We try not to feature EA in our E3 MCV edition.
Depending on when you're reading this, EA is either about to announce a load of games, or it already has. To speak to the company before it's done so, well, it seems a bit pointless.
But we're making an exception this time. Because EA's E3 is unlike anything it's done before. For starters, it's not there. Scour the show floor for Battlefield and you'll be left wanting. You'll have to stroll across from the LA Convention Center to find the firm, where it's holding an event called EA Play.
The reason? EA wanted to invite its fans along, and E3 remains industry-only.
EA Play was designed with our players at the centre and will be a celebration of games for our most important audiences — players, community influencers, media, partners,” Patrick Sderlund, EVP of EA Studios, told MCV.
Players will get hands-on access to the games, competitions, special guest appearances, memorabilia, and more.”
It's not confined to LA, either. EA Play will also take place in London.
This year was our time to bring in an even bigger, global audience, so hosting a show in both LA and London allows us to connect the local, regional and online audiences with our games,” Sderlund explains. We've also designed Play LA and Play London with content creators in mind, with more opportunities for live streaming and capturing content from our games right from the event.”
Sderlund is coy when we asked him if he thinks E3 should open its doors to consumers: We wanted to bring our players in to experience EA's games launching in the upcoming year,” he says, carefully avoiding the question. We're excited to do that for the first time with EA Play, and learn from it.”
Yet the publisher's decision to abandon E3 has already had a profound impact. E3 organiser ESA has since announced E3 Live – a consumer show that will take place next door to the main event – in an effort to attract the likes of EA back in 2017.
Whether EA and Sderlund like to admit it, they've forced the 21-year-old expo to change.
EA Play is all part of the firm's ‘players first' mantra that it likes to recite whenever we get a chance to speak with it. Over the last two years, the company has embarked on a major charm offensive in an effort to persuade gamers that, contrary to popular belief, it isn't evil.
There are a number of games for fans to try at the event, including Madden and FIFA, plus Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2. EA has long talked wanting to beat Activision to become the No.1 company in the first person shooter space, and it will hope that delivering two distinctly different shooters (Battlefield is set during World War One, while Titanfall is based in the future) will help them do it.
It's really an unprecedented year for EA when we have two awesome FPS games from two studios [DICE and Respawn] that are at the top of the category,” boasts Sderlund.
Both Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 have their own unique approach and strengths that are going to set them apart from anything else. Ultimately we see it as an opportunity to deliver two amazing new experiences to players in a genre that is craving something new and innovative.”
Sderlund doesn't seem to like it when we try to discuss the commercial benefits of EA's actions. Even when we brought up the impressive sales of Star Wars Battlefront, he said: Yes, we did exceed our original expectations, but seeing our players enjoying the game is what matters the most.”
"We wanted our players to experience EA's upcoming games. We're excited to do that for the first time with EA Play."
Patrick Sderlund, EA
It was the same when we asked Sderlund about whether he thinks eSports (an area the company
is moving into in a big way) could become a significant revenue generator.
Competitive gaming engages hundreds of millions of game players today – both as participants, and as spectators – and it continues to grow,” he observes. EA's competitive gaming division will enable global competitions in our biggest franchises, like FIFA, Madden and Battlefield, and we're focused on engaging players at all skill levels. The way we look at it, the biggest opportunity for growth is in driving deeper engagement in our games to make stars of all of our players.”
There's that ‘players first' message again. No matter what question we asked, Sderlund would dodge the commercial conversation and talk about how they're doing something positive for consumers.
The challenge for EA now is to convince its sceptical audience that this isn't just a PR line.
EA Play will be its biggest opportunity yet to prove it.
EA is known for its big, triple-A super franchises like FIFA, Battlefield, The Sims, Plants vs Zombies and the rest.
Yet earlier this year the firm delved into something altogether more niche when it released the artistic 2D platformer Unravel, created by a tiny team in Sweden.
I honestly loved every part of [working with Unravel],” says Sderlund, who originally signed the game.
The awesomely creative development team at the Coldwood in Sweden did such a great job bringing the adorable and engaging Yarny character to life. And since then, it's been quite incredible to see the community's love for Yarny, both in the game and beyond. This is why we decided to sign a new agreement with Coldwood to work with them on their next Unravel project.”
Sderlund says that the company is committed to working with external studios on projects, and points to its current partnerships with Respawn (Titanfall) and Hazelight (which created Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons).
We love working with creative and passionate development teams,” Sderlund adds. We want to entertain our players with different experiences.
The challenge for us isn't finding opportunities to do this, it's about harnessing all of our creative and technical talent to make even better games and ground-breaking services.”
Many of EA's rivals have recently invested heavily in different media industries.
Ubisoft has already produced a Rabbids TV series, with an Assassin's Creed movie set for December. Meanwhile, Activision is preparing a Skylanders cartoon and a Call of Duty film.
So should we expect EA's franchises to hit the silver and small screens?
We think that games are the greatest form of entertainment,” insists Sderlund.
We want to tell great stories and create great experiences. That is the heart of what we do in this business. With that said, we do look at opportunities to extend our IP and give our players new ways to interact with the st