EA starts off E3 2018 on an inauspicious note.
I have been following the video game industry for a very long time now—long enough that I don’t even remember how long it’s been anymore. In that time, I’ve seen some great press shows and conferences, and some very bad ones—but I have never seen anything that has been as historically and disastrously bad as EA’s press show today was. This isn’t even hyperbole—EA’s EA Play show today was probably, without a doubt, objectively the worst it is possible for a press conference to be. It was a disaster of pacing, with no energy and excitement, EA literally had nothing to show, and the announcers and presenters seemed like they were deer caught in headlights.
I’m going to start with the main, most obviously bad thing about the show—the almost complete lack of gameplay footage. There is a certain hilarity to how EA’s conference was structured—the Battlefield guys are brought up, they talk about the game, say they “will have more to say/show later”, and then on to the next game. Which was FIFA, where, yup, same. Lots of talking, no footage. Okay. Star Wars Battlefront 2? Same. Madden? Yup. NBA Live? Ditto. Respawn’s big announcement? Literally Vince Zampella sitting in the audience, looking desperately like he would be anywhere but there, mumbling out the name of the game, and that’s it. We couldn’t even get a stinking logo. The entire show was an embarrassment: EA literally has nothing to show for this.
"There is a certain hilarity to how EA’s conference was structured—the Battlefield guys are brought up, they talk about the game, say they “will have more to say/show later”, and then on to the next game. Which was FIFA, where, yup, same. Lots of talking, no footage. Okay. Star Wars Battlefront 2? Same. Madden? Yup. NBA Live? Ditto. Respawn’s big announcement? Literally Vince Zampella sitting in the audience, looking desperately like he would be anywhere but there, mumbling out the name of the game, and that’s it."
The fact that most of the show was just people awkwardly talking about games without footage or in a lot of cases, even trailers, made other things stand out even more—there was a complete lack of preparation (one of the the few times we were shown gameplay footage, it seemed like the demo was not set up, and we had to wait a bit before we could jump into the gameplay. Developers stumbled over what they were saying, often being prompted pretty aggressively by the presenter, who ended almost any segment of the show with a fake excited “HOW COOL WAS THAT?!?”
No, EA. That was not cool. No part of that was cool. It was so uncool it made even a Star Wars game reveal boring. It was so uncool that Anthem, the game that apparently EA and Bioware are hinging all their hopes on when it launches next year, had a segment with developers awkwardly talking about literally absolutely nothing for ten minutes, with concept art awkwardly being shown on the screen behind them (not even gameplay! Concept art!) for ten minutes before someone finally remembered to show us gameplay footage.
Let’s talk about that gameplay footage, and about the trailer we got for Anthem, and about Anthem in general. First, the good things—the game looks absolutely gorgeous. It does. And EA and Bioware had the decency to show actual gameplay for the game (for once), if a bit spliced across all the players in the party’s perspective. EA also confirmed that the game will have microtransactions, but only for cosmetics and there will be no lootboxes. That’s good, too. You have to imagine Battlefront 2 has them shook.
Okay, that was the good stuff, now let’s go to the bad. Based on the showing we have, things here aren’t looking so good. The game seems to be really unremarkable. There are traces of Destiny here (the mission they showed us seems to be almost identically structured to Destiny’s, and the Storm class seems to be uncomfortably similar to Destiny’s Warlock), with some of Monster Hunter thrown in as well (a single player hub for between missions, as well as the environments and wildlife interactions). No part of this instantly makes you sit up and take notice, or make you feel like this is a game that it is necessary for you to get—it doesn’t look bad, it just doesn’t look like it is anything special
Now, to be clear, this is, once again, based only on what they showed us. There’s every possibility that the final game isn’t like this. But we haven’t seen the final game, we’ve seen what they showed us, and logic dictates that they showed us what they felt to be the best representation of the title overall. Even if it wasn’t, this Anthem segment doesn’t fill me with any sort of optimism for the future of this game, or, indeed, Bioware. I can only hope the final game is less unremarkable.
"This is a game that might have had a place three years ago, when Destiny was at the peak of its popularity, and a game exactly like it would have found a market. But the market itself has moved on from Destiny styled games to variants of it that are more specialized now, owing to the general and persistent failure of Destiny to repeatedly deliver."
This is a game that might have had a place three years ago, when Destiny was at the peak of its popularity, and a game like it would have found a market. But the market itself has moved on from Destiny styled games to variants of it that are more specialized now, owing to the general and persistent failure of Destiny to repeatedly deliver. Even Destiny 2 itself is struggling—a game like it isn’t going to do much. Unless there is a unique spin on the formula, like with Ubisoft’s The Division, I’m not even sure how much of a market there is for this game.
Bioware promised that the game can be played entirely single player, and that it has the kind of storytelling and world building that Bioware fans are used to, which theoretically is the kind of differentiation I am talking about—but how much of that has been diluted and made to fit around the mission based loot grind structure of Destiny? How many old school Bioware fans will be interested in playing through a Destiny-like, except single player? Bioware has confirmed in a post conference interview that the game doesn’t have AI party members, or romances, and that the dialog tree is simplified—does this sound like the kind of RPG experience Bioware fans are used to?
The audience response to Anthem was a muted cheer—which maybe was because of the exhaustion from an hour of people talking and very little gameplay footage, but also because of just how… standard Anthem looks. We will see how Anthem progresses in the coming months, but my current impressions are not positive.
Incredibly enough, in spite of Anthem being the centrepiece of the show, that was not what EA spent the most time on during its conference. No, that honour goes to, and stay with me here, a mobile game. I’m serious. EA spent over ten minutes on a game named Command and Conquer Rivals, which, yes, the horror has now set in—they took the beloved franchise, the progenitor of the RTS genre, and they turned it into a mobile game. And that’s what they showed us a lot of, including, for some perverse reason, a real time, live multiplayer match between two players playing it, complete with eSports style commentary, on stage.
"EA spent over ten minutes on a game named Command and Conquer Rivals, which, yes, the horror has now set in—they took the beloved franchise, the progenitor of the RTS genre, and they turned it into a mobile game."
There’s so much to unpack here—EA spent the most time on a mobile game. EA has turned Command and Conquer into a mobile game. EA actually showed off a real time live multiplayer match for a mobile game on their stage. I don’t even know where to begin with that. It was embarrassing. It was the clearest sign yet of EA’s utter disconnect with the market, the evidence that was needed to demonstrate that this is a show being put on for investors, not customers.
And we had plenty of other evidence pointing at that, too, such as when EA’s Andrew Wilson strutted on stage to look inexplicably smug as he talked about a future EA streaming service, as well as a new tier of Origin Access for PC, beaming as he talked about the “joy of subscriptions” (which is an actual quote, you can go look it up).
In a nutshell, that emblemizes what this show was—a soulless husk of a presentation for investors, who are the only entities EA is concerned with serving anymore. But—there was one, only one, part of the show that was actually really nice, and I do want to make note of that here.
You know the part I am talking about—the EA Originals one. They showed off Unravel 2, which looks absolutely adorable, and even more compelling than the original game (complete with a live stage demo and a trailer! This is how you do things, EA), and the developer breaking down into tears with pride as he talked about his game, which by the way is out now; and they talked about Sea of Solitude, as they brought its developer out to talk about it. And while she was nervous at first, her passion broke through, and the fact that the game looks great as well, and that we got a good look at its premise, and gameplay, and a trailer, means that it was a great, human showing all around too. That is what EA’s whole conference should have been.
Instead, we got a show full of people talking about things without showing us much or anything, a show about “the joy of subscriptions”, and a show where the most hyped centrepiece turned out to look… okay? It was a horrific train wreck, and is the final and ultimate proof that EA needs to stop doing E3 pressers. They’ve had some bad ones over the last few years, but this was the worst one they have ever done. This is the worst conference I have ever seen, period—even bad ones like Sony’s E3 2006 or Konami’s E3 2010 at least had something to laugh about, this was so bad there is literally nothing to feel anything about. You can’t feel hyped, or disappointed, or angry, or even laugh at it.
You feel nothing. You feel disengaged You feel apathy. Truly the perfect show for a company like EA
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