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Former Visceral Games Dev Speculates at What Went Wrong

It’s no surprise that the demise of Visceral Games stings on numerous levels. The studio gave us an awesome “John Carpenters The Thing in space” series of games with the Dead Space franchise, and now that’s probably going to be stuck in EA’s closet for the next while. Not to mention the talent that was at the studio that brought the series to life. But thanks to a former developer at the studio, we have a clue as to why EA pulled the trigger on Visceral.

In a series of Twitter posts, Zach Wilson (who was at the studio while they were working on Battlefield: Hardline) stated an obvious problem with certain AAA titles these days:

Wilson goes on to explain that he’s “back of the napkinning” these numbers, but added that they’re close to the real thing. “I don’t know the exact marketing budget but they’re frequently close to the dev cost (I have heard this anecdotally)”. While this doesn’t explain why Visceral had to close, it does give you an idea of what was going on.

Later on, Wilson followed up his initial tweets with some clarification. Turns out that his numbers on Dead Space sales were “totally inaccurate”. The true number for the Dead Space 2 budget is closer to $47 million, while Dead Space had a $37 million budget. Even then, he’s “not 100% sure”. However, one thing he does reiterate is that the marketing budget is usually around the production budget as a “rule of thumb”. Regardless, the idea of revenue vs. cost is still the issue.

Dead Space 2 isn’t the only game to have suffered from having good sales, but with low returns. Square Enix’s 2013 Tomb Raider reboot had a budget approaching $100 million (not including marketing costs), and needed to sell 5-6 million units within the first month to generate a profit. The game sold 3.4 million units, instead. The game eventually broke even by the end of the year, but the game was still considered a loss for the company.

One could say that the videogame industry is mimicking the film industry in regards to problems with budgets. As budgets get higher, the demands for revenue become louder. It’s not hard to find an example of a film that did well at the box office, but was considered a failure due to its bloated budget and marketing costs. There have been rumblings for years about Hollywood potentially heading towards a crash with the continued reliance on summer blockbusters with inflated budgets to rake in the cash. Videogames already had a crash in North America back in the 80s (albeit for different reasons than budget). Could they be headed for another?

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