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EA showcases upcoming video games

World's largest publisher of video games shows off most of its almost-ready-for-prime-time titles. Photos: EA's new titles

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--Electronic Arts used its annual studio showcase to unveil 20 new games for 11 platforms, including many for Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's forthcoming PlayStation 3.

But with an audience of at least 200 visitors--many of whom were among the most influential video game journalists in the business--there was a sense of disappointment that EA didn't unveil any huge surprises or games that seemed destined to become classics.

Still, with the latest versions of valuable franchises like "Madden NFL," "NBA Live" and "Battlefield," as well as new titles like "Lord of the Rings: White Council" and "Warhammer Online," many in attendance Thursday at EA's headquarters here were satisfied that the company is living up to its responsibilities as the world's largest publisher of video games.

EA showcase

The annual event falls between May's E3--the video game industry's largest and most-important convention--and the next big events on the game marketing schedule: August's Leipzig Games Convention and September's Tokyo Games Show. Thus it is a chance for EA to give the game press a chance to see titles that are finally ready for public viewing but weren't ready in May.

EA has "30 to 31 games a year that sell more than a million units," Jeff Brown, EA's vice president of corporate communications, told CNET "You need a showcase."

To some, it might have been noteworthy that the company's most-anticipated game, Will Wright's "Spore," wasn't on display Thursday. But Brown said that the title and some others have already gotten enough exposure in North America this year and that the event here was a better forum for showing off other games.

"There is such a thing as overexposure," he said. "These games are looking a lot like they're going to look like when they come out in October. This isn't the shell game everybody plays at E3."

'100 percent' behind PS3
Separately on Thursday, EA also announced its plans for six games for Nintendo's next-generation console, the Wii, which is expected to hit stores this holiday season. The games include "Madden 07," "Need for Speed," "Harry Potter" and "The Godfather."

Meanwhile, to the sounds of the horns and drums of the University of Southern California marching band, Brown came onstage in EA's theater to begin the showcase. Using the band as a tie-in, he excitedly touted the company's release, scheduled for next week, of "NCAA Football 2007."

The game, Brown said, is for people who "just love football and can't wait for 'Madden' in another month."

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Video: Electronic Arts going mobile
During EA's annual showcase in Redwood City, Calif., CNET's Neha Tiwari speaks with EA Mobile's Travis Boatman about how the company is tackling the mobile video game market.

During the presentation, which lasted about 90 minutes, Brown introduced a series of EA's developer partners, giving each a chance to demonstrate their games. He also pointed out a Sony Computer Entertainment of America executive in the audience and said that EA is "100 percent behind the launch" of the PlayStation 3.

But the first to join Brown onstage was Marc Jacobs, the head of Mythic Entertainment, publisher of "Dark Ages of Camelot" and the forthcoming "Warhammer Online."

Electronic Arts announced last month that it was buying Mythic.

Brown said that EA's management had decided it needed to become a more active player in the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game market.

"'We can either build it or buy it,'" he recalled EA's management as having said. "We realized that a lot of people here at EA were spending an ungodly amount of time in 'Dark Ages of Camelot.' So we bought" its publisher.

Jacobs came onstage and proceeded to explain to the crowd just how unlikely he would have thought, a year ago, that he would be appearing at the showcase event as an EA employee.

He quipped that if someone had said the two most likely scenarios for his future were that he'd be on board at EA or be working in fast food, he would have replied, "Would you like fries with that?"

But Jacobs said he found in discussions with EA that the video game giant's management had a "real passion for making great games and great online games" and as a result, he decided it was a good move to sell his company.

He then showed an early version of "Warhammer Online," much to the delight of many of the game journalists and others in the room.

Brown then came back onstage and said how pleased he was that so many people had joined EA in recent years through acquisitions such as Jacobs and Mitch Lasky, senior vice president of EA Mobile and formerly CEO of EA acquiree Jamdat.

ESPN podcasts
Other companies to show off their games at the showcase event Thursday included Valve, which presented "Half Life 2: Episode 2," as well as "Portal," a separate game that will ship with it.

Then, the producers of several EA games came onstage in succession to present their games. Those titles included "Lord of the Rings: White Council," "Madden 07" and "NBA Live 07."

John Schappert, EA's senior vice president and group studio general manager, also offered new details about how the company is integrating new technology based on its 15-year partnership with ESPN.

Much of the information had , but some was new. For example, Schappert explained how players will be able to access constantly updated ESPN video content from within their games and that "NBA Live 07" will feature the ability to listen to ESPN Radio podcasts.

Brown finished up the presentation by posing the rhetorical question: "What is EA's strategy for communicating with hard-core gamers? To shut up and make great games."