Mass Effect: Andromeda gameplay designer Manveer Heir let slip some choice words about EA’s approach to game development on the Waypoint Radio podcast this weekend. Heir left Mass Effect: Andromeda developer BioWare and is now an independent developer.
Considering the current context — with EA shutting down Dead Space and Battlefield Hardline developer Visceral, which saw its current project, a single-player Star Wars game in the vein of Uncharted cancelled, it doesn’t bode well for fans of linear, single-player experiences. He explained why Mass Effect: Andromeda was made an open-world game, instead of sticking to how the previous entries were.
"It's definitely a thing inside of EA," he said, "they are generally pushing for more open-world games. And the reason is you can monetise them better. The words in there that were used are 'have them come back again and again’. Why do you care about that at EA? The reason you care about that is because micro-transactions: buying card packs in the Mass Effect games, the multiplayer. It's the same reason we added card packs to Mass Effect 3: how do you get people to keep coming back to a thing instead of 'just' playing for 60 to 100 hours?"
"The problem is that we've scaled up our budgets to $100 million plus and we haven't actually made a space for good linear single-player games that are under that. But why can't we have both? Why does it have to be one or the other? And the reason is that EA and those big publishers in general only care about the highest return on investment. They don't actually care about what the players want, they care about what the players will pay for.”
Heir also shed light at how crucial micro-transactions have been for EA with past games
"You need to understand the amount of money that's at play with micro-transactions. I'm not allowed to say the number but I can tell you that when Mass Effect 3 multiplayer came out, those card packs we were selling, the amount of money we made just off those card packs was so significant that's the reason Dragon Age has multiplayer, that's the reason other EA products started getting multiplayer that hadn't really had them before, because we nailed it and brought in a ton of money. It's repeatable income versus one-time income.
"I've seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards." What we're seeing is a "cynical" chasing of the games making big money. "You've seen - what is BioWare's new franchise coming out?" he asked.
"Anthem," Waypoint Radio’s host answered.
"Right," Heir said. "It's not a traditional-looking BioWare game, right? If that's what you're seeing from a place like BioWare, owned by EA, a place where I worked for seven years; if that's what you're seeing from Visceral now closing and going to this other Vancouver studio; what it means is that the linear single-player triple-A game at EA is dead for the time being."