the motion controlled technology that is coming down the pike. No announcements to make right now, but we're looking at games that have that authentic sports motion and looking at ways to add value to those platforms.
Robinson: Are these going to be separate games that people are going to have to buy once Natal ships, or if I already own 'Tiger 11,' will I be able to just download some patch that will make the motion controls work?
Moore: It is a great question, but this is a question more for Sony and Microsoft. They'll know more than I would. But I think you might see a hybrid of some stand alone games and some updates, to your point, where there might be a patch for you to download once Natal and Sony's motion controller ships that will allow you to play the game you bought two or three months ago, and make them compatible with these technologies.
Robinson: EA Sports has released a few games exclusively for Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, like 'Madden Arcade' and '3-on-3 NHL Arcade.' How successful have these titles been, and are we likely to see more of this type of product moving forward?
Moore: Yeah, I think we're looking at Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network as real good distribution channels. We don't do a lot of these games, to your point, 'NHL' did really well, 'Madden' is doing well, and they're relatively low overhead types of experiences because we develop the code and then we leave it up on the server. So our costs are down because we're not making any discs and we're not doing a lot of marketing behind it, but they've been well received. It's a different type of experience than you'd get from a console game, and that's what we're doing, we're looking at different ways to bring people these experiences. Whether that's downloads through XBLA and PSN, whether that's looking at the Wii in a different way, and there's lots of excitement already building around 'NBA Jam,' or whether that's games on the PC on a browser, we need to go where the consumer goes and provide them they types of experiences they want to play. Our core sim business is still very important, but obviously we need to look at things like 'Tiger' and 'EA Sports Active' as continuing to build our business.
Robinson: With free games like 'Quick Hit Football' already out there, will we see a browser-based Madden coming to PC?
Moore: I think you can envision that we'll learn a lot over the next few months about what consumers like and don't like about a browser-based game with true sports and the real licenses unlike 'Quick Hit Football.' And then it won't be much of a surprise to you that we'll probably be making some announcements of other licensors who want to partner with us to bring a different experience to those gamers. We need to make sure that we're bringing in, whether it's football fans or soccer fans or basketball fans or hockey fans, that we're giving them what they need on that platform. We're going to learn a lot, and I'm sure it won't be much of a surprise when we make some more announcements in the future.
Robinson: To wrap things up, I was just curious, what's your 'Tiger' handicap compared to real life?
Moore: I'm not much of a golfer. I'll play, but I'm the type of guy who shoots 100-105. I'm a lot better at the 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour' game than I have ever been in real life. In the closed beta I shot a 78. Boy, I wish I could do that in real life. [laughs]