The last week – not even a full week – has brought with it two major news stories in the gaming world, and neither one is remotely sitting well with fans.
Still reeling from the announcement on Friday, October 13th – coincidence it was not – that IGN has purchased major digital retailer and fan-favorite Humble Bundle, this week brings a new blow with it. Today Electronic Arts announced it has shuttered popular studio Visceral Games, who was working on a yet unannounced Star Wars game. The last, and only footage thus far that anyone outside the company has seen of this game was at E3 2016. They showed nothing but concept art and an extremely early build of the game showing a guy walking out of what looked like a building in Mos Eisley or Mos Espa on Tattooine. It looked great, but it was nothing to go on. Many believed this game was the next incarnation of a long-ago cancelled game in development at Lucas Arts, dubbed Star Wars 1313 where you played a bounty hunter. It seems at this point we may never know.
The game has been very much at the front of most gamer Star Wars fans minds, as it is the only single player game we expected to take seriously since what seems to be an increasingly short-sighted exclusivity deal Disney signed with EA to be the only developer authorized to make Star Wars games. Coincidentally, EA just so happens to have been a major player in the situation which saw the total dismantling of Lucas Arts, and the twenty Star Wars games that they had in development which were cancelled (not all at the same time.) In addition to the draught of Star Wars titles since LucasArts bit the dust, creative director Amy Hennig – popular with fans of Naughty Dog because she served as creative director on Uncharted as well as The Last of Us, left Sony to work at Visceral on this game. Her fate remains unknown as it relates to this game.
We can only speculate as to why EA believes Visceral wasn’t doing their due dilligence on this game. Patrick Soderlund cited some PR line about how they “communicated with gamers regularly and they weren’t responding well to the game thus far” – paraphrasing of course. That’s extremely unlikely, because the core demographic of gamers can’t possibly be going to these focus groups, sitting there, and saying:
“This is probably cool and all but yo, I don’t like single player games with stories and all this bull-shit. Where are the lootboxes? Where are all the missing pieces I can pay $60 extra for after release?
Don’t fucking bullshit me. Fuck you Patrick. But I digress, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for the bigger picture.
Because they fucking did it again. They fucking did it again. What’s “it”? They did it. The thing that EA does. The thing that EA loves. The thing that the Mnemosyne, the Xelloss chained up in a dark, mildew infested, half flooded ancient basin somewhere Redwood City, California, deep in the dungeons of EA headquarters, gets off on.
They fucking destroyed another gaming company. Granted, this time it was their own people who worked in their own building. Unlike the majority of the time when EA destroys a company after their standard operating procedure of driving it into the ground so all the creative people leave and the rest are stuck in the suppurating acrimonious asshole of middle California, Visceral Games was a first party studio.
Electronic Arts founded EA Redwood Shores in 1998, in Redwood Shores, CA – literally at the same campus as EA corporate headquarters. Over the course of time, Redwood Shores developed 23 games. Most notably among them were Lord of the Rings Return of the King, 007: Agent Under Fire, The Godfather, Dead Space trilogy, Dante’s Inferno, Battlefield Hardline and arguably the best Battlefield 3 DLC, Endgame. In May, 2009 EA announced Redwood Shores had been rebranded as Visceral games (which doesn’t make any sense because the original box for Dead Space literally says Visceral on the front cover. I have it in my hand right now and I’m looking it.) The name change was “to better reflect the studio’s culture, identity and focus on creating intense action-oriented intellectual properties”.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Here are all the developers Electronic Arts has either hollowed out and ruined, or entirely sent to the grave:
This is what EA does. They buy studios, run them into the ground, cite their poor sales performance as a cause to shut them down, and EA gets to hold on to their IP without actually taking the risk of spending money to develop a game, whether all the evidence proves it will sell or not. Criterion and Pop Cap are in this list for a reason, and Looking Glass as well as BioWare and DICE are also on this list for a reason.
Looking Glass’s dying swan song was their involvement with Electronic Arts. They had been working on a game, and long story short Electronic Arts beseeched them to turn that game into System Shock 2, which Electronic Arts held the IP for – having published System Shock in 1994 for developer Origin Systems, who EA purchased in 1992 despite – or more likely because of – legal disputes between the two companies over the 1987 EA title Deathlord. Hey, rather than fight legal battles you’ll obviously win, why not just buy the opponent? Fast forward to 1999 – with Ken Levine at the helm, Looking Glass completed and shipped System Shock 2. Widely regarded at the time, and to date, one of the few masterpieces of gaming, one of the best games ever made. The game didn’t sell very well – to EA’s satisfaction despite selling over 400,000 copies. Now I like to blame Electronic Arts for their closure, but the reality is that Looking Glass merged with another company, and eventually their financial situation with current publisher Eidos caused them to close. Whatever, my version helps paint EA as the villain more effectively.
BioWare was purchased by Electronic Arts in 2007, but the story isn’t that simple. They had business relationships with several different companies from Microsoft, who published Mass Effect 1 and Jade Empire, to Interplay and Infogrames. The late 90s was a chaotic time in the gaming industry and it saw a lot of hand-changing of IPs and companies. For instance, BioWare had been working with Interplay as their publisher, who went bankrupt after Baldur’s Gate 2 and MDK 2, but then moved on to Infogrames. Again, to cut to the chase, BioWare merged with Pandemic Studios to form a partnership, and then EA purchased that partnership, the deal closing literally 40 days before Microsoft published Mass Effect.
DICE is next. As soon as the Battlefield series starts to significantly disappoint a lot of people – which it has, and not because of Visceral – they will be next. This is the fate that awaits all developers who shake hands with the devil. I mean, Electronic Arts.
Just in case the point needs to be driven home any further, here’s a list of just some the intellectual property that will never see the light of day again:
- Wing Commander
- Jade Empire
- Mass Effect
- Jedi Knight
- Star Wars: Empire at War
- Theme Hospital
- Dante’s Inferno
- Dead Space
- Army of Two
- Any Lord of the Rings game with the name Lord of the Rings in the title
Anyway, let’s talk about Visceral. In what almost seems like a stunning display of compassion, the employees were not laid off, not terminated. They were offered the opportunity to move to other internal studios. That seems like a decent thing to do, right? Sure it does. I don’t honestly know how many people will stay or if they even want to. I certainly wouldn’t. If I spent 20 years of my life (or really any number below that) working at such a great studio only to be kicked in the balls while doing my job to make a new game, because some corporate guy likely had a checklist that our game didn’t match, I’d never want to go anywhere near that company or even see their logo or hear their names again.
In 2015, Steve Papoutsis – then general manager and vice president of Visceral, left the company. I don’t know why but he was replaced by Scott Probst. At this time Visceral was still working on DLC for Hardline. In 2009, Glen Schofield, executive producer on Dead Space and Mike Condrey – COO of Visceral Games and Senior Development Director on Dead Space, left the company to found Sledgehammer Games. They left their creation in the hands of their colleagues – which some diehard fans take as cause to call the second and third games not “true” Dead Space games, so they could make Call of Duty games. Their latest shitstorm, Call of Duty WW2, comes out in 2 weeks by the way. ‘
After the 2013 debacle where EA basically planted the dagger in their heart, by saying that Dead Space 3 needed to sell six million copies to be successful, it was a guarantee the studio was doomed. Six million copies? Resident Evil 4 didn’t even sell 6 million copies in its first 8 weeks. That’s just flat out ignorant and unrealistic to expect such a new IP, especially one which has seen its senior leadership leave, to outsell the game that birthed it.
But wait, there’s more! News came out shortly after Visceral’s death that sheds more light on this information, from former employee Zach Wilson – a designer who worked on Battlefield Hardline – that Dead Space 2 wasn’t a success either! According to EA, Dead Space 2 underperformed as well. That begs the question – why the fuck did Dead Space 3 even happen? Or is that why Dead Space 3 happened – as a result of EA trying to turn this franchise “profitable” with their own designs?
Every game underperforms when your company is run exclusively by executives and board members and investors, and not by anyone who has ever played a video game on purpose. As the saying often goes – especially in more traditionally structured companies like banks – “too many chiefs, not enough Indians”. No offense to Steve Papoutsis, I’m not saying he was a chief and didn’t know games, but he was only the manager – not actually in charge.
No one with ANY common sense what SO EVER would have looked at a game like Dead Space, authorized a $60 million budget, and been like “Okay so according to the Excel spreadsheet one of my unpaid interns made for me and explained, this game needs to sell at least….6 million copies to be a good investment.” because for starters, no one with common sense would operate based entirely on formulas.
An intelligent person, a person who actually rose through the ranks of that company from their original position as a QA tester or programmer or artist or designer, would have analyzed the market, the audience, and the genre. They would have looked historically at the games on the shoulders of which they stood, and the developers who made them, to see what to expect.
Resident Evil 4 sold 5.8 million copies over the course OF 8 YEARS and 2 console generations, PS2, Wii, GC, – not including original awful PC port.
By 2007, RE4 had sold ONLY 1.9 million copies – that’s after 2 YEARS.
Why RE4? Because RE4 is the game that Dead Space used as a framework, there are no possible misconceptions about that. Same camera angle, upgrade mechanics, shooting, movement, etc.
So again I reiterate. There is no possible way, in any reality whatsoever, that a mentally healthy professional adult could possibly expect sales figures of five or six million for these games. John Riccitello is an idiot, that’s a proven fact only further accentuated by these revelations. So is Andrew Wilson, and Patrick Soderlund, but Riccitello was the one in charge when Dead Space 2 was deemed to “underperform” and Soderlund the one to bury the axe in Dead Space’s head as well as Viscerals. It doesn’t matter if they were simply obeying their investor/board-member overlords. All of this evidence points to one inevitable conclusion.
EA is incompetent. They operate 37 studios (about 7 of which are extension studios such as 3 different BioWare offices, etc.) and they only have 3 games in development, one of which is finished already and comes out in like 2 weeks. It seems now like there’s a reason for that, because they neither are willing to take the risk on more than a few projects at once, nor are they capable of doing so.
So knowing this, the writing on the wall was more clear than the blood illogically smeared on the walls of the Ishimura telling you to cut off their limbs. They were fucked. So clear that even Jim Sterling (and literally anyone who was older than 15 and grew up to see their favorite studios destroyed by this monster, EA) called it in 2015.
I doubt it will be a traumatic problem for most of those workers. If you wanted to leave EA and find a developer that maybe cares about producing quality products or you as a person (probably no such thing), any resume that says you worked at Visceral Games is probably a sure bet for a hiring manager in the games industry.
The true shame, the true effects of this closure, lies in the games. More realistically, the upcoming lack thereof.
Dead Space 3 ended on a cliffhanger. Then an epilogous DLC came out, and the DLC ended on an even more significant cliffhanger. Dead Space 4 had appeared to be in the pipeline, but the good (read: insufficient) sales of Dead Space 3 destroyed any hopes of that ever happening. So now Dead Space will have to join the ranks of sci-fi properties that ended prematurely, with millions of fans left hanging devoid of plot resolution – such as Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1 really, Stargate Universe, really just anything that has ever existed if you include terrible endings like Janeway’s future self time-travelling to save her own ship, or the cop-out happy ending to Eureka, etc.
On top of that, there had been murmuring – nothing remotely solid – that Visceral would like to maybe explore another hack and slash game inspired by literature, like Hamlet, etc. Nope. Not going to happen.
My favorite part, though, is the reassurance from EA that “We haven’t shelved the Dead Space series.”
Well you have now. Fuck you EA. Fuck this company. I will never buy another product from them again, DLC or otherwise. Bring on the awards for EA.