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Electronic Arts Bails Out of Majestic

27 Dec, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

After investing $5 million to develop and millions more to promote Majestic, Electronic Arts has cancelled the experimental online game that used the Internet, cell phones and fax machines to bring the gaming experience beyond the PC screen.

The game drew just 15,000 subscribers and generated approximately $600,000 in revenue.

Initially available exclusively online at EA.com for a $9.99 monthly subscription rate after a free Pilot test drive, the game's 2MegaByte download requirement turned away 9 out of 10 customers that visited the site. The company's effort to attract a larger audience by releasing the game at retail for $39.99 (for the pilot and all four episodes, which still required online gameplay) in October failed to generate interest from the gaming public. The Web site, Majestic.com, is no longer taking new subscribers and the current boxed copies at retail will be pulled by late January. EA will continue to support the game through late spring 2002, so that players who buy the retail game can play through the pilot and first four episodes.

Created by Ralph Guggenheim, one of the founding members of Pixar Animation Studios, where he produced Toy Story, and a team of video game and Hollywood professionals employed at EA.com, filled each two-hour episode with video clips shot on location, voice recordings transmitted by phone; and faxed and e-mailed plot points, which were sent to players around the clock. Most of the "Majestic" team has moved on to other projects, some have chosen to leave the company for other opportunities and a few have been laid off, executives said.

The series was expected to bridge the gap between TV and online gaming. In addition to opening up a new door for Hollywood writers, directors and actors (Joe Pantoliano, late of HBO's "The Sopranos," appeared in the fourth, and now final episode), the development team hoped to link the second season of the game with a TV series, but that project never got off the ground.

"Majestic was an experiment that didn't work," said Benjami Noel, VP and COO of EA-owned online gaming developer, Origin. "I think we'll take the technology and lessons learned from that game and use them in the future."

EA.com removed its online subscription Platinum and Sports services from its site Nov. 7. Subscribers didn't want to pay money to play games like Air Warrior, Silent Death, Tiger Woods Web Golf, Knockout Kings Web Boxing and NASCAR Web Racing. The Platinum package bundled Majestic with a variety of other online games for one monthly price of $9.99.

"It doesn't make sense to bundle online games together today, as EA found out," said Robert Garriott, CEO of NCInteractive, which publishes the online persistent world game Lineage. "But three to four years down the road, once broadband has penetrated a larger audience, bundling online gaming content in a subscription model similar to HBO will make sense."

EA.com is refocusing its online efforts on persistent universe games like Origin's Ultima Online, which has 220,000 subscribers paying $9.99 a month to play the fantasy role-playing game. The sci-fi game Earth and Beyond and The Sims Online are scheduled to ship in 2002, giving EA.com a major boost.

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