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Being a tortoise isn't so bad, but the water is choppy, EA's top game studio boss says


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Gibeau admitted that he "coveted Blizzard." Overall, free to play has become 17 percent of EA's mobile and PC revenue. The trick is to grow it to a massive scale, he said. EA is making a bet on free to play with the announcement last week that its next Command & Conquer game (pictured right) will follow the model. With consoles, EA may invest $50 million over two years in development and marketing, and then it won't make a dime until it launches. But with free to play, EA can invest $3 million to get the game to its launch point and then continue to invest after that as users deliver feedback.

Gamers may not start making purchases until they get deeper into a free-to-play game, well after launch. And maybe only 10 to 15 percent of gamers will buy something. (The conversion to paid is higher for hardcore games than it is for social games.) But the profits can be similar to console games in the long run.

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The new waters are treacherous. But Gibeau counts himself as an optimist because of the growth of gaming platforms and users. In 2005, there might have been 200 million gamers. Now, thanks to new platforms, the number of gamers has grown to 1 billion and is on its way to 2 billion. Mobile gaming is expected to grow for the next five years. Tablet sales are exploding. Russia, Brazil, the Middle East, China, and North Africa are starting to produce real revenues. We're on the verge of the launch of "Gen 4" consoles -- EA's name for the next-generation of game machines.

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Consoles are "an entertainment form and type that are still resilient even with mobile gaming," he said. "I read a lot about the demise of the console. I don't buy it. If you look at the intensity of gamers, we are not losing them to mobile. There is a mass-market slowdown, but it's natural. In the sixth or seventh year of a hardware cycle, there is fatigue." In that kind of market, the big will get bigger.

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"As I look at tablets and mobile, it will be the largest platform, bar none," said Gibeau.

"Mobile is complimentary to your console experience," he said. "A lot of the long-range trend lines are positive for engagement."

Gibeau said that EA doesn't really need to acquire more companies to fulfill its vision. Last year's $750 million-plus acquisition of PopCap Games gave it more talent in casual games.

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