Kotaku details Anthem’s development hell, Bioware responds

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Anthem

Yesterday, Kotaku published an expose on Anthem’s troubled development that reveals BioWare to be a studio in crisis. Jason Schreier’s report, while damning, isn’t callous, but rather a look at the human cost involved in large scale development, especially when things don’t coalesce the way they’re intended to.

The report details how the game’s name was changed just before its reveal, how the 2017 E3 trailer that wowed fans and led to a spate of pre-order was essentially faked, and how the game – despite being in development for 7 years – only started coming together mere months before release. It also details how much EA’s internal Frostbite Engine caused headaches for the teams, and how a headless management that relied too much on the mystical “BioWare Magic” failed to steer the game’s direction.

It’s a sobering, humanising look at game development that once again shows how volatile the AAA games industry is, and how it dehumanises the people who actually make the games, while putting the names of studios on a pedestal.

“I actually cannot count the amount of ‘stress casualties’ we had on Mass Effect: Andromeda or Anthem,” a former BioWare developer told Kotaku. “A ‘stress casualty’ at BioWare means someone had such a mental breakdown from the stress they’re just gone for one to three months. Some come back, some don’t.”

That stress was largely a result of tension between the two existing BioWare studios, exacerbated by a lack of cohesive vision. Elements – like the game’s flying – were yanked out, and put back in countless times before being codified by the reception to the E3 demo, which was made to impress EA exec Patrick Soderlund, and was largely fake.

“The demo was not actually built properly—a lot of it was fake, like most E3 demos. There was a lot of stuff that was like, ‘Oh are we actually doing this? Do we have the tech for that, do we have the tools for that? To what end can you fly? How big should the world be?’” a former BioWare developer told Kotaku.

As tempting as it may be to pillory EA here, the publisher gave BioWare the leeway to make the game for seven years, seemingly only mandating that the game not be “memeable” like Andromeda was, and that it have recurrent player spending. Let’s not kid, microtransactions are the last of Anthem’s problems. If BioWare’s demise comes from Anthem’s lack of success, it’ll be by their own hands.

You’d hope that report like this would help the developer learn from its mistakes, but a disappointing, deflective response to the article suggest otherwise.

“We chose not to comment or participate in this story because we felt there was an unfair focus on specific team members and leaders, who did their absolute best to bring this totally new idea to fans. We didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring them down as individuals. We respect them all, and we built this game as a team,” the company said. “People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.”

It’s worth pointing out again that Kotaku’s report didn’t bring anybody down. If anything it helped me empathise with the BioWare’s staff, caught in a whirlwind of crunch, a lack of vision and clarity and dysfunctional management.

I’ve only scratched the surface of Kotaku’s lengthy, in-depth report – which you should read if you have an hour or so to spare.

Last Updated: April 3, 2019

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