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Editorial   

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!


 

Comments

Surfcaster

03/05/2013 at 12:23 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I haven't played any of the games, except for the original, but this is sad news. They basically took a commercially viable franchise, shoe-horned it into a genre that it didn't fit, and expected it to sell like hotcakes.

They could've kept this series going forever, with good scares and none of that other bloated bullshit, like co-op multiplayer. It's sad news, but that seems to be EA's MO these days.

Mega_Matt

03/05/2013 at 12:49 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Completely agree. It's a shame because the first Dead Space was a great game. 

transmet2033

03/05/2013 at 12:52 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I am hoping for a dead space 4.  I am hoping that they will return to the dark, claustraphobic hallways of the first game.  It seems like it is the perfect time to do so.

 Plus, don't people become more inventive when they have more limitations...  such as a decreased budget. 

Michael117

03/05/2013 at 01:22 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Back in the discussion where we were talking about how horror doesn't franchise well, we talked more about it from the player's perspective and the subjectiveness of horror and how you become accustomed to horror universes over time and need something fresh. We didn't really talk about the budgets, so it's great to see this Rage Quit go into it.

It's a faceplam for me, thinking about the choice they made to invest so much money in DS3 and expect so much from it. It stinks of them just looking around at their properties and just tossing them all at the AAA wall to sink or swim. That sounds like a stupid business decision, irresponsible management, and people who don't understand gaming. Are higher ups loosing jobs for stuff like this or are they blaming others? People who do things like this can't succeed for long, they need to have people who are business savy but also understand video games and the experience of playing and consuming, and all the different genres. If they keep expecting all their games to sell 6 million copies, they aren't going to be making very many video games. You can't do blockbusters and record breakers in bulk just because you say so, but the publishers have this fantasy that they can just toss money at things and turn anything into a record breaker (they practically need to break entertainment records just to make a profit). People who make these kinds of DS3 decisions have failed at capitalism and leadership, they deserve to crash and burn so others can give it a shot.

Serraxor

03/05/2013 at 01:28 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I remember a time when "AAA" was something associated with post-release (and "truly" unpaid) reviews, not pre-release budget. 

Jamie Alston Review Writer

03/07/2013 at 12:54 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Well spoken Serraxor. I too have noticed how the term "AAA title" is being thrown around like a sack of potatoes even well before the game is even released.

chocobot

03/05/2013 at 02:33 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

This is the current trend that has me really worried for the game industry. Why does every game have to be a mainstream AAA title? I don't even like too many of those games anymore. Seriously, someone needs to learn how to budget games or we'll have nothing but Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed and indie games. Yes I'm exaggerating, but you get my point. 

And damn it, Dead Space is a good series. I've even been enjoying DS3 for what it is. I can't believe there was a time when I was so hopeful about EA and thought they could be something great. We got two exciting new IPs from them with Dead Space and Mirror's Edge. EA acquiring Bioware didnt seem like such a bad thing with the high quality releases of Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age Origins. Then things quickly turned to shit.

Justin Matkowski Graphic Designer

03/05/2013 at 02:34 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I 100% agree, Jesse. How can EA not see that diluting a game to the lowest common denominator in terms of appeal (while increasing the budget drastically) will hurt them financially? In a market oversaturated with the action genre, how do they intend to create a work that will stand apart and earn them profits when to a lot gamers, "more of the same" certainly doesn't warrant a $60 investment?

GREAT GAMES are what establishes both sturdy financial footing for a publisher and its developers, not this philosophy of assimilating all gaming properties into genres that may have proved successful for 1 or 2 other titles. Look at Skyrim - $100,000,000 budget, with none of what these Jack Donaghy (not realizing the humor in it) worshipping publishers would bank on to be successful, and the game went on to become a MASSIVE success because it appealed to both old fans and new by listening to FANS, not studying faulty-developed statistics and spreadsheets.

These MBA's running the publishers obviously don't grasp simple supply and demand economics; if they did, they wouldn't waste their time overhauling successful IP's to make them more like properties which, if you take RE6 as an example, are failing outright.

How many times do publishers have to ram their head against a wall to see that it hurts? This is especially sad when it means people are losing their jobs, and even worse is the fact that the people facing unemployment are not the ones responsible for the hot mess in the first place.

Casey Curran Staff Writer

03/05/2013 at 06:10 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I may have actually went for Dead Space 3 during sales if it wasn't trying to become an action game. I really enjoyed 2 and was excited at the idea of what they could do with the series after. I'm just sick of EA. I hope they can stop this crap without developers I love like Insomniac and Bioware getting shut down. Then again, after Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3, I'm not sure if them staying is better. And I love ME3, it's just the direction it went may not be good for the series in the long run.

HEKTR0

03/05/2013 at 06:58 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I think the biggest problem is that publishers get greedy and try to change games in order to make them appeal to more people.  Using Dead Space as an example, Dead Space 2 sold well.  Rather than build off of that, they wanted to try and make even more money by opening up the series to a wider audience.  How do you do that?  By making a game that's more action oriented apparently.  But in doing so they alienated the people that enjoyed the previous games in the series because of the perceived change in direction, and they weren't successful in bringing in the new audience that they were hoping to.  Sometimes it's better to have a moderately successful niche title, than a by-the-numbers blockbuster.  But EA is in the business of making the most money possible so they took a shot and failed.  That being said, I actually enjoyed Dead Space 3 and didn't find the combat to be all that different from Dead Space 2.  Earlier today EA denied rumors that the Dead Space series is over so time will tell I guess.

Dandichu

03/05/2013 at 08:07 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

This article is fantastic. EA is effing nuts. x(

SanAndreas

03/05/2013 at 08:18 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

EA has been losing money this entire generation despite buying up half of the video game industry and gouging its customers right and left, and this is a big reason why. Unless you're making a Halo or Call of Duty game, needing 5 million sales just to break even is setting yourself up for big-time failure. And for all that budget, EA's games are some of the absolute blandest shit I've ever seen.

If it has an EA logo on the box, I generally won't buy it.

jjindie

03/05/2013 at 09:33 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I never played Dead Space or Dead Space 2, and I was barely aware there was a Dead Space 3 until now.  But I'm mad as hell that Dead Space 4 has been cancelled and I'm not going to take it anymore!  Actually I am. 

What I'm really mad about is developers like 38 Studios having to close their doors, somehow publishers are shifting all the risk to the studios and not facing the consequences for their ineptitude.  There's only a few big publishers left like EA and Activision, maybe there is some collusion or anti-trust violations going on.

I've always maintained that this last generation, PS3 and Xbox 360, was a practice generation, an introduction to the HD era.  Most of the Japanese developers saw the problems early on and didn't even join in and started making all their games for handhelds.  Hello, Atlus, and your Shin Megami Tensei games for 3DS and PSP!  The next generation will be better.  If everyone joins.

Temperance

03/05/2013 at 11:14 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I remember reading an article a very long time ago on IGN about Capcom and GBA development (sadly, I think the article is now lost; I cannot find it through a deep site search).  It was centered on the Mega Man Zero games and how they managed to push the series to four games despite low sales.  According to Capcom, they only needed to sell 15K copies by the final game to break even, so they allowed Inti Creates to push the series on until its conclusion.  That is how you properly budget a title within the boundaries of the size of the audience.  This is something that publishers have lost sight of this generation, Capcom included.  They all have stars in their eyes, trying to go after the massive sales numbers, and are willing to risk everything in order to achieve that goal.  Unfortunately, some games and genres cannot support that dream, which leads to scenarios like Dead Space 4.  Until publishers learn to set more realistic goals and budgets for their projects, this will continue well into the next console generation.

daftman

03/06/2013 at 12:16 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

Nice rant, Jesse. Aside from the points you make in the piece, this news makes me sad because I recently finished playing Dead Space: Extraction for the Wii and really liked it. It made me interested in checking out the series proper and now looks like it might be dead. Bummer.

I suppose the silver lining in the cancellation of Dead Space 4 is that EA hasn't shut down Visceral Games. I wouldn't put it past them...

BrokenH

03/06/2013 at 05:34 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

I was hoping Dead-space would stay away from the same mistakes plaguing the last two Resident Evil games. I'm not saying RE 5 and RE 6 are "outright shit". As action games they're very fun but they're not scary and they're not paced as well as earlier entries in the franchise.

It kinda hurts to see the same "accident" happen to a whole other horror series. It's as if "the suits" are incapable of learning new lessons!

jgusw

03/10/2013 at 04:42 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

What can you say?  EA does it again.  I only hope they don't ruin something else I love. 

NSonic79

03/12/2013 at 10:08 PM Reply | Permalink | Report

That's what it gets.

One less Online Pass enabled game series to worry about. Expect this to be a continuing trend if this indeed is true.

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