EA Sports made one of the most surprising announcements at E3 this month by unveiling Dana White - the man who once declared war on the publisher - and news that it'd secured the license to the UFC.
To the sports world, it was as big a deal as Nintendo boss Reggie Fils-Aime walking out on stage at an Apple conference to confess his undying love for all things iPhone (well, almost).
It also represents a very exciting partnership for both brands; EA's global ambition and unmatched sports game expertise could see the world's fastest growing sport soar to even grander heights. And who's not excited by the proposition of kicks to the face in the Fight Night engine?
At E3 we met up with EA Sports head Andrew Wilson to discuss UFC's part in the future of the EA label.
What's going on in the world of EA Sports this year?
In the UK FIFA is obviously something that's very important to your readers and FIFA 13 this year I think is going to be an unbelievable product. At EA Sports we have three core pillars that we go after every year and I think we have a bigger challenge than most people who build games, because we do do it every year.
We have to demonstrate real value and compelling reasons why you would purchase again - especially in a year where you're coming off a 90-rated game and people are pretty happy with the last one that we made. We look at innovation - what are we doing that's going to change the way you play the game? What the team has done with Complete Dribbling, First Touch and things at that core 'twitch' of the game... it has you thinking differently.
The way the AI makes runs too... I played against my boss a couple of weeks ago and took great joy at Drogba running down the middle and heading my cross straight in. It made my boss look very bad, which is always a lot of fun!
What they've done with the core game element is really cool and every year they come back and add details and features that make you wonder how they possibly keep making last year's game redundant. I think they've done that again.
Secondly, moving from product to service, last year they launched EA Sports Football Club which started to push dynamic content to you, and we've taken that to a whole new level this year. There's more content, the content goes across platforms, it's engaging and they're really driving what they do there to ensure the game changes as you play. No longer will the game stay the same from the day you buy it until the day you stop.
When you think about the fact that FIFA 12 had record online days six months after launch... we've got to build stuff that keeps changing. In the old days people who bought the game played it for a few weeks, put it away and then they were done. Now there's an expectation that there's more and more content and more dynamic shifts in the game that make sure it's interesting six months after you start playing. I think they've done a lot of work there.
Lastly the big thing for us is connecting you to other fans, connecting you to your club and the experiences across platforms so the game is always with you. I think that, again, FIFA is really leading from the front on that avenue. You're going to be able to manage your FIFA Ultimate Team on PC, on iPhone and do all the stuff that you'd otherwise have to be sat in front of your console to do. Now you're going to do it all day and when you get home at night it's ready to play.
For us it's innovation, it's product plus service and it's connection and I think the FIFA team with FIFA 13 is really leading from the front on that again.
Then of course we've got Madden, which I think is the most amazing Madden I've ever seen - they've done an amazing job. We've got a new skating engine in Hockey... we've got a lot of great stuff going on at EA Sports. And then of course we announced we've got the license for UFC...
For us, that was one of the biggest surprises of the show. How did that not leak beforehand?
We're very quiet!
Can you tell us how that deal came about?
I can within reason. I'm a giant fan. They had a relationship with THQ and for a whole range of reasons we can't get involved in that. I think the relationship there is still a good one and THQ built some good games. I played the last one they built and I thought it was great, but THQ's decided to take their business in a different direction, which is entirely up to them.
That gave an opportunity for us to work with the UFC and certainly I think that they see it as a big opportunity. They recently moved in the US from the Spike broadcaster to Fox - that was a really big lift in recognition for just how big their brand is. I think they moved to have a relationship with EA Sports and what you heard from [UFC president] Dana White on stage is, "finally it happened".
So I think they wanted it as much as we did, and that's not to take anything away from THQ. I think what we can do with them globally across multiple platforms, multiple geographies and multiple business models is pretty immense, and they've been an amazing group of people to deal with. I've had the great fortune of working with them throughout this process and I've had a lot of fun. I thought it was going to be hard to find someone as passionate about the UFC as I am, but they truly are, which is pretty cool.