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Plotting The Future Of EA Sports

EA Sports says it's going to handle the console transition better this time around, but then what? The label is bringing its two heavyweights – FIFA and Madden – to the next-gen console launches, but bigger decisions loom. We take a look at some of the issues facing EA and its sports lineup.

Sports games are always a prominent genre on any non-Nintendo platform, but that doesn't mean that publishers like EA Sports can put their business and games on automatic. Here are some of the issues that could change the landscape for the genre in the coming generation.

Annual Releases Vs. Updates
Some sports gamers have long pined for cheaper updates with full-fledged releases spread out over time as opposed to the current annual format. While the money EA rakes in for $60 games like FIFA every year means that the company is not going to forgo that revenue any time soon, the downloadable friendly era that we're in at least makes the update approach more palatable to your average consumer. If EA can come up with enough other ways to make money via microtransactions, for instance, then it could feel safe in offering games in ways that are different from the traditional annual releases. Perhaps it lets you pay for modes a la carte or adopts a subscription-based model where the individual franchises are more like ever-evolving services. Regardless, I don't see it doing away with annual releases any time soon. Perhaps the best it could do would be to offer up meaty DLC updates and then an all-in-one Game of the Year-type release on the normal annual basis.

New Ways To Play
If the story of this generation was playing catchup with franchise modes and establishing competent gameplay that could be used this upcoming generation, then where do we go from here? The next-gen sports games should debut on the new systems with their features and gameplay more or less intact, so the whole package needs to evolve to offer something beyond the career mode and standard online offerings we've grown accustomed to. If Ultimate Team was that new wrinkle this generation, what will be next? Perhaps NBA Live's ultimate ambition to do away with player ratings is one idea for how to shake things up. Regardless, there needs to be a new way to experience these titles beyond the usual modes we've become accustomed to.

College Football & Exclusive Licenses
Next year EA Sports ventures into relatively unknown territory when its college football comes out sans the license for the NCAA, some teams, and conferences such as the SEC, PAC-10, and Big Ten (see my previous opinion piece for more). This not only puts that franchise in a unique situation (which could even mean its ultimate demise), but I think it puts a price on every sports title at the label. If EA is willing to make a college game without some pretty famous licenses or even shuts down its college football operations over the expense of licensing everything individually, could it do so with other franchises? What about the cost of exclusivity? Is there a price tag that's too big for exclusivity?

Other Sports
Previously EA has talked about exploring other sports away from the traditional ones it currently supports. Will we see any of these (besides UFC) this upcoming generation? It's hard to think of an untapped sport that has much above niche support at this point, but it will be interested to see how the company handles its non-annual franchises like Fight Night and SSX. Speaking of the EA Big label, we'll also have to wait and see if EA continues to produce spin-off titles like FIFA Street or it tries to find other ways to broaden existing sports like football and soccer.

Making Money
Microtransactions are a dirty word to some, but the success of FIFA's Ultimate Team proves that there is a way to make money off of making fans happy. However, this mode doesn't necessarily translate into success for every other EA Sports game and their fan bases. Thus, each EA Sports title is going to have to figure out what's best for them. Maybe the upcoming UFC title finds a way to monetize fights utilizing the online pay-per-view blueprint of successor EA Sports MMA by tapping into the new console's inherent video sharing features.

Universal Rewards System
A few years ago, EA talked about a multi-year, cross-title rewards system (including possibly real-world items) that would link all the EA Sports titles from year to year. This is still in the works, but has yet to be unveiled.

Using the Power of the Next-Gen Systems
We all expect better graphics from new systems, but gamers still have questions as to the true capacity of the upcoming systems. What can the cloud do for games? How powerful is content sharing? I personally want a leap in AI, which I see as one of the few ways to truly separate games this generation from the past few.

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