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EA has big plans for its UFC game


It's an exciting time at EA Sports for executive VP Andrew Wilson. He's pretty stoked about acquiring the UFC license, the result of the dire financial situation going on at THQ right now, the previous UFC license holder. "Yes, yes it is," Wilson tells me when I say it must be a good time to be in the sports game, uh, game.

But how did EA get the license? Who approached who? How did it all go down? How much did EA really pay for the license? While Wilson couldn't go into the specificity I would've liked regarding some of those subjects, he did at least give me some background on how this new deal came together – and just what it means for MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) gaming fans looking forward to the future.

"THQ and UFC had an agreement – for what it's worth, I think THQ built some great games –but they're making a decision now to focus more on their own IP and that's the strategy they want to work with," Wilson said. He's speaking of newly-appointed president Jason Rubin's goal to focus on THQ's original IP and bring the turmoiled publisher back to prosperity. "We actually had a very good relationship with UFC and THQ, and at a point those guys decided THQ wanted to go in a different direction, and we were approached to see if we were interested, given those relationships we had. We're on personal, first-name basis with the people who run THQ and UFC, so it made sense for us. We all sat down and had a conversation and once the relationship had settled with UFC and THQ, then we were able to start conversations with UFC about doing something with us. As you can imagine, we're very excited about it."

But this isn't EA's first foray into MMA. The publisher produced a game called EA Sports' MMA in 2010, which enjoyed moderate critical acclaim. But if the sport is such a big deal, why didn't EA follow it up with a sequel? For Wilson, it's just not the same unless that UFC tag is on the box. "An MMA game in the absence of the UFC brand is not quite an MMA game. UFC has done a tremendous job building the sport of MMA – I think they put on promotions better than any other organization in the world. UFC by far does the best promotion globally and have the best fighters. We remain committed to MMA as a sport, but, you're right, we hadn't released another MMA game because without the UFC it doesn't make a lot of sense."

The partnership between EA and UFC was announced at the publisher's E3 press conference, though no gameplay and really no further details were offered. I asked Wilson exactly who would be working on this game. It has to be the EA Sports MMA studio, EA Tiburon, right?

"I think both of our key studios will be involved," Wilson said referring to both EA Tiburon and EA Canada. "We had Fight Night Champion, which is one of the highest-rated fighting games that's ever been made, and that team has continued to deliver what I feel is still the best striking in any fighting game in our industry. We've got the MMA team, who I think delivered great grappling, the best grappling I've ever seen. So I think we have great knowledge and great background and great tech across our studios."

"We're going to sit down over the next few weeks and really look at what's the best way to take this game global." -Andrew Wilson, EVP EA Sports

It's far too early to talk about who's doing what yet, though. Wilson says "the ink is still damp on the deal" and that the game is still at the concept stage right now. "We're going to sit down over the next few weeks and really look at what's the best way to take this game global. That's going to mean across platforms; that's going to mean different business models and different territories; that's going to mean big frontline console games and social and mobile interaction. It's a big business for us and we're very excited."

And that's one of the most curious aspects of this story, an announcement at E3 with nothing to show. E3 is a venue for big news, but it's possible one bit of news could be drowned out by all of the other news – especially when you've got nothing to back it up. "Clearly we felt it was big news and the world agreed with us that it's big news, so I feel like we made the right decision to get the news out there," Wilson said. "We felt really good about it, the UFC felt really good about it, and by all accounts, what we wanted gamers to know is there will be more UFC games. In the absence of us coming out and saying it, there could've been some ambiguity there because UFC and THQ had agreed to not pursue any more games. The big thing for us is reassuring fight fans and gamers that no matter what you hear, there are going to be great UFC experiences long into the future."

How far in the future is yet to be determined.

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