Sometimes, video games fail. It’s part of the nature of the industry, and even well-loved franchises can eventually fall into a state of disrepair, regardless of their previous successes. No matter how great a series is, one misstep can cause chaos.
However, it seems as though Electronic Arts is a publisher with a trend for damaging the beloved video game franchises that it holds under its library. Indeed, the history of EA as a whole is littered with the shipwrecks of some of the greatest titles seen in the history of video games, whether through outright destruction or by turning the series into shells of what they once were. Even franchises such as Star Wars are not able to escape publisher interference and eventual cancellation.
As such, it’s worth remembering some of the intellectual properties that have never been the same after some direct involvement from EA. Here’s a rundown of the franchises that EA has ruined.
This Page: Dead Space, Dungeon Keeper, Ultima, Wing Commander
Dead Space is one of the more recent additions to the EA graveyard. The sci-fi horror series was one of the most iconic of the last console generation, with the first title in particular bringing out genuine scares through grotesque body horror and the isolation of space. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before EA turned its attention to the financial returns of the Visceral series, with the niche genre of the horror game seen as a reason for the series failing to hit targets.
Off the back of this, Dead Space started to shift. The smaller changes in Dead Space 2, such as a slightly higher action focus and a larger emphasis on character dynamics, eventually morphed into a full-on action adventure experience in Dead Space 3. That change, along with the confusing addition of microtransactions for upgrades in a single player game, left a bitter taste in the mouths of players, and in spite of solid sales the franchise yet again failed to meet EA’s lofty expectations.
As such, Dead Space was put into cryostasis, and Visceral was moved onto the underwhelming Battlefield: Hardline. Before too long, Visceral itself would be gone, as the studio was shuttered in the wake of EA deciding to move its single player Star Wars game into more of a Destiny-style experience under EA Montreal, stating that people don’t like linear games any more. With Visceral closed, the future of Dead Space is truly up in the air.
Initially developed by Bullfrog Productions, the Dungeon Keeper games were some of the most engaging and fun games in the strategy circuit. The first Dungeon Keeper was released just two years after EA had acquired Bullfrog as a studio, and by throwing the players into the role of a villain running an evil fantasy dungeon it captured the imagination of many. The game’s sequel, Dungeon Keeper 2, upped the ante and continued the success of the series.
However, a third Dungeon Keeper from Bullfrog never appeared. Dungeon Keeper 2 did not meet the sales expectations of EA, and so Bullfrog was tasked with making the game more accessible. However, Bullfrog itself was slowly merged into EA UK and tasked with working primarily on licensed games such as the Harry Potter series, and so Dungeon Keeper 3 was quietly cancelled as Bullfrog disappeared.
Unfortunately, Dungeon Keeper would return in a form more hideous than anything its dungeons could have created: a mobile title with freemium microtransactions so heinous that the game barely functioned. The game itself was roundly criticised, and – as an even more depressing note – it proved to be the last game developed by the once-renowned Mythic Entertainment, whose own role had shifted into mobile development before being closed down by EA entirely.
Ultima was once one of the most important RPG series on the market. The first game, Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness was released all the way back in 1991, and the series acted as one of the major building blocks of the RPG scene. It’s fair to say that developer Origin Systems is one of the most important in the history of computer gaming, while even spin-off games such as Ultima Underworld proved hugely influential, with Underworld going on to inspire the likes of Wolfenstein 3D, BioShock, and Deus Ex.
All that started to change when Origin was acquired by EA. Shortly after the takeover the developer released Ultima VII: The Black Gate, a game that hinted at the studio’s distrust of EA as a whole, with villain The Guardian drawing clear parallels to the publisher. Although Ultima VII did well, the slow disintegration of Ultima then took place, with EA shifting the focus of the series into the MMO Ultima Online in 1997.
The disastrous launch of Ultima IX: Ascension saw EA kill off the series once and for all, cancelling all in-development Ultima projects and leaving Origin empty. Since then, there has been a couple of failed free to play spin-offs and Ultima Online continues to be maintained, but the mainline series is effectively dead at this point. At least fans of Ultima Underworld have a successor in the form of Underworld Ascendant in the works for release this year.
Ultima was not the only casualty of EA’s takeover of Origin Systems. Alongside the RPG series, Origin was also home to space flight simulator series Wing Commander, and the franchise was a force to be reckoned with when it came to PC gaming. Delivering cut scenes that were absolutely stunning at the time, including performances from the likes of John Rhys-Davies and Mark Hamill, the series delivered a cinematic experience beyond what gamers could expect for the time.
However, Wing Commander had the problem of sitting within a genre that was on the decline. Space combat sims were slowly losing popularity among the gaming public, and the series was further hit by the departure of creative head Chris Roberts in 1996. In the wake of Ultima IX‘s release,Wing Commander was also impacted, with spin-off Privateer Online seeing cancellation and effectively shelving the series.
EA tried to bring back Wing Commander with Wing Commander Arena in 2007, but the multiplayer shooter had little to tie it to the original series. Instead, fans have turned to Chris Roberts’ new venture, Star Citizen, but the crowdfunded venture has been hit with numerous delays in spite of its hugely successful backing drive.
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