In a promotion for the ongoing Cloud Gaming USA Conference Exhibition in San Francisco, EA Labels head Frank Gibeau (pictured below) made an interesting point: " I have not greenlit one game to be developed as a single player experience. Today, all of our games include online applications and digital services that make them live 24/7/365."
Given the publisher's intense mobile and social focus--as well as its bullishness on cross-platform gaming--this shouldn't be surprising. Look at hit EA franchises like FIFA, Battlefield and Mass Effect: They all have overlaying social services, multiplayer components or interconnected versions available on other platforms like mobile or Facebook. But let's take a quick look at what many die-hard franchise fans consider to be the main offender: Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect, a single-player role-playing game, was enhanced with cross-platform play and a multiplayer component just in time for the grand finale to the epic trilogy. It's likely that more than a few players (myself included) experienced nerd rage when they discovered that, in order to see a special clip during the story's ending cinematic, they had to play a few sessions of multiplayer.
Regardless of how you feel about this intersection of single and multiplayer content, step back and take a look at the circumstances. Mass Effect was probably one of the many reasons EA acquired Bioware in 2007. It was hard to ignore the potential of this story-centric RPG/shooter hybrid: A lucrative franchise with a sprawling universe in which it, fictionally and fiscally, made sense to expand.
After reading mumblings on Twitter and speaking with industry friends, many seem to think that "EA has gone off its rocker." I disagree. Take a look at the games EA has released over the past two years. They all either already belong to a franchise or have franchise potential. Frankly, the same goes for most major publishers, but what makes EA different (at the moment) is that it wants to invest in its franchises in any way (and everywhere) possible.
This move is indicative of where every traditional publisher will (or should) be headed in the next few years, and you can thank social and mobile games for that. So, it's probably time to give up on looking for intimate, contained single-player experiences from EA. (And that will pretty much go for any major traditional publisher in due time.)
The game of making games has changed. Refined digital distribution methods like Steam's Greenlight, the app stores, Kickstarter, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and the eShop have become neon-lit signs reading "Get Indie Games Here." Inversely, the logos of company's like EA and Activision Blizzard (and, in part, Microsoft and Sony) are now beacons for blockbusters that fans can interact with whenever and however they please.
Oddly enough, it's the concept that fed a scrappy start-up until it grew into the next (albeit stumbling) giant in gaming that will fuel the old guard of publishers into the next generation. EA indeed jumped off a bridge into connected, cross-platform and social gaming, but if I were a major publisher risking millions on each release, I just might follow it down.
[Image Credit: G4TV]
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Joe Osborne is associate editor at Games.com News. Weekly in Social Space, Joe shares opinions and observations on the intersection of social gaming and traditional games. Follow him on Twitter here.