EA exploring social game publishing with Insomniac Games

Electronic Arts is exploring social games publishing. The company has announced a partnership with developer Insomniac Games on a new Facebook IP, Outernauts. This is the first time EA has published an original third-party game on Facebook, a development that wasn’t even mentioned during the company’s earnings call earlier this week.

This is the first Facebook game for Insomniac, the developer behind AAA console games like Ratchet and Clank, Resistance: Fall of Man and the upcoming Overstrike (which EA is publishing for consoles and PC).  Insomniac’s been working on getting into the social games industry since it established Insomniac Click in March 2011; the studio is entirely focused on bringing games to web and mobile platforms.  Chief Creative Officer Brian Hastings described the new studio as an expansion rather than a shift in focus, but getting into social games was a “pragmatic necessity.”

When President Peter Moore outlined EA’s upcoming social plans during this week’s earnings call, he mentioned that new games were coming but didn’t say anything about the company starting to publish original third-party social titles. While the development is surprising, it’s also easy to see why EA is looking to diversify its presence on Facebook to include publishing. Until now EA’s Facebook games have been in-house productions, mainly from EA Playfish and subsidiary PopCap Games.

The game could help shore up EA’s traffic on Facebook: the company’s daily and monthly active users soared last summer when it acquired PopCap and launched The Sims Social, peaking at 102 million monthly active users and 18 million daily active users. However, EA’s subsequent offerings like  Risk: Factions have floundered and EA’s overall numbers have been dropping since September.

Publishing Facebook games represents a lower risk for EA, as it allows the company to try different kinds of games and might even give it access to new IP. Likewise, traditional developers that are expanding onto social platforms are likely to work with EA if they’ve had success doing so in the past.  EA also has plenty of previous experience working with independent developers in the console space, on EA-owned IPs like Dante’s Inferno.

Clarification: It’s been noted that Playfish published Atakama’s Labs defunct game Little Cave Hero until the developer was acquired by DeNA. The game received some promotion in the Restaurant City bar, though it’s unclear if the game was cross-promoted across EA’s other social games at the time.

EA’s large audience and name-brand recognition also give it an advantage over other publishers like 6waves. The only bigger social game publisher is Zynga, but so far many studios have seemed reluctant to work with the company.

Outernauts is a role-playing game that that has players working as an “Outernaut” for United Earth. Outernauts have to capture and train alien monsters, explore the story behind the “ancients” of the galaxy and fight pirates and evil corporations. The game will feature asynchronous co-op and player-vs-player mechanics. The game will likely draw fans of Insomniac’s titles who are curious about what kind of Facebook title the developer will make. The game is scheduled for release this summer.

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