For fans of narrative-driven, triple-A single-player games, these be turbulent times we live in. Earlier today it was announced that EA had made the baffling decision to shut down one of the most talented studios in its wheelhouse: Visceral Games. Previously known as EA Redwood Shores and most famous for the spine-chilling Dead Space trilogy, the team were 4 years into the development of an entirely new Star Wars game intended to tell its own unique tale within the expansive universe.
The only smidge of footage we’d seen of the game during the entirety of its development came during EA’s E3 press conference last year, and if I’m honest, such a light offering should have been a warning sign. The sting is made all the more painful when considering that the last game of this ilk Star Wars 1313 was equally canned with Disney’s acquisition of the sci-fi license. For all intents and purposes, a dedicated single-player focussed Star Wars narrative seems forever doomed. Now more so than ever due to the advent of “games as a service” and loot boxes.
Part of EA’s official blog post statement reads as follows: “…we are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency…”. If immediately upon reading these words alarm bells start ringing, no one would blame you. A clear indication that EA game is now tasking their Vancouver team to reformat the game into more of a shared-shooter experience, according to this, a linear game is now longer sustainable if they want to see a return on investment.
For my money, it would make much more sense to finish the untitled Star Wars game and release it, rather than shutting down the game outright, reuse assets, and take down the developers with it. Thankfully, many other developers are freely offering Visceral team members positions at their work, but it’s worrying that the time of triple-A narrative-driven games is becoming more and more uncertain.
While it’s true that the cost of game development only continues to rise, publishers like EA are understandably trying to find new ways to give their IPs and titles more of a lifespan. However, I refuse to believe that single-player game development can’t be successfully developed at an adequate budget. The indie scene continues to thrive with primarily solo ventures for players to sink their teeth into, and such experiences are becoming more and more cinematic every day. Just look at this year’s incredible Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice for cry8ing out loud. That game was developed by 12 people.
Visceral Studio’s closure does however make the future uncertain for triple-A games of a certain scale, leading publishers to find new ways to squeeze money out of the player. The sad part is that the whales videogame publishers rely on to invest more money following a $60 purchase are the minority. Most players will simply buy a game, play it, leaving fulfilled enough to not deem it worthy to pump more money in due to the promise of a loot box.
Alas for now, there lies a rocky road ahead for narrative-driven games on a triple-A scale. In the words of a wise old sand wizard: “I have a bad feeling about this.”