Recently I stumbled across EA’s Instagram. At a glance, everything seems normal. But between the posts about Battlefield and Madden, something else is happening. Something peculiar. Thousands and thousands of comments have appeared over the past few years asking for one thing: Skate 4. And it shows no sign of stopping.
It’s not just there either. On Reddit, YouTube and Twitter, you can find thousands of people wondering where the long-awaited sequel could be, including hip-hop artist Tyler, The Creator who is quite the fan.
After all these years EA has stayed quiet, refusing to acknowledge the discontent. It has been nine years since the release of Skate 3, and we haven’t even had a confirmation that the publisher is working on a sequel. Yet the optimist in me still likes to think that Skate 4 will hit the market at some point. And we have had a few clues which suggest this optimism is maybe not as far-fetched as first sounds.
In early 2017, EA community manager Daniel Lingen tweeted ‘#skate4’. Then mid-way through last year and just before E3, Skate 3’s online servers were mysteriously turned back on. It led to speculation that a Skate 4 announcement could be imminent. But alas, it wasn’t and still we wait. There’s also the fact that Skate 3 was one of most requested backwards compatible games and is still heavily watched on YouTube.
But we are entering our ninth year of waiting and by this point I’m starting to think that it’s just a (half)pipe dream. EA has seemingly tried to dispel any rumours. Just five months after the release of Skate 3, EA had already lost faith in skateboarding as a viable genre of video game. CEO at the time John Ritticello gave an interview to Kotaku in 2010, where he said that “skateboarding seems to have run its course as the representative example in that broader genre [of extreme sports].” And following Lingen’s tweet, CEO Andrew Wilson announced that the company “is not presently making Skate 4”, suggesting that the attitude of the publisher had not changed. But perhaps most damningly, Skate developers Blackbox were shut down in 2013. It seems like any hope of Skate 4 died with them.
So Skate lies dormant, but what of the other king? Where is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater? Well the last time we saw the Birdman was much more recently, with the release of Pro Skater 5 in 2015. To date, this is the only skateboarding game we have on the Xbox One. And what a disappointment it was. The gameplay was buggy, and it was condemned as one of the worst games of the current generation by critics. Pro Skater 5 felt more like the dying breath of a once great franchise rather than a triumphant resurgence. That judgement turned out to be correct. Shortly after its release, Activision chose not to renew the licensing deal with Tony Hawk and shut down developers Robomodo.
So Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater seems to have been killed off, the result of rushed development and mismanagement. And as a great lover of the series growing up, it feels like a kick in the teeth. It was only after Activision transferred the series to Robomodo in 2008 that the downhill slide began. Before that, Neversoft enjoyed monumental success with the series, releasing a slew of classics on a yearly basis. Their games really were the whole package: beautifully designed levels, addictive arcade-style gameplay and legendary soundtracks. Go and play them today, and you’ll find they still hold up remarkably well, despite releasing over ten years ago.
Both dominant franchises are gone by this point, and yet no-one has dared swoop in and replace them. Surely now seems like the perfect time for someone to take over the market and bring skateboarding onto the current generation. But it hasn’t happened. Why not?
Realistically it’s a sign of the times. In the 1990s and 2000s, skateboarding was massive. It went mainstream for the first time, leaving a lasting mark on popular culture in the process. Distinct clothing styles and the skate shoe evolved and can still be seen today. A subgenre of music, ‘skate punk’, sprouted up. Jackass, the TV sensation that spawned three movies, counted many skaters amongst its cast, most notably Bam Margera. Meanwhile, the Pro Skater franchise brought the sport into the homes of millions, even those who had never touched a skateboard in their life. Tony Hawk became a household name and still remains the only skateboarder anyone can name if you ask them.
But in the past decade, the sport itself has fallen out of the public eye. Popular culture, for the most part, has moved on. For various reasons, skateboarding is simply no longer as popular as it used to be. And in an age where gaming companies are looking to make the most money possible from their IP’s, it doesn’t make financial sense to develop a new skateboarding game when this is the case.
The future for skateboarding video games is not necessarily so bleak however. Skateboarding is going to be at the Olympics for the first time next year in Tokyo. A global showcase could be just what the sport needs to kick-start a revival in popularity. And if there is a resurgence, you’d think that the likelihood of a new skateboarding game would only increase. Any developer wants to make money and what better way than to cash in on a latest trend.
Plus, a new game – Session – is set to be released later this year on Xbox and PC. A crowdfunded game, it met its Kickstarter goal within three days of opening in November 2017. It has been billed as a more realistic skating experience, featuring none of the time limits, insane combos and general arcade feel of the Tony Hawk’s franchise. In that sense, it’s more akin to the Skate experience and has been billed by some as the ‘spiritual successor’ to that series. Perhaps this could be the Skate 4 that fans have been crying out for all these years.
And who knows, if Session does well we might get Skate 4 for real. A man can dream.