Electronic Arts (EA), one of the largest traditional video game publishers, has yet to dip its toe into the crypto gaming and space in the way that rival Ubisoft has. However, the firm’s CEO sees potential in the space, calling NFTs—unique tokens that represent ownership in digital items—and play-to-earn models “an important part of the future of our industry” this week.
On a quarterly earnings call Wednesday, EA CEO Andrew Wilson was asked about the opportunity that the company—which publishes massive franchises like FIFA, The Sims, Battlefield, and Madden NFL—sees in the space.
“I think the play to earn or the NFT conversation is still really, really early, and there’s a lot of conversation. And there’s at some level, a lot of hype about it,” he replied in part, per a transcript. “I do think it will be an important part of the future of our industry on a go-forward basis. But it’s still early to kind of figure out how that’s going to work.”
Wilson pointed to EA’s success with its Ultimate Team modes in games like FIFA and Madden, in which players collect in-game, digital trading cards that can be very valuable. With that in mind, Wilson said that he “[feels] good about our position with respect to that.”
However, Ultimate Team collectibles are locked to each individual game and cannot leave the in-game ecosystem of FIFA or Madden, respectively. In games like Axie Infinity and The Sandbox, items are represented as NFT collectibles that can be freely resold or traded, and potentially brought into other games or spaces as part of the evolving, future metaverse.
It’s a key differentiator, and not every major player in the traditional gaming space appears open to such change. Steam, the leading digital PC games marketplace, recently banned developers from publishing games that use blockchain technology and/or have NFT or cryptocurrency hooks. Crypto and digital rights advocates are pushing back against the decision, and Steam creator Valve has yet to explain the change.
Wilson didn’t dig too deeply into how EA might embrace NFT gaming elements or an Axie Infinity-like play-to-earn model that rewards players with crypto tokens. However, he suggested that crypto gaming’s asset ownership element could create deeper engagement for players.
“Anything that brings more people in and engages those people for more time in the context of the entertainment it would create I think it’s a good thing over time,” he said. “I think that is the very foundation of our live services.”
Ubisoft, the publisher of games like Assassin’s Creed and Ubisoft, has released a couple of small, experimental NFT-driven projects in the past, and has supported various teams and projects in the space. Recently, Ubisoft made its first investment in the space, backing The Sandbox publisher Animoca Brands in its latest $65 million funding round.
Animoca Brands founder and Executive Chairman Yat Siu told Decrypt last month that it will work with Ubisoft on NFT-based games. During an earnings call last week, Ubisoft leadership affirmed that stance, stating that it is indeed working on blockchain-based projects. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said that the publisher wants “to be one of the key players” in the space.