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Does EA need to sever their sports franchises from EA Play?

EA Sports: It’s not in the game.

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EA Play 2017

EA Sports: It’s not in the game.

EA once again gave their annual press conference during E3, the difference this time was that they were the first to the stage, beating out last year’s early starters Bethesda. But did they achieve anything by doing so?

Part of the event felt like a teaser of what was to come during today’s Xbox conference, during which Microsoft will reveal Project Scorpio. This was evident with the announcement of the new IP from BioWare (the studio behind Mass Effect and Dragon Age) now known as Anthem, accompanied with a very short video that made it look more akin to Bungie’s Destiny. EA stated that we can expect more info alongside the Project Scorpio reveal, given how the game will apparently take advantage of the additional power from Microsoft’s new console.

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Of course, the most (or possibly second-most) anticipated piece of news was regarding Star Wars Battlefront 2. Sadly there was no mention – at all – about Visceral’s upcoming Star Wars title that is headed by Amy Hennig. There could feasibly be more information, even just a sliver, provided during the PlayStation conference, but not enough to overshadow Battlefront 2 given that it is launching later this year.

Aside from Anthem and Battlefront 2, and a quick bit on the success of Battlefield 1 and upcoming DLC, the only other new games announced were Need for Speed Payback and brand-new IP A Way Out, from the creator of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The latter is also part of EA Originals, an indie publishing outlet from EA that was announced last year, and resulted in the existence of Unravel.

Ghost Games are back behind the steering wheel with Need for Speed Payback. So, gone are the FMV sequences present in the previous soft reboot, and back is the Burnout-style collisions. New, however, is the inclusion of a Fast and Furious style narrative with the story interfering with the gameplay, that seemed distracting even during the trailer.

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That just leaves A Way Out, which takes the single play ‘co-op’ of Brothers to the next level, resulting in a split screen co-op only game (that can still be played online but still split screen) that sees the two players try to successfully escape prison. An interesting concept in theory, but will be interesting to see how it plays out in practice.

Everything else mentioned comes under the EA Sports umbrella. And despite the amount of time at the end dedicated to Battlefront 2, these games dominated most of the presentation. The tone was set by the announcement of the latest Madden game to a fanfare of drummers, alongside the reveal of a new story mode for the series, similar to The Journey in last year’s FIFA. There were only three sports games on display, with the addition of NBA Live 18, but conspicuously absent was anything about a new Rory McIlroy PGA Tour.

EA went into a lot of depth about these three sport titles, whilst those viewing in their homes on Twitter were bemused by what was taking place on their screens in front of them. Video games are certainly not alone in being exclusionary; the ‘banter’ on display was a mystery to many of us.

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That is not to say that EA shouldn’t devote time to talking about its sports titles. There is an enormous audience for them, probably much larger than the audience for Anthem. But what if the audience that is interested in the latest BioWare game couldn’t care less about the latest Madden or FIFA release? Conversely, what if a devoted Madden or FIFA player has zero interest in sci-fi RPGs?

Given that there are people who thought the segment on FIFA was an ad is telling. Splitting up the conference into two discrete halves would make for a more enjoyable viewing experience for all, whilst still making it feasible for people to watch both; there are no doubt people who do enjoy both types of EA’s output. EA’s approach – if you’re viewing through cynical eyes – could be seen as looking to ‘trap’ viewers and the press sat in the audience to witness the whole of their output, whether they want to or not, by interweaving the two different types of game throughout the event.

Separating the two sides of EA’s output would result in a much more streamlined presentation for each component and provide a satisfying, and less infuriatingly baffling, experience for most watching. If EA are so determined to prioritise the EA Sports portion of their presser, and ultimately don’t want to split out the two different market segments, then pushing the focus on their non-sports titles into partner presentations from Sony and Microsoft might be a good compromise.

As it stands, their E3 showing has been a confusing, messy embarrassment, and not for the first time.

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Despite studying Politics at Undergrad and then War Studies at Master's level, James managed to write multiple essays relating to technology and more importantly video games.

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