|When Kings Fall, Part I|
A few years ago I interviewed for a job at a (now defunct) gaming publication. During the interview, the editor-in-chief asked me to list some of the top game companies, and out of nervousness I could name only two. Eidos, because I was playing the Tomb Raider series obsessively at that time, and Electronic Arts, because everything else I was playing seemed to come from that company. Said E-I-C made some sort of comment that EA ruled the world, which caused us both to laugh, because back then they really did own the world. EA made premiere games; was the vanguard in the industry. I wish I could say the same thing today.
To say that the downward spiral has been steep of late would be an understatement. There have been a number of interesting developments in EA land that have directly affected the MMOG community and the games that we play. Among the more recent is the fall of BattleTech 3025.
The Ballad of the MechWarrior
Based on the popular MechWarrior series, BattleTech 3025 was undergoing the regular beta rigmarole. A number of die-hards had signed up for EA.com's service to beta the game, and from what I heard from friends and read on a variety of message boards, the game was going in the right direction despite a number of bugs, although they weren't show-stoppers. It looked like the title would be released on or close to it's original (revised) release schedule.
And then the layoffs came.
Dateline: October 23, 2001
Electronic Arts announces a reduction of up to one-third of its staff in its online division (EA.com) in an effort to improve its profitability during fiscal 2003, despite the fact that EA.com sent out press releases touting the extreme success of it's online venture with over 20 million reported subscribers just a short while before the layoffs were made public. Speculation hit the official BattleTech boards as to the status of the game. A community representative of EA.com, who was not directly affiliated with the BattleTech team, stated on the official message boards that they did not have any information regarding the status of the title but that they would try to find out where BattleTech stood in the mix.
An alleged confidential internal e-mail started circulating the Internet from the office of John Riccitiello discussing the layoffs and the future support EA will put behind it's online products. Among the titles mentioned: UO, Motor City Online, The Sims Online, Earth & Beyond and Majestic. BattleTech 3025 was not listed, and the rumors of its cancellation began to grow in strength and believability.
Dateline: October 25, 2001
Electronic Arts releases it's quarterly earnings report.
Electronic Arts Inc., the largest U.S. game publisher, on Thursday reported a narrower second-quarter loss as sales grew for its offerings on all of the major game platforms. But the company, which published four of the top video games last month, declined to provide new guidance for the current quarter or beyond, saying that economic conditions were too uncertain.
In the same Reuters article an EA representative expressed disappointment in Majestic. Electronic Arts, in an effort to boost Majestic subscribers, had already announced that they would be releasing a retail version of the game, including the first five episodes and extra materials in the package. Majestic would hit store shelves on October 31st.
Dateline: October 29, 2001
Electronic Arts officially announces that it's considering the status of BattleTech 3025.
According to an EA representative, during the next few weeks, the company will judge whether the game has enough appeal to make it worth releasing. The company did not specify how the game's appeal will be determined.
The official boards began filling up with beta tester appeals to continue developing the game.
Dateline: October 31, 2001
Shortly after EA's string of announcements, there was an interesting mix-up with the official BattleTech site. Normally, if you hit the official site, you would find yourself staring at a bunch of game news and information, and a page would pop up with specific information regarding the beta. However, on this date a new page appeared to anyone hitting the site.
The page in question was a sign-up page for the EA.com service and upon first glance, it gave the impression that BattleTech was not going to be cancelled. One online journalist incorrectly speculated that EA.com was going to require players to pay to play the beta. However, it is important to remember that in order to beta test BattleTech, you had to have an EA.com account. Should BattleTech gone live, players would have had to upgrade their EA.com account to the Platinum service in order to have been able to play the game.
It was obvious, however, that once you hit the official BattleTech game site that the game was still in beta, making any speculation that one would have to pay to beta moot.
Additional speculation was fueled due to the fact that the official Website had not been updated since October 22. Some said that this was a clear indication that the game was cancelled, however, followers of the title were clear to point out that it was perfectly normal for the BattleTech site not to be updated every nine days. While concerns about the status of the title still raged, there was still some hope that BattleTech would survive.
Dateline: November 7, 2001
The day that will live in BattleTech infamy. Beta testers and curious gamers alike were finally informed of the status of BattleTech 3025 on the official Website:
We hope that you've enjoyed participating in our Beta as much as we've enjoyed creating an experience to satisfy new and veteran pilots within the BattleTech universe. Throughout the last few months, we've amassed thousands of unique and dedicated players and saw many great battles within the Inner Sphere. Our Beta is now coming to a close and plans to release Multiplayer BattleTech: 3025 as a subscription-only game will not move forward as planned. On December 6, 2001, the MPBT servers will be shut down.
We understand that Multiplayer BattleTech: 3025 holds a remarkably strong community, with equally strong ties to BattleTech history, as it moved from EGA, to Solaris and of course, this beta. We are extremely grateful to have brought, at least, a small part of our BattleTech vision directly to you.
Please enjoy the final beta of Multiplayer BattleTech: 3025 for free until the game ceases to function on December 6th.
Neither petition, nor cries for a savior would help BattleTech.
Once again, another EA game was cancelled despite a decent sized
fan base, a strong beta test, and a strong possibility that BattleTech
would make its release deadline.
In my next article, I'll look at the end of BattleTech, and provide a closer inspection of Electronic Art's series of mistakes, cancellations and other shenanigans. Stay tuned.
Originally published on GameSpy 12/22/01