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Get ready for a bunch of Electronic Arts TV shows

You may know Electronic Arts mostly as a video-game company, but the publisher responsible for titles like Madden 21, Apex Legends, and recent Star Wars games is setting its sights on creating another type of media: TV shows. EA has a competitive gaming entertainment unit that is working to redefine esports by producing reality TV competitions. 

Branching out into TV is a way of winning new fans who aren't familiar with the current state of video games. Todd Sitrin, senior vice president and general manager of competitive gaming entertainment at EA, recently discussed the company's television plans in an episode of Variety's Strictly Business podcast. The team wanted to determine how it could bring more competition to players as well as viewers who wanted to see the competitions.

"The thing that is interesting about esports, it's been around for 21 years ... Esports, as an industry, has really played out of the exact same playbook for almost the entirety of that 21 years," said Sitrin. "And when we entered the business, we said we want to redefine what is esports and what it could actually be."

As an example of this type of content, he pointed to The Sims Spark'd, a show he likened more to Project Runway and The Great British Bake Off than any existing exports competition. The series aired a first season on TBS over the summer over four episodes, in which YouTubers competed in timed challenges to write a story, design characters and build settings. At the end, contestants presented their creations to a panel of judges that included a developer for Maxis Studios, the team behind The Sims. CNet called the show "groundbreaking" because it displayed how video games are an art form, bringing in contestants that were mostly women to showcase their self-expression and change negative perceptions of gaming.

"The Sims is usually something you would play by yourself, but The Sims Spark'd allows for the best of the best to get together, learn from each other and hopefully take those new skills into their gameplay," said Tayla Parx, a Sims voice actor and show judge who spoke to CNet. "I know every contestant walked away feeling that they made a new friend."

Sitrin said 4 million viewers watched the show and reaction was "extremely positive," proving EA is "on to something" with this type of programming. Moreover, he said, while esports competition has traditionally been white male-dominated, The Sims Spark'd showed that more diverse audiences are also drawn to competitions in this format. It's not about selling games, he said in the podcast. According to Sitrin, "What our organization, the competitive gaming entertainment group at EA, is really focused on is this new form of entertainment and building a business unto itself, not becoming just a marketing vehicle for the actual underlying video game."

While this kind of programming seems like a departure for EA, Sitrin pointed out that the industry has been doing "very similar things" for a long time, with long broadcasts catering to homogenous audiences playing shooters on digital platforms only. EA felt like the existing methods were "good business" — but not the only possible business. Instead, EA wanted to appeal to underrepresented audiences from the large and diverse gaming pool of 2.7 billion gamers, who don't necessarily play the games they watch (as is common now within esports). Sitrin pointed out that fans of Project Runway and The Great British Bake Off don't all make clothes or food; they're watching because something else about the show appeals to them. 

"Why can't be that same around video games and video game competition?" Sitrin asked.

Given EA's focus on monetizing and carving out this new niche for new audiences, it's likely that similar TV shows will be coming soon. Stay tuned.