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NHL 11 offers goodies for established and new fans

by Sergei J. Feldman /
NEW YORK -- There are probably as many schools of thought about the best way to get excited about hockey as there are teams in the National Hockey League.

Some will argue you have to actually lace 'em up and play. Others will claim you must watch a game live to appreciate its beauty. Still others contend that watching the game on high definition television in your favorite lounge chair is the way to go.

Enter Electronic Arts, which might be offering a new "best" way to fall in love with hockey.

EA Sports launched its newest game, NHL 11, on Wednesday in front of hundreds of passionate and casual hockey fans inside the NHL Store powered by Reebok in midtown Manhattan. Joining the festivities were 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks Jonathan Toews -- this year's cover boy -- and teammate Patrick Kane, last year's featured act.

With a host of new features and an unprecedented focus on authenticity, NHL 11 has successfully integrated the real and virtual world, making the experience for gamers perhaps like none other. As for how EA Sports was able to do it, David Lee, director of marketing for EA Sports, had a simple answer.

"We're always trying to go to the consumer," he said.

"[EA Sports] as a whole goes out of its way to engage in dialogue with its consumers. We want to know what's important to them and what they might like to see and what they want, if we can do it."

If the crowd and ambiance inside the NHL Store was any indication, EA Sports delivered.
But the process of building an ideal game has to be incremental, which has been the case in the long line of EA Sports' NHL games.

"We're building off years of positive momentum," Lee said.

"We're sitting down with our development team and asking how we can take authenticity to the next level. These are all very ambitious efforts, but for us they're critical."

This year's game features a revolutionary Real-Time Physics Engine, in which everything from the movements of the puck to players skating to hitting, passing and stickhandling will trigger true-to-life reactions. In addition, there is a broken sticks feature, an enhanced Be a Pro mode and a new EA Sports Hockey Leauge dynasty mode, where online play creates an unscripted competitiveness and interest.

But while the features will immediately resonate with experienced hockey fans, getting the casual fan involved can be more difficult. Many potential purchasers aren't especially familiar with hockey.
Lee said introducing the sport to new fans was factored into the design of the game.

"In some cases, people who play our NHL games, their first love might be football or baseball or other sports," he said. "But with some of the features of our game, we're actually teaching people how to play hockey through the use of our game."

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