Electronic Arts has finally ironed out its differences with Microsoft over the latter's Xbox Live online service, announcing that a large number of its key titles will be Live-enabled starting as early as July.
Speaking at Microsoft's pre-E3 press conference this evening, EA confirmed that key franchises including a number of EA Partners acquisitions will be kitted out with Live options before release. Burnout 3, TimeSplitters Future Perfect and Battlefield: Modern Combat are the biggest EA Partners and EA Games titles, with FIFA Football 2005 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 the most noteworthy names on the Sports line-up from a European perspective.
That's far from the extent of EA's Live ambition however, with the recently announced GoldenEye: Rogue Agent set to include Live options, along with Need For Speed Underground 2 and the company's entire sports line-up. Starting this July in the States, Live fans can look forward to NCAA Football 2005 (part of the publisher's college American Football franchise), NHL 2005, NASCAR 2005: Chase For The Cup, NBA Live 2005, Madden NFL 2005 and NCAA Football 2005.
"We're strengthening our alliance by bringing EA's world-class games to Xbox Live," EA Sports marketing man Chip Lange told the conference. And according to Xbox Live general manager Cameron Ferroni, "the time was right" for the announcement.
Whether this means that EA will be able to bill the customer directly is unknown. It's unlikely, but remains to be fully addressed - it's been well known for a while however that EA originally backed PS2 Online exclusively because it couldn't come to an agreement with Microsoft over the financial aspects of Xbox Live. One thing we can probably say with some certainty however is that the announcement of an entirely Live-enabled EA Sports line-up just months after Microsoft canned its first-party XSN Sports titles is remarkably coincidental. We believe the expression is, "By the balls."
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the announcement, however, this is hugely important news for Xbox owners, who will now be able to tap into a range of immensely popular titles - and it could be the support that finally sends the service into a deserved lead in the battle for control of online console gaming. Whether or not you give a flying puck about NHL 2005 or any of its sporting pals on Live, the prospect of Burnout, TimeSplitters, Battlefield and Tiger Woods ought to be more than enough to sell a few Starter Kits.
Expect more (including hands-on impressions of Live-enabled EA titles) after E3 kicks off this Wednesday, May 12th.