When Visceral Games was closed by Electronic Arts, many long-terms fans of the developer were disappointed. After all, Visceral Games had created such beloved titles as the Dead Space series, and its work on an upcoming Star Wars title had been one of the most anticipated games based on the property in some time.
Although that Star Wars game has moved to EA Vancouver, for some the closure of Visceral was another sign of the EA curse. After all, a number of high-profile studios have shut up shop under the wing of the publisher over the years, and although it’s likely to happen with such a huge company as EA, some of these closures are well remembered to this day. Here’s a rundown of some of the major studios closed down by Electronic Arts.
Bullfrog Productions was one of the greats of the late 1980s and early 1990s when it came to strategy games. Creating such important franchises as Theme Park, Populous, and Syndicate, which is still considered one of the best cyberpunk games, Electronic Arts completed a takeover of the Peter Molyneux-led studio in 1995. From there, several other strong releases followed, including the likes of Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital.
Bullfrog was unable to deliver on the expectations of Electronic Arts, however, and after the relatively poor performance of Dungeon Keeper 2, the studio was tasked with making a further sequel more accessible. This game was eventually cancelled in favor of other projects, and most of what remained of the dwindling Bullfrog was merged into EA UK, resulting in the closure of the studio in 2001.
Origin Systems was once a major player in PC gaming, creating such important series as the Ultima RPG games and the Wing Commander franchise, as well as acting as a proving ground for such important figures as John Romero and Warren Spector. Understandably, Origin then caught the interest of Electronic Arts, who bought out the developer in 1992.
Initially, things continued as normal for Origin, albeit with a major expansion of staff, with further games in the Ultima and Wing Commander series released alongside cult classics such as BioForge. However, between the success of MMORPG Ultima Online and the middling sales of Ultima IX, EA decided to cancel the studio’s in-development projects, with Origin effectively limited to creating further online Ultima games and maintaining Ultima Online until the developer was shut down in 2004.
Another studio that had major successes in the world of multiplayer games, Mythic Entertainment perhaps reached its magnum opus with 2001’s MMORPG Dark Age of Camelot. Electronic Arts purchased the company in 2006, a year after Mythic had confirmed that it was working on Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.
Alongside the Warhammer-themed MMORPG, Mythic Entertainment took over maintenance of Ultima Online, alongside keeping Dark Age of Camelot up to date, but just a few months after Warhammer Online was closed down EA also shut down Mythic, with maintenance of the still-running Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot shifted to Broadsword. Mythic Entertainment’s last game released was the much-maligned Dungeon Keeper mobile game – a former Bullfrog Productions property.
In January 2008, Electronic Arts completed a massive $860 million buyout of VG Holding Corp, the parent company of both BioWare and Pandemic. Although BioWare has continued under the EA wing, Pandemic’s time under EA lasted less than two years, with EA closing down Pandemic altogether in 2009.
Although the games released under Electronic Arts’ control were not as well received as previous projects from Pandemic, with Lord of the Rings: Conquest in particular receiving criticism, many still felt unhappy that the studio was being shuttered. Indeed, even with DICE taking over the Star Wars Battlefront series, for many nothing has quite managed to reach the charm of Pandemic’s original two games in the franchise.
DreamWorks Interactive/Danger Close Games
For many years, Medal of Honor was one of the go-to franchises for those after a console first-person shooter. Initially created by the Steven Spielberg-founded DreamWorks Interactive, Electronic Arts bought the studio in 2000, rebranding it as EA Los Angeles and pushing further development in the Medal of Honor franchise as well as expanding into other series such as Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth.
The name of the developer was once again changed in 2010, this time to Danger Close Games, and with it came a major rebranding of the Medal of Honor series as modern day shooters more akin to Call of Duty. However, neither 2010’s Medal of Honor nor 2012’s Medal of Honor: Warfighter met EA’s expectations. Danger Close then became another part of DICE, and now appears to solely work on post-launch content for Battlefield games.
Although not the biggest name on this list, Waystone Games acts as another warning of what happens when a project is created with a view to chase a major gaming trend. Waystone was working on a MOBA title called Dawngate, with Electronic Arts attempting to break into the profitable market that is dominated by the likes of League of Legends.
However, Dawngate never made it past beta, with EA deciding to cancel the project outright and close Waystone Games. It’s not the only time that a studio has struggled under a push to follow a specific trend in the market, and so perhaps those concerned about what will happen to Visceral’s former Star Wars game have reason to worry.
It’s fair to say that Westwood Studios was the developer that truly popularised the idea of the real-time strategy game. 1992’s Dune 2 helped introduce a number of core RTS mechanics, before the Command & Conquer franchise revolutionised the face of strategy altogether. In 1998, Electronic Arts came calling and bought out the company.
However, Electronic Arts was unable to push Westwood further, and after shooter spin-off Command & Conquer: Renegade and MMO Earth & Beyond failed to meet its expectations, EA decided to close down Westwood Studios altogether on 2003, taking sister developer Burst Studios with it.
BioWare Montreal had a difficult task on its hands with the creation of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Previously a support studio, the developer was given lead development on one of the most anticipated games of the current console generation. Unfortunately, upon release Mass Effect: Andromeda had a mixed reception, both for its story and for a number of technical problems.
The ramifications for the sub-par release of the game were huge. The Mass Effect series was put on hiatus by EA, leaving one of the most beloved video game properties in limbo, while BioWare Montreal was dissolved, with most of the studio brought into the fold of EA Motive.
Black Box Games
Black Box Games was well known for its work on the Need for Speed series in particular. Acquired by Electronic Arts back in 2002, Black Box went on to release such classics as the Need for Speed: Underground games, before firmly taking the prize of best skateboarding series with the Skate franchise.
However, behind-the-scenes restructuring from EA saw a change of direction for the studio, after a middling reception to its final two Need for Speed games: freemium title Need for Speed: World and 2011’s Need for Speed: The Run. Electronic Arts continued in the direction of World, moving Black Box Games over to “digital formats” such as social and free-to-play under the new monicker of Quicklime Games, before shelving the developer altogether in 2013. Although this has left Skate in limbo, at least it is getting a spiritual successor called Session.
Maxis was once king of the sim games. Founded by Will Wright, the studio was bought by Electronic Arts in 1997 after a series of mixed experimentations with other genres. The studio behind the once all powerful SimCity franchise, Maxis went on to create one of the top-selling series of all time in The Sims under EA’s watch.
However, after a series of relatively strong launches, Maxis released a SimCity reboot in 2013. The game was a disaster at launch, plagued by an always-online requirement and a wealth of other technical problems. Although Maxis went on to release The Sims 4 the following year in conjunction with The Sims Studio, the developer was shuffled quietly into EA’s Mobile division back in 2015.
Although this covers most of the major studios shut by Electronic Arts, this is far from an exhaustive list. Alongside Visceral, the likes of Headgate Studios, Victory Games, Phenomic, NuFX, and Playfish have all been closed down by EA over the years.
Of course, there have been business decisions behind each of the closures, whether down to cutting costs, underperforming against targets, or simply merging studios together. However, as with any media, each closure has hurt the fans of the developer in question, and critics have asked whether closing down developers has truly been necessary. Hopefully, it will be a long time before another EA studio is shuttered.