Electronic Arts has announced Project Atlas, a “cloud-native future” for their games. The post from Ken Moss, Chief Technology Officer at EA, describes a vision of integrated cloud computing and artificial intelligence that will power their studios’ games. Examples given include using cloud-powered intelligence to dynamically supply commentary in Madden, or even writing and performing music as you play. The main benefit for EA being a framework that brings together the engine, like EA’s own Frostbite, and the revenue generating games-as-service features investors love.
This will be a fully integrated platform, capable of building the scalable, social, and large-scale experiences of the future. So, while in the past, features like cloud hosting, matchmaking, marketplace, data, AI, achievements, and social were separate from the development tools in the engine, the Project Atlas platform will be able to implement all of these services natively within a unified solution.
EA claims to already have over a thousand developers working on Project Atlas, across “dozens” of studios.
Visceral Games was shut down by its owner and publisher Electronic Arts on October 17th. The Star Wars action adventure game they were working on, code-named Project Ragtag, was canceled and workers either went to other EA positions or looking for employment. Visceral’s Star Wars game was going to be modeled after Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, but until now the public has never known much about it other than a quick snippet of video during EA’s E3 2016 presentation. Kotaku spoke to former and current EA employees, including Visceral sources, and uncovered some details. The ambitious single-player game put the player into the shoes of Dodger, a Han Solo styled rascal, and his ragtag (get it?) crew of ne’er-do-wells. Set between the movies A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Ragtag would focus on the seedier criminal elements of Star Wars. Heists, Hutts, and hand blasters.
What killed Ragtag? A little bit of this and a little bit of that. According to Kotaku’s sources, game director Amy Hennig’s project design was maybe too ambitious for the understaffed studio, while simultaneously being too conservative for EA’s strategic plans. The game was just too expensive, too complicated, and EA wasn’t going to see the kind of monetary return they needed to keep their shareholders happy.
“EA executives are like, ‘FIFA Ultimate Team makes a billion dollars a year.’ Where’s your version of that?”
After Star Wars: Battlefront shipped and EA shifted to the more profitable games-as-service model, the writing was on the wall for Ragtag. Dodger and company were done. EA’s announcement of both the game’s and the studio’s demise included a note that EA Vancouver had taken over the project and shifted the design to a “broader experience” for players.
Speaking to the Deutsche Bank Technology Conference, Electronic Arts’ vice president of investor relations Chris Evenden, was bullish on the game-streaming concept. According to GamesIndustry‘s report, Evenden said cloud technology has been catching up to everyone’s ambition over the past few years with the infrastructure barrier shrinking rapidly. He cited a recent demonstration given to a major internet company for streaming Battlefield. The publisher has slowly been enticing customers to its services like Origin on PC and EA Access on consoles, and expects the transition to full-blown cloud gaming will happen someday.
“I think it’s inevitable that the gaming entertainment world will move in much the same way that the music and video entertainment worlds have already moved, in the sense that people have moved from an ownership model to an access model. And you’ll see that in gaming, just as you’ve seen it with Spotify and Netflix in other media businesses.”
Previous cloud gaming services like OnLive jumped the gun and got ahead of the technology curve, ending in failure. More recent services like NVIDIA’s GeForce Now and PlayStation’s Gaikai have found success with modest growth and investments in technology.
E3, now starting even earlier, kicked off with Electronic Arts’ EA Play press conference on Saturday. There was a lot of Star Wars. It’s EA, so of course there was the sports and bombast of various flavors, but droids, lightsabers, and Darths loomed large over the proceedings.
There was a taste of Madden 18‘s first-ever cinematic and playable story campaign, Longshot, which seems to take cues from the work already being done in other sports titles. We saw a glimpses of NBA Live 18‘s gameplay. EA Sports was keen to let everyone know that Cristiano Ronaldo supplied mo-cap for FIFA 18.
With the obligatory sports titles out of the way, EA demonstrated how much Need for Speed Payback could look like The Crew mashed together with The Fast and Furious movies sprinkled with a dash of Burnout spice. Battlefield 1 piped up to ask everyone not to forget about it. Josef Fares, the writer and director of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, presented a first look at his cooperative story game A Way Out. BioWare teased a snippet of Anthem, their new game. EA was so excited to let everyone know that Anthem was a “new IP” that you could almost see the disappointment of Mass Effect Andromeda peel away and float into space.
Finally, they got to the headliner of the show: Star Wars Battlefront II. With stormtroopers and fanfare EA kicked off a thirty-minute extravaganza of Lucasfilm videogaming. Their preview began with a mea culpa of sorts; by sheepishly acknowledging the criticism of Battlefront’s absent story campaign and map packs that split the community. All corrected this time around. An epic campaign story! All post-launch maps and modes for free! More charcater customization options! Remember that bit in the Star Wars prequel trilogy when there was a running gun battle on Queen Amidala’s home planet? Throw Han Solo, Yoda, Rey, and Boba Fett into it. Eschewing any sense of timeline coherency, EA and DICE have opted to let fans play with their toys like they did as kids. Why can’t Han Solo fight Separatist droids on Theed? This isn’t Star Trek! No one cares if it doesn’t make any sense!
Electronic Arts’ E3 2016 presentation began with thumping bass and exhortations for everyone to “PLAY TO FEEL” then ended with Jamie Foxx barely suppressing a yawn. Neither the novelty of Peter Moore presenting from London nor Andrew Wilson speaking from the main stage in Los Angeles could rescue the show from devolving into the traditional marketing jargon and sequel previews. Titanfall 2 was shown. This time, PlayStation 4 players will get to enjoy the giant robot suits and parkour shooting. Respawn promised a full offline single player campaign this time around. Of course, the next Madden and FIFA games had their spot in the show. FIFA 17 will boast The Journey, a campaign based around shepherding rising star Alex Hunter to the top of the league. A developer on Mass Effect Andromeda came up to say the game will be awesome, while a video of a starfield and rotating planet played behind him. Jade Raymond assured the audience that EA is getting their money’s worth out of the Star Wars license by promising more Star Wars gaming than anyone needs. Finally, DICE showed off some more Battlefield 1, ending their presentation with a peek at an obviously unenthusiastic Jamie Foxx and Zac Efron. Play to feel!
Electronic Arts’ EA Access membership deal offers all-you-can-play gaming on selected titles, discounts on digital purchases, and the ability to play games a week before their official retail release. All this for an affordable $4.99 a month, or $29.99 a year! Unfortunately, only Xbox One gamers will get this opportunity. Why isn’t EA Access on Sony’s PlayStation 4? According to what Sony told Game Informer, it’s because they don’t believe the publisher-specific subscription plan offers value to their customers.
“PlayStation Plus memberships are up more than 200% since the launch of PlayStation 4, which shows that gamers are looking for memberships that offer a multitude of services, across various devices, for one low price. We don’t think asking our fans to pay an additional $5 a month for this EA-specific program represents good value to the PlayStation gamer.”
It seems that for now, PlayStation gamers won’t be getting EA Access. Beta invites to EA Access are already being offered to selected Xbox One players.
Electronic Arts will be offering a membership that gives subscribers access to free games and exclusive deals. EA Access, through the Xbox One, will give subscribers the ability to play FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2, and Battlefield 4 for $4.99 a month or $29.99 per year. More games will be added to “The Vault” for subscribers to enjoy, likely when their full price sales dwindle enough to qualify. Microsoft’s Games for Gold and Sony’s PlayStation Plus programs smirk at the latecomer. If the prospect of subscribing to older games doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps EA can entice you with a whopping 10% discount for select games in the Xbox One marketplace? Even upcoming titles like Dragon Age: Inquisition and NHL15 are included! No? Okay, what if EA gives you five full days of early access to games before they’re released? Sort of like breaking the retail street date on an upcoming game, but the publisher nods approvingly rather getting your account banned.
What if you’re a PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Wii U owner? Sorry! No deal for you. EA Access will be made available soon to all Xbox One players.
The British Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that Electronic Arts can no longer claim that their free-to-play mobile version of Dungeon Keeper is actually free in their United Kingdom marketing. According to the ASA statement, advertisements were found to be misleading because players would discover that their rate of progress was hindered unless they spent money to bypass timers. Although EA explained that the in-game currency could be obtained through grinding without spending real money, the ASA did not find the excuse sufficient.
We acknowledged that the Gem currency, through which the timers could be skipped, could be obtained for free through normal gameplay and that the game could therefore be played without spending currency to bypass the countdown. However, we understood that the rate at which they could be accrued was slow in comparison to the amount needed to play the game at a reasonable rate, where the delays did not significantly impact on the ability to continue playing. Given this, we considered that players were likely to find themselves in a situation where they wished to bypass timers to achieve the expected gameplay as above, but were unable to do so without making a monetary purchase of the Gem currency. Although the game activities were available without cost to the player, we considered that for players to achieve the gameplay experience that was reasonable for them to anticipate, it was likely that they would need to spend money on the premium currency.
The ASA has directed Electronic Arts to change their UK advertising to clarify what players should expect from free gameplay and how in-app purchases may be used to speed up progress.