The Rise and Fall of Westwood Studios

It’s never a good thing when a business closes especially when said business is a game developer. Recent high-profile studios include EA whose pedigree includes an unpublished Star Wars game and the Dead Space Series. Lesser studios include THQ and Sony Liverpool the series creator of Wipeout. Each of the studios had major success to varying degrees as well as unsuccessful games in respect to sales. One such studio we’ll look at in depth is Westwood Studios. Here is the rise and fall of Westwood Studios.

Westwood Studios was founded in 1985. From looking at their catalog of games they focused on RTS games and action-adventure games as well as Disney and Dungeons and Dragons games. In the later years, the studio worked extensively on Command and Conquer titles which have been reviewed well and are extremely popular among the fan base. In fact, according to an EA press release the series collectively sold over 30 million units!

So why did Westwood studios close? Especially with a proven track record?  From my observation, it appears to be due to various acquisitions. In 1992 Westwood was acquired by Virgin Interactive Entertainment. This was possibly the first nail in the coffin as Virgin has established a record of late products as well as inferior games. This relationship was short-lived as EA purchased Westwood in 1998. Virgin’s game business would fold in 2003. In 2003 Westwood would again be a part of a business merger with EA Pacific and EA Los Angeles.

That’s not to say it was all bad during the Virgin years. In 1991 They released Eye of the Beholder a real-Time RPG based off Dungeons and Dragons. Worldwide It sold 150,000 units. While not huge numbers, it was still respectable for a niche game. Jason Hewitt said this about the acquisition, “In short, Westwood over-expanded and that resulted in a deal between Westwood and Virgin. Westwood’s founders didn’t have any control after that deal over their company, thus EA was able to acquire it from Virgin Games.”

Jason Hewitt also mentions a canceled unannounced IP. “But what about the infamous Project that ‘shall not be named’? Joseph shed some light on it and revealed that the game was meant to be called Body Count. Body Count was going to be a cyberpunk, action, RPG type game on SEGA’s Genesis. But EA decided to cancel the project.”

Another factor in Westwood’s closure was the poor sakes reception of Command & Conquer: Renegade. I feel poor sales were due to the gameplay change. Command & Conquer was normally an RTS but Command and Conquer: Renegade shifted to a first-person shooter.  Westwood’s second flop was Earth and Beyond. This game seemed cool to players at first – a massive sci-fi MMO with an ever-expanding universe and story. However, not everyone saw the potential and the game was finally canceled six months later.

To gamers, this closure was and is alarming considering Westwood’s overall was a successful company in my opinion ruined by acquisitions and unrealistic sales expectations.

However, even though Westwood was closed the studio continues to operate under the name Petroglyph. Various employees from the original Westwood Studios opened this game development studio and have had mild success. Even after the acquisitions and closures, Petroglyph Studios have had successful releases of their own even after the failed mergers. These games include Grey Goo, Star Wars: Empire at War and Guardians of Graxia. The Command and Conquer series while hibernating is still alive and popular. In 2012 EA announced C&C Genesis 2. It was going to be a part of the Generals series as well as free to play.  However, it was shortly canceled after the beta. EA also announced in November of 2018 a Command and Conquer remaster being developed by Petroglyph, there is no confirmed release date. Funny how it’s the remains of Westwood remaking the game for EA.

I’m sure more can be said about the closure of Westwood Studios. The studio had success independently even now as a substantially smaller studio their success continues. The studio had a proven track record of quality games. Even when being acquired they still had hits!

Westwood was a gifted studio with great talent, but they got too big for their own good. When they were acquired they lost the ability to make their own decisions. Unfortunately, we see this same thing happening with Bioware. They were once Western RPG kings but since they’ve been acquired by EA they’ve become a shell of their former self. Hopefully, EA can correct the course for Bioware.  I long for more Jade Empires, Mass Effects, Dragon Ages, and yes even Anthems. Let us hope for better management of resources, support of devs, post-release updates and most importantly, time for the game to be perfect – even if it means a delay. I would rather play a delayed game that works and is polished rather than playing a broken polished turd.