Electronic Arts announced today that it is reworking Visceral’s Star Wars game. The project was under the acclaimed Amy Hennig, who was the creator and director of the Uncharted series at Naughty Dog before leaving that studio in 2014. Visceral’s Star Wars game was to be a story-based adventure, akin to what Hennig worked on before. Now EA is moving the project to a new team under EA Vancouver. The publisher is also closing Visceral. It had originally planned to release the game in late 2019, but now the project does not have any kind of release window.
Why such a dramatic move? Because EA doesn’t want to make a linear Star Wars game anymore.
“Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe,” EA explained 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.”
Games like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End receive a lot of critical praise, but their linear structures make it difficult to monetize them post-release. Studios used to combat this by adding multiplayer components to these kinds of games and selling downloadable chunks of content as expansions and other additions. But now loot boxes, which people spend real money on to unlock random in-game items, have become the fashionable way to have a game continue to bring in money.
Online, people reacted to the move with sadness and talking about the game industry’s shift from static games.
Stunned to learn EA is shutting down Visceral Games. Great place at one time. Our thoughts to those being impacted.
What a legacy.
— Glen Schofield (@GlenSchofield) October 17, 2017
I spent years of my life helping build @VisceralGames into something. Best times of my career. But the margin for error keeps shrinking…
— Ian Milham (@Monkey_Pants) October 17, 2017
RIP Visceral. End of an era. :(
— Cliff Bleszinski (@therealcliffyb) October 17, 2017
It shows the shift that has been taking place in the AAA games industry for the past decade
Market realities played a big role here https://t.co/CmQ3h8HpNf
— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) October 17, 2017
Seems Visceral got shut over microtransactions, the popularity of sandbox/roguelikes, Twitch/YouTube as marketing, and publisher financials.
— Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) October 17, 2017
Square-Enix was probably the first to comment on the death of single player narrative games. https://t.co/TyIdXIytH0
— Matt Kim@Blizzcon (@LawofTD) October 17, 2017
One conclusion you could take from this move is that it’s difficult to take a story-based action-adventure title and turn it into a games-as-service machine that can generate profits for months or years, and few studios seem willing to spend the money it takes to create a triple-A experience without some kind post-release monetization plan.
In May, EA chief executive officer Andrew Wilson credited its games-as-service approach for a record fiscal year.
“EA’s games today are live services — amazing experiences that we update and evolve to deliver ongoing fun that keeps players engaged, connects them to friends, brings them more content and grows our network,” said Wilson during an analyst conference call . “This strategy has been at the core of our digital transformation, and today our live services are some of the strongest and most vibrant in the industry.”
Visceral was behind the Dead Space series of sci-fi horror/shooter games. It also focused on linear, story-based experiences.
EA is a giant company with stockholders to answer to. It feels obligated to chase trends in order to maximize profits. But that’s little comfort to Star Wars and Uncharted fans that were looking forward to Visceral’s game.
Update 2:00 p.m. Pacific: EA has told GamesBeat that 70 people were working at Visceral and that it is working to place as many of them as possible at new projects and teams. EA also said that it is talking with Hennig about “her next move.” According to an email EA sent to its employees acquired by Kotaku, Steve Anthony is going to lead the rebooted Star Wars project.