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EA's fast-rising sports games chief Wilson named as CEO

Andrew Wilson, executive vice president, EA Sports, speaks about EA Sports Ignite, developed for Xbox One during a press event unveiling Mic
Andrew Wilson, executive vice president, EA Sports, speaks about EA Sports Ignite, developed for Xbox One during a press event unveiling Mic

By Malathi Nayak

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Electronic Arts Inc named its sports and digital games division head Andrew Wilson as chief executive on Tuesday, appointing the 39-year-old with a strong track record in leading game development after a six-month search.

Wilson, who hails from Australia, joined Electronic Arts in 2000, climbing rapidly through the ranks in Asia and the United States.

He took the reins at EA Sports, which publishes blockbuster titles such as soccer franchise "FIFA", as an executive vice-president in August 2011. He also assumed responsibility for the company's digital platform, "Origin", in April, leading efforts to increase revenue from the game maker's fast-expanding digital business.

Wilson "was a safe choice as he is not going to shake things up," said Colin Sebastian, an analyst at R.W. Baird.

"He's got credibility with developers in the studios, has been successful in growing FIFA and, as he ran Origin, that proves he has a digital pedigree as well."

Wilson said in a Tuesday blog post he will sustain the company's investment in mobile gaming, the industry's fastest-growing sector, along with traditional console-based and personal computer gaming.

The executive spent much of his career at EA's game-development studios, in roles revolving around game and content production, gaining credibility at a company that prizes creative talent.

In contrast, former CEO John Riccitiello who abruptly stepped down in March after missed operational targets, joined Electronic Arts after stints at Pepsico and Clorox .

"Andrew is the first studio executive to serve as our CEO, a testament to his blend of creative skills and business acumen," Executive Chairman Larry Probst said in a blog post on Tuesday.

Electronic Arts and rivals like Activision Blizzard Inc have seen growth fall sharply as gamers flock to free-to-play games on mobile devices or social networks.

In recent years, Electronic Arts has tried to buy startups and invest in digital and mobile platforms while also trying to grow its console game franchises.

To embrace new game platforms and adapt to consumer behavior, Electronic Arts, which currently has 9,000 employees worldwide, has been reorganizing its game studios and trimming its staff in recent months.

Its shares were relatively unchanged in after hours trade after closing at $27.60 on the Nasdaq.

NEW BLOOD

Riccitiello left after six years at the helm. The company has had some recent slip-ups, including a botched launch of city-building game "SimCity" earlier this year, which was marred by technical glitches.

Also, multiplayer online game "Star Wars: The Old Republic" initially failed to sustain subscribers after launching amid much hype in 2011 and the company now offers the game to users for free.

Electronic Arts touts its two-decade old "FIFA" franchise as one of its most successful game series. It has grown "FIFA" by successfully offering a steady stream of online offerings and digital versions to be played on mobile devices, alongside the conosle game.

"If (Wilson) can replicate that across other franchises, then EA as a whole will be better off," Sebastian said.

Like other publishers, the video game maker is now positioning itself to take advantage of the next-generation consoles like the Xbox One from Microsoft Corp and PlayStation 4 from Sony Corp, which will both hit store shelves in November.

The company has a strong lineup of games for the upcoming consoles, including shooter "Battlefield 4" and a new sci-fi battle game, "Titanfall".

Wilson starts at an annual base salary of $800,000 and is eligible for a bonus of 150 percent of that upon hitting his targets, the company said.

(Editing by Eric Walsh and Edwina Gibbs)

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