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Popularity of linear games declining - EA

CFO Blake Jorgensen says cancelled Star Wars project was a type of game "people don't like as much today as they did five years ago or 10 years ago"

After Electronic Arts announced the closure of Visceral Games and the cancellation of its Star Wars project, EA CEO Andrew Wilson cautioned people not to see it as a referendum on single-player games. That said, it may have been a referendum on linear games.

Speaking at the Credit Suisse 21st Annual Technology, Media & Telecom Conference yesterday, EA CFO Blake Jorgensen explained the company's reasons for closing Visceral and axing the game.

"Over the last five or six years, [Visceral Games] had shrunk in size," Jorgensen said. "It was down to about 80 people, which is sub-scale in our business. And the game they were making was actually being supported by a team in Vancouver and a team in Montreal because of that sub-scale nature. And we were trying to build a game that really pushed gameplay to the next level, and as we kept reviewing the game, it continued to look like a style of gaming, a much more linear game, that people don't like as much today as they did five years ago or 10 years ago."

It was about three and a half years ago when EA hired Amy Hennig to be the creative director on Visceral's Star Wars game. Hennig is best known for her work at her previous employer, Naughty Dog, where she was creative director for the studio's acclaimed series of linear action games, Uncharted.

EA may not have much interest in publishing linear games, but Jorgensen said he's still looking to salvage what he can from the Visceral project.

"[W]e made the tough decision to shut down that game team and take the parts of that game, and today we're looking at what we're going to do with those," Jorgensen said. "Will me make the game in a different style at a different studio? Will we use parts of the game in other games? We're trying to go through that today."

Jorgensen said the company has been redeploying Visceral developers throughout the company, and is attempting to retain as many of them as possible.

"We haven't had to do this very often," he said. "We try to do it as early as possible in game design, and we probably let this go a little further. But I'm a believer in sunk costs. You've got to cut the bridge when you realize you can't really make a lot of money on something, so that's the decision we made."

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Latest comments (15)

Richard Browne Partner & Head of Interactive, Many Rivers Productions19 days ago
Absolute bollocks, you just canít sell enough of them thanks to Gamestop and friends. Hereís hoping the digital revolution will lead to a new wave of AAA linear games that donít suffer that problem.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 19 days ago
it continued to look like a style of gaming, a much more linear game, that
does not offer the same return on investment that other types of games do.

Fixed.
By all means, make the game you want, but be honest and don't crap over all the other companies who still want to do big linear single player games.
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Craig Stevenson Game Designer, MedStar SiTEL19 days ago
Is there any evidence of a reduction in interest in linear games, or just his opinion? Is it truly a reduction in linear games or just an increase in newer game types that allow more people to play for longer periods of time. I realize that his job is to make money, but to simply decide that people don't want to play linear games anymore seems like it coming from nowhere. Am I wrong here?
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios19 days ago
I think the real problem with linear games is that they implicitly cap the amount each player can spend. Whereas with microtransaction models, the whales will keep on paying as long as they're still engaged and they can trickle out cheap DLC to maintain that engagement. I don't think linear games are any less popular - just harder to break even against modern AAA budgets.
We're already seeing many games pick a target audience (either linear OR multiplayer) so that split in the market is likely to grow, leaving linear fans with shorter games and multiplayer fans with minimal story content.
Either that or some new tech will make production cheaper...
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Richard Browne Partner & Head of Interactive, Many Rivers Productions19 days ago
Hence why linear games can only be sold digitally. When we did Darksiders 2 I put a cap on sales at about 1.5m, because that was a realistic ship and sell before churn at Gamestop and co caught up and another few million were sold without publisher or developer seeing a dime of it. The game was plenty popular, and highly regarded. Therefore after everyone just started shoving MP in, co-op in, or making games so large they'd take months to complete. As a result the solely linear 10-18 hour games are now the domain of indies, it's not worth EA's (or any other publishers) time or money.
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Benjamin Crause Supervisor Central Support, Nintendo of Europe19 days ago
This is one of those "if I had a week I wouldn't have enough time to explain this non-sense" moments.

Linear single player games are not in decline and are not less fun.
It is all about money, expectations, how you treat your customers and your development process. Sure, if you want to serve a huge Triple-A game things are different compared to A/AA games with linear story telling. But these games are profitable too thus it is working.

Talking down an entire segment of games to justify your desire for micro-transactions and questionable schemes is not ok.
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Jordan Lund Columnist 19 days ago
I guess it depends on how you define "Linear".

Uncharted 4 is the definition of a linear game and it sold 8.7 million copies in 2016 on a single platform. Lost Legacy sold 600K in the first week alone, also on a single platform.

Stuff like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Tomb Raider and Assassin's Creed: Origins are open but still have a linear story progression, how are they doing?

I think the real point here is that the popularity of EA games is declining, not that linear games are declining.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 19 days ago
The answer has been there all along

Lock up online functionality until you beat the single player. Done.

Forza 3 locks it up until 4-6 hours into single player. Great example.
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Kromleck Technical artist, Satsuma Droid19 days ago
Yeah right, if you put games like Battleground, Overwatch and other similar multiplayer games, yes, indeed, seeing charts of CCU breaking walls you might eventually say "oh, it's better". What about linear (sic) productions showing that gaming can be something else, not esport or time killer, but actual art ? Or that kind of statement is just here to calm the shareholders. Meh.
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Richard Browne Partner & Head of Interactive, Many Rivers Productions19 days ago
@Jordan Lund: Both Uncharted 4 and Lost Legacy have multiplayer. Sony made Naughty Dog move that way post Uncharted 1 for the very reason of stopping resale.
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Bjorn Larsson CEO/EP/CD, Legendo Entertainment18 days ago
Happy but not super-impressed that Ninja Theory's Hellblade sold half a million copies in about a quarter (actually, Iím slightly worried it hasn't shifted 2M+ yet -- it's that good, play it!). Sales aside, Ninja Theory AAA and the likes of them is a beacon of hope for SP games alongside high-quality, stand-out indie affairs such as Cuphead (which sold a million in about a month or so and wasn't even on PS4, and not a single loot box in sight, thatís how I like Ďem!).

Reality-check: Revenue generated from titles such as those mentioned above is DWARFED by MOBAs and Battle Royales and Star Wars'es and Robloxes and other giga IP from China that you likely have never heard of, and all those loot crates that inevitable comes with the territory of successfully building real money printing machines are here to stay. On a side note, would regulating loot boxes as gambling result in every game company of the world moving their HQs to, say, Malta? Because I donít the EAs or ActiBlizzes or Tencents of this world are going to roll over and die anytime soon.

Macro: States are competing with giga-corporations too now, for potential tax revenue obviously. So it's not only the indies AAA's or III's that are being dwarfed by the new Khans.
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Guy18 days ago
Many Single player of "Single Player First" games on the 2016 Steam top sellers list:
http://store.steampowered.com/sale/2016_top_sellers/
And then there's Bioshock Infinite, proving that a good linear single player game can even surpass that mythical 10 million sales number (and that was before the 8th gen console re-release).

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Guy on 10th December 2017 12:38pm

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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany17 days ago
I hear this from EA a week after I read "people don't talk about playing games, they talk about playing services"
Can't say I agree, nor that I get where those perceptions come from with tittles like Wolfenstein or the Walking Dead saga being so popular. I wish they developed more.
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer 17 days ago
At this point, anybody from EA saying anything about the state of the industry or the future direction of game development should be taken with plenty of salt, and probably a couple shots of tequila. You can't really square the notion of "linear games are dying" with facts like the success that the Uncharted series and The Last of Us have enjoyed, as well as smaller titles like Telltale's Walking Dead and Batman series and Square Enix's Life Is Strange. Are they going to be comparable in numbers to marquee MMOs like World of WarCraft or big budget extravaganzas like the Call of Duty series? Probably not. But then again, those big names are starting to run into problems of their own, and ones that may ultimately prove that they are not the sort of "perpetual revenue stream" that they've long been touted as.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Axel Cushing on 1st December 2017 5:47pm

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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games13 days ago
@Craig Stevenson: I suppose their "opinion" is based on actual sales trends? They are one of the biggest publishers in the world and with some of the biggest linear franchises under their umbrella. I expect they know what they are talking about more than any of us when it comes to their business.

So all they are saying is that for them, for EA, it doesn't work. The rest of us can do whatever makes business sense for us.

On the other hand, if more such large publishers stop making these games, it sounds like space is opening for indies to write wonderful story based little gems for those who love this style of gaming.

And there are plenty already.
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