Posted on 25 Oct 2017 by L Coulsen

EA – A Brutal and Visceral Experience

Good ‘ole Electronic Arts are up to their old tricks again. Buying yet another studio, only to shut it down when they don’t like what it’s doing. Well, actually, about that, there are a few things to be cleared up first. Most importantly, EA didn’t buy Visceral, they made it. It’s a studio that actually dates back almost twenty years, beginning in 1998 as EA Redwood because, appropriately enough, that’s where they were based. Those remain relatively minor tidbits in the grand scheme of things, but still salient points that a lot of people have glossed over in their rage.

More importantly, it’s worth looking back over Redwood/Visceral’s track record. Whilst some of their games have been extremely high regarded by both media and gamers, Dead Space almost universally being the franchise that is most regaled. How many of their other games can you name? Right now, off the top of your head, without looking at a list somewhere? A few, I’m sure. This isn’t some kind of challenge to prove that y’all are just raging for the sake of it. But let’s be honest, there aren’t all that many that immediately jump out. But more importantly, there are somewhere between none and fuckall that have been financially successful.

Pretty much their entire library, which actually features a hell of a lot of amazing games, have been mediocre returns on investment. According to recent comments, Dead Space 2 was a financial failure despite shifting several million units. Which sounds ludicrous, until you take into account its $60 million budget. A great deal of that probably going into that asinine “ur mum’s gon’ hayt it!” campaign that turned off a lot of people, myself included. It was a good couple years before I actually played and realised how damn fine it is. Something that happened with a lot of its biggest fans I’d wager. And I’m also fairly certain most of them didn’t buy it at release like I did. Several million units sold during a $5 Steam sale doesn’t equate to a whole hell of a lot of revenue.

Decimates your wallet...and their profit margins.

Taking that into consideration, it’s not actually all that surprising that EA closed them down. Like it or lump it video game publishers (and developers for that matter) are business ventures. And a business needs to make money to be able to keep making games, or publishing them, or selling toilet paper. Whatever. The more surprising aspect is that it took so long. That’s a difficult pill to swallow nonetheless, but there’s only so much leeway you can give when money is on the table. Whether that’s right or not is a discussion for another time…like right now for example.

Okay, so let’s get to the meat of the issue. Whilst I may have spent the last chunk of words apparently defending EA’s actions, that does not, in any way, change the fact that it’s an absolutely shitty thing to do. Especially given how hotly anticipated Visceral’s next project was. With Amy Hennig on board, a lot of people (myself included) were peeing all over themselves waiting for powerful, story driven, Star Wars experiences. Despite knowing bugger all about it, apart from a very brief clip of someone walking out of a building somewhere on Tatooine. But we didn’t need to know anything, because Amy Hennig was involved. And she wrote frikkin’ Legacy of Kain!

What really gets under the skin though, is that comments coming from EA suggested the game was close to completion, but was not “accessible” to a wide enough audience, and did not meet their standards. Now that one, that is far from ambiguous, we all know exactly what they mean. They don’t think they can make enough money out of it, hence the closure. Which is fair enough in an ideal world. But in an EA world, that means there wasn’t any room for loot boxes and pointless add-ons that they can fleece more money out of us with.

This was only further reinforced when we, shortly after, were assured that most of Visceral’s work was solid, would remain in the finished product and become its foundation whilst more features were added. So any ambiguity is well and truly left in the dust. This has fuck all to do with quality, and everything to do with greed. A clear, endemic and persistent symptom of games being produced in a board room. Where the bottom line is, was and always will be the amount of zeroes on the end of an annual revenue report. So now the future of hundreds of highly talented game developers is hanging in limbo, simply because they were more focused on creative quality than bank notes.

Throw me a frikkin' bone here!

But do you know something, I don’t blame EA for this. Not even the suits on the board, constantly pushing for ever more ludicrously inflated stacks of cash in their back pocket. I think they’re a blight on every facet of society, not just gaming. They have no concern, zip, for the people their greed affects, the families that are left destitute by their decisions. Nor about the people who are making them rich by spending their own, hard earned cash to fill their coffers. And I think they are among the most vile representations of the Human species. But let’s go back two sentences, because that’s where the real blame lies.

We are the problem. Not the money grubbers, or the overworked developers, or your neighbour’s dog. These things happen because of us, the consumers. The people who rail against all of these decisions, these studio closures, the cancelled and underperforming games that end a franchise. It’s all on us, because for all the moral proselytising, for all of the purported disdain for the “great” games that are overshadowed by cookie cutter, paint by numbers “now” games. What are we spending our bloody money on?! Developers wouldn’t keep making this shit if it wasn’t selling, and publishers sure as fuck wouldn’t be publishing it.

Remember all the furor about Modern Warfare 2 not having dedicated servers? All the unflappable confidence that no-one would ever play a Call of Duty game again? And all the people in those boycott groups on Steam…playing the bloody game! That’s not something that’s unique to Activision games mates. It’s pretty damned consistent across the gaming world. It’s pretty damned consistent across all mediums actually. Just look at Disney. The live action Beauty and the Beast was wank, and we all knew it was. No-one, expect hardcore Disney fans, would ever go and see that right? So how the sniff did it make one point two billion dollars?

Because consumers are morons. Not individuals, I’d like to stress that point, this isn’t about any one individual. I’ve personally bought practically no EA games in years. I think…maybe two recently? Maybe one a year since about 2009. And there are a lot of other people who are the same, of course there are. But that’s the problem with individuals, they are precisely that, individuals. Whilst consumers, like any other demographic, are a group. A very large, very active, very trend driven conglomerate. And just like with any homogeneous element, they succumb to peer pressure. Like buying a new game to play with your buddies online.

Don't do morals, morals are bad, m'kay.

So that’s the crux of it. Visceral being closed is one of the most disappointing things I’ve heard in…okay, you know what, it’s the most disappointing thing I’ve heard this year. So far. But truth be told, it’s only the most recent in a long, continuing, line of wallbanger moments that have been spreading through the gaming industry for decades. Video-games have hit the mainstream, that’s just the fact of the matter. Audiences are bigger than ever, budgets are consistently far higher than they need to be, with many barely even middling level games getting bloated, multi-million dollar funding. Whilst comparable projects in the movie world are being made for hundreds of thousands.

So it’s no surprise that more and more games are failing to hit their targets. Even when they go on to be apparently quite successful. Something which is not at all helped by so many people thinking only the opening week sales matter. The Tomb Raider reboot took, what, two years to make a profit? Almost written off entirely because it didn’t sell a billion copies in the first six minutes of its existence. I’m sure it took more than a little convincing before Squeenix were willing to let the second (which is really bloody good by the way) come into existence. And they’re one of the more open minded publishers in the world.

But it still, all comes back to the same thing. If you want a game/franchise/developer/ur mum/whatever to be successful, stop talking about it, and start using your wallet. If you don’t want real money loot boxes to be a thing, stop bloody buying them! Yes, I know it’s “only” a couple of quid/bucks. Yes, I’ve made that justification myself and, yes, that makes me a part of the problem. I’m not going to deny that. I also don’t happen to be that opposed to microtransactions. Though I do have concerns all the same, and I am not ignorant of being complicit in the situation. What I’m trying to get at, is that you should be just as self-aware of your role as well. Yes you, specifically.

Whether you’re buying a dozen loot boxes per day, or you’ve never bought a single one, and genuinely never will, I, you and the guy sitting next to you, we’re all part of the problem. The only question, really, is what you propose to do about it. Because an individual, one sale (or lack thereof) ain’t worth a squirt of piss. But a hundred? A thousand? Millions? Yeah, now we’re talking. So put your money where your mouth is, or don’t, and start talking in the way that suits in board rooms will listen. By spending your moolah. ‘Cause here’s another thing about this ever increasing audience video games now have.

0/10, would buy again.

There’s a market for everything.

Visceral, and people like them, may not get anywhere in a company like EA. They might not get the massively over swollen budgets by not being with a company like EA. But if there’s one thing we really should have learned by now. They will find a way to keep delivering the content, and quality of content, that we all want. Not because there will be killer apps that literally everyone will love, but because there are such huge numbers of consumers that they can find their niche. Because here’s the thing. People who are driven by passion, by a true love for their art, the budget means nothing. They make the things they make, because they love making them. Some will fall, some will fail, some will drag themselves back onto their feet and finish just to spite you. Or the people who said they couldn’t, you know what I mean.

Not everything is for everyone. It doesn’t need to be, nor should it be. Larger audiences mean more time spent finding the right demographic, which is pretty frikkin’ soul destroying sometimes. But those people, they’re out there. And whilst you, or we, or they, or anyone, may never find them, no matter how hard you try. You definitely will not find them if you don’t try. So it sucks massive donkey balls that Visceral are gone, no two ways about it. And dear Gods, the anxiety some of those people must be feeling…I live with anxiety every day of my life, and I doubt I have any concept of how stressful it must be for the. But to them, and to everyone, what I really want you to take away from all this is that it’s not the end of the story.

Comments (4)

Posts: 53
Stephen Haselden
Posted 22 Nov 2017, 11:56
Actually, I disagree.

Your right, if it wasn't for the gamers willing to pay out for pointless grinding upgrades that simply allow you to grind for the next upgrade, then the next upgrade then the next upgrades then the next, then corporate shitbags would keep pushing these crappy microtransactions on us - as such, lets be under no illusions here, while corporations don’t get to dictate your spending habits, they do get to influence them. Some of the ways corporations will influence people’s spending habits include:

- Strangle hold monopolies on markets. If the only games available are theirs, there's not much that consumers can do about it - less of a problem since kickstarter.

- Undermining/buying out the competition. IS some upstart company about to show-up your shitty game by making something twice as good for half the price, why not buy them up and sell off their assets, or even turn their project into a nice lucrative cow clicker?

- Marketing. Its expensive, and it works. As a species we are all vulnerable to this shit. Especially the people who think they’re not!

- Lie. Are consumers catching on to your shitty marketing practices? Are they buying less and less games with microtransactions? Why not lie to them and pretend all costs for the game are up front, that is until you move a million or so units, and then you can turn the micro bullshit back on again.

- Fix the Game. No, not the game, the GAME. Fix things with the competition so that you’re all charging the same ($60) and all doing the same exploitative bullshit.

Many of us here have lived through a couple of decades of change in the games industry. We’ve been fanbois and critics, we’ve fallen for many marketing ploys and we’ve learnt to see through it. My point is, that although many of us can see, clear as day, when a company is trying to pull the wool over our eyes now, we haven’t always been able to do this. Experience is a great teacher. But there are many children playing games who don’t have this experience, they haven’t figured out yet that cow clickers are more addictive than they are fun, they haven’t figured out yet that that game with the flashy trailer might not be as good as advertised (or even similar at all) they don’t know that there are more genres than FPS, because they have a console and that's all they’ve played.

These people (and they’re not just kids) shouldn’t have to be expert lie detectors, they shouldn’t have to have a decades experience in order to be able to vet a press release. But they do. And I lay the blame for that squarely at the feet, of the people telling the lies. Consciously and deliberately, for the purpose of deceiving consumers, and taking their cash.

Apart from the lairs and their victims, there are a few other things to blame too: peer pressure convinces people to all play the same game because they don’t want to be different/excluded, Capitalism says that lies are acceptable when they’re used in the pursuit of greed, some journalists are willing to compromise their reviews for favours/deals, and finally there's our materialist culture that just encourages many of these bad practices.

People need to be more switched on, we need to hold companies to account for poor behaviour and we need to stop falling for the same bullshit time and again. But the fault for the lies, and the bad industry practices, lies squarely with liars and the corporate shitbags, who're willing to exploit the unwary, and destroy the games and the industry that I love, all for a fast buck - Fuck them. FUCK THEM. Not the players, not the people who don’t know better, fuck the people who are screwing things up for everyone else.

Greed is not an excuse for being liar, and a general shit.
Edited on 22 Nov 2017, 11:57

Posts: 349
L Coulsen
Posted 25 Nov 2017, 14:35
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying publishers aren't at fault, far from it. The point I was aiming at is that there's nothing I, personally, can do to affect them. There's nothing we, individually, can do to affect the way they work. We need to be unified in our response to these things, stop spewing impotent rage (yes, I'm aware that's what I was doing myself) on the internet about how much we hate these things, and start putting our money where our mouth is. Or not, as the case may be.

As such, I blame us, the consumers, for not standing up for what we believe in and not making this a viable business model in the first place

Posts: 19
Posted 26 Oct 2017, 19:01
Lately, my ire has moved from the producers to the consumers. I don't blame professional sports, professional streamers, pro gamers, Hollywood, AAA game publishers or other people who make way more money than I feel they deserve. They earn what the market is willing to pay, so I blame the mindless morons who willingly give them money. And I especially blame the people who defend their shitty practices.

Posts: 349
L Coulsen
Posted 26 Oct 2017, 22:48
Exactly! That's precisely the point I was getting at.

Michael Bay keeps making shitty films, because they keep making hundreds of millions of dollars...because people keep watching them!

Not gonna' lie, if a movie studio kept giving me five bazillion dollars to make Shitformers 12, hell yeah I'd make it!