Titanfall 3 is simultaneously a sad tale of what might have been, and an undying dream of what may one day be. It's widely known that the success of the nominally Titanfall-based battle royale Apex Legends is what ended its planned development, but in an interview with The Burnettwork, former Call of Duty and Titanfall designer Mohammad Alavi said it wasn't EA executives chasing a trend who made the decision to pull the plug—it was the Titanfall 3 dev team.
Respawn worked on Titanfall 3 "in earnest" for about 10 months, Alavi says in the interview, and had a "first playable" build on the go. But the multiplayer team was apparently struggling to address issues from the first two games that Respawn believed kept them from really catching fire.
"People love Titanfall 2 multiplayer," Alavi says. "But the people who love Titanfall 2 multiplayer is a very small number of people—and most people play Titanfall 2 multiplayer and think it's really good, but it's just too much. It's cranked up to 11 and they burn out of it fast. They're like, 'That was a great multiplayer, [but] that's not something I can continually play for a year or two years."
The arrival of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds changed everything. Members of the dev team started playing it, and being suitably impressed by the experience, put together their own battle royale-style map using Titanfall 3 classes. That led to a sudden, sharp resurgence in Respawn's "Friday Night Fights" playtest sessions. But only for the battle royale mode: Sessions for the standard Titanfall multiplayer modes still had trouble attracting players.
"I had just literally become narrative lead designer on Titanfall 3," Alavai says. "I had just pitched the mission that me and Manny [presumably Respawn narrative director Manny Hagopian] had—not a mission, the story of the whole game that me and Manny had come up with. We made this big presentation, then we went off for [holiday] break. And then we came back from break, and we talked about it, and we're like, 'Yeah, we need to pivot, and we need to go make this game'.
"We literally cancelled Titanfall 3 ourselves because we were like, 'We can make this game, and it's going to be Titanfall 2 plus a little bit better, or we can make this thing, which is clearly amazing.'"
Alavi described Titanfall 2, on which he served as a senior game designer, as his "crowning achievement," but said that canning the sequel in favor of Apex Legends was "the right call." Yet it doesn't sound like Respawn was 100% confident in the decision when it was made, because nobody told Electronic Arts about the change until the shift was complete.
"That is a crazy cut," Alavi says. "Such a crazy cut that EA didn't even know about it for another six months, until we had a prototype up and running that we could show them."
There was good reason for that: Alavi said he wasn't present when EA was told about the change, but he saw the reactions from Respawn co-founder Vince Zampella and Titanfall producer Drew McCoy after they delivered the news, "and they were not good."
"They had to take the brunt of it," he said. "I can only imagine. They were like, 'You have this game that sold X million copies, you went from making the third one, a $60 boxed product which, by the way, we bought your company for'—they bought Respawn in the middle of this—they were like, 'we bought it so we'd have the IP to Titanfall and you'd make Titanfall 3, and then you come back and tell us you're going to make a free-to-play non-Titanfall game? What the fuck?'"
So there you have it: EA inspired probably the most enduring "bad game publisher" meme of all time, but you can't blame it for Titanfall 3. But there's still hope that a proper new Titanfall game might eventually see the light of day. Respawn CEO Vince Zampella said in April that he would "love to see it happen" someday, but that it "has to be the right thing" before the studio will make a move on it.