Future Of ‘Star Wars’ Game Uncertain As EA Shuts Down Visceral Games
It’s a sad day in video game land. A day of crushed dreams, and quite probably lost jobs.
EA announced the closure of developer Visceral Games, the studio behind Dead Space, leaving the future of the Star Wars game the team was working on uncertain.
The studio had attracted major talent from studios like Naughty Dog and Guerrilla Games in recent years, with former Uncharted writer Amy Hennig taking on a creative director role on the Star Wars game.
Unfortunately, it looks like EA’s vision for that game differed substantially from the people who were actually making the game.
“Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe,” EA executive vice president Patrick Söderlund wrote in a blog post.
“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.
What that means isn’t entirely certain, but to anyone paying attention to the video game industry in recent years, the answer is clear. EA wanted the game to fit the “games as service” mold, and a linear action-adventure in the vein of Uncharted just won’t cut it.
Games like Destiny, which keep players playing indefinitely through a combination of expansions, micro-transactions and RPG-based feedback loops, are the big money-makers these days. Or at least that’s how many video game publishers see it.
I imagine a Star Wars version of Uncharted would actually sell incredibly well, potentially earning critical acclaim and laying the groundwork for sequels and a whole new sub-franchise within the Star Wars universe. A good story set in a beloved space opera universe sounds wonderful, and could be further monetized via DLC, a mobile spin-off and so forth.
But EA is fully committed to the ‘games as service’ model at this point. That’s why BioWare gave so little love to Mass Effect: Andromeda—they were hard at work developing Anthem, EA’s last best hope at taking on Destiny. Of course, squandering the story-focused talents of a team like BioWare to come up with a co-op shooter designed to sell loot boxes (probably) is really, really weird.
And scrapping a game headed up by a veteran writer like Hennig because focus groups wanted more side quests and loot strikes me as the height of folly, not to mention fairly naked greed.
Suffice to say, I’m beyond disappointed by this news. While I completely understand that ‘games as service’ is a business model/game design model that’s here to stay, and with good reason, that hardly means every game ought to be designed this way. It makes sense to have an open-world, open-ended grindy game set in the Star Wars universe (though we already have The Old Republic) but it also makes sense for more linear, story-driven campaigns, and it’s a shame that the bottom line has come to this.
This is why it’s such a mistake for Disney to put the entire Star Wars franchise into EA’s hands. I’d love to see a linear, story-driven Star Wars game come out of one of Sony’s studios, for instance. At least Sony still publishes games that prize strong storytelling and linearity, from Uncharted to The Last of Us to Horizon Zero Dawn and the upcoming God of War reboot.
EA says that they’re shifting as many employees from Visceral to other studios. Meanwhile, the game will be taken over by a team from across EA Worldwide Studios, headed up by an EA Vancouver team that’s already been involved in the project.
An EA spokesman told Kotaku that they are “in discussions” with Amy Hennig about her future involvement with the overhauled game. It was pretty surprising when Hennig left Naughty Dog during what appeared to be creative differences over the direction of Uncharted 4. It was equally exciting to see her begin work on a Star Wars game. To have that fall apart as well is extremely disheartening.
Just as depressing is the fact that this isn’t the first story-driven Star Wars game to meet its demise in recent years. When Disney acquired LucasFilm they shuttered its game division, LucasArts. Star Wars 1313, which was in development at the time, was cancelled.
You’d think Star Wars would make the perfect action-adventure game given the popularity of the films. I guess it just isn’t meant to be.
At least this wasn’t the only Star Wars game in the works. Jade Raymond’s EA Motive has a project in the works. So does Titanfall 2 developer, Respawn. Meanwhile, Star Wars Battlefront 2 launches on November 17th.
Of course, the very fact that there’s multiple Star Wars games in development at EA (not to mention the aforementioned MMO as well as mobile games) means there ought to have been room for a single-player, story-driven game. There’s a market for that kind of game still, even if ‘games as service’ is the big cash cow.
You can watch several of EA’s studios, including the Visceral team, discuss their games in the below video from E3 2016.
As a side note, the founders of Sledgehammer Games, Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, were the guys who came up with Dead Space when they worked at Visceral.
In 2009 they left EA, founded their own studio and began work on a third-person action-adventure spin-off of Call of Duty.
In what can now be viewed as a sort of dark irony, that game was scrapped when Call of Duty creators and Infinity Ward founders, Jason West and Vince Zampella, entered into a legal battle with Activision which ultimately led to their termination. When West and Zampella left they took a big chunk of their team with them, leaving Activision short-handed. So Sledgehammer Games had to stop work on their prototype and jump in to lend a helping hand. It was never finished.
West and Zampella went on to form Respawn, the studio behind Titanfall and Titanfall 2, and now Respawn is working on a Star Wars game. Meanwhile, Sledgehammer Games is about to release Call of Duty: World War II, the studio’s second full Call of Duty release (the first being the very good Advanced Warfare.)
So it’s all connected, you see. The Sledgehammer guys, now at Activision, would have made a third-person action-adventure version of Call of Duty if the Respawn guys hadn’t left; and now those guys are at EA making a Star Wars game, but EA just cancelled the third-person action-adventure Star Wars game that Naughty Dog veteran Amy Hennig was making.
What a mess.