EA Cannibalises and Shuts Down Visceral Games

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The machine grinds on. Say goodbye to Visceral Games.

Earlier this week, Electronic Arts announced that it would be closing down the once mighty Visceral Games. The Star Wars title that was currently in development will be tossed at another studio.

In a blog post, EA’s Patrick Söderlund states “that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.”

For those not fluent in corporate-speak, it basically means that the game wasn’t squaring with EA’s market research and focus groups. So, the parent company made the decision to close the developer and spread its resources out to the baying mouths of their subsidiaries.

However, there is more to this story than just the fall of the proud developer that once bought us the Dead Space franchise.

Ahh, those were the days – Source Dead Space 2

There is a story of deception (possibly) and betrayal (kinda) and an evil conglomerate that was actively working against Visceral Games.

And it goes by the name EA.

EA’s Hit List

For a small developer, signing a contract with a Triple-A publisher can be mana from heaven. Working with the big boy can give you access to unprecedented resources, a 24/7 marketing department, and a certain degree of security that you just can’t find out in the wild.

But for any new developers out there, you might just want to think twice before signing anything from EA.

The company has a really really really really really long list of fledgling developers that is has taken under its wing, only for them to go belly up, in the span of a decade, and their resources carved up and sent off.

You’ve got Mythic Entertainment, the developer of The Dark Age of Camelot, one of the first MMORPGs. Purchase in 2006, shut down in 2014.

There was also Maxis. They were the critically acclaimed developers of a little game series called The Sims. They got a good run, being bought in 1997 and shut down in 2014.

But, then there was Pandemic Studios, creators of the original two Star Wars: Battlefront games. They were founded in 1998, had a great run until they were purchased in 2008, and then the studio was closed a year later.

Sigh, you deserved better Pandemic – Source Star Wars: Battlefront II

So, what happened to Visceral hasn’t exactly come as a surprise.

FYI, if any of you are still fans of Bioware, they were taken over ten years ago. Maybe don’t get too attached to Anthem.

Why EA, why?

If you’re looking for an explanation from EA, they’re happy to offer one. You just need to read between the lines a bit.

Looking back at that statement by Patrick Söderlund and similar announcements for previous developers, a few key phrases keep appearing.

EA mentions that they’re “testing the game concept with players,” “listening to feedback,” and “tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace.” All of this means is that when a game sells over five million copies, EA will be there with a focus group and a spreadsheet.

For example, Dragon Age: Inquisition came out around at a time when open-worlds were big. Therefore, Bioware had to cram one in their game. Dead Space 3 went into production when co-op shooters were the new hotness. So you know Visceral had to have two players for its survival horror franchise.

Hey look, we came full circle.

The problem with this method, and ultimately why EA churn through so many developers, is that it pays little attention to why these games did well in the first place.

The first two Dead Space games were successes due to the sense of isolation and desperation they instilled in us through carefully tuned game mechanics. Being forced to add any new features, let alone one that so obviously goes against the spirit of the franchise as co-op did to Dead Space, can throw the whole game out of whack.

Nothing says horror like having your buddy by your side through thick and thin – Source Dead Space 3

This is the beginning of the death spiral. As the game does worse, EA market tests it and adds more features to make up the difference in sales, which only drives the fans away quicker. Eventually, it ends with profits plummeting and developers being shut down.

The machine grinds on.

Should this qualify as one of the worst trends in modern gaming?

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