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What is EA Sports’ next video game?

A cryptic mention in an investors call stirs all kinds of speculation

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A Michigan football player applies a crunching hit to his Ohio State rival in EA Sports’ NCAA Football 14.
Probably not this. (NCAA Football 14, published in 2013)
EA Tiburon/EA Sports
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Three things, other than NBA Live’s cancellation, got my attention about Electronic Arts’ call with investors this week:

Star Wars: The Old Republic has pulled $1 billion in revenue, lifetime. That’s a good benchmark, and Blake Jorgensen, the publisher’s chief financial officer, even prefaced it with a “believe it or not,” which sort of acknowledges how the MMO has faded from the ongoing video games discussion, except among those playing it frequently.

Obviously a billion-with-a-B-benchmark is a nice milestone. But let’s also remember The Old Republic launched in 2011. And also that EA Sports’ Ultimate Team modes in FIFA, Madden and the like have been said — by the company — to account for more than a quarter of the company’s net revenue. Which in the most recent fiscal year was $4.95 billion.

• Chief executive Andrew Wilson said “There may be some other remasters” in addition to the Command & Conquer 4K remaster that the company announced last year. This would be for the company’s 2021 fiscal year, which runs from April 1, 2020 to March of the following year. That makes sense, as after live services, EA makes a large use of its back catalog with things like its EA and Origin Access program. And next year will get the PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Project Scarlett console.

But the real biggie:

• Wilson told investors to expect “a full slate of new EA Sports experiences,” in the next fiscal year, “including new titles that we are adding to our EA Sports portfolio.”

This could mean anything, and both “experiences” and “titles” could be a sort of hedge that involves mobile games, ports, existing series on a new console generation, or something other than the reappearance of a treasured franchise.

But Wilson’s remark came the same week that the NCAA’s leadership said it agreed — in principle — with college athletes being paid for the use of their name, image and likeness, which was at the heart of the lawsuit that took down EA Sports’ NCAA Football series six years ago, of course. And investors did question Wilson directly about it; Wilson replied that it was “news to us, too.”

So, yeah, that’s tantalizing, though if we’re talking about a bureaucracy as large as the NCAA, it’s hard to imagine that both sides are already talking about cranking up the college football game again within the next 18 months. The NCAA’s announcement seems to be a reaction to a California law (with others in the works in bigtime college sports states) that says students there can’t be sanctioned or lose their eligibility for selling their likeness or profiting from their celebrity playing a sport. At any rate, the organization has not articulated any terms under which it would agree to their athletes cutting and being paid for endorsement deals.

So, what then? My bets are on:

• They might actually talking about the next UFC video game as opposed to a new series, or the return of the old one. EA Sports UFC 3 launched in 2018, and its predecessors launched in 2016 and 2014. Forbes’ Brian Mazique reported back in April that development on UFC 4 is already underway.

Fight Night, or something like it. 2011’s M-rated (!) Fight Night Champion was the first sports video game with a story mode that has now become a commonplace expectation. EA Vancouver may want another crack at this, who knows. Boxing may be vastly overshadowed by mixed martial arts in the public conversation, but EA has an engine for it, developers who love making it, and there’s always a willing audience for a rock-em-sock-em fight video game.

• I don’t think it’s golf. Rory McIlroy PGA Tour launched in 2015 and though strong post-release support made it a solid game, I just don’t think there’s enough opportunity there to get a full EA Sports treatment. Besides, 2K Sports picked up that license, effectively, with The Golf Club 2019.

• Some kind of arcade title or adaptation that takes greater advantage of an existing license. Or who knows, maybe Mutant League Football or Hockey is actually coming back. But this seems like a low probability because there’s no way to extend it to a live service, which has been EA’s focus for years now.

• There was no full Major League Baseball simulation on Xbox One and the game naturally dovetails with an Ultimate Team model. If MLB and EA finally came to an agreement on a license where both get rich enough, sure, it’s easy to fantasize that they’ve been building MVP Baseball 2021 in secret for the next console generation. If nothing else, it’s more plausible than the return of the NCAA series.

I’ve been rooting for a return of MVP Baseball, whose last entries were two college baseball video games on the PlayStation 2 13 years ago. But then, I’m also an N.C. State graduate, and we haven’t won a conference championship in football or men’s basketball since the Carter and Reagan administrations, respectively. So as a sports fan, I tend to place my hopes in the return of impossible and unworkable concepts.

Who knows what we’re getting. Still, it’s fun that sports video games’ largest publisher is saying we’ll be getting something new.

Roster File is Polygon’s news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.