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Posts Tagged ‘EA’

I quite often get official word of marketing campaigns for new and soon-to-be-released games.  They’re second only to architectural trade stories in “things I’m most often pitched.”*

Anyways, EA is taking a novel approach to promoting their supercops-and-unsavory-characters MMO, APB. They’re making one fan put his money where his mouth is, literally turning him into an avatar that could be produced in the game’s design-your-character interface.  I’ve seen more than enough promotions that put one lucky fan into a game as a background model, and even occasionally as a playable in-game character.  So it’s cool to see EA turn that concept on its head.

The community is at the helm, making choices via popular vote on who their base model is, his hairstyle, even tattoos the poor guy has to get. To be fair, Josh (the “winner” in this case) lists “Free Runner” as his occupation, so he probably had plenty of time and empty pockets to commit to this project.  And hey, it’s not like his shift supervisor is gonna reem him out for showing up to work with stupid visible tats or a crazy haircut.  That’s why you make career choices like “Free Runner” in the first place, right?  Except this guy.  He’s a badass, and it look like dude gets paid.

The whole thing has me thinking more about our relationships with what we control onscreen.  Tom Bissell had some very, very good points in Extra Lives about how much of (another EA title) Mass Effect’s success is tied to Bioware empowering us all to create OUR Commander Shephards.  I still bristle a little bit when I see a YouTube video or something from that game, and it’s not MY Shephard running around.  It feels like the lost footage from Back to the Future with Eric Stoltz in the Marty role.  Creepy.

...that's just not right

But I don’t think I would ALWAYS be more emotionally invested if I could design my own avatar.  Case in point: there’s nothing on this earth that turns my “nostalgia” valve quite like a Mario game.  Even when I could play a sidescrolling platformer — that most nostalgic of genre — with an avatar of my own design in LittleBigPlanet, it just didn’t resonate emotionally as much as one starring everyone’s favorite plumber.

APB designer Dave Jones (of Lemmings and GTA 1-2 fame) clearly wants us to feel like we’re inhabiting that world.  As WoW has shown us, a custom avatar can really make players buy in to the setting and fiction on a very deep level.  Let’s hope Josh can hack it.

* Really.  Enough with the damn pitches about building materials.  I’m sure advances in shaftway cabling are a very big deal, but we write about videogames here, peeps.

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Wagging Madden’s dog

Since Mrs. Liquid Architecture got me a Kindle for Christmas, I’ve been on a bit of a magazine article bender renaissance.  In case you missed them, be sure to check out this chilling article on Marvin Harrison’s gun rap from GQ of all places, along with their entertaining take on EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, post… whatever you want to call Tiger’s whole thing.

Wired’s always a treat to read and Chris Suellentrop dropped a gem in this month’s issue, exploring how gaming’s most successful franchise is also the best selling off-the-shelf  field simulator for a very specific group of employees – NFL players.  Suellentrop calls on a crystal clear illustration from a Bengals/Broncos game earlier this season to show how The Game (Madden) has come to influence the game.

He does a good job showing how EA’s crown jewel series has shaped this generation of NFL players, but I’m surprised Suellentrop didn’t explore how Madden‘s impacted the game itself, and the fan experience of how NFL football is covered.

Digital 1st down lines make the game more accessible to casual fans

For example, every NFL game (and most college football games) I’ve seen since the lat 90’s make use of a digital line to highlight the distance for a first down.  It’s become so commonplace, hardly anyone even talks about it anymore.  When the “virtual line” tech first debuted way back in 1998, I can even recall people saying how it was “just like in a video game.”  Would those handy little markers even exist without Madden?

Skycam apes Madden to show viewers the QB's options

SkyCam (and it’s other branded cousin, CableCam) more recently revolutionized coverage of the game.  It first debuted in the XFL (just like HeHateMe!), giving viewers a floating vantage point above the quarterback.  For the first time in a real live game, we got to clearly see the passing lanes and defensive set at the line of scrimmage, just like in (say it with me now) Madden!  Of course, the makers of SkyCam deserve a lot of credit for their ingenious system of reels, pulleys and cables that make SkyCam work.  But I have to believe the genesis for their entire operation was Madden’s primary camera, and aping that as close as possible in a living, breathing 3D space.

Of course, long time readers (all 3 of you) will remember yours truly covered how ESPN more overtly incorporated Madden into their NFL highlights show.  So Madden imitates life imitates Madden.

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tiger bundleTiger Woods keeps good company.  He stands with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as the only men to win the Masters more than 3 times.  He’s a dominant athlete that’s changed the face of his sport, just like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan before him.  And just like Lebron James or even non-athletes like Mark Zuckerberg, his entrance on an international stage at a very young age can truly be described as phenominal.  With the release of Tiger Woods 10 for the Wii, he joins the rare company of (fictional and immortal!) characters that have starred in a game good enough to move hardware.  And NINTENDO hardware to boot.

Unlike last year’s game, EA chose the Wii as the lead platform for Tiger Woods 10.  That effort’s been rewarded out of the gate with shining review scores.  More importantly, it’s finally making good one EA’s “All Play” effort to bring Nintendo’s more casual Wii-owning audience into the sports game fold.  A Sunday golfer in his 30’s could easily pick this game up and play alongside his entire family, with plenty of fun minigames and varying difficulty levels to keep everyone entertained.

Tigers Frisbee Golf mode adds a much-needed party game appeal

Tiger's Frisbee Golf mode adds a much-needed party game appeal

In a move that really surprised me, Tiger comes bundled with the new Wii Motion Plus peripheral, fully a month ahead of the first compatible first-party title, Wii Sports Resort. When I first saw Motion Plus at last year’s E3, I thought Nintendo would go for the identical release plan as N64’s Rumble Pack, which came packed in with Star Fox 64 for its introduction.

I certainly hope we see more support from third party devs for Motion Plus.  Tiger uses it correctly, and it makes a huge difference in the overall feel of the game.  It really connects with most of the things that make playing golf fun, especially when you bring some other players into the room.  Here’s hoping all the attention and TLC this title obviously benefitted from during development pays dividends for EA on the shelves, too.

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Following the always-timely Stephen Totilo’s Multiplayer Twitter feed, I caught the news just a couple minutes ago about Will Wright leaving EA Maxis to commit fully to his multimedia IP think tank, Stupid Fun Club. For the record, Totilo was seven minutes ahead of EA’s official Twitter.

stupid fun club logoI’m not entirely surprised with the move. DRM controversy aside, Spore made a tremendous splash with critics and consumers alike, and it really felt like the culmination of everything he’s done in the Sim lineage.  There were elements of big sellers like The Sims and SimCity in there, and even some of the quirkier titles like SimFarm, SimAnt and SimEarth. I don’t really see a need for Spore 2, and I’m willing to bet Wright feels the same way.  Then again, when has that stopped anyone?

Without a doubt, Wright can say he was with EA during a transformative period for the company.  EA bought Maxis in ’97, so you’ve got the rise of Sony and the PlayStation brand, and EA’s embracing that technology to become an undisputed superpower in development during that time.  The advancement of Western development and evntual industry shift to cater to US-centric tastes.  The PR backlash against “big, bad EA” and the EA Spouse Livejournal giving a voice to the workforce rights issue that could no longer be ignored.  The end of Sega as a hardware manufacturer (catalyzed by EA’s lack of support for the Dreamcast) and the entrance of Microsoft on the console scene.  Countless top personnel moves, exclusive licensing deals won (NFL) and lost (MLB), and the will-they-won’t-they? circus of EA’s move to acquire Take2.

Will Wright managed to keep himself and his studio remarkably clear of everything that went down at the parent company during that time.  They managed to stick to resonable release schedules and get quality games to market every few years.  EA has a stake Stupid Fun Club, and it sounds like they retain rights of first refusal on their videogame projects.  I hope it works out well for all involved, and am really excited to see what their first projects look like.

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Earlier this week, EA held it’s quarterly call for investors, where they recap the previous quarter’s results and share their short- and long-term outlook for the future.

booorrriinngThese calls tend to be packed with juicy details on release dates, new IP,  and what platforms the developers are focusing on for the future.  They are also booorrrrinng.  You’ll likely never hear a developer come onto an investor call.  Sadly, that’s not the type of background investors are interested in.  They’re usually led by an investor relations director, with short presentations from the CEO, CFO and a few others.  Occasionally they take questions at the end, but even those are limited to investors, analysts, and press.

Just take a look at this doozy from this week’s EA call ” …starting with its fiscal 2009 results, the company began to apply a fixed, long-term projected tax rate of 28% to determine its non-GAAP results. Prior to fiscal 2009, the company’s non-GAAP financial results were determined by excluding the specific income tax effects associated with the non-GAAP items and the impact of certain one-time income tax adjustments.” Sexy!!!

irBut there is hope.  Rather than dialing in, I followed along with some of my favorite games journos, who were kind enough to Twitter throughout the entire call, hitting up the highlights in real time.  N’gai Croal, Leigh Alexander, Libe Goad and Stephen Totilo all added context and some much needed character to the preceedings.  While I can’t imagine legal and IR departments ever warming up to the idea, it’d be neat to see a company incorporate a side-by-side Twitter conversation into earnings calls in some official way.

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newspaper-2Over the last few weeks, mainstream news outlets large and small have contributed plenty of page space to pondering “will the video games industry manage to thrive through the recession?”  For the most part, pundits and columnists are answering that with various flavors of “yes.”  But it’s still a kick to see a newspaper as established and respected (at least in finance circles) as the Financial Times give the industry a clean bill of health during these very uncertain times.

Unfortunately, it’s not all rosy for Sony.  The fact is, Sony has its hands in a lot of businesses that AREN’T doing as well as our favorite pastime.  And just like every other big corporation right now, they’ll have to trim quite a bit to stay competitive.  That said, I think we’d all like to see them get a winner on the PSP in the ‘States this year, and give us all a reason to keep that system charged again.

On a similar note, EA indicated there will be further layoffs on the horizon, and put the brakes on their new Vancouver studio development today.  I’m interpreting that as more of a cautionary move to protect the bottom line than a white flag.  After all, they just announced they’ll be publishing Brutal Legend.

So EA at least has 2 nickels to rub together and deliver Tim Shaefer’s latest… and God bless them for it.  The fact that they’re taking a flier on Legend, a new IP from an awesome-but-not-guaranteed-blockbuster developer, shows me that Legend must be worth it.  Here’ hoping…

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Just in case you missed it, be sure and check out the excellent piece on Spore in the NY Times by Yale fellow and renowned scientist Carl Zimmer.  The Times is hardly ever wanting for quality games journalism, with Seth Schiesel on staff and even the occasional think piece from Steven Johnson in the Sunday Magazine.  But Zimmer’s exploration of Spore is a real gem, because he treats Spore with the same level of respect as any entry in any medium that has the potential to bridge the gap between livingroom and classroom.

I’m sure that one day the medium will mature to the point that stories like this will become commonplace, but for now it’s a high watermark for games coverage in mainstream press.  Also, Zimmer’s piece mentions How to Build a Better Being, a Discovery Channel special that airs next Tuesday (and will come packed in with the special editionof Spore).  As I said before, Will Wright’s showing up in force to promote Spore. We should all enjoy it while it lasts.

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