The year so far has been rather sobering, hasn’t it? On the one hand, you have a game like Devil May Cry 5. I’ve poured about 20 hours of time into it, played through the Bloody Palace update and have left the sequel feeling more satisfied than that time I gorged myself on a flapjack buffet. And that’s it. Devil May Cry 5 is done, a sequel will probably only pop up a decade from now and I couldn’t be happier. It may not have been as long as most big budget games these days, but the value in every second of Capcom’s Disco Dante Inferno more than made it feel spectacular.
And then there’s…Anthem. The dead horse of gaming, Bioware’s ambitious live service game will go down in history as a lesson in hubris. Designed to be The Next Big Thing™, the EA published game has been lambasted for its choppy development, broken gameplay mechanics and lack of endgame content. Anthem launched with all the bluster and bravado of a AAA game title that spent more cash on advertising than it did on quality assurance testing, crashing and burning along the way.
Clearly, the old way of launching a video game is not working for live service titles such as Anthem. EA agrees. “The reality is, it’s not just an EA challenge, it’s an industry-wide challenge,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson said during the Q4 FY2019 financial results conference call (Thanks, PC Gamer).
You’re moving from what was initially a BioWare game which would be somewhere between 40 and 80 hours of offline play to 40 to 80 hours of offline play plus 100 or 200, 300 hours of elder game that happens with millions of other players at scale, online.
According to Wilson, this means that EA needs to not only manage how it presents games to potential consumers, but it also needs find a way to get that playerbase to temper their expectations. I’m no video game expert, but maaaaaaybe having a gigantic E3 reveal which shows off impossibly crisp gameplay that would require a factory of Nvidia 2080ti cards to run and then telling your fans that said game will perform just fine on a base Xbox One, might set the hype engines to overkill. I’m just saying.
“As games have gotten bigger that system isn’t working as as well as it has done in years gone by,” Wilson said.
So what you should expect from us is that it’s not just about changing the development processes in the game, it’s not just about changing the QA process in the game—although both of those things are being changed dramatically inside our organization right now—but it also comes down to changing how we launch games.
You should expect that we’ll start to test things like soft launches—the same things that you see in the mobile space right now. And it also comes down to changing how we communicate with players. Our entire marketing organization now is moving out of presentation mode and into conversation mode, and changing how we interact with players over time.
I’m of the opinion that EA and other publishers need to stop relying on hyperbole. I can’t count how many interviews I’ve sat through, where the developers have rattled off buzzwords and press-friendly quotes while a PR agent watches on like a hawk to make certain that they meet their daily hype quota. It’s infuriating trying to get actual information out of these developers, and having to skip through PR speak.
Credit then to smaller developers, who know their audience and speak candidly about the type of game that they’re making. Hopefully, by looking inward and thinking smaller, EA can realise that there’s real value in honesty. Far more than there is in promising players the world and delivering a wake-up kick to the nads instead.
Last Updated: May 9, 2019