EA plays to its base, but swings and misses with EA Play Live

For a moment during the EA Play Live presentation Thursday, it appeared the publisher was going to take a page from Bethesda Softworks’ 2019 E3 event and announce pretty much everything the company was working on – even the long-term projects that won’t be out for years.

It started with the tease/sizzle reel for Madden 2021, then we saw tantalizing, oh-so-brief footage of next-gen games from Criterion and Bioware, and a new Battlefield game. The executive introducing the clips led into the segment with the words “rather than wait until next June to show you…” and then … nothing. All totaled, games showcasing the powers of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X took up maybe five minutes of the 45-minute showcase.

In a year where excitement is building to the launch of the new systems, it was an odd move by one of the industry’s leading publishers. And it wasn’t the only one.

While the event had some definite high points (Star Wars: Squadrons looks great, and the increased focus on cross-play in many titles is encouraging), there were a few head-scratching moments as well.

The segment featuring The Sims, for instance, felt very shoehorned. While recent events in the U.S. made it necessary for EA to address the issue of diversity in games and clarify its stance on player conduct, doing so amid a pep rally for your upcoming games without any new news for that title magnified the awkwardness. It was a moment that could have easily been folded into CEO Andrew Wilson’s opening comments.

Leading into the event with Apex Legends was a curious choice as well. The game, according to EA, has lured 70 million registered users (though the company has not shared daily- or monthly average user numbers). That’s a notable audience, to be sure. But the Lost Treasures Collection wasn’t the sort of title that seemed likely to attract a new player base. It was EA’s take on preaching to the choir – something you’d expect to see in the middle of an event like this, not as the kickoff.

The inclusion of Command & Conquer Remastered Collection seemed a bit like filler as well. The title, released two weeks ago, is a delightful and well-done upgrade to the classic RTS games, but in a forward-looking presentation, why showcase what you’ve already done?

That, in some ways, was the problem with EA Play Live: It felt too in the now.

The event didn’t feel like a sneak peek into the company’s future. Aside from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it looks at games that are apparently a long way out (including Skate, which got a special call-out at the end, but with no footage and a caveat that it was still very early in development), there was little to truly get excited about.

That’s not meant to take anything away from Squadrons. This was obviously a showcase for that game. But, why not go all-in on the title if that’s your 2020 flagship? Dedicate the entire presentation to it, with more gameplay and a look at the inevitable next-gen versions.

EA has always played things conservatively at its mid-summer events. And generally, that’s not a bad strategy (from a business perspective, if nothing else). But in a time when other publishers and developers are showcasing ambitious titles that will excite the gaming base, EA fell short.

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