Rage Quit - Bloated Budgets
In light of the possible cancellation of Dead Space 4, Jesse loses his cool and goes on a rant.
At PixlBit we pride ourselves on reporting news and reviewing games with as little bias as humanly possible. That being said, there are times when we don’t want to sit all quiet and polite and instead rage into the vastness that is the internet.
You’ve heard me rage against Game of the Year Editions, and bitch and moan about the Death of the Single Player before. Today a story concerning the reported cancellation of Dead Space 4 has touched a nerve and made me mad as hell, but perhaps not for the reasons you would think.
According to sources close to VideoGamer.com, EA has pulled the plug on Dead Space 4, which was apparently in the pre-production phase of development. While the notion that Dead Space as a franchise may be put out to pasture may not phase you – and isn’t entirely irksome to me – it’s the reasons driving the cancellation that may cause you to take pause and perhaps get just as mad as me.
EA staked out a 5 million units sales target for the third game in the famed space horror series. Considering that the second entry in the series reportedly failed to attain even the 3.5 million units sold by the original, this may seem like an odd projection to make and you'd be right to question how realistic that goal was in the first place.
In order to hit this lofty goal – a goal that had to be met or the franchise would be considered not viable to continue into the future – several changes were made during production. Co-op was introduced and the game was geared towards more action-oriented material to appeal to that magical, wider audience.
These same sources have also indicated that the reason Dead Space 3 moved to universal ammo, a first for the series, was so that the controversial micro-transaction system could be implemented.
EA president sums it all up best with this quote to CVG, “In general we’re thinking about how we make this a more broadly appealing franchise, because ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space.”
This, my lovely people, is horse shit.
In a past editorial I outlined some of the reasons that horror is difficult to franchise, but one thing that I did not address in full is that horror is a niche genre to begin with. Horror does not appeal to the masses like action does. There is a reason you don’t see horror films given the treatment of their summer blockbuster brethren; it’s just not commercially viable.
This tells me that EA is squarely to blame – not because they are a bunch of assholes, which I surely don’t have to convince you of at this point – but because they aren’t really all that business savvy. Dead Space is a franchise that shouldn’t be given the development budget of Call of Duty or Battlefield. The mass appeal just isn’t there and trying to instill that appeal in an already established franchise isn’t going to work. The people already know if they are interested in Dead Space as a franchise – they know if they like horror games or not.
Want proof of this in motion? Just call Capcom – ask them how they feel about the reception of the last two Resident Evil games.
Five million is far too lofty a target for a game like Dead Space 3. The reason for its largesse is directly tied to the game’s budget. EA knew right away that five million – maybe even six – units would have to be sold in order to make any kind of profit off of their investment. They should have also known that horror doesn’t sell that much. There’s a reason why horror movies are low budget; there’s no reason that their videogame counterparts shouldn’t be the same.
Dead Space 3 didn’t need its bloated budget. If budgetary expectations were set early, the developers could have made it work. The game would have been smaller in scope, to be sure,and co-op would have likely been scrapped, as would the online multiplayer and micro-transactions, but you wouldn’t have had to sell nearly as many copies to make a profit.
Take another look at those features that may have been cut with a smaller budget. How many sales would really have been lost for their absence? I know that co-op was a selling feature for a few gamers, but was it enough to justify the cost? Did anyone do any real, serious market research to make the educated judgment call that it should be included? Sure, people may have said that co-op is important to them, but they still won’t buy a horror game – even if it does have bullshit, actiony elements crammed in.
During production EA did make cuts to the budget, but that’s the absolute wrong time to do something like that. Money had already been lost, and the scope of the project was determined by the original budget. A smaller starting budget sets more realistic expectations and results in a better end product than a game that had a larger starting budget that was cut, resulting in having to cut elements from the scope, which in turn results in a loss of cohesion, which means a crappier end product.
The AAA gaming space is a mess right now, and publishers are under the false impression that throwing money at developers is the way to somehow fix it. Kingdom’s of Amalur: Reckoning sold over two million copies, which should have been great, but wasn’t near enough to be considered a success. Dead Space 3 will likely sell around 3.5 to 4 million, but that won’t be enough either. These games should be considered successful, but because of unrealistic expectations levied upon them by their publishers these games are instead considered failures.
And what happens when something fails? A franchise is killed. A studio is closed. People lose their jobs.
Something needs to change – I’m tired of being pissed off – but this just makes me want to rage quit.
Agree? Disagree? Add to the discussion by sounding off in the comments section below!