We all knew it was coming, but yesterday Kotaku’s Jason Schreier posted his break down on what happened during the almost seven year development odyssey with Anthem… formerly known as Dylan and formerly known as Beyond. The truth is I had not made the connection there to the original Dylan prototype that was shown off and Anthem… and I also did not make the connection to the leaked Beyond name and Anthem. I somehow thought both of those were scrapped concepts… and I guess in truth they ultimately were. If you have not had a chance to read the article then I highly suggest you do so. There are so many ways to write a post mortem of a game… but Jason always seems to land that perfect mix of giving damning evidence with a non-hyperbolic touch. In most of these tales the staff are the heroes struggling to make the best product they can while caught in a bad situation, and the tale of Anthem really is no different.
What rings true about this for me at least is that I have a lot of friends in game development who have been willing to open up about the process behind closed doors. This is a trust I have not broken other than speaking of these moments in generalities about the industry as a whole without specifically naming names. Ultimately that is probably why I continue to get the treatment of folks willing to talk about them to me. However the anecdotes I hear tell me that the tale of Anthem or Destiny or Andromeda… are not unique to those specific companies but instead a problem with the industry as a whole. There is a manifest destiny that they can punch through any game development cycle with enough hours spent and enough midnight oil burnt… to the detriment of the employees family life and often times sanity.
I know folks who have left the games industry after finding out how generally unstable it is, and found a much better niche in the world of the corporate sector. Growing up… building games was my dream as it is the dream of so many people. My path however lead elsewhere as subtle circumstance after circumstance lead me to the comfortable safety of managing a group of developers. However these side stories that I have been trusted over the years have told me that I ultimately made the right decision. I could not handle the instability and the fact that the majority of folks who work on a title wind up getting laid off and having to find a brand new workplace in-between releases. Then there is the problem of only having specific locations where a group of studios tend to clump… and of those… the only one that is really palatable to me personally is Austin Texas.
The tale of Anthem weirdly gives me hope and renewed patience towards the game as a whole. If they could make the core mechanics of the game feel so good within effectively the last six months of production… imagine what Anthem would have been given another year of development time. I also feel hope because now the game as a whole seems to have been transitioned to the Bioware Austin live services team, and quite frankly I have a lot of faith in that group. Opinions may vary but I feel like they have done an excellent job with the growth of Star Wars the Old Republic, which is another one of those games that I return to regularly to gobble up the content that has been put into the game since my last visit. I feel like it is a better game today than it was at launch by a large measure, and this is in spite of the weird monetization schemes that the game has.
What I am ultimately hoping is that EA will give them time and space to grow Anthem into a really amazing game at some point down the line. The issues are large, but only really something that kicks in once you slam into the concrete wall that is the progression scheme. Shortly after the release of the post Bioware made what feels like a very hollow response, which tells me two things. Firstly they only read the bullet points that Jason Schreier claims to have sent over before publishing the article and wrote the piece entirely based on that. Secondly however it tells me that the points that were made rang true and set them on the defensive. All of this seems really odd given the level of transparency we have gotten from the community team about the state of the game, which makes me think this came from a highly disconnected corporate level instead.
Right now I am pretty much logging into the game on a nightly basis, but only long enough to do whatever challenge grants me an Elysian Key. The last couple of nights I have not stayed in long enough to actually run a Stronghold to open said Elysian Chests. However even the rewards that you get from these chests show that the order of operation has been to take a pat of butter and try and make it spread across an entire loaf of bread. So many of the vinyls that you get are lackluster or are simply resized and less cool versions of the ones that come from the paid shop. The team is struggling to add meaning to the game without having a backlog of content to put in place. I love the core of what this game is so hearing about the struggles and what they accomplished in spite of them… makes me want to stick around and see how things evolve.
That said I also don’t necessarily begrudge anyone who does not care at all about the heartache and struggle that the employees went through, and simply points at the bottom line that they paid for a finished game and didn’t get one. If you are in that camp… then it might just be time to cut your losses and return later when there is the inevitable patch that fixes everything and gives this game their “Taken King”, “Forsaken”, or “Patch 1.8” moment. The fact that I can rattle off a list of moments in Anthem’s direct competitors timelines where the games went from sorta crappy to pretty awesome over night shows that this is not a unique problem they face. Even Diablo 3, which is the title they kept holding themselves up to has their “Loot 2.0” moment that fixed so much of the game. I will be holding out for that day and continuing to poke around in the meantime. Feel free to just use this blog as a litmus test for when it is a good time to check it out again. You know without a doubt I will be making happy posts if that day comes.