In case you missed the news, EA Games shut down Visceral Studios this week and along with it, is re-purposing it's in development #StarWars game into something else. What was initially going to be a linear, story based action adventure will now be rebranded into "something else". EA Executive Vice President Patrick Söderlund had this wordy and very corporate statement to say on the matter:
“In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear 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. We will maintain the stunning visuals, authenticity in the Star Wars universe, and focus on bringing a Star Wars story to life. Importantly, we are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency, leaning into the capabilities of our Frostbite engine and reimagining central elements of the game to give players a Star Wars adventure of greater depth and breadth to explore."
Translation: EA believes that most gamers will not want to pay full price for a game that only lasts eight to ten hours when they can make a game that not only has a longer life span, but can continue to generate extra income for the studio. Games like the critically acclaimed #Overwatch and #Destiny2 are likely templates that EA might be taking on their reboot of this game, which has been in active development since 2013. But is that really the direction they should be taking?
The untitled and largely unknown game was being helmed by former Naughty Dog lead Amy Hennig, who worked on the first three Uncharted games. That series is one of the most beloved and acclaimed on the Playstation, which is a testament to Hennig's work. Perhaps it wasn't quite gelling in a galaxy far, far away, but with Söderlund citing "fundamental shifts in the marketplace", it's likely not the case.
So does EA think the single player experience is dead? Not per say. They took the feedback from the first #Battlefront game in 2015 and added a single player story mode in the upcoming sequel, which has fans quite happy and excited. But it's part of a greater package, a package that fits into the "games-as-service" plan we've seen in the industry over the past few years. Notice how season passes, micro transactions and loot crates are becoming the norm? They're even creeping into single player games like the recent Middle Earth: Shadow of War. which has received negative feedback for its use of microtransactions. Of course, these commodities are optional for the gamer, and if the consumer ceases to use them, then perhaps developers will shy away from them. For now though, it seems like they are here to stay.
But with a game like Visceral's, it seemed that EA wasn't content with having a linear story driven experience that players would pick up, play and put down. They, understandable, want a game that will see players coming back to it for some time after launch. Such a thing isn't an option with a game like that, unless a DLC expansion is featured down the road. But does that mean that short, narrative driven games, such as the ridiculously good The Last of Us don't have a home anymore? It seems that's the case at EA at least, as those games don't see the same kind of traffic, or value, as Overwatch.
Furthermore, what does this mean for Respawn's upcoming Star Wars game? Best known as the developers behind Titanfall, it's currently rumored to be a third person action adventure, the game is being helmed by former God of War director Stig Asmussen. Will EA shut down the game or the studio next if the game is not befitting of the times? It's a scary train of thought if EA is going to star seeing games only as ways to make money, rather than mediums to deliver meaningful content.
It's also worth noting that previously mentioned deal EA has with #Disney and #Lucasfilm lasts for ten years. They have so far produced two AAA games, both being Battlefront and a few mobile platform titles. With Visceral's title being moved likely to 2020 or 2021, one has to wonder if EA will be seeing their contract renewed, especially over the concern to the Visceral news. Online multiplayer is fun, don't get me wrong, but when working with Star Wars, a world rich with character and stories, fans naturally want to engage with those stories. Arguable, the best Star Wars game ever made is Knights of the Old Republic, an RPG series that allowed for player choice and a lengthy story to take center stage.
Is it not possible that EA can put their optional microtransactions and loot crates in a similar style of game? That way, the company can find ways of adding optional content for gamers to purchase while still offering varied content that includes linear story based gameplay. Furthermore, does a ten hour story driven experience really merit an "unworthy" label these days? I would argue no, as their are plenty of single player games out their in the market and plenty more coming soon, but this move has scared the industry a bit and fellow gamers alike, who now see EA has a company that will think only about profit margins rather than creating a quality product.
On the other end of the spectrum is CD Project Red, the developers behind The Witcher series and the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077. With The Witcher 3, the studio built a massive, single player only experience, gave out 16 free pieces of DLC and released two DLC expansions that were longer than most single player games out there for a fraction of the cost. There may be something to be learned here. Could this be the winning model for other developers to try and emulate? While The Witcher 3 may have been an action RPG set in an open world, it still was a story driven experience that didn't rely on gouging the consumer. The game is regarded as one of the best in recent memory and the company is celebrated for it's delivery of extra content. The first expansion's main story, Hearts of Stone, ran for around 10 hours and cost gamers $9.99. At The Game Awards show in 2016, the second expansion pack, Blood and Wine, went home with the Best Role Playing Game and it retailed for 19.99. Oh-and the game sold really well too.
CD Project Red's method of making games may now be the bar of which all other developers should strive for. Quality content for a respectable cost that doesn't limit what kind of game the studio should make. Perhaps one day, we'll get to see what Amy Hennig was working on over at Visceral. Instead, we can only imagine what would have likely been a great experience. For now, enjoy the new single player trailer for Battlefront II!
What do you think EA's actions mean for linear, story driven video games in the near future?