In extremely disheartening news for thousands of players, Electronic Arts announced that they will be ending their support for Waystone Games, the subsidiary recently enveloped by the publisher to create Dawngate, a new MOBA that was due to be released in 2015. The sudden abandonment of the game’s development has left players and developers at Waystone alike completely befuddled.
Dawngate has not exactly been parading through the gaming scene, receiving little media or public attention. The game recently exited closed-beta six months ago, opening up to the public at large. EA had only given small attempts at marketing the game themselves, including feature booths at PAX and Gamescom. Despite this, however, the Dawngate beta was quickly expanding their reach through word of mouth and grassroots efforts, with a bustling competitive scene, a large group of Waystone supported and independent Twitch streamers, and an extremely active community discussing mechanics, tactics, and lore. Waystone recently announced a series of long-running tournaments which were due to give the first large cash prizes seen in the game, and a new patch to rework the game’s mechanics was only a few weeks away from release.
Nobody argues that MOBAs are a challenging market to enter. With many betas and alphas currently in the works – including the likes of Gigantic, Strife, BattleCry, Heroes of the Storm, and many more – it can be hard for any game to make waves in the gaming community. This is compounded by the fact that the leaders in the genre, League of Legends and DOTA 2, dominate the landscape with millions of players. The cluttered market is reminiscent of the MMO bubble of the last decade, where many companies attempted to challenge World of Warcraft, with varying degrees of success, and many failures along the way. The development cycle for MOBAs are long and expensive for developers, usually hoping for big payoffs in the forms of microtransactions over the long-term.
The question becomes: why did EA abandon such a big project in such a reactionary way? Nobody is quite sure, including the developers, who were blindsided by the announcement of their cancellation only a week before the public announcement, as well as before a game-changing patch which would have made all characters free. What coverage the game had received by games media and Youtubers like TotalBiscuit alike was almost universally positive, praising the game on all points. The game diverged from others in the genre by allowing for a flexible meta-game, allowing players to use different characters in unexpected ways, creating very dynamic gameplay. Coupled with this was an extreme emphasis on storytelling and deep lore, as Dawngate prided itself in its extensive backstory, with a stunningly gorgeous webcomic. This focus on linking narrative and mechanical design is even something that has League of Legends rethinking their own aspects of the game’s lore, potentially proving that MOBAs with lore could easily make waves in the industry.
Little can be said over the inner workings of EA, which are shrouded in mystery. This isn’t the first time EA has stunted the promising growth of subsidiary developers under their banner, most notably Warhammer 3 and Command & Conquer series. In a somber discussion on an impromptu Money Pigs – a Dawngate focused podcast on Twitch – the lead producer at Waystone, Dave Cerra, spoke candidly about his experience with the suits at EA:
“Quite frankly, these guys do not understand the kind of game that we’re making. And, to their credit, they also know they don’t understand the kind of game we’re making… [discussing how continuing development will be beneficial] would be like speaking Latin to them.”
They go on throughout the stream to reveal many aspects of the upcoming patches that were leading up to the game’s public release, as well as unfinished characters that players will now miss out on.
There is no question that MOBA development is hard and expensive: it most certainly is. But surely EA should have considered that reality before jumping into the deep end of a very competitive genre, although this is clearly not the case as cited by Cerra. It really feels to me that the choice to abandon Dawngate at such a promising stage in its development process shows a consistent shortsightedness that seems to so frequently be standard operating procedure by EA over the past decade. With many gaffes littering EA’s recent history upon various releases, such as the awful launch of Sims City (2013), the regressive design that makes The Sims 4 look like a tremendous step backwards in the series, the milquetoast launch of the extremely hyped Titanfall, the constant annoyance of Origin, and the constant errors with seemingly every Battlefield launch, the laundry list of perceived mistakes and slights at consumers would make even the most seasoned clothes-washer blush.
It seems that those in charge of the business side of EA as a publisher seem to be forgetting their place in game development, and their constant efforts to push products out quickly, their constant effort to seek viral successes, and their insistence on shoe-string budget marketing of games until the last minute is continually hurting them financially and publicly. Let’s not forget that EA is a two-time winner for “Worst Company in America,” as voted by The Consumerist, only beat out this year by Comcast, which is an entirely different can of worms. While EA does have good franchises still being debuted, not to mention their ever popular sports franchises, it is fair to say that EA does seem to want success despite their constant cancellations and mistakes. Their interference with Bioware, while annoying in the past, has largely been minimal, and while EA has gone out of their way to try to waylay criticism by continually pushing out content as requested by users such as with The Sims 4, it can be understandable that many Dawngate lovers are calling for boycotts of EA products at yet another misstep by the publisher.
The devs of Waystone are in the hard spot of having the project disbanded. Although it was not detailed, it is suspected some will integrate with EA at large, while others will have to go their separate ways and look for new industry jobs. For consumers, players will be able to continue playnig the current build of the game for 90 days before the game is shut down for good. The Waystone leads pushed their superiors to refund all purchases of microtransactions within the next two weeks, and have made all characters in the game – as well as optional skins and items – free of charge until the end of the game’s lifespan. Many petitions and pleas for EA not to abandon the project, spearheaded by desperate players, are currently in the works. But given EA’s stringent history with strangling their IPs, many are pessimistic about any future for Dawngate.