Since the release of Star Wars: Battlefront II, EA have been overwhelmed by a deluge of negativity that has sent their stock prices tumbling like a house of cards, aliened countless hardcore gamers the world over, and threatened to engulf the entire industry, undoubtedly changing the videogame landscape forever. However, for EA, this wasn’t enough. Despite all of the abhorrent things they have done over the past couple of years (that’s right, we all know that EA have been terrible for years now), it would seem that the company have not finished in their task to ruin what little stills remains of their reputation and legacy.
In a recent interview with DuelShockers, EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen discussed the reasoning behind the company’s decision to cancel Visceral’s linear singleplayer Star Wars game. According to Jorgensen, EA pulled the plug on the game due to the fact that, at least according to their own research, ‘people don’t like as much today as they did five years ago or 10 years ago.’ This has, unquestionably, caused an uproar within hardcore gaming communities across the internet, with many passionate gamers, once again, inundating EA with a torrent of freshly-concocted abuse and criticism. My causal morning peruse through multiple internet forums, Facebook groups, and website comment sections, was inundated with gamers angerly claiming that EA was wrong in their decision, that singleplayer games are still thriving and very much alive, and that the company have no clue what they are talking about.
Unfortunately, EA are very much in the right, as painful as it is for me to admit. While we have certainly seen a number of highly-successful singleplayer games over the course of the last year – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Super Mario Odyssey to name but a few – it’s a cold, hard fact that the best-seller lists are dominated by multiplayer experiences. In an article published last month, Forbes revealed a list of the top ten best-selling games of the year thus far. The top four places on that list – (1) Destiny 2, (2) Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, (3) NBA 2K18, (4) Madden NFL 18 – where dominated by games that were either multiplayer-only, or were multiplayer-centric experiences that were primarily bought on the strength of their respective multiplayer offerings.
That list, as the astute among you may have realised, only accounts for game sales up unit the end of September. Since then, we’ve witnessed the release of a number of other multiplayer-focused games, including Call of Duty WWII, FIFA 18, and the now-infamous Star Wars: Battlefront II, and while we’ve set to witness any cold, calculated sales numbers for any of these games, given their respective histories, one can safely assume that they too will dominate the sales charts, resulting in even more multiplayer-centric experiences ruling the coveted best-seller lists. And remember, we also have to consider Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the multiplayer-only battle royale extravaganza that has taken the world be storm. Since its “release” earlier this year, the game has sold an accumulated 20 million copies worldwide, far outstripping Breath of the Wild’s 4 million copies and Horizon: Zero Dawn’s 3.66 million copies sold, two of the highest-selling singleplayer games of the year.
It’s a fact of life right now that multiplayer games are more popular, sales-wise, that traditional singleplayer experiences, and thus it is easy to why EA decided to kill off Visceral’s Star Wars game. Why make a singleplayer, linear game that could net them a modest profit when they could instead create a multiplayer-focused, Destiny 2-esque experience that would, undoubtedly, sell more copies and thus rake in more cold, hard cash. And you have to remember, with multiplayer games, the potential profits don’t just end upon the game’s release. Between expansions, map packs, DLC titbits, and loot boxes, there are numerous avenues of revenue for a multiplayer game to exploit and mine for precious profits. Why limit yourself to a one-time influx of capital when you could instead maintain a steady, profitable cash-flow for months or even years after a game’s initial release? The possibilities are plentiful, and thus it’s not hard to see why many companies, EA included, have migrated away from the traditional singleplayer landscape in favour of the bountiful new lands that are multiplayer-centric experiences.
That said however, EA’s lack of financial success in relation to their singleplayer portfolio has little to do with the rampant financial success of multiplayer-focused games. As The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and slightly older titles such as The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 have proven, there is still a market, and a profitable one at that, for high-quality, unique singleplayer experiences. Note, please, my usage of high-quality and unique as prerequisites for successful singleplayer games, words that EA, seemingly, haven’t that faintest idea about. Take Fuse for example. In its original guise as Overstrike, players loved the bright and bombastic action on show in the game’s initial reveal trailer. It was replete with awesome music, colourful and dynamic visuals, and witty dialogue that painted pearly-white smile on your face. The game looked fantastic, something unique and clever; a far cry from the hordes of mindless brown-and-grey shooters that dominated the market at the time. Excitement was fever-pitched, with players busting at the seams to see more to this wonderfully bombastic shooter.
EA, of course, couldn’t stand to see something so unique, so colourful and energetic and innocent exist under their watch, so they condemned Overstrike to a prolonged sentence in the one place no game ever wants to set foot in – the charnel house that is the EA market testing department. What was once an exciting new IP was ripped apart, torn down and maliciously and meticulously dissected by EA until every single scrap of entertainment and originality was removed, leaving behind a mindless, insipid husk in the form of Fuse, a game so pathetic and derivative that it could make even the Call of Duty WWII look like a masterpiece of innovation. It was a tragedy, up there with Romeo and Juliet, Titanic, and Up that left gamers reaching for their tear-soaked handkerchiefs. Okay, maybe I overexaggerated just a wee bit, but the fact still remains; EA had in their hands a unique and exciting new singleplayer experience, a game that had the potential to be a success for the company. Unfortunately, they instead ripped it asunder and left us with a mindless zombie of a game, lacking in originality, excitement and goodwill. It is a sad tale that has become all too familiar.
Countless singleplayer games have suffered a fate worse than death at the hands of EA’s focus testing team. Dead Space 3, Mass Effect Andromeda, and Battlefield Hardline have all been sand-blasted until little remains but a gormless mass of repugnant pixels. It’s not that singleplayer games aren’t profitable, it’s that EA are utterly incapable of creating one that someone would want to play. In their unending quest to market test everything in an attempt to make their singleplayer games more palatable, EA instead do the exact opposite, altering and disfiguring them into something that is wholly uninteresting and unremarkable. It is entirely possible for EA to create awesome, exciting singleplayer experiences that will sell millions copies and generate tens, and even hundred of millions of dollars in profit. To do so, however, they need to rid themselves of the catastrophic, cancerous tendrils that have enveloped the whole company. Those of the market focus team. Once they’ve been dealt with, then maybe EA can put the arts back into Electronic Arts.