Ultima X: Odyssey Interview

The Middle-Aged Gamer has published an informative fifteen-question interview with several former members of the Ultima X: Odyssey development team. There's some great info in here for those of you still curious about why the game was indefinitely cancelled:
When did word first reach the UXO and UO development teams about the closing of Origin's Austin studio and the relocation of those teams to San Francisco?

Rick Hall : It was only a few months before they actually closed the doors. I found out about a week before the rest of the studio. I think it was around mid-February of 2004. They told the rest of the studio a week later that they'd be closing the doors in April and trying to relocate most of the team to San Francisco to complete UXO.

Jonathan Hanna : I want to say in Feb 2004. Don't recall the exact date.

Kevin Saffel : It started out as a rumor maybe 2 weeks before the actual announcement. It really put a damper on the team's spirit. Eventually, they announced it to us that they were shutting down the studio and moving select people to California. It was very sad to watch as the company slowly disintegrated over the next few weeks.

Amy Sage : Official word? The day before it happened in Feb. of '˜04. There had been a few uneasy signs though, for about a week. someone's temporary contract not getting renewed when we thought it would, a couple strange design documents found in a shared folder, a cessation of meetings shortly before, all combined with the fact that a part of the design had just been handed to a team from California a couple weeks before. I definitely had the feeling a major shift was coming for UXO, but until I got the official word, I didn't know it was the whole studio. That news was rough - definitely one of those '˜knock the wind out of you' moments, since I'˜d been there for 6 years.


Why was Ultima X : Odyssey cancelled? We know the official reason given, of course, but after so much time, money, talent, and even publicity was put into it, it seems so unbelievable that EA was willing to just drop it and take the loss.

Rick Hall : EA had no desire to drop the project. Remember, they made offers to most of the dev team to try to relocate them to California. They absolutely wanted to finish the game. The whole issue was driven by investor relations. Wall Street demands efficiency. At the time, EA had studios all over the world and each studio requires money to operate. It was making EA less efficient than it could have been. Investor pressure caused EA to attempt to consolidate their satellite studios into "hubs".

That's one of the reasons why Westwood was shut down, and many of those developers moved to EA's San Francisco office. Shortly thereafter, EA attempted further consolidation with both Maxis and the Origin studio. I think the EA execs truly expected a higher percentage of people to accept their offers to relocate the Austin guys to San Francisco. After all, they had success in Las Vegas with Westwood (around 85% accepted the relocation offers), and EA expected to repeat that success with Origin.

Unfortunately, Las Vegas is very different than Austin. There aren't many game developers in Las Vegas, so the Westwood guys were going to have to move anyway. They had no other viable options, so they just took up EA's relocation offers out of convenience. In Austin, there were 20 other game developers right there in town, and practically everyone in Austin knows everyone else. It wasn't hard for a lot of people to find jobs right there. The end result was definitely not what EA expected. The UXO project died simply because of logistics, not because EA wanted to shut it down.

At Origin, we were just casualties of war in business. I don't blame EA. I understand why they did what they did, and it makes business sense. Even commenting about the amount of money that was spent on UXO is a bit misleading. UXO cost around $10 million over 2 years when it was cancelled. In the face of EA's $3 billion annual budget, that's really not even a blip on the radar.

Jonathan Hanna : No idea really. It was 4 or 5 months after I left, and I've heard lots of different reasons, but never got enough information to determine which was the most accurate. I'm sure the original team not making the move contributed to that, but there were probably other factors.

Kevin Saffel : I honestly believe they had no intention on killing it at the time Origin was shut down. EA thought about 80% of the people (from Austin) that were offered the move to California would go. There were a handful of developers out in California that had been helping the Austin team for a little while. However, with just 2 people (artist and world builder) from the Austin UX:O team moving to California, there really wasn't enough people to continue developing the game. None of the engineers that designed the technical pieces of the game and none of the designers went. Eventually most of the programmers in California moved projects or left EA leaving very few people on the UX:O team. They attempted to revive it as a single player game, but, EA eventually decided that was a bad idea (wouldn't be a big enough game) and it was finally killed.

Amy Sage : Again. I wish I knew. I can't say it was a major surprise after the recent cancellations of Earth and Beyond, Motor City Online, and UO2, but as for the real reasons, those were meetings I wasn't in on.