Electronic Arts (EA -0.21%) held its own separate conference in the lead up to this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) conferences, presenting the first stage show in a week-long stretch that will play host to 2017's biggest concentration of video-game news.
The company gave video-game fans and industry watchers a look at some of the key upcoming games in its lineup and also highlighted important aspects of its corporate philosophy as it moves forward, with special attention given to incorporating player feedback and better realizing the potential of video games as a narrative medium.
Read on for coverage of the biggest announcements from EA's stage show and what the fresh developments mean for investors.
EA's big sports games have stories to tell
EA kicked off its conference by showcasing Madden NFL 2018, and while the franchise has become somewhat infamous for delivering relatively minor updates with most yearly releases, there are some big changes on the way for the company's long-running football series. CEO Andrew Wilson was eager to spotlight the game's new story mode, which will have players assume the role of an aspiring NFL player as he competes to make it as a professional athlete.
This year's versions of Madden on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC platforms will also be built with EA's Frostbite engine, which should help the company deliver the series' biggest visual leap in years. Wilson stated that the upcoming football game will be the most innovative Madden in years, and between the new story mode and improved visuals, it's fair to say that he's probably right.
FIFA 18 will also have a single-player story mode, a feature that was introduced in last year's version of the hugely popular soccer franchise and one that's been well received among its fan base. The company's efforts to build up its core sports series and improve their content offerings is a good sign and illustrates the ways it's addressing consumer concerns and adding value to its core brands that will probably translate to increased longevity and player engagement.
These are the types of additions that keep users coming back, which, in turn, creates the potential for more in-game content sales. While making sure annual installments in its sports games are more feature-rich will come with increased development costs, efforts to improve the quality of the products are likely to be in the company's long-term interest.
The return of some big franchises
Star Wars: Battlefront 2 received more focus than any other game at EA's conference, and it looks as if the company is making big efforts to improve on the game's predecessor. While EA's 2015 Battlefront game posted solid sales, it received a good deal of criticism from players for being light on content, and EA's chief executive officer was keen to point out that the company had heard the critiques and used them as a source of guidance.
The upcoming sequel will feature a robust story mode, and Wilson stated that it would feature three times as much content as its predecessor. The game's core downloadable-content (DLC) expansions will also be made available for free; however, there will be items and customization options that players can purchase in-game.
This seems to be a nice middle ground, as the company aims to add value for players who might have reason to be skeptical about the Star Wars: Battlefront series while leaving the door open for in-game digital sales. It's a different approach from the one the company is taking with its World War I-themed shooter Battlefield 1, which will see a major new DLC launch in September that must be purchased to access, but it seems like the right move.
The push to improve the quality of its releases is also evident in the management of the NBA Live franchise -- a property that will be returning to action this year after spending some time on the bench. After a string of poorly received entries damaged the brand and saw it lose almost the entirety of its market share to Take-Two Interactive's NBA 2K series, EA opted not to deliver a new release in its basketball series, so that it could do a revamp and better meet player expectations.
From a visual standpoint, NBA Live 18 looks significantly better than previous games in the franchise, and it will also be shipping with a story mode. To what extent the series' return will be able to win consumers away from NBA 2K is hard to guess, but EA's decision to deliver a sizable free demo before the upcoming game's release indicates confidence in the revamped basketball series, and it's good to see the company isn't letting a valuable license go to waste.
EA's Need for Speed is also making a comeback, with a story mode that looks to take heavy inspiration from the popular Fast & Furious film franchise. The focus on weaving narrative content into its big games is a notable new strategy from the company.
EA launches two new properties
In terms of new intellectual properties, the biggest unveil was Anthem. The game comes from Mass Effect developer Bioware and received a relatively quick introduction at EA's presser before being given a more in-depth reveal at Microsoft's E3 show. Bioware's new game seems to be generating lots of excitement, and its slick visuals and gameplay that invites players to navigate air, land, and sea with jet-pack-fitted characters suggest that there will be plenty of anticipation in the lead up to its 2018 release date.
EA also took the wraps off A Way Out, yet another game from the company with an intense narrative focus and one that revolves around a cooperative play, as users attempt to guide their characters on a mission to escape from a prison.
Overall, Electronic Arts delivered a strong conference that demonstrated some exciting evolutions for its existing franchises and gave a look at a couple promising new properties. Outside of Anthem, the company's show was a bit short on surprises, but the company's lineup and overall direction gave reasons for both video-game fans and shareholders to be excited.