#32: Moving forward, looking back

To Los Angeles, sort of, and EA Play 2021, the latest instalment in what I suppose was technically the original not-E3.

To Los Angeles, sort of, and EA Play 2021, the latest instalment in what I suppose was technically the original not-E3. Even before EA quit the traditional E3-presser crush to do its own thing across town, I always felt it the weakest of the lot: the least likely, to borrow the vernacular, to surprise and delight. EA’s line-ups are always predictable, the only real points of difference from year to year being which famous people they pay to go on stage to talk up the new FIFA or Battlefield. Oh, here’s Pele. There’s Jesse from Breaking Bad in a nice jacket. Now an NFL player (sorry, the most recent NFL player I can name is Dan Marino). Look, Snoop Dogg is playing the new Battlefield with a blunt hanging from his lip. That sort of thing.

This is the natural consequence of basing pretty much your entire business model on a reliable series of annual or semi-annual giga-franchises (and these days, eternal live-service games like Apex Legends). EA’s line-up is about profits over personality, and when shouty replicant Andrew Wilson is your frontman you have no option but to insource your E3 show’s charisma. Last night’s show was different. First, the upbeat, personable Xavier Woods did a decent job as compere; moreover, for once EA actually had some pretty delightful-looking games — and a killer surprise to boot.

I have never really clicked with the Battlefield series. I cut my teeth on COD, and so my MO in all multiplayer shooters is to sprint to the nearest gunfight and hope to end up with a narrowly positive kill:death ratio. Not for me, this squadding up on a quad-bike and driving a couple of clicks just to get sniped by that kid on the hill again. It is a game I have always admired, but never really enjoyed. Yet even from this remove I can see Battlefield 2042’s new mode, Portal, for the fine idea it clearly is.

In a series of such longevity, nostalgia is a valuable currency. Typically in games like this, it means chucking a fan-favourite map from an old game into the new one’s rotation: the way every Treyarch-made COD, for instance, must always have its Nuketown (ugh). Yet Portal makes a whole mode out of it, letting players mix and match factions on maps from across the Battlefield series, setting fine-grained rules for weaponry and vehicles and all the rest of it. This keeps the game fresh for players long after release without any developer input; meanwhile, the pace of the post-launch development treadmill can be eased a touch by adding new filtering options and tarting up old maps. Just a really great idea all round, I think. I mean I still won’t play it or anything, but it’s another thing to admire from afar, and the last thing I expected from a publisher that never seems happier than when it is able to go through the motions.

A few years ago I was sat in the posh bit of EA Play, interviewing Patrick Söderlund, then EA’s head of studios. My phone was on the table between us, pointing towards him, recording it, and it buzzed while he was mid-sentence. He sort of looked quizzically at it, smiled, took a beat, then carried on. I checked my phone after the interview and I’d had a WhatsApp message from a pal who’d just finished a gameplay demo, saying: “Jesus Christ the new Battlefield is fucking boring”. Well, not anymore. A shame Patrick isn’t there to see it, I suppose, but we all move on. Even EA, sometimes.


  • I don’t really know what to say about the Activision Blizzard stuff, and either way I’m not sure another old white guy saying how rotten it all is after the fact really helps that much. But this is a new low, even by this troubled industry’s standards. It’s exhausting and depressing and I’m not even a woman working in games; I cannot even imagine what it must be like trying to steer a career and a life through an industry that just seems to be riddled with this stuff.
  • Hades won game of the year at the Game Developers Choice Awards at not-GDC the other night. Such a brilliant game from a studio that is yet to put a foot wrong. I am thoroughly looking forward to doing it all over again when it lands on Xbox next month.
  • Amazon has denied reports that its MMO New World is bricking graphics cards. You just know it probably is though, somehow.
  • The latest in Chris Bratt’s excellent People Make Games series might just be my favourite yet, telling of a prototype that Jetpack Joyride developer Halfbrick had to ban because it was tearing the office apart.
  • Mark Zuckerberg is pivoting Facebook to the metaverse. There are two types of people who want a metaverse: the first is your standard Neal Stephenson-worshipping nerd who just wants their holodeck, the other a speculator who sees 43,000 unregulated new ways to make money. I’m sure Zuck’s managed to convince himself he’s in the former camp.

There we go. Thank you so much for reading! Have a lovely weekend.