“Achievement unlocked: A Long, Strange Journey.” It was a global message that all players who were logged into Dawngate at 10pm PST, when EA finally cut the cord on their entrepreneurial MOBA, and shut down the servers on the beloved franchise.
Entering into a market that is dominating the gaming landscape, with colossal peers like League of Legends, Dota 2, and Smite, is a daunting proposition. But Waystone Games, in partnership with EA, sought out to do just that. Attempting to differentiate themselves, they aimed to make Dawngate something unique and special within the genre. They changed the map that is so common and static among MOBAs; they changed the roles and combat system which essentially lived up to their slogan “Break The Meta” by making metas more flexible; they even injected the game with an extremely moving and deep storyline. They made all other titles in the MOBA genre – especially Riot Games – quiver in their boots at Dawngate’s prominent stature.
Alas, it was never meant to be. Dawngate launched into open beta in summer of 2014 after spending 2 years in alpha and beta, and saw exponential growth in their playerbase. But with EA seeking to earn League of Legends prestige in the shortest amount of time possible, Dawngate’s failure to grow according to those expectations led to EA announcing Dawngate‘s cancellation and disbanding of Waystone. The announcement deeply injured many long-time fans of Dawngate, many of whom had been burned by EA in the past and were finally willing to give the company, almost three-time winner of Worst Company in America, a final chance. The cancellation of Dawngate has encouraged many fans to boycott future EA titles altogether, and has likely inspired a lot of bad blood among EA’s fanbase.
EA has a long history of buying out studios before shutting them down. Companies like Westwood Studios (Command & Conquer), Bullfrog Productions (Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate), Pandemic Studios (Star Wars: Battlefront series), and many more have fallen to the same fate as Waystone Games and Dawngate. EA has even threatened to disband one of the most beloved contemporary studios, Maxis (The Sims, Sim City, etc.) if The Sims 4 isn’t a success, and things aren’t necessarily looking good.
This history of gutting developers for resources, locking down IP’s, and otherwise disbanding teams to work on internal projects has been extremely consistent and many gamers cynically predicted this fate for Dawngate. Some analysis even suggests the reason more players refused to commit to Dawngate was because EA’s name was tied to the franchise. Many of the most prominent employees at Waystone Games have abandoned EA, and are founding a new studio to create a yet unnamed game. Other devs who remained with EA are rumored to have been re-appropriated to EA’s mobile games departments.
The true heartbreak of Dawngate‘s closure is that the game was a popular and critical success. Dawngate was consistently praised for its efforts in the MOBA genre, earning accolades from major YouTube personalities like Totalbiscuit, Dodger, and Strippin. The game also earned high praise from those who played it, both within and outside of the industry. The game was consistently in the top 50 games being viewed Twitch during peak hours, had a robust and passionate community, one of the least toxic communities in the entire MOBA genre, a growing competitive scene with pro players joining big tournaments, and a healthy playerbase for a game so recently out of closed-beta.
When news came that Dawngate was being disbanded, the game was one month away from a major update that would have solved most of the naysayers complaints, namely making all characters free to anyone, giving new players a lower bar to entry similar to Dota 2. After EA made their announcement, Riot Games directly apologized to players for their loss, going so far as to add in the Waystone Games logo to League of Legends’ new map design in memory of Dawngate.
Should Dawngate have been disbanded? That remains up for debate. What is inarguable is that EA did not understand what Waystone was trying to do, as Dawngate‘s lead producer Dave Cerra candidly spoke about his interactions with his superiors within 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.” Although EA has refused to speak on why the game was cancelled, the supposition is that it was due to a playerbase that was perceived to be small, despite the game having player numbers consistent or greater than rivaling MOBAs who were also in alpha/beta, including Strife, Heroes of the Storm, and more, most of which are enjoying growing success.
Other possibilities include Dawngate not earning enough revenue via microtransactions. Although this is hard to prove as a valid problem given that the game was still in development, and had only been given 6 months to achieve profitability, a feat that is almost impossible in such a competitive market. For perspective, Smite is the third most popular MOBA behind League of Legends and Dota 2, was debuted in closed alpha back in 2011; The game released after three years of development, and has become one of the most hailed games in the genre, recently hosting a tournament with a $2 million prize pool.
Another concern is that EA never marketed Dawngate to fans appropriately. Despite a single booth at Gamescon 2014 in Germany (before EU servers had been introduced in-game), Dawngate never received any ad campaigns through YouTube, and never was pushed heavily by the ad department of EA. Many argue that it was impossible for the game to succeed if people were never informed of it.
By comparison, in the same timeframe as Dawngate, Hi-Rez marketed Smite directly in association with popular YouTubers with three high profile ad campaigns; Blizzard also featured Heroes of the Storm with a formal tournament at Blizzcon alongside professional tournaments of Hearthstone and Starcraft II, again featuring prominent YouTubers in a showgame as well as a professional tier game with teams in the Heroes of the Storm scene.
Dawngate‘s legacy already is making waves in the industry. Riot has officially announced that it’s looking into League of Legend‘s poorly constructed lore and aims to improve this to enhance the game’s narrative design, while Smite is also beginning to emphasize their backstory. As the first high profile-disbanding of a game in the MOBA genre, Dawngate will also continue to serve as a reminder about how competitive releasing games in the genre is, and that companies need to truly be willing to invest the time and energy for the long-term success of such a game. Many MOBAs including the much discussed Gigantic, and the highly anticipated 7 v 7 MOBA from Square-Enix known as Lord of Vermilion Arena will be held under high scrutiny when they debut.