Hot News! /s
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier released a report on the development issues surrounding Anthem. Jason has a rather large network of game development contacts, and he seems to have this magic “suggestion box” that people put trust into. The end result is that he seems to have the best odds of having a behind the curtains look at game development. Generally speaking, the articles tend to point out the poor development health issues, evidence that not everyone should be a manager, and that the likely end result for large gaming developers is that unions are going to be pounding at their door unless they change their practices.
Next, a recall of my previous post mentioning that the management team of Anthem should be changed. In particular –
Each patch somehow manages to make the loot part of the game less rewarding. I firmly believe that everyone has the best of intentions, but at this point it’s abundantly clear that the leadership of Anthem has to go. I know that in 6 months, the game can find a footing – but the culture and direction up top needs to change so that fun & quality are achieved before change for the sake of change.
Back to the actual article. There are many points made, and at a high level we see:
- The mandatory use of Frostbite across EA hampers game development that is not designed for FPS
- EA setting a hard delivery date of March 2019, even though the game clearly was not ready
- The direction that they could not compare to Destiny – their #1 competitor in market.
- The culture of crunch in BioWare that lead to significant “mental health” leave, which has a dramatic impact on available resources
- The overall lack of quality resources that want to work in Edmonton, Canada.
- The lack of effective management/direction on Anthem
- That Anthem really only had 18 months of development, the majority of which happened in the last 6
- BioWare Edmonton thought they were untouchable and ignored feedback
There are general rules in any large company. At lower levels, you can get by pretty well with average talent, and manage the poor ones. When you reach the management level, it gets a lot harder, but it’s possible to correct it with another group. At the director/exec level, that’s where things go off the rails. When you only have one lead for a major project, and that lead is not made for that project – things go bad real quick, and cascade down.
People will stay around in shitty working conditions because of other people. People will quit a great job if they hate their boss. People will take on tons of work if they trust their workers and boss. Seen it countless times. When the top performers / leaders start dropping, or losing faith… you have an avalanche of impacts.
In Anthem’s case, EA really doesn’t come off as the bad guy. Sure, the need to use Frostbite is going to end up costing them tens of millions more than if they simply licensed Unreal (not to mention being unable to recruit talent on proprietary code). Setting a delivery date when the product is clearly not ready is going to burn them for some time.
But the weight of the problems here are clearly on BioWare direction, or lack thereof. The culture the doctors put in, where they made clear decisions for the entire group left when they did. At multiple times, and through consistent feedback, it’s clear that the development teams lacked the necessary direction (even at the concept level) to do their work. True or not, it’s clear that someone realized this and threw Mark Darrah at the problem 16 months before launch. In effect, what we have played is the result of his direction.
Which begs the question as to what Jon Warner, Mike Gamble, and Ben Irving did in this large process.
I won’t go into details on BioWare’s tone deaf response. It’s a self-inflicting wound, that simply re-affirms the entire article’s position that BioWare leadership isn’t actually paying attention. My gut says this will be enough to make some staff leave.
Anthem is the main reason Origin Access Premier exists. EA is driven on that success factor, and I highly doubt Anthem is going anywhere.
EA’s drive to push Frostbite everywhere is part of the direct failure of two high profile BioWare games. There are no good news stories about Frostbite. EA made a bet, and they lost. There’s no reason to double down (or triple down in this case).
BioWare as a company is going to hemorrhage developers and have a damn hard time recruiting new talent, unless there are major (and public) shakeups with management.
Anthem requires a transparent State of the Game message from upper management, with clear and honest acceptance of the issues and a high level plan to address them.
The game industry as a whole is still reeling from the RDR2 crunch articles… this is just more push to unionize.