Earlier today, Kotaku published a very lengthy report on Anthem’s six-and-a-half-year development cycle, continually quoting current or former anonymous BioWare employees who had been involved in the games creation.
It’s a massive report and it’s very interesting (I highly recommend you give it a read), painting a picture of a dysfunctional studio that were making a game without every really knowing what exactly it was supposed to be, riddled with indecision and effectively making it up as they went along and pulling it out of the bag at the last minute, much like a teenage student not bothering to do their revision but winging the exam. Kotaku’s sources actually claim that the game was originally envisioned as a form of very challenging survival game before it eventually switched to the loot shooter it became, and that the entire direction and build for the game was effectively built in the last year of development, with the flying mechanic cut and re-added on numerous occasions, all while BioWare were struggling to build the game within a troublesome Frostbite engine that wasn’t designed for this kind of game, which sounds like it was more of a hindrance than a help.
It’s a story of last minute design decisions, name changes, staff exodus, false E3 presentations, and the cutting of promised features. It’s a story of developers knowing that the game has flaws (the same flaws that would eventually be the focus of great criticism when the game was released) and voicing concerns over them to bigwigs that won’t listen. It’s the kind of story that, if we’re being honest, won’t surprise too many of us—I’m sure most of us imagine these kind of things going on when games have such disappointing releases—but it’s very rare that we get such a detailed peak behind the curtain. According to Kotaku, Anthem’s development was so fractured and stressful that many developers had to take “stress leave”, and there were numerous “stress casualties”, which effectively means developers taking time off due to stress and never coming back. One of Kotaku’s sources even claims to have regularly shut themselves in an office to break down and cry, so worn down by the stresses of Anthem’s development. It’s easy for us gamers to forget the stresses that developers can be put under in such circumstances, and it’s worrying to hear that such scenarios are occurring at BioWare and that the studio seemingly has a history of pulling it out at the last minute.
There are, of course, two sides to every story, and BioWare released a statement responding to the report shortly before Kotaku published it. Because of that, it doesn’t directly respond to any specific information in the report, but it does do its best to both dismiss the report as troublesome and emphasize BioWare’s dedication to ensuring the mental well-being of it’s employees. Check it out:
“We’d like to take a moment to address an article published this morning about BioWare, and Anthem’s development. First and foremost, we wholeheartedly stand behind every current and former member of our team that worked on the game, including leadership. It takes a massive amount of effort, energy and dedication to make any game, and making Anthem would not have been possible without every single one of their efforts. 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.
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. We put a lot of focus on better planning to avoid “crunch time,” and it was not a major topic of feedback in our internal postmortems. Making games, especially new IP, will always be one of the hardest entertainment challenges. We do everything we can to try and make it healthy and stress-free, but we also know there is always room to improve.
As a studio and a team, we accept all criticisms that will come our way for the games we make, especially from our players. The creative process is often difficult. The struggles and challenges of making video games are very real. But the reward of putting something we created into the hands of our players is amazing. 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.
Our full focus is on our players and continuing to make Anthem everything it can be for our community. Thank you to our fans for your support – we do what we do for you.”
It’s always important to remember in these situations that Kotaku’s report is just that – a report. It’s impossible to say if all of the information given to them by their sources is 100% true, or how much is exaggerated for dramatic effect, or even how much is completely made up. One thing for sure is that a lot of the information given rings true when you look at the “finished” product that was shipped to the public back in February to a very mixed—if not negative—reaction with both gamers and critics alike.
We had similarly mixed feelings on the game in our Anthem review, which you can check out here.