EA closed the doors on Visceral Games last month, bringing to an end the studio that brought us Dead Space and Battlefield Hardline, among others, and also the "Ragtag" Star Wars project it had been working on under the guidance of former Uncharted creative director Amy Hennig. A statement confirming the closure led to a widespread belief that EA killed the project, which was described as "a story-based, linear adventure game," in order to focus on multiplayer joints instead, which have far greater monetization potential.
An in-depth Kotaku report last week made it clear that the situation wasn't quite so simple—the project was in trouble almost right from the start, and so by extension was the studio—but concerns about return on investment, particularly from a single-player game in a big-budget, hit-or-flop market, were undeniably a major factor. Speaking during a quarterly earnings call to investors yesterday (via Seeking Alpha), EA CEO Andrew Wilson said basically the same thing.
"During the development process of the game that they were working on, we've been testing the game content with players, listening to their feedback in terms of what and how they wanted to play and really tracking that closely with fundamental shifts in the marketplace and we are seeing an evolution in the marketplace. And it became clear to us that to deliver the experience that players wanted to come back and enjoy for a long time, that we needed to pivot the design," Wilson said.
"You may have heard the conversation around single player versus multiplayer or single player versus live service and this wasn't about that conversation. It wasn't about this was just a single-player game or it needed to be a live service, it was more about how do we get to a point where the overall gameplay experience was right for players. We still believe strongly in a Star Wars IP, Star Wars Battlefront 2 as you will have heard we're very excited about."
Wilson added that EA was "very happy with some of the assets and content" that were made for Ragtag, and will look into ways it can "better utilize that in line with fan and player expectations in the future."
The obvious implication is that Visceral's Star Wars game, despite seeming to have everything going for it, wasn't very good. Which is entirely possible, but it also inevitably leads to questions of where it went wrong, and more to the point, why. Going back to the Kotaku story, it's hard not to conclude that the answer lies largely with EA itself—not necessarily that it actively sabotaged efforts to make the game, but that it simply neglected the studio and let entropy do its thing.
And maybe, from a business perspective, it was the right move to make. We all want a fresh new KOTOR experience, but as former Visceral designer Zach Wilson laid out the day after the closure, Dead Space 2 "only" sold four million copies and that wasn't enough to make it a success. Meanwhile, Wilson and other EA executives cited games like FIFA and The Sims during the call as cornerstones of the company's future fortunes; the online-focused Battlefield 1 was a "smash success for us," and Wilson even mentioned that Titanfall 2, despite not meeting original expectations, "sold very well."
"In The Sims 4, monthly average players are up more than 40 percent year-over-year and anticipation is high for the console game launching in Q3," he said. "As these communities and many others in our top franchises continue to thrive, our subscription services like EA Access and Origin Access are bringing more players from across our network to join in. Our subscription player base continues to grow. And you should expect us to continue driving this model to more platforms going forward."
That will be evident in the Star Wars game that's still going forward, Battlefront 2, which comes out on November 17. Wilson said that it will provide "an untold Star Wars story in our single-player campaign," but the priority is obviously online. "As you'll remember, there is no Season Pass for Star Wars Battlefront 2. Instead our event-driven live service will be free for all players, delivering new environments, new heroes, in-game events and more to everyone in the community," he continued. "This new ecosystem as post-launch content is built around player choice and designed to keep the community together and extend the experience for many years to come."