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E3 2016: Why EA Has To Go

Mass Effect E3 2016

The Electronic Entertainment Expo is the biggest stage for video games in the world, and we trust the head-honcho video game publishers to create the best show possible. So in light of this year’s efforts, today we’re going to focus on a company who provided an abysmal offering at their own, pre-E3 conference.

I’m pointing directly at Electronic Arts (EA) here, who should probably not bother again next year. Their effort this year was bad and stood out like a dog’s balls. I’m sure it’s a challenging prospect filling in dead air with such a limited games roster, but this year just proved that a severe re-structuring of the press event is necessary, or that EA has to go.

EA’s show began with Titanfall 2, which was by no means a bad thing. Releasing the game on PS4 (a first for the franchise) was a smart move and seeing the pilots from the gameplay trailer initially reminded me of Isaac from from Dead Space; I was intrigued. Apart from a cool gravity grenade seen shortly after, and a grapple hook, I’d seen all of it before in the first Titanfall game. It was seemingly well received by those in attendance and, ultimately, that’s what matters.

Titanfall2 infantry drop
“Standby for the same game!”

EA’s press event was marred by live crosses between venues in Los Angeles and London.  They halted the show’s momentum on every occasion, while talk of a commitment to eSports soaked up precious time. You couldn’t discount the enthusiasm of the Brits though, who injected much-needed applause with every new announcement (a far cry from the subdued atmosphere back in L.A). This was in spite of the fact that the London crowd didn’t have a lot of content to work with. Unfortunately, for a crowd who relished in anything FIFA-related, they were subjected to EA’s NFL segment.

At least 10 minutes was wasted on profiling two professional gamers taking part in an ‘EA Major Event’ with a bunch of other finalists. EA even went to the trouble of having all the finalists on stage, only to eventually interview just one of them. The ‘Madden bracket’ of EA’s show was boring and had lost the plot fairly quickly.

Thankfully, and with much anticipation, up popped Mass Effect: Andromeda. A gameplay trailer or even a short gameplay demonstration was on my mind considering its Q1, 2017 release window; it was the first time I’d been truly engaged at E3 so far. Onto the stage came Bioware’s General Manager Aaryn Flynn who delivered something quite unexpected. I’d categorise it as a developer diary/cutscene-light mash-up of a video that should have otherwise brought the house down. After all, Mass Effect is arguably EA’s marquee title for next year and should’ve ‘wowed’ everyone in attendance. But what they showed instead was bare snippets of footage (admittedly, it was utterly beautiful, no argument there) interspersed with employees working at their desks – hardly inspiring. It injected life into the conference, for sure, albeit at a disconcertingly low roar.

And then it was gone. EA’s most anticipated title for 2017 was swept aside like it was nothing; as if production on the game had only just started. After its first E3 reveal last year, this latest Mass Effect entry needed something to show for its efforts – beyond a handful of five-second shots of the Mako, mass relays and random planetary bases. Intentional or not, if their team had devoted more time to the games that really mattered and less on professional gamers and eSports, I reckon Mass Effect would’ve been represented far better.

After encouraging gamers to dabble in the Star Wars Battlefront add-ons and sign up to EA Access, one of the few shining lights of EA’s whole show came from FIFA17, of all places.

FIFA17 The journey
Despite its premise, the level of role-playing elements in FIFA17’s The Journey was vague.

EA Sports announced an experimental game mode titled ‘The Journey’, which is, in essence FIFA’s story mode. Players assume the role of Alex Hunter and control his rise (and fall?) towards football’s big leagues. From an Average Joe suburban player to a valuable asset with a seven figure salary, it’s a pretty neat and – let’s face it – overdue switch-up for the FIFA franchise. However, EA was very tight-lipped on how much control players would have over the nuances of Alex Hunter’s life. Do players have a say in what club he goes to; what position he chooses to play; which agent he signs with; his social life outside of football; his finances; what about controlling his press conference responses? It’s the first time I’ve even considered buying a FIFA game for about three or four years and these are the types of questions that could turn this particular game mode into a very linear experience. It left me with more questions than answers, which is undoubtedly a trend for Electronic Arts at the moment.

EA then announced the EA Originals program, designed to help independent developers bring their game ideas to the small screen, the first title from the program was revealed. I always like to see the smaller indie developers get their shot, and as soon as I saw Fe, its graphics reminded me of Ori and the Blind Forest. I also noticed speech bubbles (with no words) pulsing out of the game’s creatures – a mechanic I hadn’t seen since Journey.

Fe EA 2016
No dialogue and no story = no worries?

However, the developers announced that Fe would have no words in-game, and it would be up to the player to interpret the world and progress. In my eyes, team Zoink have screwed up here. They could’ve used a couple of voice actors – even a single narrator – to facilitate a cohesive story, but instead they’ve tried to make Fe like Journey. I thoroughly enjoyed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (a game that limits linguistics in a similar way) but, in my opinion, I prefer dialogue and plot over pretty much anything else. There are certain things that make a game artistic and fun and being able to understand a game’s story through whatever your chosen language might be is a critical part of that.

While Fe fell flat for me, I was hoping that a good old Star Wars segment would save the day, because everyone likes Star Wars. Well, it turns out EA couldn’t even get me excited about the Star Wars juggernaut, either. Besides the possibility of a single player campaign in the next Battlefront title, their developer diary montage was pretty pathetic. All the respective developers creating their Star Wars games – Respawn Entertainment and Visceral Games, to name a few – gave us no tangible information at all amongst the various shots of lightsaber motion capture, model construction and three seconds of pre-alpha footage from one of the games. So, in short, none of them are close to being ready and are at least a couple of years away from being presentable. Why not keep it under wraps until you can actually show us something worthwhile?

Star Wars dev diary
Yeah, yeah, whatever….

It was another wasted segment with little substance and this event had wandered dangerously into absurdity. With Star Wars, Fe, eSports and a duel location setup on their rap sheet, EA’s pain would soon be over. But not before they opted to summon some star power – for one reason or another – to help sing Battlefield 1’s praises. But, much like the zeppelins of wars gone by, it went down like a lead balloon.

If I can echo the grievances of our team from the EA PUGCast, I was expecting some intense conflict dealing with trench warfare. But we got more of the same – tanks, in-your-face sound effects, large-scale explosions and shiny graphics to dull our opinions. It looked like a bad popcorn action movie. Then, the trailer abruptly ended for a special announcement – great, what could it be?

To help announce a special 64-player stream of Battlefield 1 at the end of the conference was Jamie Foxx and Zac Efron. Not only did I fail to understand the connection but their lack of enthusiasm or positivity was enough to seal the fate of this post-show stream. As well as rounding off some YouTubers’ names – most of which I’d never heard of – this grand gameplay reveal for the next Battlefield instalment fell short.

Battlefield 1 Gamespot
The results are in: Today’s celebrities suck at video games.

I’d like to think I speak for more people than myself when I say that I didn’t care about which mainstream celebrities or YouTubers were chosen to showcase Battlefield 1. These public figures – Terry Crews and Lupe Fiasco, for instance – turned out to be pretty useless when it came to showing off the game anyway. Why not give these sought after spots to everyday gamers who secured a spot through a competition? That ended what was a pretty sorry state of affairs for Electronic Arts at E3 2016.

Much like Assassin’s Creed this year, I would not lose any sleep at night if they were absent from any significant form of E3 coverage in 2017. After all, a number of their titles would likely get picked up by either Microsoft or Sony for their press conferences anyway. So what would be a rational solution to this situation? In EA’s place, perhaps take a handful of independent developers currently making games across all platforms and give each of them an allotted time to showcase their work. An Indie Conference is just what the doctor ordered and, at this rate, is a far better alternative than seeing EA drag out and ruin the start of E3 with a 90-minute conference full of fluff like they did this year.

In any case, we’d like to hear what you think about the EA conference this year. Did EA justify their pre-E3 event? Or is it time they were shown the door? Be sure sure to leave us a comment below.

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