Viewpoints

A Visceral End? Thoughts On The Studio’s Closure

Relying on focus groups and market trends can hamper creative vision.

Irony’s a cruel mistress and make no mistake. Just last week, we thought indie platformer Cuphead’s near-unprecedented smash success might signal a welcome change in the air for the gaming industry, particularly during a year abundant with studio closures.

But if the latest development in publisher EA’s fraught era at the helm of licensed Star Wars IPs reminds us of anything, it’s that some trends aren’t so easily bucked as one might hope.

Yes, Visceral Games, the studio behind the hit sci-fi-turned-horror FPS saga Dead Space as well as divisive but diverting spin-off Battlefield Hardline, has officially closed its doors on the orders of its EA overlords.

Before this troubling turn of events, the team was hard at work on a new action-adventure set in the universe of Jedi, Sith and Gungans, first teased as a “story-driven” IP upon EA announcing the project in 2016.

Work on said untitled licensed effort will still continue beyond Visceral’s shutdown, however, albeit in the hands of EA Vancouver and with an apparently revised modus operandi: expect less of a “story-based, linear adventure game” and more of a “broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency”.

That’s according to EA’s executive VP, Patrick Söderlund, and while we’ve no idea precisely what he means either, apparently a core focus of the refreshed project will be providing an experience that encourages players to return “for a long time to come”, presumably with extra content atop its “stunning visuals” and “authenticity”.

Shifts in the ‘marketplace’?

Given Söderlund’s emphasis on how much of the rationale behind EA’s tweaked approach has come thanks to the publisher “closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace”, that the move has already prompted more than a few grumbles should come as no surprise.

Relying on focus groups and market trends has its benefits, of course, as anyone on the marketing team for 2015’s controversial Battlefront reboot will surely attest today, but allowing that to hamper creative vision carries equal risks, not least if it means we lose the opportunity for a Last of Us-rivalling tour de force of Star Wars storytelling as a result. And guess what? We like single-player games.

With all that said, it’s worth remembering that we only ever saw brief glimpses of Visceral’s IP in EA’s E3 showreels, so we’ll never know for sure whether the developer’s approach to the project would’ve born fruition or proven misguided in hindsight.

For now, then, let’s keep our thoughts with the enviably creative minds at the fallen studio who’ll now need to seek gainful employment elsewhere. No doubt they’ve bright futures ahead at EA or elsewhere, and we wish them the very best of luck en route.

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