EA Sports Moves Graphics-Rich Gaming Online

The game of golf has driven a lot of innovation over the years, such as wooden clubs giving way to graphite shafts. Golf games for the PC are about to experience their own revolution, with boxed titles shipped on DVDs yielding to a new model.

EA Sports’ new game Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Online, or TWO, was released in April 2010 for online only, playable strictly through your favorite browser. To stay fresh, servers dish up additional courses, multiplayer tournaments and a steady stream of new features.

This title lets you take your golf game on the road, complete with 3D graphics. Users should encounter the usual great experience on a high-end desktop, but that’s to be expected. The game will also shine on a good laptop as well as on mobile Internet devices, such as netbooks. Looking equally good on all three platform levels is a trick that is completely new to PC gaming and worth diving into a little deeper.

Getting Into the Cloud

EA’s Greg Rinaldi, the game’s producer, says building an online golf game was a challenge, but the company didn’t want to appeal to only desktop systems. “Our goal with TWO is to provide an experience that is accessible from pretty much any machine that users will be accustomed to,” he says. “We’re targeting some of the very lower-end and very higher-spectrum PCs.”

It hasn’t been easy. For the netbook, they found that the single-core processors lacked the processing power compared with that of a standard laptop or desktop machine and had trouble doing some of the heavy mathematical computations because they can’t divide up the work, Rinaldi says.

EA Sports spent the most development time on graphics optimization. “Our engineers set things up so that when somebody runs the game for the first time, we can identify if they use integrated graphics,” Rinaldi says. “We can identify the model of the card or determine the chip set and then customize delivery of the graphic settings to give them the best possible experience.”

New Standard for PC Golfing

Like a dedicated golfer practicing tee shots into the wee hours, EA Sports completed multiple rounds of beta testing for TWO. More than 15,000 potential customers put those early builds to the test, and EA Sports handled thousands of suggestions from enthusiastic players to keep tweaking the title to perfection. A lot of testing concentrated on multiplayer tournaments, avatar configuration and career-building via cash-for-objectives. For example, a $2,500 bonus for the first eagle can quickly translate into swing lessons, equipment upgrades or designer clothes.

Once an online presence is established, you can quickly repeat the installation on any other machines you hope to use in order to knock out a few rounds. You could literally start a course in the morning on your desktop in your home office, get in a couple more rounds if your commute includes Wi-Fi for your laptop, finish the front nine during your lunch break and make it into the clubhouse after dinner.

The game features stunning 3D reproductions of several world-class championship courses, such as Pebble Beach, TPC Sawgrass, Sheshan Golf & Country Club, St. Andrews Links, Wolf Creek and Wentworth (West Course). EA Sports plans to add new courses regularly to keep the game fresh.

Because the game’s primary content resides on EA Sports’ servers, updates to the subscription service will be easy to deliver and manage. Most online-savvy consumers are already comfortable with music and movies available to anyone with decent bandwidth. Game publishers can now overcome the static nature of a disk-based, shrink-wrapped product that gets stale on the shelf by harnessing the proven power of browser-based content. Rinaldi thinks TWO is on track toward fulfilling a long-held dream for developers: to reach multiple platforms at once. He believes this kind of online gaming is here to stay.