By John Gaudiosi
HOMESTEAD, FL—New EA Sports President Peter Moore was at Miami Speedway over the weekend to hand out the $US 10,000 check to NASCAR Challenge winner Brandon Coppinger of Nashville, TN. Before heading to a meeting with the NASCAR drivers to talk videogames, Moore took some time for this exclusive Kotaku interview.
When asked how the unique NASCAR experience compared to his F1 racing, the Brit said that F1 had gotten boring for a while because ? Schumacher seemed to win every race. Moore was recently in London, where he had the opportunity to meet the latest F1 sensation, Lewis Hamilton.
"Between Hamilton and the scandal involving the exchange of information between McLaren and Ferrari, F1 is getting more interesting," said Moore. "But. I'll tell you, there's nothing like a NASCAR race. This is my first NASCAR race in the flesh, although I follow the circuit." This year's inaugural NASCAR Challenge, which was a partnership with Craftsman, is the key to expanding the sport and the game's sales moving forward, according to Moore.
"NASCAR has been a one nation sales opportunity, but we're working with our NASCAR partners on the ability to bring NASCAR, even here in North America, to places that normally don't get a chance to see races," said Moore. "We had 11 winners from retail tournaments for the NASCAR Challenge, but we also had five online winners, so utilising the Internet is going to be the key to involve more people."
The NASCAR Challenge semi-finals and finals too place before the Ford 400 Championship race on pit row under a black tent surrounded by palm trees. Game Live's founder evidently loves palm trees, which did shade contestants from the 81 degree November Miami sun. CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger was on hand to provide commentary for the final race.
"You can see this is quite an undertaking and it's not something you can do every week, particularly with the lack of tracks the further west you get," said Moore. "The ability for us to bring the NASCAR experience virtually is going to be the key."
EA Sports, through its long-term partnership with ESPN, has turned "Madden Nation" into a hit series and televised the Madden Challenge. Last season, NBA Live also got its own TV show. Could a NASCAR Challenge program be far behind?
"I would hope so," said Moore. "We do phenomenal TV programming with ESPN around Madden, whether it's 'Madden Nation' or the Madden Bowl or the Madden Challenge. I see no reason why we can't get NASCAR on TV, particularly since driving is such an easy sport to translate to television. Madden is a little bit different because you have to look to figure out what's going on. Driving is different because it's easy to see who's leading and who's chasing. We now have ESPN integration in the new NASCAR game. I hope we can get together with ESPN and really bring this Challenge alive in a new way."
Next year's NASCAR 09 PlayStation 2 game is currently in development at EA's new Raleigh, NC studio. Moore said EA Sports is starting to develop a studio in Raleigh because it's part of the culture in North Carolina.
"It gets NASCAR out of Orlando (EA Tiburon) a little bit, where we're still dominated—whether we like it or not—by our Madden and Tiger Woods games," said Moore. "It allows the NASCAR franchise to stand on its own two feet as a game. The ability to bring the game not only to the next gen platforms, but also to the PSP, handhelds, and mobile are all ways that I think our Raleigh Studio will help expand this franchise in the future."
With the opening of EA's Raleigh Studio came the closing of EA Chicago, home of Fight Night and Def Jam.
"Our boxing franchise will move over to Vancouver," said Moore. "The Fight Night franchise is very important to us. We have 1,400 people over in Vancouver. This closure is the classic redeployment of resources."
Beyond the addition of NASCAR to the EA Sports Challenge Circuit, Moore said he believes an NHL Challenge will debut in the not-so-distant future. In addition, EA Sports is with Sony on a new iteration of the FIFA Interactive World Cup.
"In my previous life at Microsoft, I helped develop the FIFA Interactive World Cup," said Moore. "If you think NASCAR's a challenge, then try to imagine getting people together to play FIFA when you have soccer played in 180 countries. We distribute FIFA games in 42 countries. Online becomes critical. EA and Microsoft worked together a few years ago to establish the FIFA Interactive World Cup. Now with Sony's sponsorship of FIFA, we're going to be working with SCEA and SCE to be able to develop this competition and bring it one notch further. I think this could be the model of how you can bring this experience to someone in their own living room. As long as they're on some kind of a connected network using a console or even a PC I think we can deliver that on the couch moving forward."
When told that the first Madden Challenge winner was a die hard PlayStation 3 gamer, Moore said he loves all the platforms.
"As long as he's playing EA Sports that's fine by me," said the former Microsoft and Sega exec. "We have the 360 here primarily because of the great steering wheel. This is a multi-platform game. I think Xbox helped us enormously, especially with being able to deliver some of this equipment for the NASCAR Challenge, but that doesn't mean this thing is an Xbox 360 exclusive in any way."
Moore has no regrets about jumping ship from Microsoft and heading up EA Sports, but he does believe it's a small world.
"Back in my Sega days, I competed pretty aggressively against EA Sports the first time around against Riccitello when we were having a good time at Sega Sports," said Moore. "We developed 2K Sports when I was at Sega and interestingly, they've become a competitor of mine now. It's amazing what goes around, comes around. And more recently at Microsoft, we had a great time working with EA Sports. I've both competed with and collaborated with them. It feels real good to be back in the Bay Area."