Want to know how to mess up an E3 press conference? Let EA show you how!
If you’d allow me to describe this conference in three words, I would say: out of touch. To be fair, EA had an uphill battle in front of them coming into E3 this year. They were basically responsible for every major controversy that rocked the industry in the last 365 days and they had a lot to answer for. Not only did they bring about the disappointments of Mass Effect: Andromeda and Star Wars: Battlefront 2, two franchises with enormous love behind them, but they were also the poster child for the loot box controversy that nearly saw the gaming industry get legislated for the first time in decades.
So how did they decide to win back fans? By trying to brush these things under the rug, of course! While I have to give some credit to the Battlefront 2 presenter and the couple statements about how upcoming games wouldn’t have loot boxes, it felt like a poor apology at best and scapegoating the developers for the publisher’s decisions at worst.
There’s so much to unpack here, it’s probably best we just start from the top.
Once again, EA decided to do their own anti-E3 party called EA Play. They seem to think they’re the cool kid that has the elite party down the street only for the best of the best while in reality, they come across as the hipster who crashes the party “ironically”. It’s disingenuous. So pretty much perfect for EA.
Anyway, they start off their EA Play demo by showing this weird AR demo for Anthem with a character flying around the top of the theater shooting at a titan coming out of the screen. Maybe it would have been cool with some sort of context but instead, they just have them fly off, splash Anthem on the screen and move on. This brings up a question that has permeated EA Play since they started this last year: who is this for? EA obviously knows that the majority of their viewership is watching online but then they spend all this time trying to get people to come to LA to play their games in person. For all the fans who spent a ton of time and effort to get to LA to see EA’s presser in person, starting off with an AR demo meant for remote viewers sends the wrong kind of message. And it was not lost on the crowd.
Throughout the entire conference, EA tried desperately to get the crowd excited about what they were showing but the crowd was having none of it. Nearly every statement they made had one or two awkward claps and a single whoop but rarely anything more than that. Even their headliner Anthem demo got little more than polite clapping. The crowd didn’t feel like this show was for them and all of the presenters’ talk about in-person demos sure didn’t make it feel like it was for people watching online either. So who was the focus of this conference? I sure don’t know and I’m not sure EA knows either.
After an awkward attempt to bring the crowd into the presentation, they jumped into Battlefield V. It was a graphically impressive demo, something that held true throughout the conference. That said, it wasn’t really anything we hadn’t already seen. Battlefield V had already been demoed with Trevor Noah a couple weeks ago so the setting and look of the game have already been known. There were a few new features shown such as hitching and moving mounted turrets and destroying buildings with tanks but overall, it was a pretty redundant demo. They did hint at a single-player campaign that will be shown at Microsoft’s presser but maybe that’s something they should have shown here.
FIFA fans probably had the best time at this conference with the announcement that the UEFA would be a part of FIFA ’19 and that FIFA ’18 players would get access to the World Cup modes, showcasing every World Cup team and stadium. They didn’t spend hours talking about how realistic their dribbling was or how dodge mechanics were better than they’ve ever been and honestly, the conference was much better for it. This is a FIFA game and everyone knows how soccer (football) works. Getting to see what teams we can play, what cups we can win, what modes we can battle through, those are the exciting things to learn about a new FIFA game.
EA was determined to make FIFA the high point though because after this, they decided they would double-down on Origin Access. Yeah, THAT Origin Access. That thing that nobody really wants and suggests a bleak gaming dystopia where games exist only on the servers of fickle companies that each demand monthly payments for access to their limited libraries. Origin Access Premiere is the name of their service that boasts cloud gaming on all types of devices. While they claim to have examples of this around their show floor, I’m not going to hold my breath. Cloud gaming will become a thing but I’m just not sure 2018 is the year we see it take off.
I’m not sure anyone was happy when Star Wars became exclusively licensed to EA but 2017 ensured that nobody was neutral on the topic either. The cancellation of Visceral’s Star Wars game, the disaster of Battlefront 2 and the missed opportunity of not releasing AN X-WING SEQUEL …actually, that last one may just be me but seriously, Star Wars gaming fans weren’t pleased last year. Their Star Wars block this conference probably isn’t going to change much. Respawn announced a name for their new Star Wars game, titled Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Or maybe Star Wars: Jedi – Fallen Order? Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order? Who knows? Anyway, it will take place in the aftermath of Order 66 which saw the Republic army turn on their Jedi allies, resulting in the deaths of almost all of them. You play as a Jedi!
This new game will be out holidays 2019. The Battlefront 2 team also had a presentation to give. To their credit, they admitted the rocky start that Battlefront 2 suffered last year although I don’t like the idea of the developers shouldering the blame for a problem the publisher obviously created. To make amends, they said they have done a complete overhaul of the progression system and removed loot boxes. They also showed off some content from Solo, which looked cool, and some prequel content, which did not. Honestly, though, they legitimately felt like they were trying to fix the game and this was encouraging. Prequel content isn’t what I would have gone with to accomplish that but hey, they do seem to be trying and I can’t knock them for that.
EA Originals were up next and this was the best part of the show. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a high bar. They announced Unravel Two, the sequel to the adorable but kinda meh yarn platformer released on PS4 a couple years back. The game has a new built-in co-op mechanic where two characters are controlled to solve puzzles, even if you play by yourself. The environments were gorgeous but it’s impossible to ignore that the game looks just like the Trine trilogy that has been out for several years. We’ll be able to make a better judgment right away, though, since Unravel Two is out right now. The second game they showed was called Sea of Solitude. Much less was shown of this game but it appears to be a 3D game- maybe a platformer?- with a heavy emphasis on story. You play as a girl who has become so lonely, she literally turned into a monster. Neither game particularly grabbed me but they both seemed worth a second look, at least.
Madden’s attempt at eSports was up next where they brought the winner of the 2018 season, Young Kiv, on stage, showed off his belt and then had him leave. I’m not sure who this was appealing to as Young Kiv was less than charismatic on stage, promptly insulting the presenter and then standing around with his oversized belt slung over his shoulder. They did announce that Madden would be returning to PC’s which is great news for PC gamers.
This next bit though… this is something I will never be able to forgive.
That’s right, EA is bringing back one of my all-time favorite franchises, Command and Conquer… as a mobile game. Not only that but they revealed this in perhaps the strangest way possible. Without saying the name of the game, they reveal that they will be bringing out Starcraft 2 pro gamer, iNcontrol, along with Clash Royale player, NickatNyte, to play a match of their new mobile strategy game. It seems like they’re trying to keep the C&C ties a secret but the screen immediately shows the symbols for the Brotherhood of Nod and the GDI. Then they start this battle where they start harvesting tiberium crystals for their economy. Just imagine the horror as every C&C fan realizes what is happening.
While it uses the Command and Conquer name, C&C Rivals is clearly meant to be a competitor for Clash Royale. Players battle in real-time to control three points on the map. Having a majority control allows players to launch a nuke placed in the middle of the map at the opposing player’s base. Two nuke launches destroy the base and the surviving player wins. C&C Rivals also seems to have more direct unit control rather than Clash Royale’s AI driven combat. After this way too long battle finishes, they then reveal that this is EA’s new way to kick Command and Conquer fans.
Ignoring the fact that this is everything that C&C fans hoped would never happen to their beloved franchise, announcing a new strategy game by shoutcasting a match is perhaps the worst possible way to show anyone the game. For a first person shooter, sure. People know how FPS’s are played and while the details can vary, the basics will always stay the same: shoot people, they die. Strategy games are wildly different though and without playing the game and learning units, it’s difficult to tell what is going on or why people are doing things a certain way. This reveal was no different and a quick look at Twitter will show you how people feel about this new mobile game. It’s also worth noting that at 5 minutes, this was the longest gameplay demo of the conference. Yeah, longer than Anthem.
To be fair, they did spend almost half an hour on Anthem, so it’s not like the biggest game of the conference was ignored. It’s just 25 minutes of that half hour were made of trailers showing the same general footage we’ve already seen and a Q&A comprised of questions like “How can I customize my armor?” and “Will there be loot crates?” There was also the gem where they answered the questions of “Can I play solo?” with the response, “Yes, it will just be harder.” Wonderful.
This was capped off with a gameplay demo running about 4 minutes and 30 seconds of gameplay edited into oblivion. It was supposed to show off a mission but after watching it three times over, I still can’t really tell you what happened or what they did to complete this mission. They flew around, they swam around, they shot a couple things, there was an explosion, they threw some energy things into a bigger energy thing and then went into a cave because Jarvis told them to. Just when they were about to fight a big baddie, that’s when the demo ended.
Folks, I love video games and I love E3. EA is not my favorite company these days but I honestly want them to succeed. Their success means more good games out there. This, though… In my 10+ years of watching E3 press conferences, I feel very confident saying this was the worst press conference I have ever seen. The presentation was awkward and unfocused, gameplay was almost non-existent, there were no real surprises, the target audience wasn’t clear and none of the games were even that exciting. The biggest game they had still feels like a Destiny rip-off and nothing they showed today is convincing me it’s more than that. The only good news to come from this press conference is it’s all gonna be better from here.
EA Final Grade: F