Bullfrog. Westwood. Origin. Pandemic. Black Box Games. Danger Close. Mythic. Maxis (effectively). And now, Visceral. EA’s list of studio victims could put a decent hitman to shame. Nine companies eliminated, five of them within the last four years. At this point if your studio gets purchased by EA, you might as well start combing the classified ads.
The news of Visceral’s demise, dispassionately re-framed as a corporate “update on the Visceral Star Wars project,” emerged earlier today. With a development history that included the two-thirds lauded Dead Space series, the studio seemed like a reasonable fit for a narrative-driven Star Wars title headed by Amy Hennig when it was teased at E3 2016. Now, EA Vancouver and various other EA ‘partner’ teams will be in charge.
That game will still be development, but in what sounds like a radically different form. This Star Wars title, from what little had been revealed, was to be a linear, action-adventure game with (one hoped) a strong narrative. Indeed, it’s characterised that way by EA in their latest announcement.
However, after “testing the game concept with players” (okay), “listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play” (uh oh), and “closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace” (oh jesus, no), EA have decided to throw the original concept in the bin. Sorry, that should read “pivot the design” (into the bin).
That doesn’t necessarily mean this Star Wars game will now be called Star Wars Battle Royale: Loot Box Edition feat Open World Co-Op, but it does probably mean you can wave a sad goodbye to it being a tight, character-driven story. In EA’s own words, this game will now be “a broader experience” which … is hard to parse into English, but may mean “we want it to appeal to more people so it’ll sell more.” Because, as we know, any game with Star Wars on the box in big letters is automatically at risk of being too alienating for the mainstream.
But wait, EA spouted out more word-guff about this too. They also say the game will move towards “more variety and player agency”. That sounds great! If it means a Prey-like design that welcomes player creativity, or Obsidian levels of meaningful choices and consequences. It probably just means they’re giving the main character a skill tree though.
The announcement goes on to state that the game EA have looted from Visceral’s still warm corpse will “give players a Star Wars adventure of greater depth and breadth to explore”. Those words look an awful lot like ‘open world open world open world’. Could be good. Could be horrendous focus-tested mistake.
How this Star Wars game (previous due in ‘fiscal 2019’, now due TBA) turns out isn’t really the point. The point is EA having a list of ‘mysteriously disappeared’ former partners that could make a drug cartel blush. If EA were in an actual Star Wars film, they would unambiguously be the villains; absorbing friendly factions into their organisation before unceremoniously disposing of them.
Criterion. Ghost Games. Motive Studios. BioWare. Respawn. Cross your fingers lads, because EA’s bloodlust never ends, and every single one of you are an unfavourable business report away from extinction.