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EA's next steps toward the next-gen
EA's next steps toward the next-gen
March 29, 2013 | By Chris Morris

March 29, 2013 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC, Business/Marketing, GDC

Hope you liked what you saw of Frostbite 3 in this week's reveal of Battlefield 4, because you're going to be seeing a lot more of it in the next couple of years.

Frank Gibeau, president of EA's Games Labels division, says the updated version of the proprietary graphics engine will be one of the centerpieces of the company's push into the next generation of console games.

"Frostbite 3 is a true next generation tech base that will power a lot of experiences that EA will offer in the future," he says.

And make no mistake -- despite the launch of the Wii U last year, EA doesn't really see the next generation getting underway until the PlayStation 4 and next Xbox hit shelves.

"Next gen consoles are an investment for us," he says. "We've never been more ready. [And] HD consoles are where it's at."

EA has released a few games for the Wii U, and Gibeau says the company continues to consider Nintendo's console for new releases, but at present has no announced titles for it.

That will likely change in June, of course, when the company's slate of annual franchises -- like Madden, FIFA and Need for Speed roll out again -- but it's noteworthy that the Wii U isn't on the list for top tier franchises, particularly Battlefield 4.

Gibeau makes no attempt to hide his love for HD systems.

"HD consoles have been steady eddies," he says. "They've gone on longer than anyone expected. There have been more games built on these systems than anyone thought possible. I think there's lot of pent up demand among consumers for something new in that space."

While there were some who grumbled about EA's unveiling of the game, which was heavy on cinematic presentation and buzz words, but light on actual details like launch date or supported systems, Gibeau is excited about the game, and thinks it's a good way for the company to kick off its next generation efforts.

Of course, the Battlefield coming out party was also an attempt for EA to move on from the bad news that has plagued it over the past month. First there was the disastrous launch of Sim City. ("We had a rough 72 hours out of the chute," says Gibeau. "We did not do a good job of anticipating demand.")

Then came the sudden announcement of CEO John Riccitiello's imminent departure from the company. (Gibeau is considered by many as a possible candidate for the role, something he declined to discuss.)

There was also the tempest in a teapot over comments by CFO Blake Jorgensen about the increased presence of microtransactions in EA Games. The company has backed off of those and attempted to clarify them, but Gibeau is still a fan of the model -- and notes it can be a lucrative revenue source when done right.

One possible definition of right, in this case, is not making something soley available via microtransactions, but allowing players who wish to advance more quickly in games to pay to unlock certain weapons and features early (rather than unlocking them in the natural course of the game).

"In the 'freemium' business model, microtransactions are how you monetize the experience," says Gibeau. "You design the game so people who have more time than money can grind away, but for folks who want to jump ahead, they can go ahead and pay to do so. We think it fits as well to epic experiences and for people who are passionate about those games."

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Rodolfo Rosini
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Frostbite 3 is an MMO engine. Always has been.

Dane MacMahon
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A lot of people are going to be fired if the new consoles don't reinvigorate the AAA space and boost software sales way up like these companies think will happen. Will be interesting to see.

Rodolfo Rosini
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If you look at the share prices of console manufacturers and AAA studios that are public you will see that it has already happened. Consoles+retail CD+big ass AAA games has peaked. Not suggesting in terms of quality or the occasional $800m-in-a-day-CoD but as a relentless money making machine its days are over. People have already been fired or 'promoted' to 'honorary' positions.

Amir Sharar
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EA is in an interesting spot here when you consider their sports titles.

Sports games greatly benefit from hardware jumps. I say this because sports titles push games in many directions at once and few games do that. Photoreal visuals, animations, audio commentary, AI, player/object physics...everything is pushed simultaneously.

In many technical respects, Madden 06 on the 360 was not much better than NFL 2K5 on the Dreamcast. EA did not put in the amount of effort they needed to and many gamers felt satisfied with their PS2 versions of Madden. It was years later when we finally saw more advanced animations that take physics into account, and things player foot planting.

We see an incredible amount of investment here with Frostbite 3. It may or may not power sports titles. If not, I wonder if EA has invested anything similar in properly showcasing the potential of sports titles on the next gen consoles. What they did with Madden and FIFA did not cut it in this last generation. If Frostbite is going to be used in Sports titles, then the big question is whether the physics and animation systems are up to snuff for the demands of sports titles?

Either way, EA can really make an impact on the general mass market excitement for next generation gaming. The mass market segment that spends billions on the NFL/NBA/NHL/NASCAR products didn't seem to be excited about what EA offered this last generation. Games like Madden and FIFA were killer apps for the PS2 that moved hardware units. Can EA do that again for this next generation?

matt landi
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@Amir. Just curious have you played FIFA 09 or later iterations? The jump for FIFA from the the PS2/Xbox generation was pretty huge. FIFA was always good in terms of sales, but from a gameplay perspective it was Pro Evolution that took the cake. Once FIFA 09 hit that all seemed to change. The amount of control provided by FIFA this generation trumps all other sports games.

Michael Wenk
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I truly wonder if it will end up being a good decision to ignore the Wii U. EA mostly ignored the Wii and Nintendo ended up making bank on it. I mean the Wii crushed the competition well into 2010/2011. Sure right now, its easy to look at the U as a fad that is failing, but if Nintendo turns it around, then history could repeat itself.

@Amir EA is not a hardware sales driving beast because it doesn't have that many system exclusives. I never bought a PS2 because of any EA game. Why would I? I could play it on my PS1 after all. What did drive PS2 was exclusives, especially GTA.

I personally think if EA continues down the path it is on, it will be extremely lucky to be around this time in 2015. EA can't afford to standardize on any one engine. Anything that can be fun must be considered by them. They have to overcome their rep, which is pretty damn infamous. And to do that they can't afford to leave any stone unturned.

Dave Long
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The Wii didn't crush the competition when it came to software sales, though, outside of a very small number of hits (and an even smaller number if you're talking third party). EA doesn't care if Nintendo sells 300 million Wiis or Wii Us if the audience on those machines isn't buying the kinds of games it makes. It was notable that despite the higher install base, Madden/Fifa/et al generally sold more on the smaller install base HD systems.

Amir Sharar
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"Why would I? I could play it on my PS1 after all."

There was a fairly considerable gap in the graphic fidelity of PS1 sports titles to PS2 sports titles and how that prompted Sports gamers to make the jump. I think you're forgetting that large amount of casual gamers that the PS1 and PS2 were able to acquire because of sports games. The casuals often owned little more than their favourite sports series.

Michael Joseph
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"people who have more time than money can grind away"

lol. just like real life!

Miguel Fernandez
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I was kinda hoping that "next-gen" might be something more fundamentally innovative than better graphics and microtransactions.

Alan Boody
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EA doesn't want innovation. They want to churn out the same game with a new coating each year. This time around, there will be microtransactions attached.