New SimCity proves a big hit at EA winter games showcase
THE EA winter showcase took place last week in London’s hipster heaven of Camden. Walking across the showcase floor, there were familiar sounds from bombastic action games: rattles of machine guns echoed through the new Battlefield 3 downloadable content (DLC); explosions boomed from PCs showing Medal of Honor Warfighter and roaring car engines were reproduced in the latest Need for Speed.
EA is a huge and diverse presence in the gaming world, so it’s not surprising that every year the mobile and app games section seems to get a little bigger, and that gentler fare like the new SimCity also proved a big draw.
Chillingo, a company owned by EA, develops scaled-down, mobile versions of existing marquee titles, such as FIFA and Need for Speed. Dan Tausney, European PR manager for Chillingo, says of the tie-ins: “These are huge franchises on their own so it makes perfect sense to get them as ubiquitous across as many formats as possible. And I think what we’ve seen in the past that doesn’t work is just porting it across a mobile device. So the guys at Criterion and Fire Monkeys are experts at mobile racing games. That sort of partnership under the EA umbrella makes perfect sense.”
The mobile developers also work on original titles on their own and with other companies. A recent success in the latter category was Kumo Lumo, made by Blitz Games. “We don’t normally promote our own games,” says Steve Stopps, project director for Blitz, “that’s why it’s been important for us to partner with someone like Chillingo. They gave it amazing support to get it in front of as many people as possible and to get it recognised.”
“Keep looking at the app store and you’ll find new Chillingo titles every week,” smiled Tausney.
Marquee, or “triple-A”, games, are said to be in crisis, thanks to swelling budgets and a crowded marketplace but based on the volume and production values of EA’s slate, they don’t seem concerned. This could be because it has a slew of recognisable franchises, and because downloadable content is still proving a draw, generating money, gaining new fans and maintaining brand awareness for months, sometimes years, after a game’s release.
Craig Mcleod, producer for the latest Battlefield 3 multiplayer DLC said: “We have five [downloadable] packs planned in total, so the next is Endgame which comes out in March 2013. I think it expands the fan-base quite a lot because we bring a new experience [each time] . . . even if something hasn’t been to your taste before, this new experience might work for you.”
Ryan Hamlyn, a producer of multiplayer content for Medal of Honor Warfighter also says that developers’ relationship with their consumers is ongoing: “We pay as much attention as we can [to fans]. We just had an open beta on Xbox Live and we were on the boards every day reading the feedback, figuring out what to fix to make the game better and really give the players what they wanted,” says Hamlyn.
“We did pretty well on the last game, sold over 6 million units which is good for any title, but at the same time there’s always something that you want to do better.
“We’re all developers, but we’re also gamers. The production value gets better and better and with the new generation coming out; it’s exciting to see what’s going to come next. And we’re no different, we love this stuff. What gets people going is being creative, pushing the envelope and looking to see what’s better so I think that drive, even on the AAA side, is still thriving and is something that won’t ever go away.”
One of the few new properties was Fuse, a hugely promising third-person shooter which launches next year. It’s being developed by Insomniac, creators of Ratchet and Clank and Resistance, and melds sci-fi, military combat and fictitious weapons.
But arguably the most hotly anticipated game was the new version of SimCity, a quirky and hugely influential world-building (or God simulation) franchise. It’s safe to say that Farmville may not exist had it not been for SimCity. “I don’t think we’re going to go after a Farmville audience,” says associate producer George Pigula. “But we have a great Facebook game now, SimCity Social. There’s always room for that alongside the main game that we’re building here – a deep SimCity experience for PC and Mac.”