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Analysis: Did Electronic Arts' Showcase Spring It Forward?

Analysis: Did Electronic Arts' Showcase Spring It Forward? Exclusive

May 14, 2008 | By Christian Nutt

[Electronic Arts' EA Games Label held its first "EA Spring Break" event in San Francisco this week - and Gamasutra was there to speak to developers on how Riccitiello's 'new EA' is changing things, and analyze the buoyancy of the company for the rest of 2008 - opinions within.]

Major publisher Electronic Arts' 'core' EA Games division used San Francisco on Monday evening to showcase the label's lineup of games to the enthusiast (and a smattering of mainstream) press.

This included the debuts of two EA Games-specific titles (BattleForge and Skate It), and a heavy dose of hype-building for console horror shooter Dead Space. (The company's other internal divisions, including EA Casual, The Sims, and EA Sports, did not show titles at this showcase.)

The evening began with a relatively short presentation outlining the games on view, with an introduction by EA Games PR honcho Tammy Schacter and a short presentation and video courtesy of global marketing VP Mike Quigley.

BioWare CEO Ray Muzyka delivered a characteristically understated invitation for players to enjoy his studio's Mass Effect, which ships on PC very soon, while NVIDIA VP Roy Taylor also took the stage to express his company's satisfaction with EA's strong lineup of PC games (five were on display at the event) while mentioning his annoyance with press's fixation on the death of the platform.

This was followed by more intense presentations for the two debuted games at the event -- BattleForge, a PC-exclusive card-battling RTS title being developed in Germany by EA's Phenomic studio, and Skate It for Wii, which was introduced by videos and then demonstrated live with both the Wii Remote and Wii Fit Balance Board used for control.

EA Games' games

At this point, the large numbers of gathered press were invited to try demo stations for the label's lineup of 2008 games and mingle with developers. Games on show included Rock Band, which features a new Wii SKU; Battlefield Heroes, the company's first free-to-play, pay-for-items game on PC; multiplayer-focused Valve zombie shooter Left 4 Dead; Warhammer Online, the company's traditional, fantasy-based MMO from EA Mythic; and several others.

Later when asked by Gamasutra to define what EA Games Label is to EA, Quigley struggled a bit -- but did say that, at a very simplistic level, the label defines more "core" games -- though that definition seemed to chafe.

When asked what makes Skate It an EA Games title rather than an EA Sports SKU, Quigley responded that this is a "good question" and pointed to its difference in feel and play, and lack of tracked statistics as compared to EA Sports titles.

Our take: what constitutes an EA Games title seems to be "I know it when I see it", as with the old Supreme Court definition of obscenity.

The company's heavy support of the PC platform -- with three exclusive titles, Warhammer Online, Battlefield Heroes, and BattleForge, as well as multiplatform SKUs Mass Effect and Left 4 Dead -- seems staunch, especially in light of CEO John Riccitiello's recent comments on the "dismal" state of the market.

However, given the built-in PC-based audience for BioWare's and Valve's games, the microtransaction-based BattleForge and Battlefield Heroes, and the possibility of significant subscription revenues from Warhammer Online, it's not too surprising a move; what happens in 2009 at EA will help further define the direction of the platform in the west.

A New Way

Every EA employee that Gamasutra had a chance to speak to expounded on Riccitiello's city-state philosophy, as delineated by the CEO at the DICE Summit earlier this year.

VP and executive producer Glen Schofield, who is currently working on Dead Space, alluded to his team's increased ability to prototype and experiment; Jason Drescher, producer of Warhammer Online, talked about how Mythic's corporate culture and creativity has been retained.

Mike Quigley pointed to the extra time afforded to the recently-released Army of Two and upcoming Battlefield: Bad Company, which was also on display at the event, as examples of the company's move towards quality-led decision-making.

Ultimately, it's difficult to draw any sweeping inferences from the lineup on display. The company is embracing the Wii and DS with custom-tailored versions of its successful Skate franchise, which is an obvious good move; it's testing the waters of different business models on the PC to see where the future lies; it's also producing core gamer titles with an apparent increased emphasis on creativity.

Aside from the flexible and tested Warhammer license in the form of Warhammer Online, there were no licensed titles on display -- and no dismal 2008 equivalent of Superman Returns or Marvel Nemesis. This is good news for a company trying to redefine itself as a creative powerhouse to both its audience and, just as importantly, the creative staff working on its games.

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