Tiger Woods Confirmed for Console Release as EA Opens Online Beta

At risk of stealing its own thunder, EA Sports confirmed today that its next console golf simulation will feature beleaguered superstar Tiger Woods in the title; EA's announcement came right as it opened the beta for its online golf game.

Woods is currently on a leave from professional golf as he manages a very public, very embarrassing marital infidelity scandal, but neither his indefinite timetable for returning to the PGA Tour nor his tarnished image were enough to end his 11-year run on the title of EA's golf offering.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 will release in June for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, and also on the iPhone.

The game golf fans may play now, however, is Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, which will be EA Sports' first big push into subscription-based online play for PC or Mac OS. The beta is free and open to the public for as long as it runs, which Mike Taramykin, the game's executive producer, said should last for at least "a couple months." The game recently completed four closed betas over an eight-month span.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online restores the simulation to the PC, which hadn't seen a new title since 2008. The game's sales performance on the PC had slipped noticeably beginning around 2003, Taramykin said. "Rather than come out with another DVD version of the game, we decided to go back to the drawing board," he said, "and come up with a new way of delivering authentic golf to millions of connected gamers."

The online version is entirely browser-based. In it, players will encounter swing-meter gameplay familiar to console versions of the game. Seven real-life courses are available immediately.

But the biggest differences will be in the game's career mode, which will play out in quasi-MMO fashion. Players will earn experience and money to rank up their golfer's skills and swing attributes. EA Sports also built a large social dynamic into the game, allowing users to be aware of other golfers playing the same course, chat with them and see their shot placements, or simply turn it all off and concentrate solely on their games.

Two other features also encourage interacting with other golfers and spreading word about the game. "Sponsoring" another player allows a player to bet, more or less, that an online colleague will make that day's cut line (an average score determined by the community at that difficulty level). If he does, the sponsoring player collects an experience bonus. But if the sponsored player doesn't play, the sponsor misses out, and so the incentive to remind friends to play is apparent.

The other feature is akin to an online "Arnie's Army." Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online offers connectivity with Facebook, and through that players may recruit friends, whether they play or not, to join their galleries. A multiplier bonus to experience is awarded commensurate with the size of a player's gallery.

Taramykin was also careful to point out that the game saves a player's progress shot-by-shot, allowing him to interrupt a round repeatedly (a common example: someone's boss coming around the corner at work) and play it over the course of a week as well as finishing 18 holes of golf in a single sitting.

EA Sports has yet to finalize a pricing structure when the game enters its full release, Taramykin said. But it will be a multi-tiered schedule to accommodate how often one wishes to play. The game will also feature microtransactions to allow for the instant purchase of branded pro shop items and/or attribute upgrades instantly. But Taramykin said all such items will also be unlockable for free by acquiring experience through gameplay.

Perhaps indicating where pricing tiers might be divided, data culled from the closed beta showed participants playing an average of 13 rounds of golf a month. The closed betas, which at their height saw 70,000 participants, also showed a much older user base for Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online than the game's peers elsewhere in PC or sports gaming. Taramykin said 74 percent were 34 years or older, and 20 percent were over 55. Further, 90 percent also play golf in real life. While EA Sports is trying to figure out if its installation base are golfers who like games, or vice versa, the figures do show it breaking ground in a robust new market.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online [site]