Electronic Arts, Ubisoft demonstrate different strategies for success ahead of E3

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      The two biggest video game publishers and developers in Canada held media briefings on Monday afternoon (June 14) in historic theatres along L.A.’s Broadway strip.

      While Electronic Arts and Ubisoft are both headquartered outside Canada—U.S. and France, respectively—they account for a great percentage of games developed in Canada. Both companies have studios in the Lower Mainland and Montreal.

      Looking at the line-up of games the two companies chose to feature at their pre-E3 events showed the two companies have slightly different strategies for the future. While EA is focusing its video game offerings on the traditional video gamer, Ubisoft is diversifying.

      EA CEO John Riccitiello took to the stage at the Orpheum comparing his company’s event to the Sundance film festival, as if to say that things were low-key and informal. Well, they were until EA Sports label head Peter Moore brought Joe Montana on stage.

      EA chose to feature only 10 of its upcoming games, and, with the exception of EA Sports Active 2, a fitness title, all of EA’s featured games have appeal to the standard gamer. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Dead Space 2, Medal of Honor, Crysis 2, Bulletstorm, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Sims 3, Madden NFL 11, and EA Sports MMA were all detailed by representatives of their production teams.

      In terms of growth, EA is looking to expand all of its games into the on-line and digital space, with multiplayer (Medal of Honor was demonstrated by 24 players on stage playing at the same time, and Hot Pursuit has new software for matching players for on-line racing) and a new loyalty program (Gun Club) being key features.

      As for EA Sports Active 2, the follow up to the breakout Wii hit, the sequel is moving to PS3 and Xbox 360 also, taking advantage of the Move and Kinetic controller interfaces.

      Ubisoft’s press event, a couple of blocks away at the Los Angeles Theatre, was hosted by comedian and actor Joel McHale (Community), and was themed “games you can feel”. And if EA is bolstering its base, Ubisoft is trying to draw in new users.

      To capture more of the fitness market, the company seems to be leaving behind earlier attempts to focus on new opportunities created by Xbox 360’s Kinetic. Motion Sports and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved are both exclusive to that platform. The former is a collection of different activities—soccer, football, and skiing were demonstrated—while the latter is more of an exercise title with a variety of gym and training activities, including yoga and tai chi.

      There’s also the Michael Jackson game, about which we know little more than the title. Ubisoft president and CEO Yves Guillemot made the surprise reveal at the end of the briefing, saying the game will arrive before the end of the year, and giving over the stage to a group dancing MJ-choreographed moves to “Beat It”.

      The French company also featured titles geared to more hardcore gamers—Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Shaun White Skateboarding, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, and Driver: San Francisco—but also chose to show off Child of Eden, an arcade shooter created for Xbox 360’s Kinect, Raving Rabbids: Travel in Time for the Wii, and a glimpse of Rayman Origins. Most intriguing about Ubisoft’s presentation, though, were a couple of more esoteric products that defy the video game label.

      Battle Tag was described by creator and producer Gael Seydoux as a “video game you play away from the screen”. It’s laser tag, essentially. Players wear harnesses with sensors and “shoot” at each other with light-emitting guns. How Ubisoft’s title differs from other toy store kits is that Battle Tag is connected to a computer. That means that player stats can be tracked, and it also includes non-combat play modes, like shuttle run races between players.

      Innergy isn’t much more than a biofeedback device. It comes with a fingertip sensor that tracks heart rate and guides users in simple breathing exercises. The intent is to create a sense of relaxation, and because the sensor can plug into any computer, explained concept director Tommy Francois, users can “level up” anywhere.

      Innergy is identical to the “vitality sensor” that Nintendo was laughed at for including in its media briefing at E3 2009. Clearly, Ubisoft saw the concept as an opportunity, not a joke.

      It’s true that both Ubisoft and EA have much more to offer than just the games featured in the media briefings. And given that the audience at these events tend to be of the hard-core gamer persuasion, it may be that the EA simply wanted to cater to the audience.

      What is clear is that the two companies have different philosophies about the video game industry, and how to operate in it.