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The Biggest Stories Of The Week (September 21, 2013)

EA has a new CEO, and no one expected it would be Andrew Wilson

Earlier this week, EA announced that Andrew Wilson was promoted from head of EA Sports and Origin to the top spot in the executive pecking order. Of all the internal names being batted around (especially after Don Mattrick moved from Microsoft to Zynga), Wilson's wasn't one we considered. Our money was on chief operating officer Peter Moore or, if not him, president of EA labels Frank Gibeau. 

The reason for our surprise is that Wilson comes most directly from a division that has had spotty success. On the plus side, before shepherding all of the company's sports titles, Wilson lead the FIFA team. He was responsible for FIFA, FIFA World Cup, Euro, FIFA Street, and FIFA Manager. This branch of the business is an unqualified success.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is basketball. NBA Live has been a series of false starts, and even with the title coming to next-generation consoles this fall, we've only just seen gameplay footage (and even that was heavily edited rather than raw). MLB has been dicey because of 2K Sports' exclusive license that expired last year. Whether we see a return to baseball for EA in the coming years is anyone's guess, especially since MLB 2K has been so poor.

Wilson has a lot to prove, and the decks were cleared by interim leader Larry Probst, who closed divisions, pared down mobile and social investments, and made the employment rolls leaner by 10 percent. The culling hasn't quite stopped, and on his first full day as CEO, the company shut down Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. The timing wasn't great, as it sets a bad tone for consumers right out of the gate.

The path is already clear for EA. The company is banking on its two-engine approach, with Frostbite 3 powering everything except sports titles, which will use the Ignite engine. This should provide economies of scale and a knowledge base that the development teams across the globe can tap into. Whether the theoretical wisdom matches the realities of the practice is something we'll only be able to discern over the coming years. Battlefield 4 is the first real test of Frostbite 3, and we'll have that in our hands in just over a month.

For more on EA, check out this week's Game Informer Show, as Matt Helgeson and I break down everything EA.

 

Valve has three big announcements planned for next week, and one of them is undoubtedly a Linux-powered Steambox

Earlier this week, Valve founder Gabe Newell teased a hardware announcement in a keynote speech at LinuxCon. In addition to the hardware, Newell reiterated his concern about Windows 8 being a closed platform, and chose to extol the virtues of Linux (which is unsurprising given the venue). 

Today, Valve posted a teaser for not one, but three announcements that will be coming next week. The website states that users will be added to the design process to help "shape the future of Steam." 

Putting aside the comedy behind a three-part announcement, our interest is definitely piqued. What else besides hardware could Valve be considering? 

Get ready, because I'm about to head into pure speculation mode. Hardware is great, especially if we're talking about an affordable computer that serves to run a version of Steam Big Screen and can support all (or at least many) of the titles on Valve's digital distribution platform. But if the Steambox isn't a straight PC, at least not how we think of one now, then we'll need to understand what the library will look like (especially if the device is Linux-based and not Windows-based). And assuming that the Steambox library is not a one-to-one match with the Steam library, Valve is going to need to incentivize skeptical PC owners to make the leap.

What sells hardware? Games. Exclusive ones, to be exact. Given that this is Valve, there's little that would surprise me, but the company has a couple of aces up its sleeve. Left 4 Dead 3 is one. Half-Life 3 is a bigger one. This is a long way from "Half-Life 3 confirmed!" but if you're Valve and you're launching a new gaming device, wouldn't you bring out the big guns? 

The other thing that catches my eye is the language about adding users to the design process. Sounds very much like a crowdfunding pitch, and Valve has been dabbling in interesting monetization schemes lately. The Dota 2 Invitational prize pot was grown by average users purchasing a $10 Compendium. That seems like a smart test run for bringing in small amounts of funds from a lot of people for non-traditional purposes. If Valve does decide to crowdfund development of the Steambox, I wouldn't expect them to use Kickstarter. They have a platform that people trust already.

I'll be watching the announcements with great anticipation next week, not just as a gamer, but as someone keenly interested in how Valve could potentially disrupt the console market.

 

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