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Plugged In

EA CEO talks Tiger Woods, NCAA football and Nintendo

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Andrew Wilson (Credit: EA)

When Andrew Wilson was named CEO of Electronic Arts in September, there were a lot of double takes.

He hasn't been as prominent as other EA executives in his 13-year history with the company, but as analysts and gamers took a closer look at his resume, those double takes turned into knowing nods.

Wilson can be credited with establishing FIFA as a top-earning brand. He launched the company's Origin digital distribution system. And, before being named CEO, he oversaw the company's crown jewel: EA Sports.

Wilson's not one to look backward too long, though. He prefers to look toward the future -- and while he's not making any immediate departures from the company's strategic course, the little changes he has made so far have caused some stirs.

Among those was the recent announcement that EA and Tiger Woods would be ending their partnership after 16 years of working together.

"For us, it was a creative decision where we wanted to take the business and how we think golfers want to play EA golf video games," Wilson told Yahoo Games. "It made sense for us to double down and focus on our PGA license and the courses. For us, that needed to be the focus. That's what golfers were telling us they wanted."

It wasn't long after the split, though, before word leaked out that Woods was already talking to other publishers about continuing the series. While no formal announcements have been made, a rival game tied to a personality as large as Woods' could be a competitive threat.

Wilson, though, says he isn't worried should that happen.

"Sports games are a symbiotic relationship between athletes, teams, leagues and our ability to build what is a good representation of the authentic nature of that sport," he says. "I wouldn't say any one is more valuable than the other. It's measured by our ability to achieve a balance ... to let someone live their sports fantasy."

The company has also severed ties with college football, announcing that it would not be making an NCAA football title in 2014 due to legal battles over the use of names and likenesses of college athletes.

The games themselves were just a small percentage of the company's revenue, so investors shrugged off the news, but fans of the series -- including its developers -- have taken the announcement a little harder.

"We've been building that game for fans for over 12 years and that's a very passionate fan base," he says. "The team that built that game was very passionate. They were college football centered and had no interest in building anything other than college football. ... For us, that's the challenge - [dealing with] the disappointment when we're not in a position where we can launch a game they can enjoy."

There was one change Wilson wasn't willing to discuss, though. The recent announcement that EA’s Titanfall would be exclusive to Microsoft "for the life of the title" perked some ears, including Respawn founder Vince Zampella, who tweeted "we only found out recently" when the news broke.

Wilson declined to address the state of the relationship between EA and Respawn. Nor did he confirm that only the first Titanfall would be an Xbox exclusive (though a follow-up Tweet from Zampella seemed to indicate that would be the case.)

On the operations side, EA plans to continue its focus on free-to-play PC games and mobile. Frank Gibeau, who until recently had overseen EA's core games, moved over to the company's mobile division with a particular focus on building what Wilson called "epic mobile games" for audiences in both North America and Asia.

Of course, it's the upcoming launches of next-generation systems from Microsoft and Sony that has gamers captivated -- and EA is counting on those consoles to help turn things around for the industry. Wilson says he expects next-gen games will represent "the lion's share" of revenue for EA within the next year or two.

But don't expect Nintendo's Wii U to be a significant part of EA's plans in the near term.

"With Nintendo, it's more about what gamers want to play on those platforms," he says. "We we feel there is an appropriately-sized installed based and player base, then we will look at the company again. ... We build for gamers, so it's important that you have the requisite size to build to."

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