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, GamesIndustry.biz 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
2011: An original title at Visceral Melbourne
2012: NBA Live 13
2015: Shadow Realms
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.
● 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.