While conducting an interview with MCV, EA Vice President of Global Marketing Laura Miele revealed one of the core reasons for Dead Space 3′s shift toward cooperative gameplay: marketing research.
“We were hearing feedback that they love the thriller game, but it was pretty scary, and the obvious next step was that they wanted to play with someone. So we introduced co-op into the game.”
All right, everyone let out your collective sighs and groans.
I have never personally met Laura Miele, but she does not strike me as the gaming type. She is likely more comfortable in a conference room, throwing up sales figures and trends on a dry erase board than actually discussing the merits of a fully-upgraded plasma cutter versus the cost of the force gun. I understand her job is market statistics, and I am doing my best not to simply post the Bill Hicks bit on what to do if you find yourself in that line of work.
That being said, for Miele to say the “obvious next step” is adding a second player to the core experience of Dead Space is ridiculous. Not since Metroid: Prime first took us inside the visor of Samus did a game so perfectly capture the sense of isolation and loneliness of a derelict space ship, and to add the element of the Necromorphs made it, yes, one of the scariest experiences in all of video games. Dead Space 2 managed to increase both the horror and action in perfect ratios; while you definitely fired more bullets, the types of horrible beings you would encounter were also greatly expanded. This has translated into a video game series that has sold over four million copies across the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 (failed potential of DS: Extraction on the Wii notwithstanding). Critics have praised the terror and fans heaped praise across the internet as well.
What exactly is Electronic Arts thinking?
In trying to appeal to more people who have not yet played a Dead Space game, they will end up doing two things: first, they will alienate a loyal – not the biggest, admittedly, but loyal – fanbase who has turned one nightmarish adventure through an abandoned mining ship into a multimedia franchise that includes games, animated films and comic books. These are the people who enjoy having the utter crap scared out of them, and with Resident Evil straying away from its horror roots, Dead Space was the perfect fill for that new void. Even Silent Hill has not enjoyed the praise it once had before its shift in developers. EA can say all they want about how co-op isn’t going to take away from the “horror” aspect of the game; a brightly-lit, snowy planet that has you facing human soldiers, with or without a partner dropping in and out, does not strike me as terrifying.
The second problem will be these new people who gravitate (no puns) toward Dead Space 3 thanks to what will no doubt be the biggest advertising campaign yet seen for a game in the series. After playing through and most likely enjoying their time with DS3, they will want to go back and play the first two in the series which will be available to them at a fraction of the cost of a normal new video game. Having played through the most recent entry, which involved shooting everything that moves – people as well as Necromorphs – they are going to write off the original Dead Space and possibly the sequel as any or all of the following: boring, frustrating, needs co-op. By this point, I expect the people who loved the first and second will be sorely disappointed and not run out in droves to pick up a potential fourth game, thereby leveling out the sales with any new customers EA picks up with DS3.
Miele went on to say “Personally, I would rather go to [a] scary movie with my husband rather than sit at home with the lights out watching one on my own. We’re looking for that to reach out to consumers that perhaps were not open to Dead Space 1 and 2.” This is the heart of the problem: Miele is not us, and watching a horror movie is a fundamentally different experience than playing a horror game. Seeing a protagonist perform actions in front of a camera as directed and written on a script is worlds away from using a controller to dictate exactly what happens to someone like Isaac, and at some point Electronic Arts is going to have to stop trying to appeal to everyone. Although I am not in agreement with everyone over the Mass Effect 3 problems and controversy, EA needs to realize they are on watch from people who did not like what happened to that series. When a new IP like Dead Space, Mass Effect or (once upon a time) Madden NFL, all you need to do is make the game, and make it well. We will take care of the buying, and we will tell people they should buy it too.