In a heartbreaking revelation, EA is shutting down famed studio Maxis Emeryville, developers of the SimCity series. The news comes as a shocking blow to many in the industry, particularly as it takes place during the Game Developers Conference, where many developers attend game development related events in San Francisco. Maxis developers were the first to break the news on Twitter.
The announcement was succeeded by an outpouring of support for Maxis developers from people around the world before EA finally confirmed the news in a public statement.
Today we are consolidating Maxis IP development to our studios in Redwood Shores, Salt Lake City, Helsinki and Melbourne locations as we close our Emeryville location. Maxis continues to support and develop new experiences for current Sims and SimCity players, while expanding our franchises to new platforms and developing new cross-platform IP.
These changes do not impact our plans for The Sims. Players will continue to see rich new experiences in The Sims 4, with our first expansion pack coming soon along with a full slate of additional updates and content in the pipeline.
All employees impacted by the changes today will be given opportunities to explore other positions within the Maxis studios and throughout EA. For those that are leaving the company, we are working to ensure the best possible transition with separation packages and career assistance.
It’s not entirely unreasonable for many gamers to have seen this coming. While Maxis has multiple studios, as stated in the release, Maxis Emeryville is responsible largely for production of SimCity games, most recently SimCity (2013), which was met with overwhelming unhappiness. The game was a hot mess, and not only failed to deliver an experience that most SimCity fans expected, but largely delivered a broken game. Many features within the game like AI and intelligent pathing for NPCs revealed simple systems that just didn’t work. Games were multiplayer by design, and to compensate for this fact, cities’ sizes were extremely small and restricted, which ran counter not only to every previous SimCity game, but also every game within the city-building genre.
Moreover, and perhaps most egregious was the forced online-only gameplay, which required logging into EA servers for SimCity in order to play. This was met with a complete disaster upon launch as Maxis servers were completely filled to capacity in moments, rendering the game completely unplayable for thousands of people despite being largely a single player game. As if this weren’t bad enough, Maxis – speaking for EA – said that the entire SimCity experience was designed around this online component, and although they were willing to add in a single player component, this would take months of work and fundamentally alter the game’s presentation and further break many of the features in the game. As has become customary with many AAA titles, a modder solved the problem independently, and the game was no less broken than it already was. Maxis eventually implemented the official single-player mode themselves.
Add to all this the constant DLC additions the game, which largely didn’t fix the problems the game already had, and you have a game immortalized in failure. Why isn’t EA entitled to shut down a studio that clearly failed to deliver?
The issue becomes that most of these online-only DRM features were largely forced upon Maxis’ development by the higher-ups at EA, who actively push such features on the majority of their games to incentivize their distribution platforms like Origin or to prevent perceived losses from piracy. While that may be nice and safe from a business standpoint, it has proved to be disastrous for other companies, including Ubisoft who introduced always-on DRM with Assassin’s Creed III, a move that was extremely unpopular and which was eventually scrapped. Let’s not forget Microsoft scrapping their plans for online-only Xbox One consoles due to massive public outcry. As if that weren’t warning enough, Will Wright – founder of Maxis, himself, who was not involved on development of the most recent SimCity – was quoted as saying, “Gaming has had a long history of piracy, but you can’t use DRM at the expense of the customers… If you’re just going to require it for DRM purposes only that’s obviously where it upset the consumers.”
The other harsh reality is that EA had already threatened Maxis before this closure. Maxis producer of The Sims 4, Grant Rodiek, stated on their public forums that they were not working on The Sims 5 because they wanted to make The Sims 4 a success. He followed his comments by saying, “We’re not thinking about Sims 5. If Sims 4 isn’t successful, there won’t be a Sims 5.” That is no doubt a direct reflection of EA being fully prepared to cut the life out of Maxis should they fail to deliver. And sadly, The Sims 4 is also a mess, largely due to features being removed from the game pereceivably for the purpose of being designed for DLC releases.
Many are sympathetic with the developers of Maxis Emeryville, despite their failures at SimCity. This is because Maxis Emeryville joins what some are jokingly calling the EA graveyard, a host of developers that have been scrapped by the massive publisher, a trend that they are historically notable for.
EA recently sent the final nail into the coffin on Dawngate by Waystone Games last month, joining equally praised developers Westwood Studios, Mythic Entertainment, and Pandemic studios. Moreover, EA’s lack of business sense in forcing unwanted game mechanics into games like Dungeon Keeper (mobile) continue the trend of these games failing dramatically, furthering the spiral of studios being shut down, followed by hatred for EA. Don’t forget that EA was almost voted Worst Company in America three times running, and was only beat out by Time-Warner in 2014.
As for current Maxis Emeryville developers, they’re being offered jobs throughout the larger Maxis and EA network. But if there is no need for them anymore, they are essentially out of a job. They definitely deserve all the support and well-wishes that can be given.