EA’s gamescom conference: now’s the time to be sociable

By Dave Cook
14 August 2012 16:25 GMT

EA’s gamescom 2012 conference was another typically solid affair, but this time with a large focus on social interaction. Now is the time to be sociable. Read all about it here.

What do we know about EA going into the latter half of 2012 and beyond? We know that the publisher has fully embraced the shooter scene with Battlefield and Medal of Honor on yearly rotation, we know its sport stock continues to generate substantial revenue year on year, and it has displayed an increased interest in both social and mobile markets.

With such good fortune in these challenging times and a finger in every pie, where does a company like EA go from here, and what more can it tell us about its swelling release slate? These were the key talking points of EA’s gamescom 2012 conference.

The showcase opened with a trailer for Visceral’s March 2013 release, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel. Powered by Frostbite 2, the team are now shooting up Mexico to the tune of pounding hip hop, slow-motion gun battles and adrenaline-rich men barking loudly.

“Rather than add small little changes like many yearly titles, EA shows no sign of slowing down with its sport games, even this close to the next-gen of console hardware.”

While visually impressive, it looked like another by the numbers entry to the series. As we’re so close to next-gen consoles and all of the innovation that will bring, the game’s trailer felt all-too familiar. Visceral’s involvement lends the project hope, but it’s cautious hope.

The live gameplay demo was just as loud and explosive, as PMCs Alpha and Bravo took to the sweltering streets to unleash hell on faceless cartel soldiers in another modern warzone. The series’ new Overkill feature was the focus, a toughened state that slows the action and reduces damage. You already know how it works. It wasn’t the strongest start to a conference.

EA’s COO Peter Moore took to the stage next and promised more new EA games and services for the year ahead, then confusingly a NHL 13 general manager Dean Richards took to the stage in hockey gear to an uproar of noise and frightened poor Peter Moore half to death. It was pretty funny.

The EA Sports slate was recapped, underlining the rude health of games like NHL 13, FIFA 13. The word ‘Fundamental’ popped up a lot in reference to game-changing mechanics that impact how people will play. Now this is more like it.

Rather than add small little changes like many yearly titles, EA shows no sign of slowing down with its sport games, even this close to the next-gen of console hardware. There is no quick churn out or reliance on gimmicks, and it feels like genuine thought and heart has gone into 2012’s sports titles.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted tore onto the big screen next, and developer Criterion is proof that EA is looking to innovate and try new ideas. The cinematic trailer showed tone of racers tearing through streets to the tune of Frostbite 2, along with gamertags above each vehicle.

Online is clearly a large focus for the publisher, and it is really trying to push this across its entire slate. If Most Wanted’s Autolog 2 is any measure, EA is really trying to embrace cross compatibility, social aspects and the cloud before the next-gen socia gold rush truly begins.

Social competition through Autolog 2.0 is even bigger, and this is another focus of the EA pack. Cloudcompete is a new Autolog feature that lets players access their stats and, accept challenges in what Webster said makes Most Wanted the “Most socially connected game of this generation.”

He showed Autolog playing out in a gameplay demo, as the player rolled up to a hidden car, and accepted the challenge tied to it, throwing him into a race in seconds and smashing through a billboard with Peter Moore’s face on it. Again, funny socially connected and impressive.

DICE’s Patrick Soderlund was next up to discuss Battlelog – again, social – and Frostbite 2’s integration with Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Executive producer Greg Goodrich then took over to talk about how Medal of Honor will connect the world.

Already the theme of social interaction is prevalent in EA’s conference, and it bodes well for the publisher as the rest of the pack only starts to consider such options. The company has it’s head screwed on.

In the Medal of Honor: Warfighter version of Battlelog, there are all the same bells and whistles as Battlefield 2’s version, but there will also be meta games where every country in the world can fight to be the world’s greatest Medal of Honor nation. It connects the world on one platform and more. Again, social.

“Already the theme of social interaction is prevalent in EA’s conference, and it bodes well for the publisher as the rest of the pack only starts to consider such options. The company has it’s head screwed on.”

The Simpsons: Tapped Out has been revised and has left beta. It’s a game where players can build heir own Springfield it also comes with microtransactions. It’s like many games we’ve seen before, including the notorious Smurf’s Village and FarmVille, but with the Simpsons license wrapped around the template, EA can’t lose.

Even Origin is following the same social track, with the announcement that it’s heading to Mac, and will see more features added for smart TVs, Android and PC, not to mention more support for cloud saves.

Battlefield 3 emerged next to huge applause, and the announcement of Battlefield 3: Premium Edition received a mere whimper. It was surprising how quiet the crowd was after the trailer for next expansion Armored Kill ended.

Crysis 3’s chest-beating trailer looked impressive in motion, underlining the power of CryEngine 3. New multiplayer mode Hunter was showcased, in which Cell troopers need to fight for survival until extraction, while being hunted by Nanosuit soldiers armed with only bows.

Die as a Cell trooper, and you respawn as a Nanosuit hunter until one survivor remains. It’s a simple format, but with the game running at what looked like 60fps continually, and with cutting edge visuals, it was hard to not be impressed by the action. It’s like Predator, but in ravaged New York.

Troubled Star Wars: The Old Republic got a look in next, as BioWare Austin’s general manager Matthew Bromberg took to the stage to address the issue of growth. Bromberg said his team “Believes in Free-to-play”, which begs the question why the game didn’t follow this model to begin with.

New expansions, gear and PvP as well as a new in-game event called the Grand Acquisition were mentioned, But it remains to be seen if this new content can turn The Old Republic’s fortune around. The attendee constantly booing in the back clearly felt the same way.

Dead Space 3 still looks like a Gears of War tribute at its core, but Visceral stressed that claustrophobia, fear and tension are all central to the experience. There was a new weapon crafting mode announced, as well as a Tools of Terror competition to see which gamer can make the best weapon over at Deadspace.com – again, social.

Then Visceral showed the crowd a co-op orbital free fall section of Dead Space 3 which saw one player as Isaac falling, and another moving a falling cargo pack to clear debris, allowing Isaac to fall without damage. It was neat, and was definitely one of EA’s show highlights.

FIFA 13 got a ton of new feature announcements including Ultimate Team, and Matchday, a way for real-world football news, scores from other matches and developments to appear in commentary It’s very, smart and once again, bridges our world and the digital one in new ways.

And that’s a wrap.

One by one EA has ticked the boxes with visuals, new engines, connectivity, the cloud, mobile and more. It’s a large spread, but EA has never buckled under this kind of pressure before, and it won’t be doing so any time soon.

EA feels confident that connectivity and interaction is the way forward, and by tapping into it this early in the day, it could gain a running head start when the next-generation of consoles rolls around.

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