How the Simpsons will spark EA's freemium push

Electronic Arts plans to launch a freemium Simpsons game for iOS in the coming weeks, in what it expects to be one of its biggest mobile titles of the year.

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Roger Cheng
3 min read
The Simpsons and Homer are coming to iOS devices in the coming weeks, courtesy of Electronic Arts. Electronic Arts

The Simpsons are going mobile in a big way with a free iOS game created by Electronics Art.

EA plans to release The Simpsons: Tapped Out to iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad in the coming weeks, the video game giant told CNET. The game will be given away for free, but players will have the option to buy virtual currency, or in this case, "doughnuts," that can speed up the game's progress.

The game rides on the latest trend in mobile gaming: the freemium business model. As I've written in a previous column, EA is looking to make big strides in freemium games this year. The Simpsons figure prominently in its lineup, and could change the perception that EA rides largely on premium titles such as Madden.

"We want this to be one of the biggest titles this year," said Bernard Kim, senior vice president of global publishing for social and mobile for EA. "We've invested a lot. It's absolutely a top-tier development priority for us."

EA certainly went all out with the game. Tapped Out was created with the help of the show's writers and voice actors, adding an authentic level of humor to the game. The game will have both written and audio dialogue.

"Hardcore Simpsons fans will get a lot out of it," Kim said.

The game naturally starts off with a colossal blunder by Homer, causing a nuclear explosion that wipes out Springfield (don't worry, no one is actually harmed; they're scattered around the city). So the player's job is to rebuild Springfield in his own vision, undergoing quests using different characters that are unlocked along the way.

The first character unlocked is Lisa, who helps Homer clean up the city. The rest of the Simpsons family soon shows up, along with popular characters like Duffman and Hans Moleman. New characters will be added over time.

Along the way, players are treated to the Simpsons' trademark brand of humor, Kim said, including a self-deprecating look at the show, its characters, and the genre of freemium games.

It's a universal app for people with multiple iOS devices. The game experience carries over from device to device, so progress achieved on the iPhone will carry over to the iPad.

The business opportunities that stem from freemium games are no joke. EA is just one of the companies recognizing the success that games have had in convincing players to pay a dollar or two at a time to upgrade weapons, buy new levels, or advance faster. While traditional pay games offer a onetime revenue bump with a sale, freemium games have the opportunity to create multiple smaller payouts.

Of course, with so many games competing for a player's attention, freemium games need to boast high production values and game-play that's addictive enough to last. EA believes Tapped Out's high-quality experience will hook players, particularly Simpsons fans, Kim said. The company is hoping players will like it enough to purchase donuts, which accelerates the player through the quest. Donuts can also be found throughout Springfield.

"People that don't want to pay can still enjoy the title," Kim said. "People who are more impatient can throw a little bit of money at it."

EA hasn't set a firm launch date for the game. An Android version is coming a few months after the iOS launch, Kim said. While Android has surpassed iOS in market share and potential customer base, iOS remains the lead platform for EA. Kim, however, said the company is working on developing games that launch on multiple platforms at once.

EA launched Sims Freeplay for iOS in December, but it just got to launching an Android version last week.

While the pop culture relevancy of The Simpsons TV show has long faded, there's no dismissing its longevity and impact. The show aired its landmark 500th episode yesterday.

As for the game, it's "life-ruiningly fun," Kim said, quoting one of the Simpsons writers.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out freemium iOS game by EA (images)

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