Inside EA Mobile

CrunchGear reporter Raj Patel scored an exclusive invite to the EA Mobile studios where he discusses the present and future of mobile gaming cellphones, iPods, and beyond.

Not all of us are gamers, hell, some of us haven’t even bought a gaming console since the original Nintendo. With the remaining two next gen gaming consoles releasing next week, it’s looking like it’s time to say goodbye to those simple games you can just pick up and play. Sure there’s Xbox Live Arcade (and something similar coming to PS3 and Wii), but you have to be at home and in front of a TV to play those games. Even portables like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP consist mostly of games that take several hours to complete, and you’d have to spend over a hundred bucks just to own one of the handhelds. So what’s there to do when gaming has become too complicated and you just want to play something simple on your cell phone or iPod while you’re on the go?

EA Mobile, Electronic Arts’ mobile gaming studio, hopes they have an answer. Their work in the mobile gaming space netted the company $TK million in 2006 and is one of the strongest mobile gaming outfits in the industry. How – and more importantly, why – do they do it?

EA Mobile’s development team focuses on making games for cell phones and iPods. While EA Mobile’s games don’t look or feel like next gen games, they try to hook you with simple controls and gameplay. The development team faces the same problems third-party game developers for consoles face, in which each game has to be made for multiple platforms. Unlike third-party developers for consoles, EA Mobile isn’t making games for 2-3 platforms, but rather for a vast array of cell phones and iPod.

Once a game is tested, polished and functioning on a particular cell phone, it’s time to switch and test it on the next one. Rinse and repeat. While EA Mobile couldn’t give me all the specifics on its game development process , it did manage to let us have a hands-on experience with a few of its titles, including its games on the iPod.

The games I played included Fight Night Round 3, Medal of Honor, Tetris and Bejeweled. Fight Night Round 3 and Metal of Honor both offered fun, non-button mashing, 2D gameplay. Though the games aren’t just smashing buttons, they aren’t complicated either. Once you get the hang of using the controls (num pad or d-pad), you’ll find a mild challenge mixed in with fun with both titles. Graphically, Fight Night Round 3 stands out, while Medal of Honor takes the back seat. Metal of Honor however, is the first cell phone game I’ve ever seen to have cutscenes (a big step in mobile gaming).

The better titles for me were Tetris and Bejeweled, which offered multiplayer (through the network) and leaderboards. Most people already know how to play both games, and you can play them with someone sitting next to you, or online via the wireless network. Throw in leaderboards, and you’ve got a full-featured title on your cell phone. And you can rest assured, there isn’t any lag in either of the titles. Both games also featured great graphics, almost comparable to the Nintendo DS version of Tetris. If you only want to buy one game for your cell phone, Tetris is it. These games go for anywhere from $5 to $8 dollars, which isn’t too bad if you take multiplayer into consideration.

EA Mobile offers three games for the iPod: Tetris, Mahjong and Mini Golf. Since the iPod doesn’t feature any kind of multiplayer for Tetris, you’re better off playing Mahjong or Mini Golf. All three games look great on the iPod screen, and you also have the option of listening to your music while you play. These games go for $4.99 each and can be purchased off of iTunes.

In case none of the games I mentioned above caught your attention, EA Mobile has more newly released games which include DOOM RPG, Madden 07 and The Sims 2. You can find even more games off EA Mobile’s website, linked below.