There was one exhibitor who never needed a double-check of your E3 floor map, just to be sure they were still in the same place. Not even the console makers had such year-after-year landmark status as Electronic Arts at E3, front-and-center in South Hall, filling your field of vision as you walked through the doors.
That booth, impossibly large and impossibly loud, won't be a part of E3 this June. For the first time in who-knows-when, if ever, EA will not have any presence on the expo floor, preferring to stage a three-day, open-to-the-public gala at the nearby Novo (formerly known as Club Nokia). This year, EA is pointedly giving fans first crack at its playable showcase before getting on with the requisite schmoozing and spinning of industry and press.
EA still plans the usual hourlong news conference, moving it to Sunday, June 12 from its traditional Monday-before-E3 slot, and most of that will inform what is seen later in the week. Still, it is not this publisher's style to spring surprises from Los Angeles. The last real jaw-dropper was when it announced EA Sports UFC in 2012. EA traffics in known quantities and, recently, occasional teases like what was seen with Mass Effect and Battlefront in 2014.
Here's what to expect from Electronic Arts at E3 2016.
After years of blue-sky ruminating from casual observers, at last a major military shooter is taking on World War I, and it is EA's Battlefield. Announced just two weeks ago, the "likes" given to its trailer on YouTube were enough to get a mention in an earnings call to investors, although some of this is surely a reaction to Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare pushing itself further into the future.
Battlefield has gotten long on-stage demos in the past, mainly to show off the visual performance of the Frostbite engine powering it. We're sure to see some live gameplay, though more likely in the game's campaign. Battlefield: Hardline did do a multiplayer demonstration at E3 2014 but it was hard to narrate and follow.
EA will surely tout the three editions for Battlefield 1, especially the one granting early access, but as for DLC, no. Publishers want season passes sold sight unseen.
Hot on the heels of Battlefield 1 is Titanfall 2, rumored also to arrive in October. EA said back in April this game's "worldwide reveal" would take place June 12, which is the publisher's news conference.
The first Titanfall captured a lot of attention when it launched in March 2014, but its lack of a campaign or playable story stunted its staying power long-term. Titanfall 2 will have a proper single-player campaign, Respawn promises. Moreover, it's not a PC-and-Xbox exclusive like the first, opening the mech-shooter up to a much wider audience on PlayStation 4.
Titanfall 2 will probably be shown with live gameplay, and will definitely get a trailer introducing everyone to the world Respawn imagined but couldn't quite describe within the limitations of the first game. It may even be the cold open for the whole show.
If Titanfall 2 isn't the first trailer seen in EA's news conference, it'll be Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is launching later, by March 2017. BioWare's spacefaring epic role-playing game will need a lot of context, which calls for an extended trailer more than any gameplay demonstration. In Mass Effect: Andromeda, humans have gone to the galaxy of the same name and are now the invading/colonizing species, introducing a new spectrum of moral quandaries and subtleties.
Mass Effect: Andromeda was introduced, though not by that name, in an E3 2014 reel showing conceptual art and animations. It was titled and teased at E3 2015 and we have heard barely anything in the year since, so it is due for big treatment at E3 2016. EA typically opens with a short reveal of a known game coming soon, then moves into a large-scale demonstration of an even bigger one coming later. Mass Effect: Andromeda figures to be that second billboard presentation.
The most known of quantities in video gaming, EA Sports always has a reel to show through the middle of the news conference. The label has relied on big name celebrities, particularly the NFL's, to carry attention through this stretch. Bottom line: Madden, FIFA and NHL are coming out every year, and their reveals will showcase starpower or technical gameplay changes, followed by beauty-roll trailers.
Even when it was on the floor at E3, EA Sports never showed career mode features for the sports video games it had launching in the next four months, and any multiplayer demonstrations were behind closed doors to press. So that rules out the lucrative and increasingly important Ultimate Team modes in these titles. We'll more likely hear about these plans closer to the games' launch.
As for new titles, EA Sports seems to be in a pattern where mixed martial arts and its golf franchise alternate years (UFC in 2014 and 2016, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour in 2015). Rory McIlroy PGA Tour did get stage time at E3 2014, but that was mainly because it was a reboot and had a Battlefield-themed golf course to show off. But the U.S. Open tees off the Thursday after E3, and its course, Oakmont, was added to the game back in March. So who knows.
Battlefront still has three DLC expansions coming — Bespin, coming in June; Death Star, in the fall, and then an untitled pack coming early 2017. Battlefront has kept its timeframe to the original trilogy, but that does include the context surrounding Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which premieres in December.
EA's chief financial officer has said the company's Star Wars titles will incorporate characters, scenes and events of the Original Trilogy as well as the new Anthology series, which is the umbrella for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, an unnamed Han Solo movie, and others set around the time of the original trilogy. Battlefront's first DLC involved the Battle of Jakku, which happened about a year after the events of Return of the Jedi. Rogue One is set during the construction of the Death Star, within a year of A New Hope's timeline, so it's a good candidate for the fourth DLC expansion.
This game launches the Tuesday before E3 week, so unless EA has additional product to announce — DLC, expansions, whatever — Mirror's Edge: Catalyst's E3 presence will be mainly in playable kiosks on the EA Play floor.
Two weeks ago Battlefront 2 was pegged for a launch sometime between April and December 2017. The only reason this isn't in our "what we will definitely see" column is because it's not listed in EA's official calendar of upcoming games and the first Battlefront's DLC might take precedence. But EA has said it expects a Star Wars game to launch every year for the next three or four years, and that starts with the sequel to last year's shooter.
It also suggests that EA could roll whatever reveal it has for the fourth Battlefront expansion into a tease for the Battlefront 2 sequel. And if that really is on the table, expect them to highlight a single-player campaign. One was left out of the first Battlefront in order to have it ready by the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, disappointing many (including one of the film's stars) and top executives seem to have heard that such an absence is not going to be tolerated again.
Battlefront 2 would also seem to be the series' foray into the timeline of the newest trilogy — i.e. Episode VII forward, as Disney and its partners seem to want to forget Episodes I through III ever were created.
The timetable of "a Star Wars game every year for the next three to four years" currently doesn't have anything scheduled for 2016. EA may consider the wrap-up of its DLC season for Battlefront to be this year's release. If not, it has Visceral Games and Respawn working on Star Wars.
Neither project is listed on EA's calendar for investors in the coming fiscal year. (Respawn's game was announced only on May 4.) But, Amy Hennig, the former creative director and writer of the Uncharted series for Naughty Dog, has been with Visceral since 2014, and shortly after joining the studio it was announced she was on its Star Wars project, described as a third-person action adventure.
Again, it's not EA's style to spring surprise titles at E3. But as far as timing goes, it did just announce Battlefield 1, and that hits shelves in October. If nothing else, we should at least see a tease for this game, whether it's sneaking up on us in 2016 or coming in 2018.
Alistair McNally, the senior director for creative development at BioWare, said he walked around GDC 2016 "in a t-shirt with our new IP on it and no one batted an eyelid." The Internet went digging through everything — social media accounts, Flickr, you name it — to try to find an image of him there, but came up with zilch. Who knows. If a game is at the stage where they're making t-shirts, that sounds like it's ready to be announced. McNally also could have been trolling everyone.
Make no mistake: We will definitely see a reel for EA's mobile division. It represents about a quarter of EA's net revenue (by platform) and titles like Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes and The Simpsons: Tapped Out are huge revenue drivers. The question is what will be shown, and if and how it relates to the console-and-PC audience that drives most of E3's coverage.
This year that may mean NBA Live, which launched a mobile game for Canadian storefronts only back in the winter and saw positive reviews from those in the know. Two weeks ago, EA signaled that NBA Live was reorganizing its emphasis to a mobile product, while still promising a console release that would follow in January 2017.
There is no reason to trust EA Sports' oblique promises that it will launch on consoles in the coming season, whether that's January or ever. But given the success of Madden NFL Mobile and the fact this is the only audience willing to give NBA Live a chance, EA Sports could still see a worthwhile reason to keep its license.
However, an NBA Live appearance at E3 as a mobile game and not a console game would be the strongest signal to console gamers that they can write off that franchise for good. And EA may yet have a use for it.
Like EA Mobile, it seems like something from EA's subscription service is due for a mention at the E3 2016 news conference. EA Access now has 21 games in its library, more than half of them EA Sports titles, and adds new ones almost monthly. A year into Xbox One's backward compatibility, there are just three (3) EA titles for Xbox 360 that can be played on the new platform.
Whether it's an infusion of backward compatible games or the introduction of free-to-play sports multiplayer, Access is a resource for EA that is still largely the same as it was when it launched in August 2014. This winter's addition of a companion service for PC, Origin Access, may take this part of EA's revenue puzzle off the priority list at E3. And it's unlikely that PlayStation is getting into the picture here, and even if it was, that would be more likely to be announced at Sony's news conference. But EA Access seems ripe for a mention, either for a new type of subscription or as a platform for a new game, or new approach to one.
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