Electronic Arts Regains Major League Baseball License For Facebook Game

World Series Superstars, the first official Major League Baseball game on Facebook, was published today by Electronic Arts, which is increasing its efforts to bring branded titles to the Facebook platform.

“We are back in baseball,” said Peter Moore, president of EA Sports. “It’s been six years since we’ve had the licenses.”

For a while now, MLB has had a third-party exclusivity with EA’s competitor, Take-Two Interactive. While Take-Two still holds a grip on most games, MLB has turned to EA to make its Facebook game.

This may be an early indication that EA’s decision to fork out $275 million to acquire Playfish, one of the early entrants into the social-gaming space, was a step in the right direction.

Still, there are a whole lot of home runs EA must now hit.

World Series Superstars, which launched today in advance of Opening Day tomorrow, challenges players to build teams, manage clubs and compete in games against friends. The game follows three other branded sports titles: FIFA Superstars, Madden NFL Superstars and Sports PGA Golf Challenge. Like the other titles, World Series Superstars is free to play with the option of paying for virtual goods to advance the game further.

Beyond EA’s licensing deal with MLB, the roll-out of the game also hints at the increasing importance of branded games on Facebook.

To date, much of the industry has been focused on what is called original IP, which doesn’t rely on well-known names to spur adoption. Zynga, for instance, has been wildly successful with its own content, ranging from FarmVille to CityVille and Mafia Wars.

A lot of debate recently, however, has centered about whether brands will dominate as the industry matures.

It’s debatable as to whether Zynga or others have become brands themselves, much like Rovio’s Angry Birds on mobile, but EA’s approach has been to leverage the licenses it has and bring games to market on Facebook, such as Monopoly and other titles.

Before EA purchased the social game maker, Playfish had no branded titles.

“We are very focused on extending some of our key brands onto social platforms. We’ve invested a lot since the acquisition, and we are starting to see the fruits of the labors,” said C.J. Prober, Playfish’s VP of publishing and product management. “Playfish is still really new to EA and we have lots of access to great new brands. The mix of brands vs. original IP will be higher in the near term, but will even out over time.”

Prober argues brands are increasingly more important since Facebook started cracking down on how often a developer can post messages to a player’s wall to attract new users among their friend groups.

Facebook said there’s still a mix of both branded and original titles, but that it is starting to see a shift.

“We are seeing some acceleration on the growth of brands coming to the platform…We are moving from the younger, newer category of games to the branded players that have been established on other platforms,” said Katie Mitic, Facebook’s director of platform and mobile marketing.

In particular, she says branded sports games are among the most engaging and best monetizing games on the platform.

“As Facebook Platform matures, we’re seeing high quality games, such as FIFA Superstars and Madden NFL Superstars, emerge and reach a new audience of social game players who may not have typically played online games before,” she added.

For anyone, it’s a large audience to target.

Mitic said more than 200 million people play games on Facebook each month–translated into sports terms, that’s nearly twice the size of the entire audience of the last Super Bowl.

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