A former BioWare gameplay designer gave his input on the closure of Visceral Games and EA's new development focus in a recent podcast.
In the latest episode of Waypoint's podcast, Manveer Heir painted a grim picture for future single-player titles. Speaking from his experience designing Mass Effect 3's multiplayer, he points to EA's microtransaction aftermarket strategy as a key driver for their recent and current projects.
"Why do you care about that at EA? The reason you care about that is because of microtransactions: buying card packs in the Mass Effect games, the multiplayer," he says. "It's the same reason we added card packs to Mass Effect 3: how do you get people to keep coming back to a thing instead of 'just' playing for 60 to 100 hours?"
EA has recently come under scrutiny by fans following the closure of Visceral Games on October 17, shifting development on a single-player Star Wars game from the former developers of Dead Space to EA Vancouver, which has historically specialized in sports games. In a blog post from EA Worldwide studios executive vice president Patrick Söderlund, the move was explained as a response to player input.
“In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game," Söderlund wrote. "Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.”
Heir, however, believes other factors played into the decision.
"The problem is that we've scaled up our budgets to $ 100M+ and we haven't actually made a space for good linear single-player games that are under that," he says. "But why can't we have both? 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."
Heir goes on to talk about the issues this new focus caused for the development of Mass Effect: Andromeda, after the release of which he left BioWare. For the full podcast, click here.
While many might not like to hear it, Heir's input confirms what most gamers have been afraid of: EA is shifting its focus toward open-world games with microtransaction elements. To be fair, based on recent consumer behavior it is a sound business strategy that could bring in plenty of money to the company. On the other hand, they could see a large loss in the number of fans who supported their linear single-player game offerings.