E3 Thoughts: EA Games Press Conference

EA Games had the second of today’s pre-E3 press conferences and somehow had time to promote three first-person shooters and a couple sports games called Madden NFL and FIFA. Readers of this blog may have heard of them.

The publishers also previewed the new SimCity, which filled this former city beat reporter with dreams of finally being able to run a major metroplitan my way. (At least for the first time since I played SimCity 4.)

EA Games, in their own way, also continued the social-media-and-connectivity-are-good-themes Microsoft established in their show. The publisher advertised social media tie-ins for at least three titles (there’s a lot of new info swimming in my head today) and we’ll see how that goes. From my perspective, the audience that is willing to pay $60 for a premium game is not necessarily the same audience that wants a quick bit of fun on a mobile device, but I’m happy to reserve judgement until the social media stuff actually comes out.

The other big announcement, already revealed on gaming sites, was for
Battlefield 3 Premium
, a subscription service that gives customers
access to four planned future expansions for “Battlefield 3″ as well as
the “Back to Karkand” pack for anyone who does not have that content
yet.  The first expansion, “Close Quarters,” is available as of Monday
for PlayStation 3 owners.

Battlefield Premium retails for $50 on
top of the $60 one would pay for a full-price copy of Battlefield 3. On
an hour-per-dollar basis, that $110 can be a bargain for someone who as
EA execs predict, will spend hundreds of hours on the game and anybody who doesn’t want to spend that much money on a multiplayer FPS doesn’t have to spend it.

But those
hundreds of hours would be spent on a single game, so it seems almost a
little weird to see EA promoting another military-themed shooter,
“Medal of Honor: Warfighter,” as well the more futuristic “Crysis 3.” I’m not
certain the average FPS fan has enough money or time to play all of
EA Games’ shooters – let alone those from other companies – there’s no
denying that Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s visuals look impressive in its
preview footage.

On EA Sports’ side of things, the publishers said Madden NFL will get a new physics engine called Infinity and promised that no two plays will ever look the same, since there will be no predetermined outcome. EA Sports also promised to add a “Connected Careers” mode enabling 32 players inhabit the same virtual NFL, which should be intriguing to a lot of players, and new Facebook/mobile app called Madden NFL Social, which I think will need to justify its existence when it comes out this fall. I tried the mobile tie-in for Mass Effect 3 this past spring and didn’t think it added much to the game.

EA Sports also pledged to enhance the social aspects of its FIFA series, which I need to get caught up on, and briefly mentioned plans to have another basketball game this fall. (A Google search turns up evidence that EA first announced NBA Live 13 during All-Star Weekend in February.) EA hasn’t released a basketball title since 2009 and competitor 2K Sports has basically taken ownership of NBA simulations. (Both EA Sports and 2K Sports also need to know that the world needs to have a college basketball sim again.)

And surprise, surprise, EA revealed a multi-year licensing agreement to make Ultimate Fighting Championship games. The UFC was previously licensed to THQ.

EA also brought developers Criterion aboard to show racing title “Need for Speed: Most Wanted” and again, the emphasis was on adding social aspects to the game so friends can obsess over each others’ in-game achievements.

The publisher also invited BioWare founder Ray Muzyka on stage to hype MMO “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” and it turns out the game will go free-to-play for low-level players as of July. Competing MMOs “World of Warcraft” and “DC Universe” online have already gone free-to-play. The lesson is, don’t pay to be an early adopter for an MMO unless you really, absolutely must spend money on the game when it comes out.

Muzyka did not address the now-stale controversies over Mass Effect 3’s ending and the expanded ending BioWare has announced as a free release to come out this summer. Mass Effect fans, who include myself, will have to wonder for a little bit longer whether the “Indoctrination Theory” is true within the game or whether Mass Effect 3’s writers just had an idea the fans did not like.

Oh yeah, EA showed some scary footage for Dead Space 3. It’s so scary, if I post video, I’ll get in trouble with my bosses.