EA recently cancelled two games and delayed another, which is part of a larger trend of games that are being delayed or outright cancelled.
Respawn Entertainment announced it will sunset Apex Legends Mobile and the game will go offline on May 1. (Source: Respawn Entertainment)
In the past few months, the gaming industry has seen a huge wave of delays and cancellations including two games made by Respawn Entertainment, one of EA’s biggest cash cows. Here we look at all the potential factors bogging them down.
The gaming industry is being swept into a trend of delays and cancellations. Huge publishers including EA and Ubisoft have recently delayed some upcoming projects and completely axed some highly anticipated projects that are just getting off the ground. In the aftermath, quite a few game development employees have been laid off during the past few months.
Small delays happen all the time, but they are costly. All teams have to be synchronized in order to achieve a good release, from the game studio, to the marketing department, to the retailers that sell the game. Delaying a game can kill a quarterly report and damage a publisher’s reputation. Cancellations and sunsetting are also big business hits. So, why are so many industry powerhouses making these risky moves? Let’s investigate.
Electronic Arts (EA), one of the industry giants, has announced that several games are losing support. Apex Legends Mobile will be shutting down after being live for a measly eight months. May 1 will be the last day players can log in to the game. The announcement surprised many gamers, as the PC version of the title has reached over 130 million players.
EA is also cutting Battlefield Mobile. The company claimed “the industry has evolved” so their goals with Battlefield are changing. Industrial Toys, the studio developing Battlefield Mobile, is shutting down.
That’s not all. The highly anticipated Star Wars Jedi: Survivor by Respawn Entertainment received a six-week delay, moving from March 17 to April 28.
Wizards of the Coast
Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop fantasy role-playing game from the 1970s, has been enjoying a large popularity spike in recent years. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, D&D sales enjoyed a huge 33% jump in 2020, and the IP has continued to expand since then, including a move to the video games platform helmed by Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro.
What was once counterculture has become one of the biggest communities on TikTok. Despite this popularity, Wizards cancelled at least five video game projects based on the fantasy RPG genre in January. Roughly 15 people at Wizards of the Coast lost their jobs, and external studios such as OtherSide Entertainment and Hidden Path Entertainment will feel the pain, too. There will still be D&D games, just fewer of them.
Ubisoft followed EA’s steps by cancelling or delaying titles, and by laying off some developers after 2022 sales were lower than expected. Skull and Bones (now in its fifth delay), Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, and Assassin’s Creed Mirage were all supposed to be released in 2022. That did not happen.
In fact, Ubisoft is in hot water. After two games flopping last year and not releasing an Assassin’s Creed game, they are in for a bad year. In 2022, Ubisoft also cancelled four unannounced games. In 2023, Ubisoft already has cancelled three more games.
This trend is concerning, spanning more than just the big names. Following are a couple more delays to illustrate the point:
- Fntastic delayed The Day Before by eight months.
- Naughty Dog delayed The Last of Us Part I on PC by a few weeks.
- Playstack delayed The Last Faith.
- Daedalic delayed The Lord of the Rings: Gollum for the third time.
- Microsoft delayed Forza Motorsport.
- Koei Tecmo delayed Atelier Ryza 3 by a month.
Now that we’ve established that the gaming industry has been hitting some snags in the past few months, let’s find out why.
Customers are buying fewer games
The market size of the US video games industry shrunk in 2022. (Source: Statista)
The global video game market value declined from 2021 to 2022. While the number of gamers is growing, customers are actually spending less money buying games. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. With rising prices across every sector, consumers have less money to buy luxury items like video games. Customers want entertainment that costs less.
US consumers only spent $56.6 billion on video games in 2022, which was down 5% from the previous year. Gaming companies saw a few wins, like PS5 sales having its biggest quarter, but the gaming departments of most companies took a few hits. Even E3 was cancelled.
Game development costs went up, thanks to the pandemic
The economic effects of the pandemic on the video game industry did not become apparent until recently. That’s because big games take a substantial amount of time to create. Elden Ring, one of the biggest games of 2022, started development in 2017. In 2023, we are finally seeing games that took major development hits because of the pandemic.
Game studios can work from home for plenty of the development process, but not all of it. At the beginning of the pandemic, how were game developers supposed to start motion capture? Or in-person mapping? I am not surprised Just Dance 2023 flopped. Ubisoft published a version of the game every single year since 2009. If Just Dance 2023 was being developed during the pandemic, how were the developers supposed to capture the dance moves?
The beginning of the pandemic was fantastic for selling video games, when customers had money and time at home. It wasn’t fantastic for developing video games, and now we are finally feeling those effects.
We are just now seeing the effects of the pandemic on video games because of how long the triple-A development cycle is. Nobody can know for sure, but perhaps gaming studios have been overwhelmed by a combination of factors:
- Consumers had less money to spend.
- Game development became harder, thanks to the pandemic.
- Earlier delays snowball into more delays.
- Recent games are flopping, scaring stakeholders.
We didn’t notice that the pandemic had such a big effect on the gaming industry because we didn’t see games that were mostly developed during this time. One delay can slow down other projects further down the pipe, because studios can’t move developers from one project to the next. Now that those games are coming out, or are getting delayed because of the pandemic, video game publishers like EA and Ubisoft have to take action.