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EA has killed, pledges to kill again

10 Years Ago This Month: EA CEO John Riccitiello gets into the spooky spirit of the season by promising the publisher would be an unstoppable game-cancelling machine

The games industry moves pretty fast, and there's a tendency for all involved to look constantly to what's next without so much worrying about what came before. That said, even an industry so entrenched in the now can learn from its past.

So to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer some perspective on our field's history, runs this monthly feature highlighting happenings in gaming from exactly a decade ago.

EA Will Always Have Time to Kill

October is the spookiest month of the year, so what better way to start this month's column than with a look at a prolific serial killer? That's right, we're talking about Electronic Arts!

But rather than focus on what happens to thriving and beloved independent studios after they get into the white-panel van from Redwood Shores, we're going to talk about its victims on the project level.

"EA will kill a game or two a year. Forever."

John Riccitiello

10 years ago this month, EA added to that already extensive list by killing Command & Conquer: Tiberium after roughly three years of work, including two years of pre-production. One analyst said this cancellation damaged the credibility of EA's new management, an apparent shot at CEO John Riccitiello, who had taken over about a year and a half earlier.

In what might have been a morbid attempt to rebuild his credibility, Riccitiello promised his game killing spree had only begun.

"When something's not meeting expectations... you can course correct by giving it more time, more money, changing the concept or killing the game," he said in an interview. "If you're committed to quality, you take one of those paths. If you preclude any one of those paths, quality will suffer.

"EA will kill a game or two a year. Forever."

Forever is a very long time, but Riccitiello spent the remaining five years of his tenure at EA following through on that promise. Even after he left in 2013, EA has kept up the grim tradition. Only EA knows where all the bodies are buried, but here's a rundown of some of the victims we know about, not counting things like the Zach Snyder three-game deal that was announced but never produced anything, or a Miss Universe game that supposedly existed at one point but I'm tempted to write off as an internet fever dream.

2008: Command & Conquer: Tiberium and The Dark Knight

2009: A DOZEN PROJECTS in a bloodbath that cost 1,500 EA employees their jobs

2010: Starbeeze's Jason Bourne game, Steven Spielberg's LMNO, and NBA Elite 11

2011: An original title at Visceral Melbourne

2012: NBA Live 13

2013: Dead Space 4, a free-to-play Command & Conquer, PGA Tour 14, the FIFA Manager series, the NCAA Football series and every Playfish game

2014: Dawngate

2015: Shadow Realms

2016: Criterion's "Beyond Cars" extreme sports game

2017: Visceral Games' Star Wars

2018: It's been quiet... too quiet.

(The above list originally included Titanfall Mobile as a 2017 cancellation, although it's been pointed out that project was to be published by Nexon, and was canned before EA acquired Respawn later in the year. Apologies for pinning that one on the wrong killer.)

Unless I've missed something (entirely possible), we're three quarters of the way through the year and Electronic Arts has not publicly killed a project. But don't let your guard down, EA developers. Things change quickly.

For example, that same month Riccitiello was promising a perpetual killing spree, the global economic crisis was picking up steam. On the last Monday of the month, EA UK head and London Games Festival chair Keith Ramsdale was saying it was too early to tell if the economic turmoil would touch the games industry. That Friday, EA laid off 600 people because it saw a slowdown in its sales over the month.

Assorted Frights

● Chris Lee, head of DJ Hero developer and recent Activision Blizzard acquisition FreeStyleGames, told us the booming music genre was in its infancy, creating a metaphor we'll just describe as unwittingly grim. Besides, the genre's apex was in sight as soon as The Beatles Rock Band was announced later in the month.

● Lee wasn't the only one overlooking the inherent unsustainability of a glut of games that ask fans to invest in pricey peripherals on a yearly basis. Activision Blizzard was clearly drunk on its Guitar Hero revenues, so much so that an analyst correctly predicted that 2009's Tony Hawk game would come with its own skateboard controller for players to ride. (Like most "hold my beer" moments, it did not turn out well).

● Ubisoft Shanghai creative director Michael de Plater explained that EndWar wasn't going to launch on PC alongside the console versions due to piracy concerns. Because games on consoles never get pirated. Certainly not before their retail release, and certainly not twice in the same month. EndWar wound up launching on PC in February of 2009, a few months after the console editions. Ubisoft staggered its PC releases as a matter of habit for some time, but has come around on simultaneous launches for titles like this week's Assassin's Creed: Odyssey.

● London Mayor Boris Johnson praised the games industry, "which, as an important part of London's creative sector, makes a vital contribution to the economy as a whole." Sure is nice to know he'd never do anything that could in any way jeopardize that vital contribution.

● The Mark Wahlberg Max Payne movie topped the US box office for the week of its release, proving once and for all that games have arrived in Hollywood and game movies are Actually Good. So glad that was settled.

● Perhaps inspired by Max Payne's success, EA announced an Army of Two film project envisioned as a "smart thriller." It's not clear exactly when, but somewhere along the way, the Army of Two movie joined the above list of EA's victims, no doubt a helpful reminder that some projects simply need killing.

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Latest comments (3)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
Cancelling games that do not please decision makers for whatever reason is one thing. The far stranger aspect is that EA has a ten year drought when it comes to establishing new blockbuster IPs. Most EA brands exist long enough that early fans have already started dying from natural causes and the dependency on licenses is high. Judging from the stock price, no mistakes were made. Judging with the culture of games in mind, the princess is in another castle.

As for the demand that it is not too late to cancel a project in 2018, make it Anthem. Not a sequel, no license, at least three active direct competitors (Destiny, Division, Borderlands). On paper, that does not fit the EA profile at all. Cancel Anthem, rework assets into the next Battlefield game. :p
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games2 years ago
@Klaus Preisinger: I've heard a few people say kill Anthem.
Is it really that bad? Is there nothing new that they offer over the competition?
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 2 years ago
To be clear, I only jokingly said kill Anthem, but if you look at its release it will definitely not be smooth sailing. When you say whether it has nothing to offer over the competition, the problem does not lie with being similar in its shooting to other shooters.

Anthem and The Division 2 will release three weeks apart. So just at the crucial moment when Anthem players run out of content and need to be converted into long term grinding players, one of the major competitors has a big release. It is a hotly contested market.

Worst case PR bloodbath:
Mid February: drip feed marketing campaign starts for Borderlands 3.
February 19th: Joker's Wild content drop Destiny 2
February 22nd: Anthem release
February 22nd: Open Beta The Division 2 all platforms
March 15th: Division 2 full release

Those games may have different settings, but when people come together on Discord servers to play shooter games together, Destiny, Anthem and Division all scratch the same itch.

Pro Anthem Arguments:
EA claims they want to get away from single player, they already do have a major competitive shooter franchise, a cooperative shooter makes sense, it is as simple as that. People playing together, having fun together, cooperating on a video game is as positive a message as you can have. Anthem fills EA's blind spot in their current line-up.

Against Anthem Arguments:
The grind is important for long term money generation and they all fail dialing in the grind at first. Will EA have the patience? Blizzard failed with Diablo 3, Massive failed with The Division, Bungie failed with Destiny. They all licked their wounds and came back. Anthem will fail as well getting the loot game right in version 1.0, it is to be expected and not a big deal. Player numbers will drop, changes will be made and games claw their way back up. Blizzard did it, Bungie did it, Ubisoft did it. Ask yourself though, is that a typical EA narrative? No; because EA axes. If EA cannot axe because Star Wars and Battlefront 2 tries its best to make a comeback, the amount of outright hostile comments EA targets at their own players tends to undo it. Will Bioware have the balls to tell EA to shut up and let them do the patching, so there are no daily videos on Youtube ridiculing EA higher ups and their comments on Anthem like there were on Battlefront?

Anthem will be a social gaming experience. Voice chat in this type of game tends to be friendly, helpful, patient. Players will be taught by more experienced players. People tend not to get called out for their age, or their gender, or their bad English accent, or the country they obviously come from. Guilds who ignore that tend not to last long. EA PR needs to be on their most social behavior with that kind of group. Because just as there is press waiting at the Royal Ascot to peg you down for your choice of hat, there will be Youtube channels waiting to call out every communication faux-pas. Greetings to Australia.
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