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Posts Tagged ‘Electronic Arts’

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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On Monday night, hordes of dedicated fans lined up outside their local Gamestops, Best Buys, and Wal-Marts to get their hands on Madden ’09, the 20th installment of EA’s powerhouse franchise.  This year’s version shipped on the 360, PS3, PSP, and weirdly enough, the PS2 and Nintendo DS.

I always get a chuckle out of how many systems get a visit from the Madden fairy each year.  I can understand releasing on PS2 – there are still plenty of active users, and EA just can’t turn their back on an installed base of that size.  But the DS? Who the hell plays Madden on the DS?  The same people that made Nintendogs and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise million sellers?  But I digress.

This year’s game is a big step up, and they’ve finally figured out how to take advantage of the PS3 and 360 equally.  Most importantly (at least for yours truly), the new Madden adjusts difficulty to each player’s Madden IQ, determined through a few in-game tests and then constantly adjusted after each match you play.

EA got some mileage out of the 20th anniversary, mostly in the mainstream press. It felt a little more subdued among dedicated gaming blogs, though.  Joystiq’s Kevin Kelly tried to manage a smile at the big Rose Bowl launch event, Kotaku covered a smaller, more low-key local event, and Deadspin’s correspondent, um…  basically had the worst time imaginable.  All in all, the launch just didn’t have that “Christmas morning” feel that we’ve had in past years.  In fact, it’s the first time in over a decade that I didn’t know anyobody that took Tuesday off work.

Make no mistake – Madden ’09 will still be one of the top 3 sellers this year.  It’s the most enduring franchise in gaming, and to EA’s credit, this year’s game really pushes the series forward.  But I think we’ve seen so many megawatt launches over the last year (Metal Gear Solid 4, Halo 3, Mario Kart Wii, Smash Bros. Brawl) that it’s tough to get too excited about one more.

We’ve come to normalize and even expect pretty frequent AAA releases.  As a fan and avid gamer, that’s great news.  We’re consistently seeing good games release throughout the year.  As a marketer, is a bit daunting.  Clearly, we’re all going to have to raise the bar.

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The combined E3 game critics panel released their final winners list yesterday.  Not a ton of surprises here, but it’s interesting that EA won 4 of the 15 total awards, including Best PC Game, Best Action/Adventure, and most importantly, Most Original Game.

It’s expected for EA to win Best Sports Game, and from what I’ve seen of the new Madden, they certainly deserve it this year.  But over the last few years, it would’ve been hard to imagine them winning any awards for originality.  Yearly updates to time-tested sports franchises and crappy licensed games have been EA’s bread and butter, and I don’t think anyone would have bet on them changing strategies.  Clearly, new leadership and their radical reorganization are paying dividends quickly.  Just take a look at the breath of fresh air that is Mirror’s Edge.

Unfortunately, the best games still don’t get played without inspired marketing.  I must admit, I’m thoroughly impressed with how The House that Trip Built is promoting this year’s crop of surprisingly original IP.  Mirror’s Edge is getting a six issue comic book miniseries from DC’s Wildstorm imprint, exploring their near-future world under a police state that requires the use of runners (like the game’s protagonist) to deliver messages.  Even better, EA’s supplementing their forthcoming sci-fi survival horror title, Dead Space, with a six-book prequel series from Image Comics AND an animated, direct-to-video feature film that sets up exactly the games central set piece, a deep space mining colony, became overun with pure evil.  Check out the spooky trailer below.

While the look of the game doesn’t exactly translate to hand-drawn cell animation, direct-to-video supplements worked for The Matrix and The Dark Knight, so EA must be doing something right. With all this supplemental material beyond the game, EA has built their own Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe.  Having such fully realized worlds created as part of the development process frees EA from having to shoehorn a video game into other, licensed universes.

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RIP Scrabulous

RIP Scrabulous

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the rapidly expanding world of casual gaming apps delivered over social networks (and who hasn’t?!), last week was an interesting one.  At the beginning of the week, the poster child for Facebook as a gaming platform, Scrabulous, was turned off for all North American users.  By the end of the week, it had gotten a minor facelift and was reintroduced as Wordscraper.

With all the parties involved, and all the legalese to wade through, it’s tough to tell who ultimately made the call to pull the plug.  I mean, what are they really saying in a publicly issued statement like this: ‘Hasbro is pleased that the developers have voluntarily removed their infringing Scrabulous application on Facebook, and we appreciate Facebook’s assistance in expediting this matter‘?  Besides, it was in pretty much everyone’s best interest to make Scrabulous not look like an exact Hasbro knock-off, at the very least.

EA paid a no doubt princely sum to execute games based on Hasbro’s IP.  To keep potential suitors interested in their games, beyond EA’s 2013 expiration date, it’s to Hasbro’s advantage to protect their game concepts as ownable, patent-worthy product.  Facebook needs to prove to the world (including advertisers) that they have a handle on protecting copyrights within their platform, and it’s not the hedonistic wild west that MySpace or Second Life turned into.  Even Scrabulous‘ designers, the Agarwalla brothers, had something to gain by pulling and modifying the game.  They’ve shown the world that they know how to make a simple, working social game.  It’s the hottest hot spot right now for VCs, and it behooves them to not get sued back to the stone age so early in their careers.

Died and reborn as Wordscraper... like a zombie!

Died and reborn as Wordscraper... like a zombie!

It’ll be interesting to see how Wordscraper fares after its relaunch, combined with competition from EA’s fully branded, household name Scrabble app.  Even more important are the results of Hasbro’s lawsuit in this case.  After all, it could set a precedent for tons of litigation down the road.  At its core, this suit asks the question, “what constitutes a ‘game’ and just how much of that is ownable?”

Do the makers of a million bad Tetris knockoffs owe Alexy Pazhitnov royalties?  Do the makers of that Wii beer pong game owe your fraternity some coin?  This suit could decide once and for all.


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This week saw the official kickoff for ‘s Will Wright’s Spore, as the Creature Creator module was made available on quite a few platforms. While I wouldn’t quite say it’s the games industry’s Chinese Democracy*, Spore’s had its share of delays since being announced (and winning the “Best of Show” award) at E3 2005.

I’m thoroughly impressed with the way EA/Maxis has managed to keep the community’s interest piqued over the course of Spore’s journey from cradle to shelves. Will Wright’s been fairly reclusive since the SimCity days, and his quasi-vow of silence endured even during the development cycles of high profile titles like SimEarth and The Sims, after his rock star status had been firmly established. The long runup to Spore, however, has yielded unprecedented glimpses into Wright’s development process, through the eyes of the absolute best writers in games journalism.

Under normal circumstances, gamers would have given up long ago on a title that had this many public delays. But Wright’s reputation, candor with the enthusiast press, and build-ins for additional platforms, like the DS and iPhone, have bought EA/Maxis a reprieve in this case. Just last week, Wright even weighed in on the “games as art” argument in this gem of an interview with GameDaily Biz.

We won’t know until September if all the anticipation was worth it, but for now the project originally dubbed “SimEverything” stands as a textbook study in how to premarket a huge, genre-defining multiplatform game.

*For those scoring at home, Duke Nukem Forever is the game industry’s Chinese Democracy. A dubious honor if ever there was one.

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