For the second straight year, Electronic Arts won't have a booth at E3 in downtown Los Angeles. The publisher instead goes to Hollywood and its historic Palladium theater to make its usual showcase of latest and greatest games on Saturday, June 10 at 3 p.m. ET.
That kicks off EA Play, the dedicated event Electronic Arts is again staging in lieu of an E3 booth. Yet outside of its annual EA Sports titles, the publisher has confirmed only two games on its calendar for triple-A console launches in the next year, the kind that make the biggest splash at E3: Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Need for Speed Payback.
As said before, EA does not do big surprises at E3. It uses the time to give more detail to titles it has already announced or acknowledged. That's not to say that everything Electronic Arts will talk about is fully baked or even ready for delivery in the coming four quarters. The company gave brief glimpses of Mass Effect: Andromeda, Star Wars Battlefront and Mirror's Edge Catalyst at the 2014 showcase, for example.
But this is a publisher with a very clear product line, a very formal marketing cadence, and solid footing in mobile gaming and software as a service. Even with five-star properties like the NFL and Star Wars in its stable, that doesn't mean much sex appeal in Tinseltown.
Here's what we expect from Electronic Arts at E3 2017.
Madden NFL 18
We'll go out on a limb here and predict that football — American football — leads this show. Madden is introducing a story mode similar to sibling rival FIFA's last year, and which NBA 2K has done for the past three. Cam Weber, the head of studio for EA Sports Tiburon, has long said Madden needs a story campaign, not just a single-player career mode, going back to his time with EA Canada, which introduced the concept in 2011’s Fight Night Champion. This will be a major announcement for the series, and it will make story modes a baseline expectation of licensed sports simulations on consoles in years to come.
This will also be the first year in which Madden NFL incorporates the Frostbite engine, for which the Battlefield series is known. FIFA brought it in last year and likewise got a big closeup in 2016 when it revealed "The Journey," a story mode delivered alongside the series' Frostbite debut. This year, Everybody's All-American is due for the same treatment.
Another franchise crying out for a campaign mode is Star Wars Battlefront. Electronic Arts has acknowledged fans' disappointment that the 2015 reboot didn't have any story-driven mode, and promised that Battlefront 2 will make things whole.
Battlefront 2's single-player campaign centers on an elite TIE Fighter pilot, a fully committed Imperial partisan swearing vengeance after the destruction of the second Death Star above Endor. Though Electronic Arts is promising multiplayer action spanning all eras of the Star Wars canon, the single-player canon seems to bridge events from the 1977-1983 trilogy to present day.
Whatever EA chooses to show here, it will still be picked apart for clues to the story or context surrounding Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, which premieres Dec. 15, making this announcement a must watch for Star Wars fans.
It's also a good possibility that we finally get a name and detailed look at what Visceral Games and Amy Hennig, the former director on the Uncharted series, is up to. That is due sometime in 2018, according to current plans. Next to nothing is known about the game: its name, its setting, its characters, nothing. It's been talked about since 2015, though, making it way overdue for some kind of reveal this year.
There is a third Star Wars project, too, which Titanfall maker Respawn Entertainment is working up. It's billed as a third-person action-adventure game that "takes place in a different timeline we have yet to explore with our EA Star Wars titles," according to EA. It's doubtful we would see much more than a tease of this at E3 2017, as it would be fighting for attention with Battlefront 2 and the Visceral project, and takes place outside the timeline of this year's upcoming film.
Need for Speed Payback
Announced only last week, EA's action racing franchise is due for a big closeup at E3, especially as it took a year off in 2016. Need For Speed Payback is coming Nov. 10 and will be playable at EA Play which is open (with a ticket) to the public. With three playable characters introduced, it’s probably that we’ll get a long look focusing on their stories during the EA keynote.
Need For Speed is a series stretching back more than 20 years, and while it would seem like something out of that catalog is overdue for a remaster, that just isn't Electronic Arts' style. The company makes money off its back catalog, without additional development cost, through the EA Access and Origin Access subscription services. It’ll need to flack both at this show.
Need For Speed seems to be standing in for Battlefield as this year’s big, annual AAA series. Also, Battlefield 1 still has DLC to deliver. We may see some more of that, but big shooter franchises are rarely teased more than a year away from launch, so it’s doubtful we hear what the next Battlefield is here.
We're back to sports after Star Wars and cars. Only Monday did EA finally give up the first details for its global best seller, and it includes a sequel to “The Journey,” the story mode introduced last year. Its star, Alex Hunter, returns; one assumes the rest of the cast will, too. FIFA broke out with The Journey and the introduction of the Frostbite engine last year, so it may be due for a quiet E3 this time around. EA's known quantities, particularly sports titles, have been used to bridge big reveals with the more investor-focused aspects of their showcase, and that might be the case here.
Indies and Mobile
The EA Originals brand was announced last year and it has two games on tap: Fe and Sea of Solitude. Unravel, announced at E3 2015, is also due for a sequel, and we could see that, too. Otherwise, this would be the time for completely new and unexpected ideas.
The indie reel also folds into mobile games. That business represents a quarter of EA's revenue and always gets a look at E3, even if it's when most of the livestream audience gets up to take a leak. NBA Live seems to have settled on this platform as its home, though the series is still promised for consoles.
The third edition of the mixed martial arts franchise is due in the spring of 2018. We haven't heard anything else about it, so it's overdue for some kind of reveal here. Electronic Arts also made a big push into esports at its E3 2016 showcase, though the "chief competition officer" Peter Moore is leaving to oversee Liverpool F.C. UFC 3 could be a useful segue into that discussion.
BioWare just published Mass Effect Andromeda, but it does have an unnamed tip-top secret project in the works, though one that is delayed past April 2018 at last report. `That delay was attributed to building out the "live service" part of the game. That hints the game will be an ongoing action-adventure game for consoles and PC similar to what Ubisoft has done with Tom Clancy's The Division and Activision with Destiny. If it's an entirely new intellectual property, i.e. one with which no one is familiar, it's doubtful that EA would give this much of a tease with a projected launch date so far away.
After that, the publisher, like so many others, has a shelf full of mothballed franchises waiting to be heard from again. Command & Conquer? RTSes rarely make the stage of an E3 showcase. Medal of Honor? That’s been MIA since a disastrous 2012 launch, and military shooters are leaving present day for the comfort of wars already won. Golf? Rory McIlroy PGA Tour launched in 2015, the same year as UFC 2, so who knows.
And while we will always keep a candle lit for the miraculous return of the MVP Baseball franchise, the reality is the licensing and development costs for such a thing are now so high, we will probably never again see a simulation-quality baseball game on Xbox.