Are the EA Sports games treading water? If you were to take a cursory look at the new features being pushed for this year's line-up, you could easily arrive at that conclusion.
A new physics engine here, 'smarter AI' there; taken at face value, these hardly seem like game-changing alterations. Truth is, it seems EA Sports perfected the core of its sports titles on current-gen machinery a couple of years ago, and now as PS3 and Xbox 360 begin to wind down it finds itself firmly rooted in the tweaking stage.
However, delve deeper into this year's line-up and you'll discover that 2012's batch are set to introduce some of the most important changes in recent memory.
Earlier this month, we travelled to EA Canada's spacious studio in Burnaby, British Columbia, to speak with FIFA GM Matt Bilbey about how EA Sports' next games will lay the foundation for a new generation of sporting excellence. Read on for our findings...
ONLINE & SMARTPHONE CONVERGENCE
NHL 13's 'GM Connected' dynasty mode is braced to become the biggest online league in EA Sports history. It's the 'Be A GM' mode from the previous games writ large. Imagine playing in a league consisting of 30 human general managers, each overseeing a squad of 24 human players.
This makes for a grand total of (whirr, click, smell of toast burning) up to 750 different human players, all co-existing within the same game world. Furthermore, each game world will be ran by a player-appointed commissioner, who will create and enforce schedules and approve trades between the opposing GMs.
While that sounds great in theory, anyone who's had the pleasure of trying out FIFA's 11 v 11 online play will know that it's difficult enough to keep people interested over the course of a six minute match, far less a grueling 82-game NHL schedule taking place over several months.
So, it isn't the scale of GM Connected that impresses so much as its application. In a bid to prevent players from losing interest, EA Canada will launch a companion app that can be accessed from your web browser or on iOS devices. From here you can make trades, organise your lines and sim games if you can't make a scheduled match-up.
"Right now, our games are anchored to our consoles" explains Bilbey. "I'm limited to playing them late at night when the kids have gone to bed. It's impractical to expect people to log onto their console every day. By expanding our games to phones and PC, we allow them to continue the experience in meaningful ways while they're away from the TV.
"It's important that they feel like they're not wasting their time - that each time they go back to the console, they see that they've been rewarded for their time investment".