Every E3, Electronic Arts can be trusted to succeed spectacularly at one thing: bringing every time-worn gaming cynic alive out from their hovels to light their torches and oil their trusty pitchforks. The megalithic games publisher seems to have a knack for rekindling all the feelings of bitter disillusionment that have found a home within this billion-dollar interactive entertainment industry that we like to call video games.
EA’s E3 2016 debut at the Novo Theatre and Hammersmith Apollo this evening proved no exception. EA big shots Andrew Wilson (CEO) and Peter Moore (Chief Competition Officer) took to the brightest stages of Los Angeles and London to deliver a tandem performance regarding the future of one of gaming’s most prolific publishing houses.
In what was no surprise at all, the annual press conference offered virtually no surprises for its huge international audience of hungry gamers and thirsty investors. And that was precisely the problem with tonight’s proceedings – and every EA press conference, for that matter – there were no thrills, no talking points. Much like last year, the entirety of EA’s E3 2016 showcase (bar the single indie title, Fe) had already been announced. Tonight offered our annual reminder that, when it comes to E3, EA’s by-the-numbers approach just isn’t quite the right fit.
First, Titanfall 2 stormed the stage to make its long heralded E3 appearance. Teeming with all the wall-running, crazy tech and fiery explosions you might expect from a game bearing the Titanfall moniker, the trailer revisited the same man-on-mech beats that we had first been introduced to in 2013 – albeit this time on an even grander scale. Equipped with an all new single-player mode (which, to EA’s credit, had been leaked only this morning), Respawn CEO Vince Zampella seemed keen to stress that the 2016 follow up would thoroughly right the wrongs of the original Titanfall. Titanfall 2 was nailed down to an October 28th release.
The remainder of EA’s 2016 debut followed in much the same way. A series of big name developers rolled out to introduce the latest installments of EA’s most notable franchises via a handful of words and a collection of shiny new trailers. Aaron Flynn attached some sultry new teases to the ominous new frontier that is awaiting our perusal in Mass Effect Andromeda. Over in London, Peter Moore deployed the standard EA Sports spiel for FIFA and Madden 17. We saw a tantalizing few drips of early footage from the long awaited Amy Hennig-helmed 2018 Star Wars project. We even saw a wealth of clipped footage for DICE’s recently announced Battlefield 1, in a battle reel that amusingly looked nothing at all like anything that ever actually took place in World War 1.
Amid trailer after trailer, however, EA seems to have missed something. There was a painful lack of actual gameplay from EA’s 2016 E3 showcase – none, in fact. All that EA had to offer its viewers in terms of actual gameplay was a post-show stream of Battlefield 1’s multiplayer component (hosted by an incredibly unenthused-looking pairing of Jamie Foxx and Zach Efron.) Amid all of these promises of great games, there appeared to be a surprising lack of actual delivery. When it comes to all of these big, long awaited games, information seems to be as vague as ever. EA failed to give its viewers anything solid to hold on to.
In what proved (by no mere coincidence) to be both the solitary surprise and most exciting moment of the evening, Patrick Soderland (of Yarny fame) rolled out to introduce EA’s latest development venture: EA Originals. As Soderland explained, this new initiative is devised to raise up the most promising of indie devs from the throws of this uncertain industry in order to provide them with some much needed stability.
This surprise announcement queued Klaus Lyngeled of Zoink games to climb to the stage. Lyngeled treated his LA audience to a brief demo and commentary of his team’s new project, Fe. Bursting with inventiveness and character, Zoink’s work shined out starkly amongst the spools of sequels that EA otherwise had on offer this evening. Fe seems to mold its endearingly artsy-fartsy aesthetic with a collection of far darker themes pertaining to human experience. If Lyngeled’s spirited description is anything to go by, it seems players will be flung into this faintly unsettling forest world with not a guiding light in sight. How you unravel the game’s central mystery will vary wildly from player to player. And, with the game lacking any spoken dialogue, it seems that the game’s titular villains – the Silent Ones – have a lot to answer for. Not the kind of game you’d expect to have an EA sticker on it, right? That’s pretty damn exciting by our book.
To the average gamer, E3 incites feelings of sizzling uncertainty and uncontainable excitement. And yet, it seems that EA’s play-it-safe philosophy is entirely antithetical to these kinds of joyous gaming vibes. It’s no wonder, then, that EA’s presence at E3 appears to never fail to ignite the furor of the internet’s most scornful folk. In many ways, EA is beginning to feel like the odd one out at the party – or perhaps the one that doesn’t understand they’re at a party at all.
With the promise of many more fresh, new indie projects to emerge in the future, the brand-spanking-new EA Originals program may well be EA’s most salient hope for directly challenging this rather dull state of affairs come next year. Fingers crossed.