EA Games shuts down Visceral Games in surprising move to alter upcoming STAR WARS title
In the early day on October 17th Electronic Arts’s Patrick Söderlund posted an official update to the upcoming STAR WARS game on EA’s news page. It was a quick note stating they would be changing direction with the game’s development. What shocked the gaming industry was tendered to almost a footnote in the article that EA would be “ramping down” Visceral Games in the process to accommodate this change in direction. In fact, the entire posting did little to mention anything involving Visceral Studios themselves and focused more on their vision for giving us, the consumers, what we really want. It’s somewhat evident that they wished to downplay the entire situation to be about themselves and not canning the entire team behind this already highly anticipated stand-alone project.
The Visceral team poses for one final group photo via their Twitter page
Before we get too heated, let’s take a tour of who Visceral is and what they’ve given us. Visceral started life as EA Redwood Shores in 1998 with their debut title Future Cop: LAPD. From then on they worked on a number of name brand titles such as Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2000, James Bond 007:Everything or Nothing, The Godfather, and The Simpsons Game. In 2008 they released Dead Space which really placed them on the map and gamers in one hell of a sci-fi horror. After the initial release the studio rebranded to the Visceral moniker we know best, under which name we saw the rest of the Dead Space series as well as Dante’s Inferno. From then on, they helped develop the DLC Battlefield 3: End Game in 2013 and the less critically received Battlefield Hardline in 2015.
Dead Space was one of the defining game series for Visceral Games
With such a storied and successful history behind Visceral we must shout in anguish. Why was such a studio sent to the chopping block? In the news article Söderlund states that the Star Wars title they are working on is a “…story-based, linear adventure game” in its current form. However, EA has been “…testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback…and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace.” The goal they are aiming for is “an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come”. They aim to do this by “…shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency, leaning into the capabilities of our Frostbite engine and re-imagining central elements of the game to give players a Star Wars adventure of greater depth and breadth to explore.” This concept is seriously at odds with the current state of the game which is very likely the source of the death sentence for Visceral.
The untitled STAR WARS project looks reminiscent of Amy Hennig’s work with Uncharted
The first serious efforts into this game were put together in late 2014 after Amy Hennig left Naughty Dog Inc. in March of the same year to join Visceral Games. Amy is one of the lead talents that brought us the amazing beauty and storytelling in the Uncharted series. That same time Tom Stashwick left Naughty Dog as well and joined the team as co-writer and even possibly the voice talent behind the main protagonist. From here we can assume that the minimum level of detail and story delivery would be very much like that of the Uncharted games which would be a spectacular perspective within the STAR WARS universe. This is the “story-based, linear adventure game” that Söderlund told us was not the ideal vision for the project.
A spokesperson from EA told GameSpot“[W]e’re in discussions with Amy about her next move.”, which hints that Amy might not be involved with the project anymore or may be seriously having to restructure her vision with such monstrous demands.
Concept art ties the game with a darker perspective within the STAR WARS galaxy
Amy and Tom have not yet made any public statements about the closure, but probably did not take too well with the proposed butchering of their artistic vision. This a has left more than a few to speculate that the closure might have been more of a spiteful assassination of a studio speaking out of line. This is especially chilling seeing as the article states “we’re in the midst of shifting as many of the team as possible to other projects and teams at EA.” This sounds as if they did not just tell the team to work with others on the game, but rather that they would be completely supplanted in favor of the new vision. This would add injury to insult to the dedicated artists who poured their all into what was sure to be a cult classic in the STAR WARS universe of games.
What will we be left with now is something that only time will truly tell us, but we can guarantee it will be rife with the poisonous hallmarks of EA’s legacy. Changing such a story driven adventure would surely place the gameplay into a free form style akin to Destiny or Assassin’s Creed, both of which are large competitors with EA’s dominance. The very same styles that are ripe with micro transactions and pre-order drudgery. The idea that the game will be more open and broad allows a variety of DLC content to be slapped on the side with minimal impact to the overarching story which can easily be sold off to the highest bidder for pre-order or retailer exclusive content. We can also throw a good bet into the pool that crates or loot-boxes will make an appearance. EA already addressed concerns over Battlefront 2’s use of cards and crates without committing to any real changes.
The fallout of this startling news is nothing to be surprised about. The game originally slated for a release in EA’s 2019 fiscal year but at this point has been indefinitely postponed until they can figure out how to wedge their vision into it. This will also lay another tombstone in the graveyard of developers the publishing giant has squeezed the life from with Visceral joining the hallowed ranks of other noteworthy studios such as Westwood, MAXIS, and Mythic. There’s also the demoralizing shock wave throughout the industry as smaller development houses must face the reality that if their game errs too far from the status quo they might not just lose funding for their project, but their entire identity as a team altogether. Our hearts go out to Amy, Tom, and all the staff at Visceral during this turbulent time and hope they land on their feet with something exciting to work towards in the future.