"How Anthem Went Wrong"

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#1 Posted by Rorie (5781 posts) -

Schreier's back with another long-form article full of spicy dev access, this time rotating around Anthem's development. The first few paragraphs say a lot:

It wasn’t even supposed to be called Anthem. Just days before the annual E3 convention in June of 2017, when the storied studio BioWare would reveal its newest game, the plan had been to go with a different title: Beyond. They’d even printed out Beyond T-shirts for the staff.

Then, less than a week before the Los Angeles press conference held by BioWare’s parent company, Electronic Arts, word came down that securing the rights to the trademark would be too difficult. Beyond was ruled out. The leadership team quickly switched to one of their backup options, Anthem. But whereas Beyond had been indicative of what BioWare hoped the game would be—you’d go out beyond the walls of your fort and into the dangerous wilds around you—Anthem didn’t really mean much.

“Everybody was like, ‘Well, that doesn’t make any sense—what does this have to do with anything?’” said one person who worked on the game. Just days before their game’s announcement, the team at BioWare had a brand new name that nobody really understood.

Fun read if you want to dig into it over lunch or something!

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#2 Posted by tds418 (479 posts) -

This is the Anthem reporting I've been waiting for. Thanks for the link!

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#3 Edited by Firepaw (3136 posts) -

I read it earlier, a little unpleasant reading. There needs to be a shift at BioWare (and EA) if things are to get better, it sounds.

Frostbite as the sole EA engine seems like a bad idea.

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#4 Posted by Brackstone (909 posts) -

A lot of the stuff in this article sounds like the same issues that happened with Mass Effect Andromeda. You would've thought it would have been a wake up call to Bioware and EA, but here we are again.

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#5 Posted by MonkeyKing1969 (7573 posts) -

That is where THEY think it went fo the rails? Really.... Oh, Bioware... sweety? You done screwed up when you thought your fans wanted the "shooty-shooty bit" to be better at the expense of narrative you were known for producing. You done screwed up when ist was OBVIOPUS that teh game was an answer to Destiny One. You done screwed up when "shat out" Mass Effect Andromeda, and then expected fans to have any tolerances for another under-baked game.

The tagline for you company is "...Rich Stories, Unforgettable Characters, And Vast Worlds". What story did you even part-way tell? What characters did you produce that were worth knowing? What vastness?

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#6 Posted by Acura_Max (766 posts) -

Bioware released a response to the article and it appears Schreier hit the nail on the head in how he described present day Bioware. Their response is defensive and indecisive on what it wants to say. On one hand, it says "we hear your concerns":

We put a great emphasis on our workplace culture in our studios. The health and well-being of our team members is something we take very seriously. We have built a new leadership team over the last couple of years, starting with Casey Hudson as our GM in 2017, which has helped us make big steps to improve studio culture and our creative focus. We hear the criticisms that were raised by the people in the piece today, and we’re looking at that alongside feedback that we receive in our internal team surveys.

and on the other hand, it's also "fuck this guy for writing an article talking bad about us":

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.

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#7 Edited by TheRealTurk (523 posts) -

This article, combined with his article on ME:A, makes me think BioWare probably needs to replace about 90% of their management structure. I'm sure being forced to use Forstbite didn't help, and EA reallly shouldn't force studios to use it, but given the development timelines on both of those games, they should have had more than enough time to figure things out if management had a single vision for what they wanted to make and, you know, just made a decision once in while.

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#8 Posted by Efesell (4504 posts) -

Biowares response bums me right the fuck out.

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#9 Edited by ShadyPingu (1812 posts) -

Once again Jason Schreier out here doing God's work. The organizational dynamics described sound pretty rough. A lot of the upper-level mismanagement that led to Anthem feeling unfinished are, pretty much, how we all guessed it happened, but the impact it seems to have had on the people in the trenches... it's really beyond my imagining.

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#10 Edited by ArbitraryWater (15714 posts) -

There's a real echo to Schreier's piece on Andromeda from a few years ago. A toxic combination of mismanagement and Frostbite being a nightmare meant that there was never a clear vision and shit didn't actually start coming together until the last 18 months. The bit about how the game was still technically in pre-production when it was revealed at E3 2017 is some crazy, eye-opening stuff. Same goes for the bit about "stress casualties." Enough people burnt out on your game dev that you came up with a term for it?

Dragon Age 4 is going to need to make a hell of a pivot if they're going to come out of this intact. It's probably too late for me (Inquisition and Andromeda were the last two nails in the coffin) but I feel like if Bioware gets shuttered, it will kill a part of my childhood, or something.

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#11 Edited by Stephen_Von_Cloud (1677 posts) -

Hey Bioware: the proof is in the pudding with your games and the criticism is deserved by this point. It isn't exactly the ME:3 ending reaction level of ridiculousness at this point to write articles like this and get blowback for your products. It's been multiple weak games and people aren't thrilled with your product. If you made all these bad decisions and mistreated your employees to make this: you deserve it.

And as a longtime Bioware fan, if they are making games like this and mistreating people good riddance to the studio. A lot of the old guard that made that studio great are gone anyways. Reporting on labor conditions isn't "tearing down people's work", so fuck off with that part of their response for sure.

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#12 Posted by Nodima (2613 posts) -

I'm so glad I didn't buy this game. I spent way more time than any man with a healthy social life would have running strikes in Destiny 1, and really enjoyed my two months with Destiny 2 before it felt like the grind was both nonexistent and superfluous to what I was actually doing in that game, so part of me yearns for a loot shooter in my life for sure. Watching that E3 trailer, I remember thinking Anthem looked like the apex sort of game for me, as someone who prefers third to first person overall, and I was so excited for it. As the months went by and people began to cool on the game, I remained excited off those initial impressions all the way up to the server test, which was so abysmal for me on PS4 that I did a complete 180 on the game within two hours.

Some people who got further in the beta would write about the potential of the game, and how it opened up with the different javelins and more complex mission types, but I just was too skeptical. That hasn't stopped me from pre-ordering a game before (pre-loading and playing a new game at 11PM on a Thursday, right about the time I get home from work that day, is a hell of a drug) and winding up disappointed by my purchase, but I avoided scratching that itch this time and am so, so, so glad. This paragraph near the end really stuck out to me:

One mission involving the rebellious Sentinel Dax, for example, has a few lines of dialogue that reference the destruction of her javelin exosuit, which never happens in the game. The explanation is simple, the developer said. The mission was altered after they’d recorded the dialogue, and there was no time or money to go re-record it. “They were just like, ‘Well it’s not gonna be destroyed,’” said the developer. “Wait, that makes that line of dialogue make no sense.”

Like, what are you even doing at that point? I feel so bad for the ground level devs that dealt with this kind of decision making on both Andromeda and Anthem, I've luckily never worked in such a chaotic situation but I've been in places that come close and it can be so infuriating, especially when you don't really have aspirations to be in management and you just want to be given marching orders and execute at a high level, only you wind up spending so much of your time second guessing or being outright confused by the boss' demands that your own work suffers.

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#13 Posted by nutter (2137 posts) -

Frostbite

Unmemeable

Microtransaction Loading Bay

Throttling Player Movement

Goddamn, EA...Goddamn, Bioware...what the fuck is going on over there?

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#14 Posted by SethMode (2006 posts) -

I'm not even sure I understand what Bioware is even saying in their response. Schreier's piece isn't saying "Neener neener, Bioware sucks!" it's literally relaying what is happening at the company. Instead of doing the very 2016-2019 thing and blaming the media for reporting on your bad decisions/behavior, maybe take some time to reflect on why it is a story at all?

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#15 Posted by nutter (2137 posts) -

@arbitrarywater: So...I’m a longtime believer that Bioware was a prestige developer amongst prestige developers. I’m done until they prove themselves...competent...again.

I think the silver lining is that Inquisition was more good than bad coupled with Andromeda and Anthem being overlapping failures of similar DNA.

MAYBE their post-mortems will lead them on a better path with Dragon Age 4...I guess I’ll know for sure only if there are rave reviews (and maybe a decent sale).

I don’t have the time nor patience for the company described in these articles and the mediocre content it produces these days.

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#16 Posted by SethMode (2006 posts) -

@nutter: In some respects, it almost sounds like at least some hope that DA4 is a resounding failure, even if it means the death of Bioware. At the very least, it would hopefully be the death of Frostbite? Between this and ME:A the stories are just SO bleak, the situation is obviously untenable but for a lot of these people that even still work there it sounds like they might as well have both feet out of the door already (and for good reason).

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#17 Edited by ArbitraryWater (15714 posts) -

@nutter: As someone who used to consider Bioware his favorite developer, I feel you. It's kind of separate from the concerns this piece raises, but even if they put out a good new Dragon Age sequel, I dunno if I have it in me to care. That's perhaps a tad pessimistic, but Inquisition was successful and I kinda hated Inquisition.

I've gone off at length about my weird, complicated feelings about them elsewhere, but to put it in stark terms I don't think Bioware's style of writing and characterization has progressed that much beyond the original Knights of the Old Republic. That was fine when they were basically the only Western RPG game in town during the mid-late '00s, but not only have other RPG developers progressed, plenty of other genres have RPG elements or focused narratives these days. I dunno, at this point even making a game without a troubled development that comes together at the last second isn't necessarily enough to grab my attention.

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#18 Edited by nutter (2137 posts) -

@arbitrarywater: I don’t know...Dragon Age: Origins was kinda more of the same, but it was really good with some great gameplay systems.

Dragon Age 2 had some issues, for sure, but I thought the story telling was a breath of fresh air.

I also thought Mass Effect 1-3 were pretty great experiences, gameplay and story, especially 1 and 2. ME1 had some stiff gameplay, but it worked well enough at the time, and the presentation, character work, and main plot were excellent.

ME2 was greatly improved gameplay, and the story was good enough as a series of loyalty missions to keep me engaged in Shepard and her team.

ME3...I enjoyed it. It was the least of that trilogy, but it was a solid part of it. The madness around the ending blowback was amazing. It was a bummer that Bioware buckled. I found the Indoctrination Theory an amazing exercise in explanation that actually kinda worked in a “the truth is out there” sort of way...

Inquisition...that may have been the first of their modern run of games where the gameplay started to be more of a draw than the writing. I liked the way it played quite a bit, but aside from the after credits scene, I don’t remember any real plot beats. Things just got iffier with each release from here.

Anthem is the first Bioware game this century that I don’t own a copy of. The demo was more than enough for me...

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#19 Edited by OurSin_360 (6177 posts) -

I feel for the people working there, seems like their culture got toxic at some point and it severely affected not only their ability to produce high quality games, but more importantly their mental health. And i'm sure rabid fans/haters don't help much, they were already getting personally attacked years ago by sadistic "fans".

I see the next dragon age being their last game as a studio...if they even get that far. Unless they have a huge shift in culture. Oh and I don't buy the "frostbite" is just terrible thing, I have no doubt that given a better environment they could have pulled it off but stress kills creative problem solving as it forces you into survival mode.

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#20 Edited by ArbitraryWater (15714 posts) -

@nutter: Not to say that I didn't enjoy most of the games you listed, more that I think they found a format that worked and stuck too it a little too closely. While you can certainly see examples of them in Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights, a lot of favorite plot tropes, character archetypes, the concept of *Meaningful Choices*, and so on all were established or solidified in KotOR. That's more what I was trying to get at.

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#21 Posted by SethMode (2006 posts) -

@oursin_360: I agree with you overall, but I don't think anyone made it sound like Frostbite being terrible was the only reason. I think it was pretty well established that Frostbite has just been causing problems at the fundamental level, and when you stack all these other things on top, eventually the thing is going to break. They kept it up by some miracle with DA:I, but since then we've seen what happens if a bunch of other things go wrong on top of an engine no one likes to use.

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#22 Edited by soulcake (2774 posts) -

As much as Frostbite get's shit, at least DICE seems to get that thing BFV looks and plays great (they of course made the engine them selfs). Also i don't think switching engines will fix the bigger problem EA has with creative talent. Just looks at Overkills the walking dead they switched engines mid development hoping / thinking this was the holy grail switching to Unreal. And we all know how that game turned out.

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#23 Posted by Sweep (10595 posts) -

I feel for the people working there, seems like their culture got toxic at some point and it severely affected not only their ability to produce high quality games, but more importantly their mental health.

I think one of the upsetting things is the perception that we as consumers are OK with crunch so long as the games that are produced as a result are good. This mentality is re-emphasized in this article by the source who admits they were hoping the last Dragon Age game failed just to discredit that very notion; that positive sales justify crunch. It doesn't. This article isn't about the studio becoming toxic and the games suffering as a result, it's about the studio ethos having always been toxic and we're only now taking notice because the game produced was a flop. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the artists in question feel super vindicated by Anthem failing miserably.

I'm going to go ahead and predict that the next immediate steps are a mass layoff of low-level artists (ie not the people sitting in the meetings unable to make a decision, but the staffers who were fucked around and overworked because management couldn't commit to anything). I then really hope all those staff join a union. Which they should do, because this shit has gone on long enough; People should not have to be taking doctor-prescribed stress-breaks in order to make videogames (or to be honest in any other career). We've normalized that shit but if you look at it objectively it's still completely bananas.

Crunch doesn't result in good videogames, it just burns out artists and bleeds talent. It's not sustainable, and it's really depressing to know that it's still a problem.

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#24 Posted by gunflame88 (383 posts) -

Everyone saying that there needs to be a change seem to forget that this garbage game still made a nice 100 million. That's a mission success as far as the top at EA/BW are concerned. If people continue to buy into their marketing and hype machine, condone the we'll-fix-it-later live service BS, and disregard criticism as "you hate them because it's the cool thing to do", the human cost will mount and the management will still not give a shit.

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#25 Posted by Wolfstein_3D (297 posts) -

Except it isn't - EA is all in for the "game as a service" model in order to benefit from a constant revenue stream.

For that to work you need to have a healthy player base, willing to play and invest beyond the initial game purchase.

Looking at my Origin friends list, from roughly 150 former Anthem players at no point more than 2 or 3 are still playing the game currently.

Or looking at general interest, Anthem dropped out of the 50 most watched games on twitch and the avg viewership is sub 1k at this point.

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#27 Posted by SethMode (2006 posts) -

@kingbonesaw: every part including him was on the verge of parody it was so gross.

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#28 Edited by Bane (913 posts) -

"Stress casualties"

Doctor-mandated mental health vacations.

WTF BioWare.

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#29 Posted by nutter (2137 posts) -

@arbitrarywater: I can’t argue with that. And for that reason, the alleged blowback against the Bioware formula from some folks in the studio sounds totally reasonable.

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#30 Posted by nutter (2137 posts) -

@soulcake: Overkill switched engines with a year until release. That was never going to work. I get that desperate times call for desperate measures, and that it probably seemed like a good idea to someone, but I can’t fathom that working out well.

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#31 Posted by cmblasko (2940 posts) -

@gunflame88: 100 million sounds like a lot but factor in a 7 year development period, hundreds of employees (in 3 studios), expensive motion capture, marketing (paying Twitch streamers to play your game is pricey!) the sharp drop in active players... it might not be enough!

Patrick Söderlund - "Can you tighten up the graphics on level 3?"

Leaves room

Gets paid $48.3 million.

It's fucking maddening, isn't it? This guy's job is to fly around the world and say things like "yo this flying mechanic is dope" and for doing this he gets paid more than 99% of people in history have ever been paid.

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#32 Posted by soulcake (2774 posts) -

Now i wanna if the DICE team in Sweden got this much of mental break downs, i guess not since there labor laws are more humanist then pro capitalist.

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#33 Posted by wardcleaver (314 posts) -

Wait, there is something wrong with Anthem?

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#34 Posted by SethMode (2006 posts) -

@soulcake: I mean, it sounds like they not only know the engine better since they made it, but also they never had the perfect storm of shit that Bioware did with ME:A and Anthem back-to-back. So I'd guess not unless they're quiet about it.

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#35 Posted by _Brojangles_ (135 posts) -

This was a depressing read, but also maybe the least surprising "bombshell" I've ever read.

The loss of a lot of the old talent over the past 10 years has been well documented. Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 proved EA and/or Bioware weren't above cutting corners. And the management and work culture surrounding the studio as of late are a rot on both the studio's reputation and the well-being of their own employees morale and general mental health.

Fuck this.

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#36 Posted by Haz (422 posts) -

I finally had the time to read through the article. I’m not really surprised by everything the article unpacked, but I’m extremely sadden by the amount of people who had to deal with so much stress and bullshit because of poor leadership & crunch. Those people deserve better.

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