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EA Goes Indie?

Change is in the air. I can smell it, or at least nod sagely and gesture vaguely at it. Over the last few months, EA have quietly become perhaps the most exciting of the uber-publishers. They've recently admitted to stifling their developers and relying on annual updates ("one-size-fits-all management"), and of late they've started to prove they mean it.

Look at what they've got coming up: Spore, Mirror's Edge, Battlefield Heroes, Dead Space (let's not mention the more worrying Tiberium for now). Meanwhile, a recent restructure sees the likes of Maxis and DICE increasingly free to pursue their own agendas. What was once the industry's Big Bad now looks like an inventive risk-taker compared to Activision and Ubisoft. Call 'em whatever names you can think of, but a company with that much money striving a little harder for greatness is enormously exciting.

And now, Blueprint - a rather promising new sub-division of the EA Games arm (the other arms being EA Sims, EA Sports and EA Casual).

It's about making new IPs cheaply and with smaller teams, as opposed to the publisher's tradition of ultra-dollar franchise games in gestation for years. "We focus on creating IP in new ways for our media and finding smart ways to spread it across the media landscape," studio head Neil Young (not that one) told Variety.

Which is a pretty meaningless, corp-o-gibberish quote, so let's go instead with the potential of this new endeavour. EA - as in FIFA, Madden, The Sims expansion packs - has grown an extra limb specifically to experiment with new ideas. "Blueprint is apparently an attempt for EA to get out of its internal creative rut by taking risks, somewhat along the lines of a studio speciality division like Fox Searchlight or Miramax" says Variety. There's even talk of Blueprint supporting games from outside the EA hivemind.

Blimey. Clearly a response to EA losing the games crown to Activision, it's sort of a reflection of the circle of life we see throughout the games and hardware industry. Nintendo reinvents itself with the Wii, Intel recovers from years of trailing AMD's performance with Core 2 Duo, id make Rage instead of Doom 4... Snatch away some of a fat, lazy, rich man's money and it turns out he's quite energetic about getting it back. Presuming there's the ring of truth to EA's fancy talk, I look forward to seeing what games come out of Blueprint.

That said, EA-Land does give me the creeping fear all over again.

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