Although EA never said it outright; it was strongly implied that the reason the company shuttered Visceral Games and took over the Triple-A, single-player Star Wars game that was in-development was because EA is moving towards more open-world, multiplayer games. Not really a surprise according to ex-BioWare developer Manveer Heir in a recent interview with Waypoint over the weekend.
The news that EA was shutting down Visceral Games came as a shock, but not necessarily a surprise to many within the video game industry. Not a lot had been shared about the Visceral Star Wars game (codenamed "Ragtag") aside from a few production stills. The open letter from EA's executive vice president Patrick Soderlund explained that that EA ultimately wanted to "deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come[.]" It felt like a coded message meaning the planned single-player experience Visceral was developing no longer suited the continuous multiplayer experiences offered by games like Destiny.
This "pivot" as Soderund called it feels like a larger trend in the gaming industry, but Heir says outright that "it's definitely a thing inside of EA."
In a rather candid interview, Heir explained that "[EA is] generally pushing for more open-world games. And the reason is you can monetise them better. The words in there that were used are 'have them come back again and again'... It's the same reason we added card packs to Mass Effect 3-how do you get people to keep coming back for a thing instead of 'just ' playing for 60 to 100 hours?"
Heir attributes the trend largely to development budgets which have ballooned to over $100 million. A budget that doesn't work with linear single-player games. "But why can't we have both?" Heir asked, "why does it have to be one or the other? And the reason is that EA and those big publishers in general only care about the highest return on investment. They don't actually care about what the players want, they care about what the players will pay for."
While Heir can't share specific figures, he said that there is a lot of money "that's at play with microtransactions." Heir said that he's "seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards."
It's not just the Visceral Games news either says Heir. While talking about Anthem, the upcoming BioWare game, Heir said. "It's not a traditional-looking BioWare game, right? If that's what you're seeing from a place like BioWare, owned by EA-a place where I worked for seven years-if that's what you're seeing from Visceral now closing and going to this other Vancouver studio; what it means is that the linear single-player triple-A game at EA is dead for the time being."
You can listen to the full interview over at Waypoint, but the turbulent development of Mass Effect: Andromeda (which Heir was a part of) is well documented. "I was done," he said. "It was a real difficult project and time."