自游戏产业发展初期以来，美国艺电（Electronic Arts，EA）已经把自己打造成为数不多的“主流”视频游戏发行商之一。该公司与《使命召唤》（Call of Duty）开发商动视暴雪（Activision Blizzard，ATVI）及《侠盗车手》（Grand Theft Auto）开发商Take-Two互动软件公司（Take-Two Interactive，TTWO）一起，在大量视频游戏公司中占据了市场的领先地位。一方面，喜欢它们游戏的玩家对它们死心塌地，但另一方面，所谓“铁杆”玩家阵营的许多人却对它们不屑一顾。这些铁杆玩家对这些公司庞大而沉闷的经营模式持怀疑态度。
《模拟人生社交版》游戏（The Sims Social）或许是这方面最好的实例。据艺电透露，这款免费游戏每天有300万活跃用户，而且自去年夏季推出以来已获得了5,000万美元的营收。
Since the early days of gaming, Electronic Arts (EA) has established itself as one of the few "major" video game publishers. The company sits alongside Call of Duty creator Activision Blizzard (ATVI) and Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two Interactive (TTWO) at the top of the video game heap. Those companies are at once beloved by gamers who enjoy their titles and despised by many in the so-called "hardcore" segment of players that distrust their big, brooding business models.
But EA is slowly but surely becoming, well, different. It's still a traditional game maker that pushes out titles for consoles and portables, but it has found a way to take advantage of a new, growing business model: digital.
Speaking in July with game news site GamesIndustry.biz, EA Games Label president Frank Gibeau said that it's only a matter of time before the company becomes a fully digital game provider.
"We're going to be a 100% digital company, period," Gibeau told GamesIndustry.biz in the interview. "It's going to be there someday. It's inevitable."
Not only is it inevitable, but it's not that far off. In an earnings statement in July, Gibeau announced that EA generated over $1.3 billion in digital revenue during the 12-month period ended June 30. During the company's first fiscal quarter, two-thirds of its $955 million in sales were in digital.
EA's digital efforts span several areas. The company offers digital goods and add-ons for console titles, like its Madden NFL franchise. It also offers a digital-game delivery service, called Origin, that allows consumers to buy titles directly over the web.
The company's free-to-play games, however, have proven most successful.
During an earnings call in July, Gibeau reported that his company's free-to-play games, which run on social networks, PCs, consoles, and mobile devices, represent its "fastest-growing business model." Revenues during the quarter on free-to-play games, in fact, were up 156% year-over-year.
Free-to-play has become a hot trend in the gaming industry. In EA's case, free-to-play gamers are allowed to work their way through a large chunk (if not all) of a game at no charge. If they want to add more levels, get more in-game weapons or goods, or want to engage in other kinds of play, they need to pay a nominal fee to do so. The result? Less upfront revenue, but an opportunity to generate more cash over the long term.
The Sims Social is perhaps the best example of that. According to EA, the free game has 3 million daily active users and has generated $50 million in revenue since its launch last summer.
So, why might a company like EA, which has relied so heavily on packaged video game sales over the years, jump so bravely into a new world? As Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter pointed out in a note to investors recently, it comes down to changing market trends.
"The video game industry continues to suffer, with packaged goods sales declining in 35 of the last 41 months, and expected to have declined again in August," Pachter wrote.