Electronic Arts to Buy Fairfax Gamemaker

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Electronic Arts Inc. announced yesterday that it is acquiring local computer game developer Mythic Entertainment Inc., a move designed to bolster EA's position in online gaming.

EA, the world's largest video game company, has never had much success with "massively multiplayer" games, an increasingly popular genre in which players pay monthly subscription fees to compete against others over the Internet.

Fairfax-based Mythic specializes in games of this type and is best known for its flagship title, Dark Age of Camelot, an ongoing sword-and-sorcery game that had about 200,000 subscribers at its peak.

The most famous title in this genre, World of Warcraft by Vivendi Games, has more than 5 million subscribers worldwide who pay a monthly fee to play.

Increasingly, other publishers in the video game industry -- which has been struggling financially -- are trying to determine how to repeat that sort of success, said David Cole, principal analyst at DFC Intelligence, a game industry research firm.

"Clearly with the success of World of Warcraft, companies are looking at the online game market," he said. "That's where the impetus for that kind of deal comes from."

Previous attempts by EA to break into this space, such as an online version of the Sims, have mostly been flops, Cole said. In addition, the company has been struggling financially, posting a $16 million loss in its most recent quarter.

EA has purchased online game companies in the past only to shut them down later, Cole said. In 1999, it acquired Kesmai Corp., a Charlottesville, Va.-based online game company, but closed it a few years later.

Mythic co-founder Mark Jacobs said yesterday that the risks to his studio are no different as part of a big publisher than they were as an independent company.

"If we mess up, we deserve anything that happens to us," he said. "We're promising them that we're not going to screw up."

The game developer, which will become a wholly owned studio called EA Mythic if the deal is completed, has been recently working on a game called Warhammer. That title has created buzz among some hard-core gamers, though it is not scheduled for release until next year.

Mythic's 175-person game development team will remain in Fairfax, according to a statement released by EA yesterday.

"The biggest change is, I've got to get new business cards," Jacobs said.

Pending regulatory approval, EA expects the deal to close during the second quarter of its 2007 fiscal year, which ends in September. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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