EA’s Keynote Speech @ E3 – Games as a Service
EA's presentation at E3 focused on blockbuster titles and integration across multiple platforms, especially social networks, along with continuing support for earlier games in the form of DLC and expansions.
I’m going to come right out and say it. I don’t have a problem with DLC. In fact, I think DLC is a wonderful way of prolonging a game’s life, especially if you’ve really enjoyed that game. I will grant that there are ways that DLC is used horribly, namely paid DLC on the disc or forcing the gamer to pay for DLC to get the full experience. EA has often been accused of bad practices when it comes to DLC, but they decided to focus on that during their E3 presentation.
Their talk wasn’t focused entirely on DLC, but instead on gaming as a rich experience, rather than a singular event. Instead of thinking of the game as residing on a particular disc, EA wants us to think of a game as a world that extends beyond the console to other areas of our lives, including social networks and smartphone integration.
The presentation kicked off with a demonstration of Dead Space 3, the newest game in the survival horror franchise. Taking place on a snowy world, the demo showed off co-op gameplay and a massive worm-like boss encounter. The game will release February of 2013.
Next was Madden NFL 13, with Hall-of-Famer Michael Irving presenting some new features and commenting on the improved physics engine. Dubbed the “Infinity Engine,” the new physics model takes players’ mass, speed, and hit location into account, and dynamically creates the correct forces acting on the players to produce life-like collisions. Gone are the days of scripted animations determining when a player is downed. Also shown was a new Career mode, which connects you to your friends and revolves around your player as he strives to enter the Hall of Fame, with virtual twitter feeds, dynamic news stories, and RPG-like XP. Also revealed is that the career mode can either be taken from the perspective of a current player, a legend like Joe Montana or Michael Irving, or from a custom player. You can even take the shoes of a coach like John Madden and play through a coach’s career. Madden 13 will release later this year.
Next, it was Maxis’ turn to take the stage, with two announcements. The first was SimCity Social, which looks to topple all the FarmVille clones and provide a “real simulation” on the Facebook social game platform. While I sincerely hope Maxis can pull off a miracle, I fear that SimCity Social is going to become just another city-building time-sink on Facebook with forced social features and ridiculous microtransactions.
They next showed off the new PC version of SimCity, and this was far more exciting. For the first time, SimCity will include multiplayer, allowing you and your friends (or just yourself if you’re of a more megalomaniacal bent) to take control of multiple cities in the same region, with cooperative and competitive goals and with every action you take affecting every other city in the region. Your cities will also be connected to what was called “a world of SimCities,” with actions and global goals behaving similarly to their smaller-scale multiplayer counterparts. Look for it to release on PC later this year.
Battlefield 3 was next, with developers from DICE explaining the new features coming to the multiplayer juggernaut in the coming months, as well as providing some interesting statistics tracked by the game, such as 40 million flight hours logged and 1.9 trillion bullets fired by the 15 million players in Battlefield 3 since launch. The big feature announced, available now on PS3 and next week for PC and Xbox, is a new community feature called Battlefield Premium. Seemingly an answer to Call of Duty: Elite, the premium service for that shooter’s multiplayer community, Battlefield Premium will give players 20 new weapons, multiple new camo patterns and dogtags, as well as access to the 5 expansions for the Battlefield 3 game.
Included in this group is the already-released Return to Karkand, an expansion that released shortly after launch. Also included are Close Quarters, an infantry-centric expansion coming out this month with small, tight, infantry-only maps, Armored Kill, a vehicle-centric expansion with some of the largest maps in Battlefield to date releasing in September, Aftermath, with maps based around the ruined city of Tehran after the earthquake featured in the single-player campaign, releasing in December, and End Game, focusing on high-speed lethality and introducing motorcycles, releasing in March of 2013. All of this is available to gamers for $49.99.
Bioware took the stage next, praising the community of players in Star Wars: The Old Republic, who have invested more than 520 million hours into the game since launching 6 months ago. The surprise announcement was that The Old Republic would be getting a free-to-play trial similar to what World of Warcraft has done. Free players will be able to advance to level 15 without having to pay a dime, but will need to subscribe in order to advance beyond that point. A massive new content release is also coming in July, with a new playable race (pictured above), new instances, new warzones, and new high-level content.
Next was the highly anticipated shooter, Medal of Honor. Shown running on the Frostbite 2 engine, all of the conflicts in the single-player campaign have “a dotted line to real-world conflicts and hotspots.” The demo showed an attack on a Somali pirate compound, complete with destructible terrain and buildings. Multiplayer features were also announced, with a “global multiplayer campaign” featuring 12 Special Forces teams from 10 countries around the globe, such as the Russian Spetznas, the British SAS, the American SEALs, and so on. No release date was announced, but we’ll keep our eyes open.
EA Sports again took the stage and began announcing new features for FIFA 13. Calling the FIFA franchise a social network for football fans, EA announced new social features, including iPad and iPhone versions of the game which integrate seamlessly with the current social framework created for FIFA 12. In fact, it was announced that FIFA 12 players’ levels and XP will transfer between the games, allowing returning players to start right where they’d left off in the previous game. Messi was announced as the cover athlete, due to his skillful footwork being the inspiration for EA’s new handling system in FIFA. Using similar techniques to the physics engine detailed for the Madden series and refined physics for the ball, the improved AI can now think two or three plays ahead, with complex attacks being used to break through a tough defense. The example shown was a player running to a position for a pass from a player that had yet to receive the ball, though when the pass came he was in perfect position to score a goal. Look for FIFA 13 this fall.
The crown jewel in EA’s presentation was the announcement of a “multi-yea, multi-product” deal with the UFC. THQ had a stranglehold on the UFC license for three years, but now the UFC is partnering with EA to produce games for its “half a billion fans in 175 countries,” so that they can “finally get the best UFC videogame possible.” No word was given on when the first game would be releasing, but I suspect it will be within the next year and based on the previous EA MMA engine.
After dropping the UFC bombshell, EA continued by announcing that Criterion would be developing another Need for Speed game. Titled “Need for Speed: Most Wanted,” it’s based around the premise of the previous Most Wanted game of becoming the most wanted racer. Criterion plans to do this by creating an open-world racing game with deep social integration, allowing you to compete against your friends in multiple categories, such as fastest time or highest ranked. Each action in game will award you points, and these points are how much of the social competition is scored. No word on a release date.
Finally, EA ended on a graphics spectacle by showing off Crysis 3. The jaw-dropping visual fidelity of the demo was enough to get anyone interested, but the open world design and interesting locales allowing for a freeform style of gameplay are sure to bring in gamers who would otherwise write off Crysis 3 as just a pretty graphics engine. Called an “urban rainforest,” the environment allows for a huge variety of landscapes to fight across, along with multiple paths to completing objectives. Look for the release of this hotly anticipated game in February of 2013.
Keep your eyes open for more of our E3 coverage as the week continues.