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What EA got right and wrong at E3 2018

EA really wants you to like it again

BioWare/Electronic Arts

EA wants you back. That seemed to be theme of the publisher’s press conference at E3 2018, a presentation that had a lot of interesting news combined with what often felt like one long apology and promise to do better.

So did EA get some of its momentum back? Let’s take a look at what worked, and what didn’t. First up? What went right.


Andrea Rene hosted EA’s press conference this year
EA via Polygon

RIGHT: Getting a real host

EA stumbled badly last year when it hired a bunch of YouTubers to do things the presenters weren’t very good at. This year they hired gaming personality Andrea Rene to host the show, and having a steadier hand at the helm was a big help through the proceedings.

Hosting this sort of thing is always going to be a bit awkward — developers and executives are rarely going to be very charismatic in front of an audience — but Rene threw herself at the material admirably.

EA stuck to a much more standard format this year, and it worked out much better for everyone involved.

EA

RIGHT: Battle Royale, or is it just Royale?

Battle royale is going to be included in many titles during the big next wave of mainstream shooters. If the pillars of Battlefield as a series are “destruction, team play, [and] vehicles,” it might be hard for this version of the game mode to differentiate itself. Destruction, team play and vehicles are things that PUBG and Fortnite are already providing. The question is whether DICE can take the battle royale formula and make it fit with what players want from Battlefield 5.

But I’m not upset that everyone and their parents are trying their hand at battle royale modes, it just means that the genre is going to continue to evolve. The core Battlefield play is sound, so why not get some buzz by dumping it into a battle royale shell? It could even be fun!

This is EA and DICE absolutely buying into a trend, but so what? Execution is much more important than who got their first. If it stumbles, it just won’t be around for the next Battlefield game. If it does well, then we have a fun new game mode to try.

EA via Polygon

RIGHT: Clone Wars content is coming to Star Wars Battlefront 2

I love this so much because the prequel movies are horrid from a storytelling perspective but featured some really badass character design and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

Bringing characters like General Grievous into video games where they can look cool and wreck shit is a great way to keep that design alive without actually, you know, dealing with the movies. Grievous has always looked great, he was used well in the animated series, and now he’s coming to Battlefront 2. I love it.

The painful aspect of this reveal was design director Dennis Brännvall taking the stage to note, multiple times, how the game stumbled on release and thanking players who have stuck with it. If you want to watch someone announce something pretty cool while looking and sounding completely defeated ... I dunno, maybe don’t in general, because that’s mean.

RIGHT: Unravel 2!

This may be more personal than analytical, but I actually didn’t care that much for the original Unravel until I noticed how infatuated my son was with it and gave it a second look. It’s a great game to play with someone else as you try to solve the puzzles, so making it a co-op game that a second player can jump into at any time has me really excited. This looks great, and you can play it right now!

The main character from Sea of Solitude is named Kay. She’s shown as a dark, shadowy creature with red eyes and wild hair. Jo-Mei Games/Electronic Arts

RIGHT: Sea of Solitude takes on Loneliness

Loneliness is a killer, and I mean that very literally. The disconnection of people from society and each other is a topic way bigger than a reaction piece to a video game press conference, but the fact it’s happening is irrefutable. This is a topic that’s ripe for exploration in a game, and I hope it handles the subject well.

With all the good stuff out of the way, let’s dig into what fell flat during the presentation

WRONG: No details on Battlefield 5’s economy

EA and DICE are playing a dangerous game by continuing to get cheers for the “no season pass, no loot box” rhetoric while also hyping up the customization options of the game, and then not giving players any details about what the microtransactions of the game will be like.

We know that there is for-pay cosmetic content in the game, and we know that EA really needs you to believe that it has learned from its mistakes with previous games, but this dance continues to feel a bit disingenuous.

EA via Polygon

WRONG: EA still doesn’t seem sure how to sell its games

Do you want to buy games digitally? Or in stores? Do you want to stream them from the cloud? Or pay a subscription to get some of EA’s games through a service on the PC? A subscription that isn’t EA Access, but something different? Are you confused yet?

This all seems really muddled, and it feels like EA knows that games aren’t going to be $60 retail products for long but it doesn’t really know what comes next. A lot of companies are trying to sells game as services, but EA has seemed desperate to turn its into business into a service for years. This is just the latest example proving that it doesn’t know how to do so effectively.

There’s no unifying principle keeping this all together, and no singular vision for how games will be marketed and sold in the future. EA is flailing, and we’ll have to see if it gets them anywhere. Are players ready for a future where they pay six subscription fees to get all the new games from their favorite publishers?

Respawn’s Vince Zampella is here to awkwardly not tell us much about the next Star Wars game EA via Polygon

WRONG: There’s a Star Wars game coming! They don’t want to talk about it!

Respawn’s Vince Zampella was in the audience to drop the news that a new Star Wars game was on the way, you’ll be able to hold a lightsaber, and it’s set during the “dark times.” It’s called Jedi Fallen Order. Zampella doesn’t know that the plural of Jedi is Jedi. The whole thing was weird and awkward and it barely seemed like anyone wanted to announce the damn thing.

Anthem - guy in market BioWare/Electronic Arts

WRONG: No romance options in Anthem

BioWare takes a step back from one of the things that made it so fun and distinctive so it can continue to pretend that Anthem is Destiny 3, and I’m bummed about it.

Anthem looks like a mixture of so many other big-budget games that I’m not sure it has done enough to find its own identity. It really does seem like a game where Master Chief jumps into the world of Destiny and makes friends. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but is it going to be enough to get people’s attention in such a crowded market?

Anthem feels like the gaming equivalent of a an aging band trying to simultaneously chase every trend it can think of. This is Bioware making U2’s Pop, basically.

RIGHT AND WRONG: EA is still really sorry

EA has a bad reputation in some corners of the internet, and the 2018 press conference was all about saying that the company had changed. Things are going to get better, but you also maybe want a cloud gaming service?

Check out this speech from EA CEO Andrew Wilson. It’s vague and rambling, and promises a lack of grinding while talking about how you want to play on devices.

We are always trying to learn and listen and strive to be better. As you look at the 10 experiences that you’re going to see today and as you play games this week, there’s some things we hope come through. First, that at the very core is choice, is that you as players get to choose how you play, what you play, when you play and what devices you play on. That in making those choices you feel you are treated fairly. That no one is given an unfair advantage or disadvantage for how they choose to play. That for every moment that you invest — we know that you put so much of your life into the games we make — you feel like you are rewarded and you are given value for that investment. And most importantly, that the games are fun. That we move past the grind and that these are experiences that truly enhance your lives. So as we think through all the things we’re trying to do know that we want to be better and that we want to make great games.

There’s a lot going on there, and it all sounds good but there aren’t many specifics. We’ll see how this all plays out in the next year or two, because EA has backed itself into a corner where the gaming community is not willing to give it much of the benefit of the doubt.