Shadow Realms, last year's surprise announcement from BioWare Austin, is going through big changes and may have been totally rebooted, sources tell Kotaku.
That Austin branch of BioWare, best known for developing the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic, originally unveiled Shadow Realms as an online 4 vs 1 action-role-playing game that would be released episodically beginning in 2015. Although the studio didn't officially say anything about pricing, many believed that the game would be free-to-play.
But things have changed. Two industry sources say they heard Shadow Realms was cancelled, but a third, reliable source familiar with goings-on at BioWare Austin says the game was overhauled in late October and will now have a full campaign. Though some details may be in flux, early plans for Shadow Realms now peg it as a 2017 release for PS4, Xbox One and PC, according to that source.
A photo of an internal EA database provided by a separate source confirmed that the online servers for Shadow Realms, which is code-named Avalon, were disconnected this week. A second photo reveals that EA added a new code-name, Trafaglar, on the same day that Avalon was removed. (This code-name could refer to just about anything, of course.)
Though Shadow Realms was shown to the public at various gaming events last year, we haven't heard much about it in recent months. In August, BioWare Austin announced that they'd be sending out alpha invitations in the following month. Then, in late October, the studio announced that they were delaying the game's closed alpha. They have not said much publicly about the game since then, although community manager Eric Musco wrote on Reddit in December that Shadow Realms is "absolutely not cancelled" and that they would have more to share soon.
So what happened? According to one source, BioWare decided to reboot the game, coinciding with their decision to embrace the integration of EA's digital store and online service, Origin. Developers at EA take budget hits if they don't use internal technology and services, according to multiple people who have worked for the company. When the developers behind some of EA's recent online games, like Dawngate and Command & Conquer, didn't integrate Origin, those games' budgets were limited, which may have been a factor in their ultimate cancellations.
At first, BioWare Austin planned Shadow Realms without Origin integration, but they shifted gears after seeing Dawngate flop, according to the source who says the game has been rebooted. Now that the studio is integrating EA's online service, they have got more money and can therefore do more with the game, that source said.
A different person connected to EA confirmed to me that the developers behind previous unsuccessful multiplayer games like Dawngate and Command & Conquer would indeed have received extra money from the publisher if they had been integrated with Origin. The stumbling of both of those games was a factor in BioWare's decision to reboot Shadow Realms, a source said.
If that reboot is happening, it may appear to be a strange shift for those of us who have followed the gaming industry in recent years — usually, video games are rebooted to free-to-play, not the other way around. But for BioWare fans — and anyone sceptical of the F2P trend that has dominated video games over the past half-decade — the possible change is welcome.
EA did not respond to requests for comment.