In 2007, the NFL staged a regular-season game in London for the first time ever. The night before, the American ambassador invited several VIPs to the U.S. embassy there. Even diplomatic cocktail parties do not proceed without some formality.
Guests, who had already been screened, were to introduce themselves to the embassy guards, two lantern-jawed United States Marines in immaculate blue dress, one from Camp Pendelton, the other Camp Lejeune. A trim, goateed man with a Liverpool accent approached and gave his name and representation.
"Peter Moore," he said. "EA Sports."
Standing ramrod straight, the Marines still returned salute to the British civilian.
"It's in the game," they said.
"These were two Marines on their absolute best behavior," Moore, the outgoing president of EA Sports, recalled Friday, "and they didn't know each other, either. But it was like a reflex for a young, male American, almost like a tap on the knee with a rubber mallet. EA Sports. It's in the game."
Moore, 55, tells the story as exhibit A in why the past four years heading the label were the coolest job in the world, as he puts it. Thursday, Electronic Arts announced he was moving up in the company, becoming its chief operating officer, now concerned with the performance of Battlefield and Mass Effect in addition to Madden and FIFA
His transition out of the job doesn't leave a void—Andrew Wilson, who has development experience in addition to his executive tenure, immediately takes over EA Sports' big chair. But even then, many gamers may not know or care who is the top man in charge of the games they play. They, like the Marines, come to attention not on the mention of Peter Moore, but the label.
But as the first president governing the entire catalog of the sports segment's largest publisher, Moore made himself and his office very visible and, he hopes, accountable, somewhat like an elected official. He and his institution have certainly dealt with the kind of skepticism and criticism, if not invective, directed at members of Congress and their institution. A satirical depiction of Moore on South Park helps make the political analogy, too.
President was a fitting title for Moore, who brought a level of public campaigning with customers to a genre that certainly isn't hurt by it and in fact may need it more because of the nature of the product. All game genres need community management, but sports, as a traditionally annual product, especially runs the risk of offending gamers by seeming to take them for granted. And that's the message most likely sent if a publisher isn't engaging its base properly. In that regard, Electronic Arts chose very well when it decided to reorganize its command structure into labels in 2007, and put Moore, a very charismatic figure well known through the two consoles he helped launch at Sega and Microsoft, in charge of EA Sports.
When he arrived, Moore said he was "horrified" to find policies in place at Electronic Arts "that frowned upon development staff talking externally, without severe media training first. The social platforms were just starting to be there for us to use," Moore said. "We changed that, and encouraged everyone else to explain themselves to the fans.
"Well, there was a lot of paranoia [internally] about it, saying things like 'We can't have people using their real names because we'll lose them to the competition,'" Moore said, chuckling. "'So let's give them pseudonyms!' No. We stopped that, we wiped that aside, and we relied on the utilization of common sense."
Moore created an official blog that he hoped would serve as a way of explaining his decisions, which of course were a lot wider reaching. He discovered early on how transparency can be a nice principle and a thankless goal. In early 2008, EA Sports made the decision to end development of Madden NFL for the PC, a bellwether in sports' steep decline on that platform. This also involved a gamer constituency not known for reacting proportionately to bad news.
Moore, on his official blog, tried a gentle break-up, but still made it clear that, as a business, you cancel products that aren't selling. It's hard to see how the reactions could have been much worse had EA Sports simply scrapped its PC work with no explanation. Commenters on his blog insulted him, his manhood, and suggested he go perform unnatural acts. Moore, in his experience with the Dreamcast and Xbox 360, knew that comes with the territory.
"It was a little risky developing a blog that offered an unfiltered discussion, and allows people to say whatever they think," Moore said. "But I felt it was a very useful outreach.
"We get a lot of criticism and abuse, and a lot of it comes on Kotaku," he added matter-of-factly. "I know it has a lot to do with who it is and what we are, and also the licenses we negotiate." He said he reads the entirety of the posts and all of its comments, knowing there are some who are automatically disposed against him, his label, and whatever it's trying to do at the time. But he will find legitimate criticism and weigh it in his thinking. And it really can have an effect on how a game is built.
Sometime last year, Moore got an email from a 14-year-old who noted that how Madden handled a player getting a concussion was inconsistent with NFL policy on the injury. In Madden NFL 10 a player could re-enter the game after any injury, including concussions. The league forbids re-entry, a recent change that underscores the seriousness of the issue.
I think about how I'd react to something like that. I'm thin-skinned; I would have been inclined to toss that in the trash and wonder aloud why a 14-year-old expected me to optimize a game process that doesn't sell extra games and few even pay attention to. I'm not the EA Sports president, either. Now, it helps that this teenager turns out to be the son of Larry Baer, the president of the San Francisco Giants. But Moore didn't know it at the time. He directed the Madden development team to look into the matter and square it with league policy. This year, Madden NFL 12 won a public pat on the back for putting a teachable moment, about the seriousness of head injuries, into the game and its commentary.
So, Moore thinks it does matter, to gamers, who's in charge of a label like EA Sports. "He becomes a voice of the gamer, when he speaks to the development team," Moore said. "And the unique advantage Andrew Wilson has coming into this job, is his development background. He can sit down with producers, with developers, with network engineers and know exactly what they do and what they face on a daily basis."
Wilson also has a background building FIFA into a dominant, critically acclaimed franchise that seems almost immune to the kind of backlash and overdog resentment Moore reads in the blog comments. The swift turnaround of that series from also-ran to global No. 1 is a point of pride in Moore's tenure, not least because he's a big soccer fan himself. (A conference room at his headquarters is named "Anfield," and festooned with Liverpool F.C. regalia.) He doesn't rank the label's successes, careful not to impugn hard workers on other well built titles, noting that NHL is a world-class game without much of a glamorous aura. But it's plain that FIFA is pretty special.
There have been notable misses, thuds and, frankly, disasters. "I can't apologize enough about NBA Elite," Moore said of the game, so flawed it was canceled one week before street date last year. "Until we fix that, it will continue to be something where I go, 'Boy, did we miss the boat on that one.'" EA Sports MMA, which I felt was a solid game, did not sell well, which Moore said was more due to missed business forecasting than product quality. NASCAR and NCAA Basketball limped to the end of the decade and then shuttered.
"There are always things wish you could have done, and which fell through the cracks," Moore said. "But when you look at the weight of the achievements versus what we missed, I when you look at weight of achievements versus what missed, like to think boat tips very heavily to our favor."
Though the transition is effective more or less immediately, Moore will visit EA Canada in British Columbia, and EA Tiburon, in Florida, one last time this coming week. When he gets back, he'll move out of the EA Sports building on the campus, with its Anfield conference center and sports bar—though it sounds like Moore will keep the keys to the bar. Wilson will probably occupy his old office by the time Moore returns and begins as chief operating officer.
"It will be bittersweet to walk in at Tiburon and EA Canada knowing it's the last time I'll be there for a full day, other than in annual franchise reviews," Moore said. "But hey, it's not like I'm disappearing."
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Saturdays.