New Burnout, Skate on the way

EA Games president reveals "extension" of driving and skateboarding series in next fiscal year, commits long-term to Mass Effect and says next Need for Speed will return to series' roots.

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Electronic Arts' open-world racing game Burnout Paradise still has that new-car smell, and the broken bones of Skate have barely had time to knit, but the publisher is already looking ahead to the next installments in those franchises.

In a presentation to industry analysts today, EA Games president Frank Gibeau revealed that the two series would "see extension" in the publisher's fiscal year 2009, which runs from this April through March of 2009. Gibeau didn't specify whether the extensions would come in the form of proper sequels, side products (such as Burnout Legends and Burnout Dominator), or some other form.

In contrast to Burnout, Skate is a relatively new property. The series debuted last September as part of EA's attempt to break Activision's hold on the skateboarding genre with longtime champ Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.

"Tony Hawk has been the Madden of that category for a very long time, and our performance in this first year of skateboarding has greatly exceeded my expectations," Gibeau told investors. "I know they're going to come back and be competitive, but these are the fights that EA knows how to win."

Through December, the industry-tracking NPD Group reports that Tony Hawk's Proving Ground outsold Skate when all versions are taken into account. However, EA's new franchise was released on only two platforms compared to Tony Hawk's five, and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Skate both bested their same-system counterparts in sales. EA's success in establishing the Skate franchise appears to have spurred Activision to action; the Tony Hawk publisher told investors last week that it would be reengineering its flagship skating franchise, giving the brand a new direction.

Another new franchise EA is prepping a sequel for is Mass Effect, which was announced for the PC today. From the very first time now EA-owned developer BioWare showed it off in 2005, the role-playing game franchise was touted as a trilogy. Gibeau's presentation today suggested it may not end there. He told analysts that it "will be a franchise for [EA] for a very long time." He also said that going forward, EA will take over publishing duties on the Mass Effect franchise from Microsoft Game Studios, which handled the game's initial release on the Xbox 360.

Gibeau also mentioned the next installment in another of EA's racing franchises, Need for Speed. While a new Need for Speed in development isn't surprising (the franchise has been annualized since 2002's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2), Gibeau did give the analysts an early look at the direction EA would be taking with the next installment of the series.

Noting that sales of last year's Need for Speed ProStreet didn't live up to EA's hopes for the game, Gibeau said he thinks it was because the series drifted too far from what consumers expected. ProStreet had dropped the tuner culture and police evasion aspects of previous installments in favor of perfectly legit closed track racing. For the next Need for Speed, Gibeau promised that the series would be getting back to its roots with a number of features, including open-world racing and a new highway battle mode.

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