EA's press conference was very much about EA's breadth and depth as a company, with EA CEO John Riccitiello saying of the industry that "It's more global, it's more about families, it's bigger, it's smaller, it's more than it's ever been."
The company revealed 12 new games at the show, from the male powerfantasy extravaganza that is Dante's Inferno, to the more accessible Sims 3.
Riccitiello pushed the importance of raising quality, citing EA's above 80% review average for the last year, and also mentioned the monolithic strength of the Wii.
Games for Everyone?
EA's more family-oriented titles include the Littlest Petshop franchise, which includes Littlest Petshop Online, basically EA's take on NeoPets (and in fact, pitched in basically the same way - you buy a plush doll, and it populates online).
Then, unfortunately, came Charm Girls Club. Now I may be an old fashioned guy, but I do grow a bit tired of the sexified female characters that are often put forth for girls as aspirational models. The characters from Charm Girls Club are all young teens, clad in short skirts, caked in makeup, and certainly an example of the model we generally put forward for girls in popular culture.
Senior producer Dyan Williams, with the new "EA Girls" division, then brought out four pre-teen girls to play "speed hair teasing" from the Wii title Charm Girls Club: Pajama Party. Now, keep in mind that the audience for this presentation is at least 75% male hardcore-oriented press. It was excruciating hearing some of the comments in the audience, which does say more about the audience than the demo, but it still felt like a mismatch. This stuff is all very important for growing the industry, and very necessary to show investors, but to present a game in this way to a bunch of consumer press is probably not the best idea (though admittedly the other 25% of the audience was likely investors, buyers, and traditional press).
Granted, the traditional press will likely not be hopping down to the show floor as much, and may not have otherwise gotten to see the new franchise. But with the sexy models being put forth juxtaposed with the youthful demographic they brought on stage, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable.
EA's sports imprints are some of its most popular and important titles, and EA Sports president Peter Moore was in top form, presenting a suite of new titles for the company.
Through scripted banter with various producers and guest stars, Moore showcased the various innovations and new titles his divisions are putting forward, which are not unsubstantial.
Fight Night 4 - The game sports a new physics engine, which actually measures the power of the punches. It's quite visually impressive, running at 60 fps, Moore pointed out, and the game now takes into account the reach and height advantages of specific boxers, he says. The game launches June 25.
EA Sports MMA - EA is tackling the popular Mixed Martial Arts genre, though the UFC brand is already spoken for. The game is under development by EA Tiburon, for a 2010 release, and will include an "array of top fighters," according to Moore.
More innovations included what amounts to a Fantasy Football element to Madden 10, allowing you to log in from anywhere, including your iPhone via an app. Moore also mentioned that EA Sports Personal Trainer has sold over 600,000 copies since release, the best EA Wii launch ever.
Perhaps most interesting though, is EA's strategy for NCAA Football 10, in which the company release its Teambuilder software one month prior to the game's launch. Teambuilder allows players to create their own team, using in-game or imported assets on the PC, and then see that team in-game when they play. The pre-release of Teambuilder seems to be a very interesting experiment in product launches.
New EA studios BioWare and Pandemic showcased their respective new titles, Dragon Age Origins, Mass Effect 2, and Saboteur, which all necessitated words like "immersive" and "emotion," promising more of it than before. Mass Effect 2 looked quite nice, while Dragon Age Origins reminded me more than a little of a fantasy MMO. Saboteur, for its part, looked a bit more like a standard action game than what was previously outlaid via the discussion of Will to Fight, which paints a grey world with color as the character advances. That said, the sandbox, go-anywhere elements did look rather impressive, as creative director Tom French promised you can climb the Eiffel Tower.
EA Partners had perhaps the most interesting segment, with Brutal Legend, Crysis 3, APB, and Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO all announced or showcased.
Star Wars: The Old Republic is particularly interesting, given that BioWare co-ceo Ray Muzyka promises the first-ever fully-voiced MMO. "Every playable class and every character will have his, her, or its own voice," he said. This represents thousands of speaking hours.
All told, EA's press conference was a lot of what you'd expect from EA, just perhaps more honed, and not trying to push in as many directions at once as it used to. While the company is still tackling a number of different demographics and genres, the games and targets seem a lot more focused, leaving the more "out there" stuff to EA Partners developers.