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EA Sports Launches 'Freestyle'

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NEW YORK Looking to grab moms and kids who have been weaned on Nintendo's Wii, EA Sports this week will announce the launch of a new sub-brand: EA Sports Freestyle.

Electronic Arts, the top third-party video game publisher, struggled in 2007. It posted a $195 million loss during its fiscal second quarter (ended Sept. 30, 2007) and announced it would close some facilities and reduce staff. However, it rebounded with a strong holiday season (up 17 percent), per the company.

Known for its realistic sports games -- thus the tagline "It's in the game" -- EA Sports has a rabid following with core gamers. However, as the gaming audience has widened, EA Sports has realized so must its title offerings.

"We've been delivering world-class simulated sports entertainment for two decades," said Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, Redwood City, Calif. "But, we've seen the growth of Nintendo Wii, in particular, as well as more casual games. We knew we had to look at different ways to talk to consumers." Moore left Microsoft Xbox 360 last summer to lead EA Sports.

EA Sports Freestyle games will be "about fun, inclusiveness, cooperation and suspending the normal rules associated with sports video games," according to the company. The first title, FaceBreaker -- a boxing game that offers cartoon violence -- will debut in September.

"They are realizing, finally, after years of making games by gamers for gamers, that they have been leaving literally billions on the table," said Scott Steinberg, managing director of Embassy Multimedia Consultants, Atlanta. "It's fiscally responsible to attempt to try to broaden their reach to an audience like this. It's a necessary evolution."

Last year, children under the age of 12 made up 25 percent of sports game purchases, per the NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. Of those purchases, nearly half were made by women over the age of 25 (generally known as moms).

"Forty-three percent of spending on video games is made by a female purchaser. Women control a big chunk of the purchasing power," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier. "It wouldn't surprise me to hear that more and more publishers and retailers are recognizing that and taking steps to attract those dollars."

EA will spend big behind the launch of FaceBreaker as well as two subsequent titles that will follow next spring. EA doled out almost $95 million in media last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Moore expects to spend "equal if not more" this year to promote FaceBreaker as well as its top franchises (Madden NFL, Nascar, NHL, NBA Live and Fifa). Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore., is its agency.

EA Sports Freestyle will add a fitness game to its portfolio as well. "We've been watching Wii Fit very closely. EA Sports has a big role to play in fitness," said Moore. "You'll see an announcement from us sooner rather than later."

The publisher is in the midst of trying to acquire Take-Two Interactive, which scored another smash with Grand Theft Auto IV. EA has offered $2 billion for the company. It recently extended its deadline for the offer to May 16.

EA also will stop producing titles under its EA Big sub-brand. Launched in 2000, EA Big was meant to capitalize on the popularity of extreme sports, but it never really evolved beyond the SSX Tricky snowboarding franchise.

"The world is changing. The industry is changing and Nintendo is driving that change," said Moore. "EA Sports is evolving to meet the needs of the new consumer."