EA Next Gen

After yesterday’s “See the Future” teaser, and the Wall Street Journal’s subsequent prediction that Sony’s next home console will, in fact, launch sometime this year, gamers are understandably excited that the full bloom of the next console generation is, relatively speaking, close at hand. Nintendo, famously, took pole position in the next-gen race when it launched the Wii U late last year. Now, its just a matter of playing the waiting game to see who jumps next, Sony or Microsoft.

That is, unless you happen to be Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello. As head of one of the most powerful (and, occasionally, the most hated) third-party game publishers in the world, Riccitiello has access to information that, frankly, most of us do not. Whatever Sony plans to reveal on February 20th (there are, of course, new rumors) and Microsoft intends to unveil at E3 2013, Riccitiello has already seen it, knows how it works, and has an idea of how gamers are going to respond to it. And in Riccitiello’s opinion, the next generation – despite the widespread availability of Wii U – hasn’t started yet.

“Ours is an industry where a lot of devices come in and represent themselves as the next generation, or the next generation after that. In many ways we would argue that the what we’re describing as ‘gen 4’ is yet to come. It’s that that we’re excited about, and that’s what we’re investing in.”

“As you might well expect, we know more about the roadmap, and more about what’s coming in consumer electronics, in terms of the specifics of devices that will play games, than you might otherwise be exposed to. [With] the information that we have, we remain bullish. It’s why we have outlined our plan to invest… in the current fiscal year $80 million in that opportunity.”

EA’s plan to spend $80 million dollars on PS4 and Xbox 720 development stands in stark contrast to the company’s investment in Wii U. Only three Electronic Arts properties were available for purchase at the system’s launch: Mass Effect 3, Madden NFL 13, and FIFA 13 – not one of them a Wii U exclusive.

Worse yet, Madden’s Wii U iteration was visibly inferior to the versions produced for Xbox 360 and PS3, while a stand-alone copy of Mass Effect 3 was practically an insult compared to the Trilogy editions released for competing consoles at roughly the same time. Since the Wii U’s launch, EA has only committed to one other game for the system, a port of last October’s Need for Speed Most Wanted enhanced with questionable bonus features.

Need for Speed Most Wanted Wii U

Does all this mean that Riccitiello and, by extension, Electronic Arts is dismissing Wii U outright? Not at all.

“Never count Nintendo out. They’ve got some of the best IP in the game industry. When their marquee titles show up, that’s when you usually see the bounce. I deeply respect the achievements they’ve had over the last several years. And as I said, you never really count them out.”

“Having said that, I wouldn’t say that we see a correlation between the results that Nintendo has shown with their console debut of the Wii U and what we see coming. We see a pretty sharp distinction, and unfortunately I’m unable to go any further than that.”

Riccitiello may well be right, at least so far as the marketplace is concerned. After a weaker than expected holiday sales season, Nintendo has had to lower its Wii U and 3DS sales projections for fiscal 2012, and is working to dismiss the notion that Wii U is in need of a price cut. Last week’s powerhouse Nintendo Direct presentation has been widely received as an attempt by the company to reassure the faithful and re-energize Wii U’s retail fortunes. Will Nintendo’s efforts succeed? Never bet against Mario Kart, friends. Never bet against Mario Kart.

Still, it’s that “sharp distinction” that we’re most interested in. Wii U is an innovative system; no doubt about it. But Riccitiello’s excitement for “what’s coming in consumer electronics,” and his willingness to back up that enthusiasm with serious development dollars, suggests that we might be in for more than merely more powerful versions of the current systems. Put more simply, if Riccitiello’s genuinely excited about the new consoles, gamers probably ought to be, too.

Ranters, do you agree with Riccitiello’s assertion that Wii U isn’t really a next-gen console? Does EA’s willingness to invest heavily in PS4/Xbox 720 development have any impact on your excitement for the forthcoming consoles? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter @HakenGaken.

Source: Gamasutra