One of the world’s largest video game publishers is on its way to buy the world’s largest racing game developer. And in case you are wondering why Electronic Arts would be interested in Codemasters, it’s about the annual potential.
More specifically, it’s about Formula 1. EA held an investor call yesterday and issued a deck of cards in step with that. On pages 15 and 16, the publishing giant addresses the Codemasters acquisition in detail. Among the reasons listed for the acquisition is that Codies will “enable EA to release new racing experiences annually”, and we know that major publishers love their annual franchise.
Formula 1 is Cody’s only annual series at the moment, one it has been running on an annual basis since 2009 after taking over licensing rights from Sony. After a few rocky years early, the franchise has blossomed into a critical and commercial darling – something EA is very aware of, as the publisher quotes a Metacritic score of 88 for the latest release, F1 2020, right there in the slideshow.
The emergence of F1 as a gaming unit reflects F1’s growth as a sport throughout the 2010s. In 2019, the sport reached 1.9 billion viewers – the most global since 2012 – although the unique viewership dipped a bit. Of course, this was before the pandemic, which saw the revenue of F1 racing plummeted as a result of non-existent ticket sales and hospitality sales in 2020. The growth of F1’s social media channels has helped expand the sport, and it has a TikTok now, if you can believe it. Do you ever want to imagine what happens under Bernie Ecclestone?
Either way, all of this makes the F1 the perfect fit for EA Sports. The publisher can rely on F1 every year, just as it can trust Madden and FIFA, plus F1 enjoys significantly more critical praise than the franchises do (Madden 21 sits at 63 on Metacritic, while FIFA is at 74.) Circumstances are ripe for a microtransaction-laden F1 Ultimate Team mode, which you only know EA is trying to workshop. I look forward to unpacking an 80-person Nick Heidfeld in a $ 5 card package I spent on.
There is even more annual potential for racing games waiting in the wings of EA as well, as Codemasters seeks to deliver its first licensed world championship title by 2023. The potential for profit here will certainly not be as huge as with F1, which has me a little worried. The Dirt Rally crews working on a fully licensed WRC experience would be a match made in heaven, the kind that racing games and rally fans have been doing forever. Kylotonn, which continues to produce WRC games until the Codies take over, has delivered solid titles in itself, although the studio can not really push the technical envelope that Codemasters and EA should be able to with their combined resources.
Besides F1 and WRC, Dirt will continue on its two-sided arcade and sim mode, judging by the slide. It is also Nett and Project cars – two series of cycles that are in danger of stepping on each other’s toes these days, especially as Project cars 3 went for an arcade tilt, unlike its predecessors.
It is unclear what the EA acquisition may impose regardless of the titles of these respective Codies-owned studios. I do not need to point out that EA has a history of interfering with its in-house studios. Need For Speed has been one of the worst victims of it. Ghost Games developed what was, in my opinion, a promising return to form with the 2019 century NFS Heat, only for EA to tear the series away and give it back to Criterion for the next release; Criterion had already lost NFS when it was initially thrown to Ghost. Burnout Inclusion in the presentation is particularly heartbreaking, considering that there has not been a new entry in that series in 13 years.
So yes, there are still many, many questions to answer here, and we probably will not see the real consequences of this acquisition in the market in a couple of years. EA will soon house a supergroup of legendary racing development talent – I ask that they take part in it effectively, but most of all, patient.