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Electronic Arts expands its casual game line-up

Electronic Arts is going after the casual consumer on multiple fronts. It offers Pogo.com online and EA Mobile for cell phone users (which will also expand to Apple’s iPod beginning July 7). Now EA Casual and Entertainment is unveiling the first offerings from the Hasbro licensing deal it negotiated last fall, and EA Sports is revamping its entire Wii lineup of games under the All-Play branding.

The publisher showcased many of its upcoming games at a New York event for the press. The games are part of an ongoing effort by the company to reach various casual audiences, including tweens, families and women — groups that don’t care for the first-person shooters and other action games that EA has traditionally made.

Last year, EA kicked its casual gaming efforts into high gear by creating separate label and organizational group led by former Activision executive Kathy Vrabeck to target the casual sector.

The company’s new focus is showing some positive results.

One of game worth noting is a sequel to “Boogie,” a Wii game that failed to win over the press the first time around, but sold enough units for EA’s new Montreal studio to go back to the drawing board. “Boogie: Superstar” is a game clearly aimed at tween girls, which Charles-William Bibaud, associate producer of the title, said was the one demographic that flocked to the original game. The new game, which ships in October, lets one person sing any one of 40 licensed tween hit songs while the second player is required to dance to choreographed routines. Up to four users can play the game taking turns. “Superstar” comes loaded with customization options that 10 to 14 year-old girls crave, including accessorizing their avatars. Ubisoft, Nintendo, Her Interactive, Disney, and a variety of other game publishers are regularly coming out with titles like this that target girls as the primary audience.

For girls 6 to 10 years old, EA has “Littlest Pet Shop” (pictured above) for Wii, PC and Nintendo DS. The Wii and PC game lets players travel through four worlds and collect 32 pets, which can be accessorized with over 100 items. Like “Nintendogs,” the Nintendo DS game will come in three different versions (Winter, Jungle and Garden), each with exclusive pets to interact with.

It’s been six years since “Monopoly” last appeared on a console. Now EA’s making sure most gamers have access to it by releasing Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions this October. Hasbro is doing its part as well, launching Monopoly World Edition this September with its own marketing campaign. EA’s game will include this newest version of the game as well as classic Monopoly and the fast-paced “Richest mode,” which lets a family of four speed through the game in 30 minutes. The Wii version demoed to journalists looked great and blends nicely with Nintendo’s remote-like controller.

For those who want an array of virtual board game options, EA’s “Hasbro Family Game Night” for Wii offers Boggle, Connect 4, Battleship, Yahtzee, Sorry, and the new Sorry Sliders (a mixture of Sorry and curling) on one disc. Mr. Potatohead serves as the host of this multiplayer game, which offers traditional and new variations of each of these classic family games. This is another great synergy between family-friendly Hasbro brands and EA’s take on Wii innovation.

One of the coolest games on display for boys was “Nerf N-Strike” for Wii (pictured left), which is the first game to ship with a gun peripheral that works in-game with the remote, as well as around the house as a foam mini-dart Switchshot. It’s not just little kids who’ll, get a kick out of this dual-purpose toy gun. The game and gun will sell for $50 and extra guns can be purchased separately, since up to four players can take part in the robot target shooting action. One of the hottest toys this Christmas will be the Vulcan Nerf machine-gun, which will be displayed on the game’s box and playable in-game. EA is also giving kids an advanced look at some of the 2009 lineup of Nerf guns, which will be playable in the game.

EA continues its successful games based on Warner Bros. Harry Potter franchise. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” ships this November in conjunction with the latest movie. Although the game will ship across all platforms, as is custom for EA, the Wii version was featured at the event. In addition to the single-player adventure, this is the first game in the franchise that offers competitive dueling between wizards in locales like The Great Hall and the Transfiguration Courtyard. This dueling mode looks especially fun on the Wii, where players can conjure spells using the remote as a wand.

The full lineup for EA Sports All-Play games for Wii were playable at the event. Each of these games has a completely different look and feel from the other console versions, as well as a different approach to last year’s Family Play games. They’re aimed at the family, allowing parents to play with their kids. Rather than focusing on realistic visuals and accurate simulations, these games (“FIFA 09,” “NBA Live 09,” “Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09,” “Madden NFL 09” and “NCAA Football 09”) are about pick-up-and-play experiences that simplify the action for those who aren’t adept gamers. Some of the games, like “FIFA 09,” even offer Mii versions of famous soccer stars, which should appeal to younger fans. “NCAA Football 09” features football action with the mascots on the gridiron.

“Spore” was also on display at the event as a PC game and as a mobile game, which shows that EA is positioning this game as something that the mass market can play (a la “The Sims”).

With its wide array of games aimed at the burgeoning casual games market, this first look at the Hasbro lineup shows that EA is not just going to regurgitate brands and hope the name sells units. That’s refreshing, since the last few Hasbro license-holders, including Hasbro Interactive and Atari, did exactly that. EA is taking casual games seriously, as was evident from “Boom Blox” (there’s an homage to that game in “Nerf N-Strike”). That’s good news for families looking to migrate gaming from dining room board games to the living room television.

Overall, EA’s Casual group has a lot of irons in the fire. It remains to be seen if this division can become as big a powerhouse as EA’s big sports, Sims, and hardcore console game divisions.


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