As the pandemic spurred massive sales and engagement for sports video games over the past 12 months, industry giant Electronic Arts is betting the trend endures.
The $5.7 billion-in-revenue video game publisher announced the acquisition of Canadian developer Metalhead Software at the market close Wednesday. Founded by Scott Drader and Christian Zuger in 2009, Metalhead makes the critically acclaimed Super Mega Baseball franchise, which released its third iteration in May 2020. Earlier this year, EA said it plans to bring back its popular college football and PGA Tour games.
“Baseball is a sport we had aspired to be back in, and we looked at a number of different options,” said EA Sports executive vice president Cam Weber. “The team at Metalhead has consistently produced high-quality sports titles with relatively minimal resourcing over the years.”
EA was previously in the baseball business for more than a decade with its Triple Play Baseball and MVP Baseball titles until 2K Sports secured exclusive Major League Baseball licensing rights starting in 2006. Super Mega Baseball does not have an official license, so its draw is built around customization options. Weber says he dove deeply into the game last summer during the coronavirus lockdowns, pitting his team, the Platipis, against his 13-year-old son’s squad, the Sirloins, which featured mashers like Harry Backman and Hammer Longballo.
Weber doesn’t rule out a license agreement in the future but sees Super Mega Baseball as a game with a “whimsical and fun tone and style,” and an alternative to San Diego Studios’ MLB: The Show, which currently owns the MLB console license and has a stranglehold on that simulation market. EA is not planning to release an updated Super Mega Baseball game in 2021. EA would not comment on financial terms of the deal. Metalhead, based in Victoria, B.C., has roughly 20 employees.
The Metalhead purchase follows Electronic Arts’ $2.1 billion acquisition of Glu Mobile, which closed last week. The Glu deal bolsters EA’s mobile gaming platform and includes the popular MLB Tap Sports Baseball franchise, which is licensed by MLB and features young stars Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr., on the 2021 cover. Tap Sports had 45 million downloads and $340 million in lifetime bookings ahead of this year’s release, according to the company.
“Tap Sports is a high-performing mobile game, and we are looking for ways to collaborate and leverage essentially what they are doing with what we’re doing,” said Weber.
Super Mega Baseball, though not a traditional simulation game with an official league license, would join EA’s powerhouse team, led by the FIFA and Madden franchises. The gaming company also owns the rights to the official games of the NHL and UFC, and all four titles hit record levels of engagement in the past year. EA added Formula One to its lineup in February through the $1.3 billion acquisition of British gaming studio Codemasters, which will release the 13th version of its F1 series in July.
The largest video game companies have become entertainment powerhouses—witness the 254,000 average audience who watched a one-day FIFA esports tournament in November. Weber is targeting an even bigger slice of the pie, laying out a strategy 18 months ago to expand its sports offerings. He says 230 million people engaged with the EA Sports franchises over the last 12 months, as either active players or through viewing competitions. He expects that figure to more than double to 500 million within five years after the recent acquisitions and game expansions.