Head Shots

Why EA dismantled Visceral Games

Visceral
Unnamed Star Wars project Visceral
Unnamed Star Wars project

Toiling under EA's whip is a lot more about conforming to maximised projected profits than the art of making electronic entertainment. Visceral Games failed to conform, Visceral Games is no more.

Visceral Games was unlike most of EA's victims founded and operated under the publishing cyclops for the entirety of its lifespan. The studio was best known for the Dead Space series. Dead Space was conceived, developed and released while EA was going through their creating a batch of new IPs is the best way to start a franchise phase. During that creative phase, the publisher backed titles like Brutal Legend, Spore, Mirror's Edge, Mass Effect and of course Dead Space.

Visceral[undefined]Dead Space

The third instalment of what was the Dead Space franchise at that point was famously wrecked by microtransaction and had already survived its predecessors your mum marketing campaign. Surprising few outside of EA's upper echelons Dead Space 3 sold considerably worse than expected. Visceral Games' next major project was Battlefield: Hardline. No one can fault you for not remembering that particular entry in the Battlefield series, since it didn't perform well on any relevant front. Critic's gave the game an average of 70 per cent which would roughly be a 2/10 when adjusted for score inflation, and EA stated in an earnings call that it was happy with the game's sales performance in spite of never actually posting any sales figures. If a publisher isn't boasting about their bottom line, there is probably nothing to boast about in the first place.

Visceral Games was then tasked with using both hands in order to milk EA's newest money printing licence which had the potential of becoming an ever greater source of revenue than the publisher's sports licences - the Star Wars brand.

After a round of layoffs in 2015, the studio was disbanded this week while they were in the middle of doing their best to ensure their own survival with one milking hand and filling up EA's cash register shaped milk bucket with the other.

Visceral[undefined]Unnamed Star Wars project

The dairy analogy may seem vulgar and poorly thought out in this case, but it pales in comparison to the statement EA has issued regarding the studio's demise. You can read the full thing here, but there are a few things in that dry piece of PR-speak that hint at why Visceral were put out of their misery. A few nuggets that seem factual have somehow slipped through the bars of EA's PR dungeon.

"Our industry is evolving faster and more dramatically than ever before."

This probably refers to the recent and considerable increase in profits owing to DLC and microtransactions. EA, Activision/Blizzard and 2K Games along with their investors have been at the forefront of the games-as-service model that made this cash flow torrent. 

"Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe. In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game."

It looks like Visceral were doing what they do best, and doing the thing that put them on the map as far as EA and customers alike are concerned. A story-based linear action adventure game - sounds a lot like Dead Space, right? Swap out the niche sci-fi horror theme with a Star Wars one and you might already be able to picture the sort of game Visceral were working on. Nothing amiss with sticking to what you know and more importantly doing what you know worked well for you in the past, right? Wrong.

 "(...), 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."

In all likelihood, EA was focus testing the hell out of Visceral's game. They soon realised that it wasn't a third-person open world shooter and decided that something had to change. Then they remembered that games-ass-service failed miserably with the action-adventurey Dead Space 3 and the sound of an axe being sharpened could be faintly heard in the distance.

"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."

Importantly, Visceral's work so far will be watered down to a lowest common denominator level of quality, allowing for DLC and microtransactions, leaning into a reliably pretty engine EA already owns. Player's will be given depth in form of cosmetic and mechanical customisation, and breadth in the form of countless hours of grind should they refuse to microtransact with the publisher.

"Our Visceral studio will be ramping down and closing, and we’re in the midst of shifting as many of the team as possible to other projects and teams at EA."

Everyone at Visceral Games who wasn't responsible for or involved with wasting the publisher's time and money on anything other than maximised profits in the safest way possible gets to keep their job. A lot of Visceral's staff were probably trained with EA's money, so wasting all that free thinking raw talent and creative power would be a monetairy sin of the highest order. It also pays to keep someone on board who will know what assets can be salvaged from development leading up to Visceral's public execution.

"Bringing new Star Wars games to life for every passionate fan out there is what drives us as creators. It’s what has inspired us to deliver the massive new Star Wars Battlefront II experience launching in just a few weeks.  "

EA loves money, and would like to use the demise of a studio as a platform off of which they can further promote an upcoming release from a different studio working on the Star Wars licence, which was far better suited for their games-as-service model.

Visceral[undefined]Visceral Games

EA decides what sort of profit driven mutilation is to rain down on a game, and reserves the privilege to blame the studio if the game somehow doesn't perform according to expectations. Studios failing to thrive under these conditions are promptly made to realise the error of their ways. Usually the game makers will be put in a position where they have to undertake an artistic endeavour adhering to a defined set of constraining parameters. The studio's usually fail, after which EA goes into damage control mode and starts shutting down or restructuring their property in a manner that assures minimal financial losses and maximised projected profits.

It is notable here that Visceral was axed before the game was properly shown to the public or even had a title for that matter. EA may simply be trying to avoid another ME: Andromeda scenario here. Instead of pouring in the marketing money supposedly necessary for a smooth AAA release and risking an even more costly failure, they decided it would be better to just destroy Visceral and reabsorb the pieces as soon as they figured out that the risks outweigh the potential profits.

Visceral[undefined]Future Cop - Visceral's first game as EA Redwood Shores

This sheds a whole different light on Zombie BioWare's upcoming microtransactive sandbox Anthem, doesn't it?