Big Business Isn’t Shutting Studios, It’s Killing Competition
It’s plain as sunshine that the game industry is changing with both unparalleled highs and frightening lows. In recent times, some of those lows have become more frequent. Publisher THQ went out of business completely, leaving its development studios hanging, despite futile optimism beforehand that it would not falter in this way. Icons like Psygnosis, later called SCE Studio Liverpool, bit the bullet. Epic took on developers from shuttered 38 Studios, after their bankruptcy threatened their lives, only to close the newly fabricated Impossible Studios a few months later. Hell, Square Enix not only let off people, but even threw their CEO out, despite selling over 3 million copies of both Tomb Raider and Hitman Absolution. Both these titles were considered to be a disappointment. It’s at times like these that it becomes difficult to envision that big companies still know what they’re doing or if there’s even a future left in high production values. I’d like to believe that there still is, so we won’t speak of that, today.
Instead, another occurrence slips in from time that seems like a creepily crawling pattern. Not only are some studios being shut down for “restructuring” or what have you; but some have a large whiff of planned snuffing out. Allow me to elaborate: Disney recently shut down the entirety of LucasArts, with the notion of only using its “brand” for further use. After 30 years, this iconic studio that spawned dozens of classics is bought and subsequently torn down as swiftly as possible. It was then working on Star Wars 1313, which received high praise throughout publications of its high end production. While it’s not a certainty that this game would’ve been a hit, there was certainly no indication that it wouldn’t, unlike Epic Mickey 2. Disney doesn’t really produce anything of caliber in contrast, so shutting down a prominent developer seems odd to say the least.
So, why would a company not producing any sizable games of its own take down a sure firing studio, instead of cherishing one of its last bastions? Well, because the removal of this competition forces us all into a corner where other choices become more appealing by default. Disney isn’t producing anything great right now, but it will look better if Star Wars 1313 never sees the light of day. Yes, the company would still profit from 1313’s release, but people won’t associate it with Disney necessarily; credit could go to LucasArts. Therefore, prodding us back to Disney core products will ultimately raise our faith in that company and free them to cut back on costs, resources and so forth. A recent announcement of a Castle of Illusion remake seems awfully well-timed, doesn’t it? It even plays on our nostalgic factor of how great those games were, back when Disney was still on the money.
A similar event was announced today, when EA revealed it would shut down SimCity Social and just about all Playfish games on Facebok. This came mere days after EA mentioned it could do better, in response to winning Worst Company for the second year consecutively. That’s a rather odd way to show it. Playfish was a major player in the social market, which is why EA shelled out a whopping $300 million to cash in on that major success. Now, not even a year after SimCity Social’s release, these games will all go down and players that have pumped money into the freemium model are simply “encouraged” to spend their cash, before their universe is ultimately pulled. Remember what a big fuss SimCity Social received before its release? It was even on front stage at last year’s E3 and that for a Facebook title. What belief they had then. EA will also close down several of their Facebook sports titles, such as NFL and NHL Superstars. To further confuse consumers, EA tells players to switch to PopCap Games titles, which it also owns. Despite such faith in its subsidiary, EA did shut down PopCap’s Dublin studio not too long ago, leaving 96 people in the cold. Nothing is stopping them from subtly start crossing off their games six months from now. What’s that? It seems Solitaire Blitz isn’t raking in users? Well, push towards Plants Vs Zombies and let’s call that one a day.
Again, with the removal of Playfish, former giants fall and the alternatives are pushed closer to home, even if EA uses an intermediate manner of filtering users to PopCap, until they served their purpose. This pattern goes back to examples like Konami taking out most of Hudson, despite that company being able to rely on a large Bomberman fan base. More and more, companies are acquiring others to absorb and terminate their services, rather than to prolong them, in order to limit consumer options. Dead Space 3 sold a mere million copies that all have access to its micro-transaction system, so its life lies in the balance and yet another option falls away from gamers. Sega once tried vehemently to produce many new ideas, but has had to pay for that with a large restructuring that now barely reaches beyond known waters.
Innovation, at the very least their attempts, become less desirable and companies need new ways to stream their profits. Still, if killing legacies is the way to go, then there might be a continuation in those frightening lows, for some time to come. I don’t want Battlefield 67: The New-New Middle East Conflict. I want Timesplitters 4 as well. If a game iteration really does need a ridiculous high number, then by all means have Square Enix release Final Fantasy Versus XIII. I’d buy that one and millions others would as well. That should be enough. Millions are enough.