Electronic Arts closed the doors on Visceral Games yesterday, bringing to a close the studio whose (relatively) recent work includes Dante's Inferno, Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel, Battlefield Hardline, and the Dead Space series. Following the announcement, Zach Wilson, who worked briefly at the studio as a designer on Hardline, took to Twitter to offer some thoughts about where it all went wrong.
Wilson's opening tweets say it all:
In follow-ups, Wilson said that he's "back of the napkinning" the numbers, but added that they're close to the real thing. "I don't know the exact marketing budget but they're frequently close to the dev cost (I have heard this anecdotally)," he wrote.
Sky-high budgets are also why developers are launching their own digital storefronts, rather than simply relying on the simpler and far more ubiquitous Steam.
"Do you hate uplay? Well, the pub gets 90% of the $$$," he tweeted. "EA makes $30 per copy after retailers and console makers take their cut. Then consider that a chunk of the game was sold on sale ... Through Origin they get 90%"
Wilson's tweets don't directly address the reasons for Visceral's closure, but they do paint a very grim portrait of the state of the business, and the extent to which major publisher releases are either big hits, or big busts. If a mid-tier game like Dead Space 2 can knock out four million copies and still be considered underperforming (and keep in mind that EA reported two years after its release that the original Dead Space had sold roughly half that number), then the bar is incredibly high. Any new project that looks like it won't be a huge hit, or won't have a long tail via microtransactions and DLC, suddenly starts to look like a risk from that perspective.
And if, on top of that, the game in question appears to be in trouble, as Kotaku suggested in its report of Visceral's closure yesterday, then risk-averse publishers (which is to say, all of them) aren't likely to wait too long before they take action.