Just before Valentine’s Day, Electronic Arts (EA) posted some print-at-home cards on its Instagram account. Decorated with imagery from the company’s range of titles, these featured your standard, not-at-all-corny messages of affection as filtered through video gaming series, such as “You Are The Keeper Of My Heart!” beside a FIFA goalkeeper and “I Have Faith In You, Valentine” on a Mirror’s Edge design. A sweet enough marketing strategy, which might have encouraged a gamer or two to dip back into Dragon Age: Inquisition after treating their other half to a fancy dinner, but nobody in the comments gave much of a shit about the cheesy creations. Bar two or three legit remarks on relevant series, every single public post was a request for the one game EA has yet to make, and the one that everyone seemingly needs them to: Skate 4.
Long-suffering fans trolling EA’s socials is not a new thing. In January, an announcement for EA’s Play event was met by a flood of people asking about Skate 4, with Eurogamer noting a similar pattern to the Instagram comments. Just type “Skate 4” into a Twitter search and you’ll return hundreds of posts about the game that isn’t (yet) a game at all. It’s bleedingly obvious that this is a game that fans of four-wheeled interactive entertainment need in their lives, so what EA should be doing, right now, is dropping all other projects and getting the hell on with it. Okay, perhaps that’s asking a bit much. But a new Skate would be amazing, wouldn’t it? Obviously, yes.
For me, and I think a lot of players of my generation, the Skate franchise isn’t merely a great collection of games, but also experiences that coincided with the end of childhood. Skate, the first game of 2007, helped me finally let go of the Tony Hawk series, which was in a state of serious decline. I adored those games, at least up until Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, and absolutely hammered them, seeing every secret they hid away until I’d turned each release inside out and back again.
Now, don’t misunderstand me here: American Wasteland was alright, and I even spent a lot of time with Tony Hawk’s Project 8 when it came along in 2006. But there’s no argument whatsoever that these were inferior productions compared to the majesty of what the Tony Hawk games had achieved before. I was sticking with them largely due to a lack of other options – a situation that changed in 2007 with Skate and its completely different approach to skateboard control. Its emphasis was more on realism than extravagant combos that’d land you in hospital, at best, if you ever attempted them for real. This was the virtual skateboarding experience I needed. Outselling Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground two to one, Skate helped EA snatch the kickflip crown from Activision. It’s one they’ve held ever since, even without releasing a new-gen game, with 2015’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 failing to revive its series’ flat-lining fortunes.
Skate 3, to date the most recent release in the series, came out in 2010. Come 2013, its sales were expectedly low, and its relevance waning. The mainstream had apparently moved on – skateboarding games were done, over. But come 2014, the world’s most popular YouTuber intervened. PewDiePie’s Skate 3 videos of early 2014 attracted tens of millions of views, and as a result the game itself began to sell again. EA had to reprint it, to meet demand. It had become a let’s play hit, albeit more because of its glitches and Hall Of Meat mode – in which you score points by actively injuring your skater of choice – than its array of tricks. The internet had spoken and Skate 3 was reborn, introduced to a new generation of stream-glued gamers who duly wanted to try it for themselves. Naturally, this has only increased the volume of calls for a new Skate. So why aren’t EA eager to milk the cash cow sat not just in front of them, but practically on their faces? Yeah, about that. There’s a tiny problem with making another Skate. The studio that made the previous ones doesn’t exist anymore.
EA Black Box, the Canadian developer of all things Skate, including the spin-off Skate It, which was pretty terrible if I remember rightly, was closed by its parent company in 2013. Need for Speed: The Run was its final game, released in 2011. The team broke apart, with individuals going on to work on titles including The Crew, Project CARS and 2015’s FMV-loaded Need for Speed reboot.
If Skate 4 was to be made, to the standards the series’ fans both old and new expect, EA would either need to get the old gang back together – highly unlikely – or commission a suitable replacement studio. And EA being EA, it’s unlikely the company would look outside of its subsidiaries. So who could they go for? There’s Ghost Games in Sweden, makers of last year’s Need for Speed, which while possessing its share of setbacks did deliver a great open-world environment to blaze around in. It was fun, some of the time, too – and a fun, open-world (ish, perhaps scale it down somewhat) Skate title would be fairly amazing in theory. But Ghost is already working on the next Need for Speed, which moves them out of the frame. The UK-based Criterion Games is also busy on a driving game, which probably won’t be a new Burnout, despite calls for one. Another of EA’s Swedish studios, DICE, is more shooter-focused, having put together Star Wars: Battlefront and currently developing Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, which basically leaves EA Canada. The team in Burnaby, British Columbia is best known for its EA Sports series – FIFA, NHL, NBA Live up until 2010 – but also produced the SSX snowboarding games and snowmobile racer Sled Storm, which suggests they’d have what it takes to deliver a new Skate. Perhaps it’s time for football to take a year off?
This development conundrum is probably a contributing factor as to why EA hasn’t started development on Skate 4. At least, why they haven’t publically announced their intentions to make one, anyway, as leaks can and do happen. In the middle of February 2016, rumours began to spread that a new Skate was coming, as early as summer 2016, when an Australian games retailer posted pre-order information for a game released on August 23rd. The listing was quickly removed, and it might be complete bullshit – but then again, perhaps the wheels are in motion and Skate 4 is rolling its way towards us as we speak. It makes total sense for EA to put it out – they’d make a mint, surely, something that’d keep investors happy while socials-spamming gamers get what they’re after, too. It’s a win-win.
So, EA, allow me to address you directly: please make another Skate. Or, if you are, tell us. I refuse to let Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 be the only major skateboarding game on contemporary consoles. The stain it has left on my beloved childhood memories, and the genre as a whole, will scorch my retinas for the foreseeable. Release Skate 4, make it truly open world, let us break our bones for fun and pit us against each other online. Basically, give us another kick-ass Skate game. Do that for us, and all that “worst company in America” stuff, from a few years back, we can help that go away forever.
Original article first appeared on VICE Gaming on 24/02/2016