The lowdown on EA Games' digital engagement platform
- 08 November, 2021 07:33
Cultural relevance and appealing to a broader array of casual gamers are in the sights of EA Games with this year’s new and improved FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) United global squad-building competition.
FUT United is a twist on regular fantasy football leagues and allows users to work together with gamers from their region to build the best possible national team. Participants compete for competition prizes, in-game rewards and exclusive player kit as they strive to reach the top of a global leaderboard. The online platform is an EA-owned ecosystem created by Digitas Australia, powered by the international FIFA football community and acts as a marketing and community engagement offering in one.
As of this year, the digital platform has been localised to 12 markets in six languages, with fresh regional approaches across Asia-Pacific and Latin America now available.
It also takes advantage of an individual player-ID login, dubbed ‘EA-ID’, launched last year to better capture data on players’ onsite participation, engagement, in-game performance and spend within the platform. This treasure trove of first-party data is increasingly being used to power more connection within FUT United and improve both content and the digital experience. FUT United runs from October through to end of March.
Content creation roots
EA head of creative strategy and player engagement Asia, Liam McClure, originally worked for Digitas and was part of the first version of the FUT program. He told CMO the platform initially kicked off in the Middle East as an influencer content creator program.
“The idea was we wanted to band together a group of creators and give them a platform to work from,” he explained. “We called it the ‘Fursan’ project, using a Middle Eastern term for a group of knights. We went all out, creating kits for them so they could stand out in the crowd for the content they created. It connected strongly and people got very into it. I think this was because it was a mixture of extremely talented creators and also the first instance of EA as a global brand engaging within the region on a cultural level.”
One of EA’s early motivators was content that encouraged users to share socially, thereby disrupting social feeds.
“For example, we built a mechanic where you could come into the platform, sign up and enter the competition. Then to get extra points, you could share content from the platform in social channels,” McClure said. “We had a leaderboard and people got quite into sharing football or EA-related content.
“We followed the same principle of leveraging content creators to tell the story of our live service of our game. We had creators working on ‘beats’, creating content, and we incentivised people with an opportunity to win prizes, including a mix of in-game rewards.”
FUT United has since expanded, gaining more shape and scope thanks to work undertaken by the Digitas team. Onto its fourth iteration, the platform is very much an ongoing community program, refreshed and enhanced each year.
One of the most significant advancements has been introducing the EA identity login.
“This allowed us to start to understand who the players were coming to the FUT United platform. We could see what content they engaged in, what was bringing them back and also what they were then going on to engage with in-game. That then shaped how we create a more insights-driven content plan around the program,” McClure said. “It also helps us understand behaviours of the players. That, in turn, helps us be more player-first in our approach.
“Being able to understand who we speak to and how they engage is now a massive part of the platform for us. In the world of data, the importance of building a platform that enables you to understand players is very important. I think we’ll see a lot more people doing this.”
Another big plus for McClure has been the way FUT United helps EA deliver a global campaign in a culturalised manner.
And it’s this wider understanding and scope to the platform, along with new digital features, McClure sees as instrumental to broadening EA’s FIFA gaming appeal outside of a core gaming community. An emphasis this year for the marketing campaign supporting FUT United as well as gaming influencers involved is educating and incentivising new people coming into the platform.
In each market, gaming influencers as captains of the national FUT United teams will be sharing bespoke content via social media and communicating the latest in-game innovations and prizes in the local language.To help, Digitas has streamlined the captain briefing and content creation to ensure optimal influencer output this year. It's also created dynamic image generation to allow users to share their vote to social.
A simplified onboarding process is another innovation this year, explaining what the team process is, what the platform is all about and more what you’re going to see and actually do, McClure continued.
“For those who already know and jump straight in, they enter a much more community focused platform where the community actually selects the team, what players get added over the course of the season. At the end of the season you have this optimum team that can win. It’s a long-term buy-in to potentially win with this awesome team,” he said.
A regional leaderboard has also been introduced so users can see how they’re rating regionally, plus the platform has been extended into Latin America and Asia, double the regions available previously.
“Initially, this platform was very core gamer focused - people who knew the creators we were using, and those very focused on the platform and title,” McClure continued. “But gaming has gone beyond this thing in a corner. I see it in the same vein as music, art and film, or another hobby or interest.
“After the initial focus on this core audience, we want to expand awareness around the brand, bring more people into the game.
“We know we have hard-core fans on the site, but we also have mid-core and casual players coming in now as well and broader football fans too. It’s not capturing everybody… but we’re definitely making it as interesting to a broader range of people.”
Other tactical activations include the beat selections, plus simplification of how users choose a player to their team. Logged in users also now see the teams and can dig into what region selected who, plus overall ratings for the team and their chemistry – another strong link to the FIFA game itself.
“We thought long and hard about the user journey of the platform, so the whole experience is smoother and linear process,” McClure said.
“We have also added streaks in, as we’re looking to tap into the hooks of people’s behaviour. So if you do things multiple times, you’re in line to lift the grand jackpot prize. It’s thinking more about user behaviour and psychology to try and make the platform as much of an immersive experience as is possible.”
Using data, EA is also looking at the connection between its platform and in-game behaviours. “We want to understand how players are moving through the game and what they engage so we can build a better platform,” McClure said.
At a broader level, EA also engages in social listening as a further way to understand gamers and the community around its games so it can pull that in to influence campaigns and shape product roadmaps as much as it can with the voice of its players. EA has two game creation studios in Asia: Seoul and Shanghai.
As for the supporting FUT United campaign, EA is adopting a geo-targeted social media content, cross-merchandising assets across the Sony PlayStation splash screen and via in-app banners, promoting through the FIFA Companion app.
For McClure, FUT United is instrumental to other EA campaigns as well as the wider quest to build brand authenticity and credibility.
“When we have global beats coming up, we can tie FUT United to that. Through this platform, we have built a known brand in regions with equity that’s a trusted source of information,” he said. “People can go there as well as our social channels to find out information and get a different take on what the beat, player or card is. It’s truly a support tool to our live service.”
Digitas executive creative director, Simon Brock, said the platform is a true companion piece to the live service sports game.
“The most effective modern marketing isn’t always about awareness, taglines and celebrity endorsements. The thinking behind FIFA Ultimate Team United is about finding relevant audiences, engaging them with relevant experiences and leveraging data, insights, and technology to develop deeper brand connections,” he commented.
McClure said short-term measures for rating the ecosystem’s success include video engagement, social conversations, spikes when content is up, views, likes and engagement.
“Longer term is where it gets interesting,” he said. “What we want to measure is the share of voice we get through this platform and what that adds to the overall FIFA brand in the region. We also want to look to understand players better and that return player who keeps coming back year after year. From that, we could make the platform even bigger.
“We want to be the most authentic football experience we can be. And we want to blur the lines between gaming and real life. I want people who are into football to play FIFA with their friend, then go out and watch their favourite team play. We’re part of the lifestyle.”