EA Games President Speaks Frankly About Mirror’s Edge/Dead Space, Missed Point Completely

I like Mirror’s Edge very much, and thanks to it’s rapid reduction in price last year I found it very easy to recommend to people. But there were plenty of people who did not enjoy the experience as much as I did. I loved the free-flow platforming, the evasion, the thrill of the chase. I think that without Mirror’s Edge the soon to be released – soon to be HUGE – shooter Brink would be a stale by-the-numbers FPS title. In fact where it fell short of the edge was in that shooting category. The combat mechanic just wasn’t strong enough to hold the direction the game moved towards. What saddens me is that when the Games President of EA, Frank Gibeau discussed Mirror’s Edge frankly he seems to miss the whole point of what went wrong, and in turn insulted me as a gamer.

What I learned from Mirror’s Edge is that you have to execute, you have to spend more time on a game to ensure it’s polished, and you need to have the depth and persistence of an online game.

First-person parkour across buildings is fun, but to be blunt, Mirror’s Edge’s’ execution fell short.

There were issues with the learning curve, the difficulty, the narrative, and then there was no multiplayer either. The key learning from us was that if you’re going to be bold with that kind of concept, you need to take it as far as it can go in development.

The learning curve was spot on, the difficulty was fine and the narrative was vague but intriguing. Going from general game to conspiracy thriller all in this pseudo-Utopian future society gone awry. Mirror’s Edge was the perfect example, in my mind, of how to handle a new IP, don’t pander to the masses. Make something new.

Thing is you have to assume that this might result in a failure, without risk there is no reward.

What you shouldn’t do is then undermine all the creative choices and essentially say that the reason it failed was down to it being different – and yes I’ve ignored that comment about multiplayer for the moment, I’ll get back to that.

I have yet to meet a gamer who hated Mirror’s Edge at all, there are some who it simply didn’t hit a chord for, but in the same sense I can’t stand the Fifa series, not having enjoyed and of them since 1996, it doesn’t mean that they are bad games. But obviously EA has mass appeal on that title, and despite frequent issues with the series – not least to mention the problems with this years Fifa 11 with the calendar glitch – the sales are strong thanks to the brand and the licensing. Essentially it is lazy game design, change little sell a lot.

With Mirror’s Edge we had something familiar yet very new. Visually arresting yet featuring the sort of gameplay usually reserved for side-scrolling platformers or quick-time reaction games. It was simply the combat that struggled. Faith felt like she would run away and escape a threat, not get into a fight. Early on this is supported. You can slide towards a guard, steal their gun and take them down, or you can run away. This felt right. Later on you become a one woman army against a growing threat. Could it be that at some point an executive asked where the ‘fight’ was in the game and insisted that more combat be added? I think so. It felt un-natural in the flow of the game.

But then  we see a comment about missing a multiplayer model.

Well bollocks to that.

Why oh why must a game shoe in a multiplayer mode to ensure sales? It didn’t work for many games in the past, and it wouldn’t have changed the fate of Mirror’s Edge. Mirror’s Edge was ALL about the single player. You guided Faith through her adventures, she rewarded you with invigorating gameplay. BioShock had no multiplayer element, while BioShock 2 did. Which was the better game? Which sold best? By all rights BioShock 2 should have MASSIVELY outsold BioShock. It had the new IP thing done and dusted, and established fan-base and a multiplayer mode. Sadly this wasn’t the case. See gamers like the new thing. Hence why a simple clip of BioShock Infinite is ten times more enthralling than anything in BioShock 2 – that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy BioShock 2, I did, I loved it in most senses of the word.

The Games President also stated that a lack of multiplayer had a negative effect on the sales of Dead Space.

Dead Space was different. It made money for us, but didn’t hit expectations. We felt like we had an IP that struck a chord, and one that hit quality, but again it missed multiplayer modes. So when we re-worked Dead Space, we looked at how to make it a better idea, how do we make the story more engrossing, how do we build Isaac as a character, how do we make this game a success online.

Not sure if you have played Dead Space but it is a triumphant game of terrifying proportians. Infinitely mature in content, scary design from the off and if the game was played through headphones it was almost enough to make a full-grown gamer have a full breakdown, only to be discovered the following morning when the wife comes downstairs to discover that you have been scrawling gibberish all over your body/the walls in Sharpie marker.

What it didn’t need, in any sense, was a multiplayer mode. But of course Dead Space 2 is now on the horizon with multiplayer mode intact. Will it better the first game on this fact alone? Doubtful.

Will it outsell the first game? Without a shadow of a doubt yes. But not because of the inclusion of multiplayer, instead it will be all about the fact that the game has time to establish it’s place in most gamer’s collections. Bargain bins have been home to Dead Space for many months now, and for £6 you can pick up a great game. This is great a marketing/hype generator situation for the game to be in. Heck, a re-release with all DLC from the original game included and a sub-£10 price limit would sell really well over Christmas, and generate even more anticipation for the sequel. But will the sequel compliment the original, or go down the route of BioShock 2 and feel like a bloated, unnecessary extended epilogue to a self-contained game. The ending of Dead Space didn’t call out for a sequel, but I am glad that I will get to see more of the world Isaac inhabits, of course I am, I just feel that complaining about poor sales of original IP based upon lacking a multiplayer mode is pointless. The reason that there were poor sales is that the general ‘core’ gamer doesn’t want new and shiny. They want establishment. They want brand. They want licensing. The rest of us, the elite gamers? The long term gamers? We like originality. We thrive upon it. You honestly think Shadow of the Colossus would have sold better with multiplayer? No? Of course it wouldn’t. It was what it was. But it was last-gen and time does a great job of hiding the facts. Neither Ico nor SOTC sold well upon original release, despite awesome game design, astonishing originality and rave reviews.

Sometimes I think companies such as EA need to think less about the money and more about that they are contributing to, namely an ever growing collection of games that later generations will look back upon with interest. Which company will step forward bravely and stand up for their creative choices? I frankly look forward to the day that a big publisher can just be proud of the little game, rather than consistently looking for the next million seller.

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