One of the world’s biggest video game publishers is on track to buy the world’s biggest racing game developer. And in case you question why Electronic Arts would be interested in Codemasters, it’s all about the annual potential.
More specifically, it’s all about Formula 1. EA held an investor call yesterday and issued a deck in tandem with it. On pages 15 and 16, the publishing giant addresses the Codemasters acquisition in the most detail yet. Among the reasons listed for the takeover is that Codies will “enable EA to release new racing experiences annually,” and we know big publishers love their annual franchises.
Formula 1 is Codies’ only annual series at the moment, one it’s been advancing on a yearly basis since 2009 after taking over licensing rights from Sony. Following a few rocky years early on, the franchise has blossomed into a critical and commercial darling — something that EA is keenly aware of, as the publisher cites a Metacritic score of 88 for the latest release, F1 2020, right there in its slideshow.
The rise of F1 as a gaming entity mirrors F1's growth as a sport throughout the 2010s. In 2019, the sport reached 1.9 billion viewers — the most globally since 2012 — though unique viewership dipped slightly. Of course, this was before the pandemic, which saw revenues of F1 racing plummet as a result of nonexistent ticket and hospitality sales in 2020. The growth of F1's social media channels has helped broaden the sport, and it has a TikTok now, if you can believe it. Would you ever envision that happening under Bernie Ecclestone?
Anyway, all of this makes F1 the perfect fit for EA Sports. The publisher can count on F1 every year, just like it can count on Madden and FIFA, plus F1 enjoys considerably more critical praise than those franchises do (Madden 21 sits at 63 on Metacritic, while FIFA sits at 74.) The circumstances are ripe for a microtransaction-laden F1 Ultimate Team mode, which you just know EA is trying to workshop. I look forward to unwrapping an 80-overall Nick Heidfeld in a card pack I spent $5 on.
There’s yet more annual racing-game potential waiting in the wings for EA, too, as Codemasters seeks to ship its first licensed World Rally Championship title by 2023. The potential for profit here surely won’t be as enormous as with F1, which has me a little worried. The Dirt Rally crew working on a fully licensed WRC experience would be a match made in heaven, the kind that racing game and rallying fans have been pining for forever. Kylotonn, which continues to produce WRC games until Codies takes over, has delivered solid titles in its own right, though the studio can’t really push the technical envelope like Codemasters and EA should be able to with their pooled resources.
Besides F1 and WRC, Dirt will continue on in its two-pronged arcade and sim fashion, judging by the slide. There’s also Grid and Project Cars — two circuit-racing series that are in danger of stepping on each other’s toes these days, especially as Project Cars 3 went for an arcade slant, unlike its predecessors.
It’s unclear what the EA acquisition could impose for whatever titles these respective Codies-owned studios have in the works. I don’t have to point out that EA has a history of meddling with its internal studios. Need For Speed has been one of the worst victims of that. Ghost Games developed what was, in my opinion, a promising return to form with 2019's NFS Heat, only for EA to rip the series away and give it back to Criterion for the next release; Criterion had already lost NFS when it was thrown to Ghost in the first place. Burnout’s inclusion in the presentation is particularly soul-crushing, considering there hasn’t been a new entry in that franchise in 13 years.
So, yeah, there are still many, many questions to be answered here, and we probably won’t see the true ramifications of this acquisition in the market for a couple of years. EA will soon house a supergroup of legendary racing game development talents — I pray they tap into it effectively, but most of all, patiently.