Tag Archives | EA

Trouble for One of E3’s Best Games

brutal_legend1If the banner covering the top of the Los Angeles Convention Center is any indication, Brütal Legend is a big deal. For Activision, which once held the game’s publishing rights, its the subject of a lawsuit.

The AP reports that Activision is suing Brütal Legend developer Double Fine to “stop the release” of the game. The publisher claims it has sunk roughly $15 million into the project and still has a valid publishing contract.

The issue is, of course, knottier than that. Brütal Legend was part of the line-up Activision dropped during the Activision-Blizzard merger, after it acquired Sierra in 2008. Electronic Arts reportedly took the reins as publisher, and here at E3 the game is a top critical pick.

Starring the vocal talents of Jack Black, Brütal Legend follows a roadie who winds up in a mythical Age of Rock. Tim Schafer, who created The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, among other critical darlings, is the game’s creative director.

The game showed a lot of promise in my hands-on time. It’s more action-oriented than Schafer’s classic adventure games, but I’m told that a lot of genres come into play, including the puzzle-solving that put Schafer’s earlier work on the map.

So I’m hoping Activision doesn’t prevail in this lawsuit. When it was rumored in February that Activision would cause trouble, EA offered some fighting words: “We doubt that Activision would try to sue,” the company said. “That would be like a husband abandoning his family and then suing after his wife meets a better looking guy.”

That’s what it looks like from here, with Brütal Legend earning a nomination from IGN for Best of Show. Expect EA to defend its hot property.


Boom! Madden Games Will Stick Around

john_madden_footballJohn Madden may have stunned the sports world today by announcing his retirement from broadcasting, but football video game fans shouldn’t be surprised that the Madden game franchise is staying put.

Speaking to Gamasutra, EA Sports spokesman David Tinson said the company has a “long-term contract” with Madden.

Tinson didn’t elaborate, but EA Sports President Peter Moore posted some thoughts to his blog: “We all obviously knew this day would one day come, when John would walk away from the booth, but he certainly leaves a lasting legacy that we’re proud to be able to carry on through our Madden NFL videogame franchise for years to come,” Moore said.

Madden took a backseat role in last year’s game, in which Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth handled broadcasting. It was the first time Madden didn’t provide color commentary.

I wonder for how long Madden will continue to be the face of EA Sports’ golden franchise. At first, I figured his name will eventually fade from popularity, and EA will want to move on, probably when the contract runs out.

On the other hand, we could see an interesting phenomenon in which the video game keeps the Madden name alive. A brand that sells 70 million copies in its lifetime doesn’t fade away so easily, and no other video game franchise has become so synonymous with its genre. (It helps that EA holds exclusive rights to use real-life players, stadiums and teams in its games, effectively locking out any competition, but that’s beside the point.)

This could certainly be the first time that a video game keeps a sports icon in the limelight, long after his retirement.

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Will Wright Leaving — But Still Working With — EA

willwrightFans of Will Wright probably know about his bizarre hobbies. At times, he’s built Battlebots, collected Soviet space program relics and enjoyed a bit of illegal street racing. Those pursuits are probably easier when you’re a legendary game designer, the creative force behind Sim City, The Sims and Spore.

Effective today, Wright is taking his mind off computer games, at least partially, to pursue other creative endeavors. He’s leaving megapublisher Electronic Arts to run the Stupid Fun Club, which he founded in 2001 as a way to build competitive robots and experiment with other non-gaming ideas.

“The entertainment industry is moving rapidly into an era of revolutionary change,” Wright said in a press release. “Stupid Fun Club will explore new possibilities that are emerging from this sublime chaos and create new forms of entertainment on a variety of platforms. In my twelve years at EA, I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside some of the brightest and most talented game developers in the industry and I look forward to working with them again in the near future.”

While it’s certainly big news, the headline has more gravity than the story itself. Wright’s comments imply that he’s not totally leaving game design. Furthermore, MTV Multiplayer reports that EA has an equal stake with Wright in Stupid Fun Club — a third investor has a smaller share — plus first rights on any games that emerge from the venture.

If Wright is taking some sort of hiatus from game design, I’ll miss his creative influence on the medium. At the same time, I’m excited to see what happens when he tries to entertain the masses with his other hobbies.

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Sims 3 Goes Back to DRM Basics

thesims3Electronic Arts, architects of possibly the biggest Digital Rights Management disaster in PC gaming, are abandoning their wicked ways and going back to a less intrusive copy protection process.

The Sims 3 will use a simple, disc-based authentication system, similar to the one used in The Sims 2. Players won’t have to go online to validate their copy of the game, so presumably there won’t be any control over the number of installs.

A letter from Rod Humble, Executive VP of EA’s Sims Label, says the company has heard the requests from customers. “We feel like this is a good, time-proven solution that makes it easy for you to play the game without DRM methods that feel overly invasive or leave you concerned about authorization server access in the distant future,” he said.

Humble doesn’t make specific mention of Spore’s DRM, but anyone who followed that fiasco could perceive a reference. The game originally came with three installs and no easy way to deauthorize computers, but EA eventually caved to the outcry and added two more installs and a deauthorization process. Meanwhile, angry players launched an Amazon bomb, and software pirates helped make Spore the most illegally downloaded game in history.

Obviously, this demonstrated that even the most DRM-shackled games can and will be pirated, and as publishers go to greater lengths to stop it, customers will only get more irate. That’s a sad reality, but at least EA is no longer taking it out on legitimate copy owners.

One more thing: The move by EA is part of what seems like a wave of anti-DRM sentiment among publishers. Earlier this week, Microsoft and Steam introduced less burdensome authentication processes, and yesterday Ubisoft released a batch of old games to the Web site Good Old Games without any DRM at all. Perhaps the days of punishing the consumer for pirates’ transgressions are slowly coming to an end.

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Christmas Isn't Everything, EA Realizes

mirrorsedgeGood news for people who don’t like juggling a half dozen top-shelf video games at the tail end of the year: an Electronic Arts manager says the company might be backing off the holiday release strategy.

The big takeaway from last year’s success of Mario Kart and Grand Theft Auto is that AAA games don’t have to be introduced in the holiday season to perform well. NPD Group analyst Anita Frazier said as much after her company put out its annual sales figures. “Get some high profile releases out in the first and second quarters,” she suggested.

Mulling over a fairly unsuccessful year, Electronic Arts is coming around to that school of thought. Glen Schofield, General Manager for the EA branch that developed Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge, told Gamesindustry.biz that there were “far too many” games to choose from before the holidays.

“I think that we traditionally thought that people only buy games at Christmas or around holiday time, and now we’re looking back and going, ‘You know what, GTA launched in May; Resident Evil comes out in March’.”

I picked this story up from Destructoid, where one commenter posed a clever theory: Publishers previously had the mindset that video games are just kids’ toys, and children are most likely to get them on Christmas. Personally, I can relate to that. I used to always get a video game on the eighth night of Hannukah, but now I just buy them when they deserve my $60, period. I would have loved to play Left 4 Dead in the summer of 2008, when nothing was going on. It’s still on my backlog now.

Let’s hope other publishers follow suit. With Halo Wars and Resident Evil 5 coming next month, and Street Fighter IV in stores now, it seems that this strategy might already be in play.

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Is EA Trying to Sims-ify Spore?

Spore BoxMy, how Spore is multiplying.

When the much-hyped evolution sim was released in September, along with it came Spore Creatures for the Nintendo DS and Spore Origins for mobile phones. In November, we got the Spore Creepy & Cute Parts Pack — basically a cache of extra appendages to tinker with — and come springtime we’ll get a full expansion in Spore: Galactic Adventures.

But wait, there’s more.

Yesterday, Electronic Arts confirmed Spore Hero for the Wii and Spore Hero Arena for the DS, plus a PC spin-off called Spore Creature Keeper. If you lost count, that’s seven additional Spore games, spin-offs and expansions to hit shelves within more or less a year of the original game’s release.

It occurs to me that EA is trying to “Sims-ify” Spore — i.e., turn it into a massive brand that can be continually milked for more revenue. This isn’t a major revelation, given that the guy behind Spore, Will Wright, also created the Sims, and that the franchise has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Still, this time around it seems forced.

Wikipedia, of all places, gives a nice, scanable overview of how the Sims brand was distributed over time. It started with the main game in January 2000, followed by the “Livin’ Large” expansion pack in August 2000. The next add-on didn’t come until April 2001, and after that it was a steady stream of roughly bi-annual expansions. The official sequel came in 2004, and a third title is coming this year.

The current cycle with Spore seems to be moving faster. Granted, that’s because the approach is different, with EA immediately expanding the brand beyond the PC, but I wonder how effective that will be for Wii and DS owners who haven’t played the main game. Even if you are a big Spore fan and are willing to enjoy the franchise across multiple platforms, all these auxiliary releases — so soon from the original launch date — must feel like an overload.

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