Electronic Arts' press conference had few surprises: The publisher kept it lean with a nine-title lineup and a focus on social features. In large part it was most interesting that they didn't discuss their fledgling Origin digital platform or take the opportunity to crystallize its details in the eyes of gamers -- at least not directly.
Instead, Origin's splash page and directions to check it out for further information on the title bookended each presentation, a far more subtle introduction to a service EA just announced late last week.
"At EA, we don't build an elaborate stage and invite random celebrities for guest appearances," said Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello, introducing himself to the more intimate audience of Los Angeles' decorous old Orpheum theater with a quip most likely intended for its primary publisher rival.
The Mass Effect series was always designed to be a trilogy, and the third installment in the series will show the Reaper war up to which the first two games have been leading -- "this is all-out galactic war," said the company's Casey Hudson, who confirmed a March 6, 2012 release date when he took the stage to demonstrate Mass Effect 3.
The audience of Electronic Arts' E3 2011 press conference seemed full of enthusiastic Mass Effect fans, who seemed excited at the company's focus on increasing the scale of the battles alongside the emotional impact of the dialogue-driven narrative. Franchise loyalists will also have the opportunity to decide the ending of the story they enjoyed across the past three games.
Next up, EA showed Need For Speed: The Run, the next installment in its popular street racing series. This edition of the game allows players to actually leave the vehicles in order to fight with cops, and the demo showed the player pursued by a helicopter on a fast and explosion-heavy street chase.
The audience in the Orpheum seemed interested in the crashes and the fistfights alike, possibly a promising sign given that many industry watchers have historically been unsure where EA's racing brand lies within a crowded and highly-competitive genre. The intent here seems to have been to maximize the adrenaline angle and destruction that's set the brand apart in the past and adding a wider breadth of action elements including the hero in order to further differentiate the franchise.
BioWare's Greg Zeschuk took the stage to show off Star Wars: The Old Republic, whose development he said "really represents years of my life... and it's been absolutely worth it." He kicked off a look at a truly impressive cinematic trailer by urging players to "just play it, get lost in it, and live in it."
Despite Riccitiello's assertion of the simplicity of EA's presentation, the Orpheum filled with smoke machines and light effects as the screen turned to the frosty white mountains of beloved snowboarding franchise SSX which will bring players to a number of global destinations. EA Sports boss Peter Moore described a "massive" open world based on satellite data -- "let me be clear: I mean massive," he emphasized, again directing fans to the Origin site for another exclusive trailer.
The title launches next January. Less surprising was Moore's FIFA 12 discussion, which focused on the multiple platforms and enormous populations -- 42 million, he claimed -- to which the franchise plays host. The breadth of FIFA was the focus, with a video showing individuals from all around the world (including celebrities like Drake and Lil' Wayne) discussing the way FIFA enhanced their relationship to the sport. For those passionate fans, EA Sports is rolling out Football Club, a social network for the game that eventually aims to go cross-platform. Football Club lets users compete as real-world international leagues, track their progress persistently, and share their gameplay with friends.
Football stars Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, The Browns' Payton Hillis and Green Bay's Clay Matthews arrived on stage as the punctuation mark for EA's Madden 2012 showing: "What we have built here for Madden 12 is built by the fans and for the fans, making sure we bring the emotion that these men have on the stage to the game itself," said Moore, painting a picture of a franchise installment that aims to enhance the drama of the sport. He alluded to social features for Madden as well.
"Our vision is to let you take your game, your score, your profile, cross platform from PC to mobile to Facebook... we're building that ability into our biggest franchise," said Riccitiello, unveiling The Sims SOcial for Facebook with a subtle dig at social farming games. "You play with your friends; you play with life," Riccitiello said, showing a demonstration of how the game will let people interact with actual friends as Sims on Facebook as well as build their own films. The long-awaited Facebook incarnation of EA's arguably most mainstream-friendly brand appears to have much potential, at least in concept.
On the EAP side, Riccitiello introduced former Red Sox pitcher and 38 Studios head Curt Schilling, who seemed especially excited to show off a cinematic trailer for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the fruit of long work with Todd McFarlane and RA Salvatore (at much expense, as the news reports have illustrated).
Next, Insomniac Games' Ted Price came to show the studio's new multiplatform franchise: "We're excited to expand to the Xbox audience," noted Price as he unveiled OverStrike. Set in the near future, the franchise follows a small team of elite, strongly-characterized shadow agents on a global mission. The title looks visually stylized and appears to want to use some humor to refresh the action genre, something of the air of a heist flick with elements of futuristic action.
EA devoted a big share of the time to a long demo of Battlefield 3, clearly a fan favorite for attendees. DICE's Frostbite engine was on full display during the event, and the game is clearly upping the ante on free-to-play. EA also revealed it would add extended social features for Battlefield 3, and without specifically mentioning Call of Duty's Elite service, the company seemed proud to announce it wouldn't charge anything for them.
EA kept the message specific, clearly demonstrating that it wants to focus on its strongest brands and increase their depth, rather than unveil an enormous portfolio. Perhaps the reason it didn't devote time to explicating its Origin platform more specifically is to maintain the attention to the brands in the hopes that platform, networking and social behavior gathers naturally around it.
The company clearly remains intent on building out its social and digital business around its most popular franchises.