Image: Need for Speed SHIFT
People these days know Slightly Mad Studios as the team behind the crowdfunded Project CARS games. But before that, they cut their teeth making Need for Speed: SHIFT semi-simulation racers.
Two SHIFT games were released, and according to SMS CEO Ian Bell a third one was planned. But according to him, EA canned the project weeks before work was scheduled to begin, and he's never forgotten it.
The explosive allegations came out during a livestream with SpotTheOzzie, an Australian YouTuber and streamer with a background in sim racers. So as you'd expect, he was streaming some Project CARS 2 to coincide with the game's launch.
SpotTheOzzie has his own Discord server, as many streamers do. But a couple of hours into the stream, a surprise guest joined: Ian Bell, the chief executive of Slightly Mad Studios.
"I haven't slept in three days," he proclaimed, before going ahead to answer hours upon hours of questions from Ozzie and those in the stream chat. One user eventually asked Bell whether the original Project CARS would have been made if they didn't have their investment/early crowdfunding portal, and Bell retold (from his perspective) what happened with the SHIFT games.
"We'd made a game called NFS Shift, we made a game called SHIFT 2, and EA came to me and said, 2 months into SHIFT 2, can we give you $US1.5 million if you agree not to talk to any other publishers, to agree [to do] any other games or work on any other arrangements with any other publisher, and we'll give you $US1.5 million and we'll sign SHIFT 3," Bell said at around 6 hours, 14 minutes in.
"So I said OK, that sounds like a good deal. I took the $US1.5 million, I paid the guys loads of bonuses. And two weeks before we were due to start SHIFT 3, they cancelled with no warning. They said, we're not doing that anymore."
Bell went on to say that EA recommended that affected staff contact them if they needed work - but that EA also emailed key staff at Slightly Mad, resulting in some of them leaving the studio.
"They sent emails to three, four, five of our key people. And two of which actually left, because we were in trouble. We had nothing left. We were done. They literally destroyed our company, they tried to kill us, they tried to steal our technology as well."
That's a serious enough allegation, but when the Australian streamer asked if EA was effectively trying to buy SMS out, Bell put the boot in further.
"They tried to fuck us over - there's no other way to put it," the SMS CEO said bluntly. "That's what they tried to do. They tried to destroy us, and we have no love for EA in this company. So yes, I remortgaged our home, I put the cash on the line, I put it on the line, I paid the staff for three more months, we made some games and scraped by."
Not finished, Bell continued: "Those guys are arseholes. We have no respect for EA, I'll never do a deal with them again, no respect for them, they're horrible human beings, they're corporate monsters."
All of that sounds bad enough, but Bell went into further detail about the split between Slightly Mad and EA. He then said that EA tried to claim ownership over the technology Slightly Mad created for the SHIFT games, but some crafty manoeuvring on Bell's part prevented all that:
They had a clause in the contract that they would own the technology. And I wrote a clause to say you can own all the technology, except for the third-party technology, such as things like FMod, that's a separate company, you can't own that..
So before I signed the deal with them, I moved all of our technology into a separate company called Middleware Limited. I didn't tell EA. So when they came to try to steal our tech later, I said, 'No, that's a third-party owned tech. That all belongs to Middleware Limited,' which I owned 100 per cent. You own nothing, EA. That's not your tech, that's a third-party owned tech.'
I've reached out to EA for a response regarding the cancellation of a SHIFT sequel, the breakdown between the two companies, and Bell's claims. I hadn't heard back from them at the time of writing, and if they respond (and you'd imagine there will be a response in some form), I'll let you know.
Outside of EA, Project CARS 2 is being published by Bandai Namco. For an insight into that relationship, a user asked Bell for details the season pass.
"Oh Jesus Christ, I can barely work them out. They were setup by Bandai Namco, and I have half a clue ... on GTPlanet, we have a graphic that's more explanatory than anything I could possibly enunciate vocally, because it's very complicated," Bell replied.