Let me throw some numbers at you: according to EA CFO, Blake Jorgensen, EA is making 1.3 billion dollars a year from its extra content business (season passes, map-packs, Ultimate Team, and other micro-transactions), and around half of that comes from Ultimate Team in FIFA, NFL, and Madden franchises on all platforms. That is equivalent to $650 million in annual revenue, and when assessed in the context of last fiscal year's results, Ultimate Team accounts for roughly 30% of EA's $2.23 billion dollars in digital revenue. Keep in mind that these numbers aren't only for Ultimate Team on mobile but for the consoles as well. However, that really doesn't make a difference because when we take these numbers and then put them alongside EA's recent games, a pretty clear pattern begins to emerge.
While EA's figures cover Ultimate Team on all platforms, the development of FIFA on mobile is a good example of where EA is heading. FIFA 14 was free to play game with a one-time premium unlock. It had numerous modes (online friendlies, seasons, etc) in addition to the Ultimate Team mode, and it was probably (in my opinion) the best football game on mobile to this date. Jump to FIFA 16 Ultimate Team [Free], and you can see even from the name that something has changed in EA's strategy.
When I reviewed this game a few months back, I gave it a generous 2.5 stars because by stripping all the modes away and leaving only Ultimate Team, EA managed to turn a great football game into a game about navigating menus and IAPs with the occasional kicking of the ball. While I was pretty sure money was the reason why EA went this route with its flagship mobile football game, the numbers coming from Jorgensen confirmed that EA is simply following the trail of money, and that trail is unfortunately leading them straight to free to play games with plenty of micro-transactions on all platforms.
And in case some of you are already loading the "this is why mobile sucks" cannon, I would advise restraint. The other kind of sports games I like are the UFC ones, and guess what? For the first time in the franchise, the upcoming EA Sports UFC 2 on PS4 and XBOX One will have an Ultimate Team mode, too. On the one hand, I can't blame EA for simply going for the tree that has the most money hanging off it, but personally I'm really disappointed with this Ultimate Team trend because that mode completely alters the way a game is played, and (in my opinion) not for the better.
Would it be a stretch to say that EA will continue shifting its attention to the Ultimate Team part of its sports franchises on all platforms? Going by the history of FIFA 16 Ultimate Team and the decision to add an Ultimate Team mode to EA Sports UFC 2, EA's games on mobile and consoles will probably gradually have a cheaper up-front price and many more opportunities for players to spend money in-game. After all, EA has about 650 million reasons to do just that.