The week of E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is even more expansive than in years past, with Electronic Arts hosting EA Play—a three-day public event that features the publisher’s hottest games. The event kicked off on Sunday with two simultaneous keynote events in Los Angeles and London that worked in tandem to showcase upcoming titles.
The marketing impact of these press events is considerable, now that Twitch is providing streaming access to the world. Millions of people are watching the various E3 proceedings along with the full-day of shows featuring a variety of guests and the hottest games. It’s a terrific way to get lots of attention for each company’s top priorities for the fall season, and a way to get some insight on what each company is going to be focusing their marketing efforts towards for the next six months.
Previously, these events were designed exclusively for the press, retail buyers, and industry analysts to attend, and thus were oriented towards impressing those groups. The companies would rely on the journalists to communicate with the audience, though this often meant messages were often garbled or lost in the process. Now marketers can directly address the game players and make sure the message comes across as intended.
EA CEO Andrew Wilson took the stage at Sunday’s briefing to proclaim, “We’re inviting you in to play. Thousands of you will get hands-on with our games this week.” Peter Moore hosted a similar event from London at the Hammersmith Apollo Theatre, where 600 gamers were in attendance. The two events were joined live via satellite as the two hosts passed the presentation baton back-and-forth. It added some interesting energy to the event, underscoring the connection with gamers worldwide while playing to consumers at both locations.
One of the important things Wilson stressed was the strong support Electronic Arts is providing for its games, with over 300 content updates in the past year with more to come. EA wants to keep players coming back to their favorite games, even if (or especially if) there’s no new major release planned for the near future. Wilson also emphasized the focus on players, with free trials to help them discover and experience something new. To further drive the point, Wilson announced that games on EA Access and Origin Access on PC are free all week.
As you would expect, the events are focused mostly on games that are coming up for the fall, featuring the key titles Titanfall 2, Madden NFL 17, FIFA 17, Mass Effect Andromeda, and Battlefield 1.
What’s missing from this fall is a big Star Wars release, but EA wasn’t going to let the franchise pass unmentioned. Jade Raymond, GM of EA’s Motive Studios, was careful to underscore that existing Star Wars games–Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes on mobile, the Star Wars: The Old Republic PC MMORPG, and the hit Star Wars: Battlefront–are all getting new content all year long, especially this fall. Raymond also talked about upcoming Star Wars games, and EA took the unusual step of showing games from multiple studios, even where some of the games aren’t going to be appearing until 2018. It was a bold move to underscore EA’s commitment to transparency and the Star Wars brand with a variety of gameplay, from strategy to first-person shooters to RPGs and more. The message was clear: EA the publisher you turn to for Star Wars gaming.
Peter Moore used Madden NFL 17 to talk about EA’s commitment to eSports, and how the company is taking a different tack than others. “ESports are absolutely electric,” Moore said. “EA is no stranger to the power of elite competition. It’s a select few that become pro gamers. We’re embracing a unique approach to competitive gaming–we want to make competition fun and meaningful to everyone, regardless of abilities.” There will be a challenger series of events, players can host and run their own tournaments as well. “The Premier series we’ll host with partners inside and outside of the game world,” Moore promised. As a prime example, the Madden NFL 17 Championship is happening this week in LA, with eight finalists competing for $50,000. It started with a million players competing online, now narrowed down to 8. The competition will be shown on ESPN 3, with the finals on EPSN 2. In other words, EA is wisely connecting its football eSport with the football audience on TV.
“For the Madden NFL 17 Championship Series, we’re putting up $1 million in total prize money,” Moore said. “We want to reward our elite players for their efforts. There will be four EA Major events and more to be announced later.”
EA is adopting a different approach than the past in its as it moves towards a closer relationship with its audience. The most important part of the dual event was the opportunity for all attendees to go hands-on with EA games. Then there’s the massive 64-person Battlefield 1 conflict livestreamed to the world, in pure fan service. That’s just one indicator of EA’s shift towards closer involvement with its audience.
More telling are some of the other announcements made during EA’s briefing. There’s now a challenge in multiple EA games for fans to take on. Once achieved, EA will donate $1 million to five charities chosen for their focus on increasing diversity and opportunity and helping youth. EA also launched another a new program, EA Originals, which will help chosen indie developers bring innovative games to market while letting them reap all the profits. Even EA’s approach to eSports has an egalitarian ring to it, not just in celebrating pro players but creating competitions that all players can be part of. This is an Electronic Arts that’s trying hard to connect with gamers and earn their loyalty for the long term.
EA’s overall approach to E3 shows the company’s move towards putting players first. There’s no booth on the E3 show floor; instead EA Play taking place in at the Nokia venue next door to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where E3 is held. Not incidentally, there is a whole lot of streaming going on to appeal to those that can’t make it to the events.
For a while now, Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson has been emphasizing the importance of moving games from a one or two-month event at retail to a brand that delivers content, engagement, and revenue 24/7/365. That was evident in Wilson’s speech, where he emphasized the over 300 content updates that Electronic Arts delivered in the past year for its games across all platforms. The company is on track to deliver even more this year. EA is committed to providing a continuing reason to engage with their game brands, in effect pushing towards providing games as a service (GaaS).
This can also be seen in the company’s more recent initiatives with Origin Access and EA Access on Xbox Live. It’s a subscription service that provides you with access to a number of EA games, and the list continues to grow. This is yet another way for people to try out EA games, and for some it may be a fine match for the way they tend to play games.
Make no mistake , EA has a strong lineup of titles coming for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, as well as mobile. What’s changed, is how EA will be creating and delivering those games and additional content for them all year long. Also changed is the way EA is reorienting itself to market and engage directly with fans, as evidenced by the move away from the E3 show floor to events open to everyone. Even EA’s eSports efforts are taking a much more inclusive path than many companies, seeking to involve players at all levels.