The news that Disney was going to close Epic Mickey developer Junction Point was as sad as it was inevitable. I’ve spilled a lot of pixels on Disney’s stated preference to become a licensing house that reaps the benefits of their major properties, without all the messy details of AAA publishing, which has become an increasingly hit-or-miss proposition over the years. The blood started to spill in 2011, after heavy layoffs throughout the division, as Disney, on pressure by activist shareholders to drop the interactive division entirely, almost immediately started pushing their resources towards social and mobile – two terms their shareholders and beancounters couldn’t define if their lives depended on it, but they’re hot, so they’re something to be pursued – and killing off other properties.
In light of that, I was actually quite surprised that Epic Mickey 2 even got greenlit in the first place. For a company trying to get on the mobile/social bandwagon, a sequel to another AAA game that got mixed (though mostly positive) reviews not only doesn’t fit, it stands out like a sore thumb. The very moment reviews started dropping on the game – which, I must point out – has a very low Metacritic score – I knew the curtain was going to be drawn on the developer. Seemingly, Disney knew it first; the company was told to go home for two months upon the game’s release, and their date to go back to work kept getting pushed back. That’s writing on the wall in flaming, screaming neon lighting.
Unfortunately, Junction Point couldn’t even get a viking burial. Get a load of the corporate doublespeak in Disney’s confirmation of the studio’s closure:
It was with much sadness that we informed our teams today of changes to our Games organization, which include the closure of Junction Point Studios. These changes are part of our ongoing effort to address the fast-evolving gaming platforms and marketplace and to align resources against our key priorities. We’re extremely grateful to Warren Spector and the Junction Point team for their creative contributions to Disney with Disney Epic Mickey and Disney Epic Mickey 2.
“(A)lign resources against our key priorities”? Jesus H. Christ on a crutch, Batman. I lost some of my soul just reading that.
Obviously, the closing of any developer is sad because of the job losses entailed within. Epic Mickey 2 had a crew of about 700 people; they’re all unemployed now, including the iconic Warren Spector. But there’s more to be melancholy about than that here. Junction Point stood out as a glorious exception to where big business gaming is going in the near future. If anything, they stood for the old style of doing business; great minds having the resources to create magic. In a sea of disposable Facebook and mobile games1, here was a company – led by Warren Fucking Spector – that stood for doing things the right way. Sadly, even that wasn’t meant to be. Epic Mickey 2 was a bad game, and scuttlebutt indicates that there were massive political problems behind the scenes, giving me a sense of deja vu from Tron’s botched release. Considering how big business bureaucrats work, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if someone intentionally sabotaged Epic Mickey 2 to the best of their ability to ensure that AAA development died with it.
Junction Point was an outstanding developer, with outstanding people behind Spector himself. These people will land on their feet. Meanwhile, the sands of time in this industry move on. Gaming is going more independent than before, and the larger publishers are either looking towards other businesses or squeezing so much blood out of their respective stones that they’re beginning to alienate their customers. For a brief amount of time, Spector’s people managed to stem that tide, even in the sea of an outright internal revolt against their way of doing business.
The death of Junction Point might have been inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be mourned all the same.
1 – Notwithstanding Where’s My Water, which is very good