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It was announced this week that EA has shuttered yet another studio, this time pulling the cord on Visceral Games while they were in the midst of developing a new Star Wars title for the publisher. While this news is certainly frustrating, it should by no means be surprising.
I get it. EA is a big company and sometimes big companies need to make cuts, cancel projects and reallocate resources. They have to make tough decisions in order to appease their investors and, yes, those decisions are usually guided by the almighty dollar. They're a business, plain and simple. But the way they go through studios sure does make it easy to understand why so many people view EA as a soulless, greedy, mustache-twisting, cigar-chomping monster.
Visceral is only the latest in a long line of studios that have been picked up and then ultimately trashed by EA. Previous casualties include former SimCity developer, Maxis, the Command & Conquer team at Westwood, Dreamworks Interactive (Medal of Honor), Black Box Games (Need for Speed) and Pandemic (The Saboteur), just to name a few. Sometimes EA scoops up a developer when they are working on a game that's showing promise, only to toss them in the bin when said game doesn't perform to their high expectations in terms of sales. More recently, and as is the case with Visceral, EA offloads teams that are working on games that don't easily fit into their "games as service" model. If there's not an easy way to bolt on loot boxes or drip-feed DLC (or usually both), then they seem to have zero interest in pursuing a project further.
EA's Patrick Söderlund said as much in the publisher's official announcement of the closure of Visceral Games. And sadly, that announcement itself is a prime example of the way EA, as a company, seems to think. The announcement wasn't actually about the closure of Visceral; that information was treated as a footnote. Instead, the announcement starts off talking about the evolution of the games industry and the need to keep up with those changes.
In brief, the announcement explains that the Star Wars game Visceral was working on was going to be too focused and linear, with the main meat of the project being a narrative-driven campaign. Keep in mind that is exactly the game they originally wanted Visceral to develop, bringing on Amy Hennig to tell a compelling story within the Star Wars universe.
In other words, there was no open world, no clear way to implement loot boxes or a steady stream of for-pay DLC. It doesn't sound like the kind of game where players will want to gamble on gear drops, skins, upgrade cards and the like. It wasn't going to be the sort of title where you could have three forms of currency for in-game purchases, one of which players needed to spend additional real-world money on.
In short, EA has shifted to a model where they want to get as much money for as little additional effort as humanly possible. Visceral's game didn't fit that mold, so it was time to cut and run.
Since the announcement that Visceral will be closing, rumors have been circulating that the "real" reason EA decided to restructure the project (and close the studio) was because there was actually a lot of turbulence behind the scenes. "Development was in trouble from the start," some folks are arguing, offering nothing in the line of sources or evidence.
In an industry that is notoriously secretive and coming from a game's press that is frequently accused of inaccuracies or fallacies, I can't help but roll my eyes here. EA has done this exact same thing more than a dozen times. More importantly, they've stated their reasons, in stark black and white, themselves. They filled their announcement with so many buzz words that I felt like I was reading a press release for a hot new title rather than, several paragraphs deep, learning that the publisher had axed another group of talented developers.
EA's version of the news wasn't "We've closed yet another studio." Their version was "Don't worry, we've gotten rid of that boooring, campaign-driven game Visceral was working on and are replacing it with what you really want: Loot boxes, skins, a season pass and anything else we can possibly charge extra for." If that's not the "real" reason EA made this move, maybe they should work on their communication skills.
The worst part is that this will continue to happen. I completely understand why a developer just trying to get by in a tough-as-nails industry would want to nestle under the umbrella of a major publisher. The problem with that relationship is that the publisher can remove the umbrella at any time, for literally any reason. Any relationship where you are utterly expendable isn't healthy and, for studios like Visceral, it's ultimately fatal.