Electronic Arts sees social features as the future of gaming

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Electronic Arts Inc. has seen the future of gaming and it’s as much about socializing as it is blasting enemies.

The company is working to build more ways to communicate into its software, so that friends can chat and share the experience without having to leave the game.

Right now, many people play games while simultaneously using video apps such as Discord. The idea is to bring more of those capabilities into the games themselves, said Laura Miele, Electronic Arts’ chief studios officer.

“I think we need to support video social engagement in one experience versus people having multiple apps,” Miele said in an interview. “There’s a big opportunity there.”

The company, which makes the Battlefield, Sims and Madden NFL series, is trying to develop new ways for people to plot their strategy and exchange gear before battle, and to share user-generated content, she said. She called the effort “a priority.”

With many people still stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, video games have become bigger gathering places. A growing number of people are using game platforms to watch movies, attend concerts and just hang out with friends. In-game birthday parties and graduations also are becoming more common.

Next-generation consoles from Sony Corp. and Microsoft Corp. due later this year also are expected to generate more buzz around gaming. They’re designed to offer better graphics and faster gameplay.

“We are evaluating all possibilities,” Miele said. “New hardware and platforms will clearly enable new services.”

New Games

At Thursday’s EA Play virtual expo, which replaced the typical physical event in Los Angeles, the company highlighted its upcoming games for the new consoles. With Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21 sports games, players will be able to upgrade to next-generation console versions for free.

The company also announced it was bringing back the cult favorite Skate game after a decade.

Its Apex Legends battle game that’s coming to Steam in the fall will allow for cross-play, letting console owners play with people using PCs. Star Wars: Squadrons, launching in October, also allows for cross-play support.

Future release dates may hinge on how long the pandemic lasts. With some 6,000 employees working from home, Electronic Arts has managed to roll out several titles and updates without a hitch. But now it’s trying to figure out how to reconfigure its offices so employees could eventually return, as the gaming industry thrives on in-person collaboration.

“Our future slate is looking strong,” Miele said. “But we are watching it, and we will prioritize the well-being and health of our teams. If we’d need to move the dates, we will, but we haven’t announced anything yet.”