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EA CEO happens to be an Australian who played junior rep rugby


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May 22, 2004
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This is a bit of random trivia that doesn't necessarily mean there's much hope for a Rugby game, but I found it interesting none the less. I was reading the Australian Financial Review yesterday, and they had a rather engaging piece about Andrew Williams, a 41 year old Australian who has been the company's CEO for the past couple years.

For those interested, I've posted the article below and I'm sure you'll agree his background is interesting and his career impressive. It's just a shame that even in spite of him being at the helm we haven't seen any renewed interest at EA in producing rugby.

He's only been in the top job a couple years though, so perhaps it means there's more of a chance of a serious effort by them now. Who knows.


Electronic Arts boss Andrew Wilson is one of Australia's top global CEOs | afr.com

Wilson, 41, is transforming the once-struggling video game publisher through a period of immense digital disruption for the $90 billion industry.
In his 2¼ years leading EA, which turns over about $US4.5 billion ($6.4 billion) a year, the company's share price on the Nasdaq has almost tripled.

The days of "gamers" buying their favourite sport or fighting game on a disc in store and sitting on the coach taking on a friend are largely over. Instead players buy, download and play the games online against potentially millions of challengers around the world. "The company is moving from an offline packaged goods company to an online content delivery service," Wilson says.

"We got the work ethic out of my father that has served us well to this day," he says. "He would get up at 4 o'clock in morning and work through to dark."

Between working, schooling and playing sport, there was only a little time for playing video games as a kid growing up in the 1980s. His family owned a very early model Commodore VIC-20, older than the more modern Commodore 64 and Atari his friends possessed. Wilson enjoyed Double Dragon, FIFA soccer and California Games.
"I've always had that sport orientation," he says.

Kicking goals

Wilson has since turned the FIFA soccer game into a $US1.5-billion annual money spinner for EA.
Wilson, who speaks confidently but with typical Australian humility, is evidently a calculated risk-taker. After quitting his law degree at Queensland University of Technology, he leapt into the fast-moving internet start-up world during the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s.

His entrepreneurial then boss, Kevin Cook, who Wilson met while managing an Italian restaurant at the wealthy Sanctuary Cove golfing community on the Gold coast, assumed the uni drop-out knew about computers because he was barely out of his teenage years.

In Sydney, Wilson cut his teeth helping build local websites for American Express, Coca Cola and the Sydney Olympic Games. He branched into raising venture capital and conducting initial public offerings for dotcom start-ups, sometimes using the corporate shell of defunct mining companies via backdoor listings.
"The dotcom business was just booming and we were having so much fun. It was a wild time," Wilson recounts.

Aged in his early 20s, he cut financing deals with Macquarie, blue-blood stockbroker Ord Minnett and investment firm Babcock & Brown, which later collapsed in the 2008 financial crisis.

Wilson says the "older" investment bankers placed a lot of faith in the younger generation because of an assumed knowledge of the internet.
After riding the euphoric wave, the dotcom bubble blew up.

Gold Coast network

Looking for work, Wilson tapped into his Gold Coast network. He phoned a friend turned mentor, Nigel Sandiford, who Wilson had hosted for dinners at the Italian restaurant and was running EA's Asia Pacific business.

"When the bubble burst in late 1999 in Australia, I called this friend Nigel up and said 'what do you think I should do?'," Wilson says.
EA operated a small development studio on the Gold Coast, churning out V8 supercar, rugby, cricket and surfing games.

The developers knew little about how the sports were actually played. Wilson, a sports enthusiast who today practices Brazilian martial art Jiu-Jitsu, says as a kid he played representative rugby and basketball at school, coached Taekwondo, played golf, surfed, swam and dabbled in athletics.

In May 2000, EA hired him as a business adviser, to help design the games and build business relationships, drawing on his dotcom-era experience.

"I thought I would do this for a year and then go into sports management," Wilson says.
"I just loved it and very quickly got involved in the production and making of games."
"I just never left."

Learning the business

In the 15 years since joining EA Wilson has steadily risen up the ranks of one of the world's top five video game publishers.

EA produces popular interactive games such as Star Wars: Battlefront, which is expected to sell 13 million copies this financial year for the Xbox One and Play Station 4, as well as NBA basketball, The Simpsons, FIFA, SimCity and Need for Speed.

After the Gold Coast studio was closed in 2002 due to a lack of scale, Wilson was retained to travel the world hiring external developers to build games. He regularly flew economy class from the sunny Gold Coast in summer to studios in Nova Scotia in northeast Canada and the United Kingdom in the freezing northern hemisphere winter.
After two years of long haul travel and lengthy periods away from his South African-born Australian girlfriend and now wife, Wilson almost quit.

A relatively small commercial budget and reliance on outsourced external studios had him yearning to deliver "real quality products in whatever service I'm in".
Fortunately, EA promoted him to lead an internal sports game development team with a slightly larger budget at EA's huge studio in Canada's Vancouver.

FIFA bet pays off

After five years, Wilson says EA then "took a bet" on him to rebuild its declining franchise product, FIFA. Confronting a "pretty poor" team culture and facing serious challenges from competitors, Wilson recalls sleeping in the studio at night, working overtime with developers to rejuvenate the FIFA game brand.

"I was able to pull together an amazing team of 19 nationalities, speaking 20 different languages," Wilson says.
"We were basically the UN [United Nations] of video game development."

Wilson insisted on a "player first" culture, elevating the user experience to be the unquestionable No.1 objective. What transpired was detailed true-to-life graphics of every professional player, better player movements, new modes allowing gamers to be club managers and play online head-to-head, ever-changing content due to a 365-day service team and flexibility to play on different platforms.

FIFA became the fastest-selling sports game ever, selling 3.2 million copies in the first week in 2012. It is now EA's most valuable sports property and generates about one-third of the company's revenue.

Wilson shifted to EA's San Francisco headquarters in late 2009. He was charged with pushing the company's online, subscription and Asia strategies. Soon he was again promoted to run EA Sports, joining the company's senior executive ranks and gaining exposure to investors, corporate governance and the board of directors.

Top appointment

In 2013, with the company struggling to cope with major digital disruption afflicting the industry and other technical problems, the then 39-year old's relative youth was again recognised as an asset to navigate the internet – not for the first time in his career.

The threat was clear. EA needed to avoid becoming corporate history like movie rental business Blockbuster and adapt to the growing threat of free-to-play games on smartphones and computers. Some players are ditching their consoles and big screen television sets in favour of playing games on handheld devices.

At the time of his appointment, EA was also trying to recover from a consumer backlash to the botched launch of its popular city-building SimCity game and bugs in other new game releases.

Since Wilson took over in September 2013, EA's share price has rallied from a depressed $US26.60 to hover near $US70 today. Revenue has risen healthily and net profit jumped 205 per cent to $US806 million over the two years to the March 31, 2015 fiscal year.

'Nearly flawless job'

Wedbush Securities equity research managing director Michael Pachter says Wilson has done a "nearly flawless job".

"EA stock has been a monster since Andrew became CEO," Pachter says. "My only criticism is that game quality continues to be mediocre - as it was before he was promoted - but that is a multi-year project and I am sure that they are making progress."

Wilson has embarked on a three-pronged strategy to turn around EA. He says he instilled a "one team" culture, ingrained a "player-first" mentality to better serve consumers and overhauled the organisation to compete in the digital era.

The company's revenue mix has been transformed. Whereas digital revenue was little more than a rounding error five years ago, it now represents about $US2.2 billion - or more than half of total turnover.
"We had to make that digital transformation," Wilson says.

Retail store sales of video games across the industry declined 7 per cent in the US in November, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. In the first nine months of this year, physical sales were flat, compared to 8 per cent growth for digital and in-store sales combined.

EA's business model

To adapt with the market EA's business model been significantly overhauled. Today, online game content is continually updated and built on a live basis by programmers, extending the life of games and making it easier to fix glitches.

The average length a game is played for has extended from about five weeks to around 12 months. Competitors are no longer confined to friends and neighbours at home.
"Now you play with 300 million people online around the world," Wilson says.

Middle class consumers in emerging economies in Asia and Latin America are big growth markets.

Across the global industry, a decade ago there was perhaps 200 million "gamers". Today that number is approaching 2 billion.

The digital revolution has required new investments in customer support, online infrastructure and data security.
"We had to put the player first and think about what the player would want," Wilson says. "How can we service the player's needs in a world where more people are playing more games on more platforms than ever before?"

Work to do

So far so good for Wilson, who was number three on Fortune's 2015 global businessperson of the year list, one behind Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and ahead of a host of more high profile CEOs including Tim Cook of Apple, Larry Page of Google and Lei Jun of Xiaomi.

But according to Peter Warman, chief executive of games market researcher Newzoo, there is no time for resting on laurels. Warman says it's now time for "bigger and bolder moves" because the market is changing faster than EA.

Warman sees three challenges for Wilson. First, turning EA into a truly global company, particularly increasing revenues from China. Second, broadening EA's business and growing revenues to cope with the convergence of videos and games such as e-sports, competitions and streaming. Third, getting "mobile back on track".

Wilson seems up for the challenge. Like any global CEO, his job is demanding. The father of two children, a boy aged eight months and a girl who turns four in February, travels about two weeks a month to many of EA's 68 locations around the world.

He returns home to Australia about twice a year to visit EA's studio in Melbourne and regional marketing office in Sydney, and to drop in to see his parents on the Gold Coast.
"I work a lot. But I love to work. It's who I am," Wilson says.
Interesting! Never say never when it comes to an EA rugby game, if it gets to the point where they think they'll make enough money off of it then there's a good chance they'd do it. Even if he started the project on day one of his new job though it would probably still be a ways off if they were creating new engines from scratch, etc. Interesting nonetheless!
An old Kotaku article for good measure. I think EA will jump on board when there is a more proven track with rugby games. They aren't the "if you build it they will come" sorta people


Interesting link. I hadn't realized he headed up some of the old Rugby efforts for them - looks like the experience kinda burned him a little though sadly, so perhaps he won't be in any rush to revisit it until games like RC demonstrate a more thorough interest.