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How the BioWare hymn went wrong

Conceptual Art from Anthem
Image: Ben McGrath (ArtStation)

It should not even be called Anthem . Just days before the annual E3 meeting in June 2017, when the traditional studio BioWare was to unveil its latest game, another title was planned: Beyond . They even printed Beyond T-shirts for the workforce.

Then less than a week before the Los Angeles press conference held by BioWare's parent company, Electronic Arts, brand rights would be too difficult. Beyond was expelled. The leadership team quickly switched to one of their backup options, Anthem . But while Beyond suggested what BioWare was hoping for the game, you would go beyond the walls of your fortress and out into the dangerous wilderness around you. Anthem does not really mean much.

"Everyone was like," Well, that does not make sense – what does that have to do with anything? "One person working on the game said, just a few days before the game was announced, the BioWare team had a brand new name that no one really understood.

Such a big last-minute break may seem odd to an outside observer Anthem was commonplace, but little was done in developing BioWare's newest game, an online collaboration shooter that was first teased for the first time in mid-2012, but only a few years in pre-production Many features have been finalized or implemented in the last few months, and for some who worked on the project, it was not even clear what kind of game Anthem would have until this E3 demo in June 2017 was less than two years before it actually came out, and later they gave an explanation for the name: the planet of the game was surrounded by a hymn of creation, a mä powerful, mysterious force that left environmental disasters all over the world.

Launched as Anthem In February 2019 it was toppled by fans and critics. Today, Metacritic has a 55 by Metacritic, the lowest rating of BioWare since the company's inception in 1995. The developer was once known for ambitious role-playing games such as Dragon Age and the original Mass Effect The trilogy has now released two critical flops in a row after 2017 Mass Effect: Andromeda was disappointing. Although hardcore fans have put their trust in BioWare to continue the bugfixes Anthem and improve his mechanics – especially since Bungie's Destiny a similar game, had a rough start and was able to finally recover. Only a few were satisfied with the first release. Anthem was not only flawed and sparse in content. it felt half baked, as if it had not been tested and optimized by developers who had experience with other looters. In the weeks after the start, there seemed to be a big new problem every day.

Fans have endlessly speculated how Anthem went so wrong. Was it originally a single-player RPG like the previous BioWare titles? Has EA forced BioWare to make a clone of Destiny ? Did they take out all the good missions to later sell them as downloadable content? Is the loot system secretly controlled by a sophisticated AI system that records everything you do to help you spend more on the game?

The answer to all these questions is "no".

This report by The Evolution of Anthem is based on interviews with 19 individuals who have either worked on the game or in its vicinity (all were anonymous because they were not authorized to Anthem & # 39; s development talk) indecision and mismanagement. It's a story of technical flaws, as EA's Frostbite engine made life difficult for many BioWare developers, and understaffed departments struggled to meet the needs of their team. It's a story of two studios, one in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and one in Austin, Texas, annoyed by a tense, one-sided relationship. It's the story of a video game that's been in development for almost seven years, but has only gone into production in the last 18 months, thanks to extensive narrative restarts, fundamental design overhauls, and a leadership team that can not provide a consistent vision and willingness to To hear feedback.

Perhaps alarming, it's a story about a studio in crisis. Dozens of developers, many of them decades old, have left BioWare in the last two years. Some people who worked at BioWare's oldest office in Edmonton talk about depression and anxiety. Many say they or their colleagues should have taken "stress holidays" – a medically prescribed time of weeks or even months of vacation for their mental health. A former BioWare developer told me that they would often find a private room in the office, shut the door and just cry. "People were so angry and sad all the time," they said. Another said, "Depression and anxiety are an epidemic within Bioware."

"I can not actually count the number of" stress victims "that we had Mass Effect: Andromeda or Anthem ," said a third former BioWare developer in an E Mail. "A" stress victim "at BioWare means that someone has suffered such a mental collapse because he just left for one to three months . Some come back, others do not. "

EA and BioWare refuse to comment on this story.

Among those who work or work BioWare believes that something drastic needs to change. Many in the company now grumble that the success of Dragon Age: Inquisition of 2014 was one of the worst things that could happen to them. The third Dragon Age which won Game of the Year at the 2014 Game Awards, was the result of a brutal production process plagued by indecision and technical challenges. It was mostly built in the course of the last year, resulting in long noise hours and a lot of fatigue. "Some of the people in Edmonton were so blown away," said a former BioWare developer. "They were like," We needed Dragon Age: Inquisition to fail so people would realize that this is not the way to make games. ""

The studio has a term called "BioWare Magic". It is the belief that no matter how rough the production of a game may be, things will always come together in the last few months. The game always merges. It happened on the Mass Effect trilogy, on Dragon Age: Origins and on Inquisition . Veterans of BioWare developers like to refer to production as hockey sticks – it's flat for a while, and then it suddenly jumps up. Even if a project feels like a complete disaster, there is the conviction that with enough hard work – and enough hard spasm – everything comes together.

Following the severe failures of Mass Effect Andromeda and Anthem current and former BioWare employees have realized that this attitude no longer works. In recent years, BioWare has hurt its reputation as a leading RPG developer. Maybe the approach of the hockey stick is no longer practicable. Or maybe – just maybe – this kind of production practice was never really sustainable from the start.

One thing is certain: on Anthem the magic of BioWare was used up.

In the beginning they were called Dylan . In late 2012 and 2013, during the completion of the Mass Effect Mass Effect BioWare Director Casey Hudson and a small team of longtime Mass Effect developers were building a project they hoped that it would become Bob Dylan of video games, which means something that will be addressed by video game fans for years to come. Even within BioWare, it was a mystery project – you had to enter a password to get into the wiki, according to a person who participated in it. For a while, the team stayed small. Most BioWare employees were on Dragon Age: Inquisition which by the end of 2014 needed all hands on deck to ship.

The first ideas for Dylan (which we call " anthem from now on for clarity)" were ambitious and constantly changing, according to the project collaborators. As is typical in this kind of "brainstorming", no one yet knew what the game would look like – they just wanted to see what could be cool. It would certainly be an action game and you could play it with your friends. The goal was to break away from the traditional science fiction and fantasy fantasies, so that the game was different from Mass Effect and Dragon Age .

One concept that came up quickly was the idea of ​​a dangerous, dangerous planet. Anthem would embark on a hostile alien world, and to go out into the wild, one would need a robot suit. A realistic, NASA-inspired robot suit. The mood was simple: Iron Man but less cartoonie.

Early iterations of Anthem's javelins were less Iron Man, more NASA.
Image: Don Arceta (ArtStation)

Over the months, a core concept crystallized: Anthem 's planet would move like the Bermuda Triangle of this universe with a relentless gravity that was constantly drawing in foreign ships and dangers. As a result, the world would be deadly and full of dangerous creatures. "They are the base of the food chain, and everything is much more powerful than you," said one person who helped to make the game. In describing these early iterations of Anthem developers have made comparisons to Dark Souls Darkest Dungeon even Shadow of the Colossus . There would be big, scary creatures in the world, and your job would be to see how long you could survive. A prototype allowed the player to attach to a giant monster. Others focused on the atmosphere, the weather and the impact on the environment.

"The idea was that all these levers could be pulled internally so that different events happen at any given time," said one developer. "You were traveling somewhere and a storm would happen by accident and you had to survive it. We had an early demonstration of where the environment was dynamic, and by pulling levers we could change them from summer to winter to fall. They would see the snow hit the ground and hit the trees … There were states of the build where this was demonstrated and we could see that this was actually possible.

We saw a glimpse of these prototypes at E3 2014 when BioWare showed a teaser trailer for the as yet unnamed game from which later Anthem :

[19659005] The final game would have this one Spurs not nearly stood.

According to the developers who worked on it, Anthem was always thought of as an online multiplayer game, but not always a loot shooter, a kind of game in which you endlessly missions to new ones Sand down weapons. In those early versions, you had the idea of ​​going out of town and going on expeditions with your friends and staying in the world as long as you could survive. They would use a robot exosuit and fight monsters with melee and shooting attacks, but it was less about hoarding prey than seeing how long they could survive. For example, a mission might take you and a team to the center of a volcano where they must find out why it has broken out, kill some creatures, and then fight back. "That was the main hook," said a anthem developer. "We go out as a team, trying to achieve something as a team, then come back and talk about it." Along the way, you could search for or rescue foreign ships and return them to their base in order to upgrade your weapons or suit improve.

"It was really interesting," said a person who worked on it. "It really hit a lot of people who originally worked on it."

What remained unclear during this process was how many of these ideas and prototypes would actually work on a large scale. Dynamic environments and giant creatures may perform well in a controlled environment, but the Anthem team would really be able to create those features in an online open world game that's by thousands and thousands upon thousands is played? And would Frostbite, the volatile video game engine that BioWare now uses for all its projects, really support all of these features?

As these questions persisted, the Anthem team faced a major upheaval. In August 2014, as they continued to prototype and dream about their game, they lost their leader. Casey Hudson, who directed the popular Mass Effect and was to be the anthem creative director, left. "The basis for our new IP in Edmonton is complete," he wrote in a letter to the studio. "The team is ready to enter pre-production with a title that I believe will redefine interactive entertainment." Jon Warner, a relatively new employee who worked for Disney prior to his move to EA in 2011, took on the role of game director.

BioWare veterans referred to the team of Casey Hudson Mass Effect as the company of Star Trek : They all did what the captain said, and they were all on a single Purposeful. (By comparison, they called the crew of the Dragon Age a pirate ship that snaked from port to port until it reached its final destination.) Now the Enterprise no longer had its Jean-Luc Picard.

Still, members of the Anthem team say they have stayed happy. Dragon Age: Inquisition was widely applauded in late 2014, and many of these developers joined Anthem where they found a team full of hopes and ambitious ideas. "EA had these team health reports," one said. The mood of Anthem was among the highest in all of EA. It was really good for a while. Everyone saw so much potential in these early prototypes. "Potential" was always the word there.

A BioWare developer who had not yet moved to the Anthem series recalled hearing how these colleagues were talking about how much better they were than the deadlocked people on Mass Effect: Andromeda at that time was undergoing heavy fighting due to technical challenges and major directional changes, believing the anthem could not do this. "We took so much time to gain the experience said another person who worked on the game, "I think that's why the morale was so high, I knew that we had taken the time to really refine what the game was all about, now we just had to get started and produce. "

" EA had these health reports for the team. "Anthem's morale was among the highest in all of EA, and it was really good for a while Rototypes have so much potential. "Potential" was always the word there. "- BioWare Developer

The question was, how would they do that? In the course of development, it became clear that some of the original ideas of Anthem either would not work or were not so firmly anchored that The mandate was that the world of Anthem would be massive and seamless, but how would you move around? The team has been playing around with prototypes and exploring various possibilities, such as For a long time they thought it would climb mountain and rocky outcrops, but they could not quite grasp that. Early iterations of flying – which developers say several times out of the Anthem were removed and added back – were more like gliding, and members of Anthem team say it's hard to do H make the system so fun. Each time they changed the crossing, it meant changing the world design accordingly, flattening the terrain and adapting to the latest style of movement.

There have been attempts at procedural encounters in which dynamic creatures and environmental hazards would randomly disappear from the world, and they did not work so smoothly. "It took a long time," said a developer. "The game was very dependent on this procedural system, which was just not fun."

The story also began to change drastically. In early 2015, the veteran Dragon Age the writer David Gaider, relocated to Anthem and his version of the story looked a lot different than the ideas they had experimented with for the past few years. Gaider's style was traditional BioWare – big, complicated villains; old alien artifacts; and so on – which annoyed some developers who were hoping for something more subtle. "There was a lot of resistance from the team that just did not want to see science fiction Dragon Age I think," said one developer. A second was added: "Many people said, 'Why do we tell the same story? Let's do something else.

When asked for a comment, Gaider said in an email that when he had started the project, Anthem the design director Preston Watamaniuk put him in a "science-fantasy" Direction. "I agreed, since Fantasy is more my comfort zone anyway, but it was clear from the beginning that there was a lot of resistance to the change from the rest of the team," he said. "Maybe they assumed that the idea came from me, I'm not sure, but comments like" It's very Dragon Age "kept popping up in relation to the work I or mine Team had … and not for free. There were a lot of people who wanted to have a say in the story of Anthem and kept saying that they wanted to do something "different" without realizing what it was like outside of it, just nothing, What BioWare had done before (which was apparently a bad thing?). In my view, that was pretty frustrating. "

Gaider left BioWare in early 2016 -" Over time I did not feel like playing the game I'm working on, "he said – leading to new results for anthem and one complete restart of the story. This caused even more chaos. "As you can imagine, writing for BioWare creates the foundation for all the games," said one developer. "If writing is unsure what it does, it will destroy many departments."

Concept Art for BioWares Anthem
Image: Eric Wong ( ArtStation)

The instability had become a matter of course for the team of Anthem Hudson's trigger left a gap that was difficult to fill. The task of steering Anthem now fell to the creative leadership team. This group included game director Jon Warner, design director Preston Watamaniuk, art director Derek Watts, animation director Parrish Ley, and a handful of other Mass Effect veterans from the beginning on Anthem were. Some current and former BioWare employees find this group very annoying, and in interviews many who had worked on Anthem complained of the leadership team of indecision and mismanagement. "The main cause of all this was the lack of vision," said a former BioWare developer. "What do we do? Please tell us. The recurrent theme was, there was no vision, there was no clarity, there was no single director who said, "This is how it works."

"They never seemed to agree on anything," this person added. "They were always looking for something more, something new." Another said, "I think most of the people on the team felt that we did not know exactly what the game was or what it should be because it has been changing all the time."

The most common anecdote I have The current and former BioWare employees shared the following: A group of developers are in a meeting debating a creative decision, such as the mechanisms of flying or the story behind the Scar's alien race, some people disagree with the basics And then, without anyone doing anything and making a decision about what to do, the meeting would end up without a real verdict, leaving everything in motion. "That would happen over and over again," a developer said ] Anthem . "It would take a year or two to figure that out, because no one really wanted to make a call."

"Remember," says e another anthem developer. "Everyone had to make difficult decisions that we've never done before, new IP, new genre, new technology, new style, everything was new."

In 2015 and 2016, it seemed the Anthem They had difficulties with the online infrastructure, they had not figured out how missions would work, and although they had built some environments and creatures, it was not clear what the basic gameplay might look like History was constantly changing and the game's progress was slowing down.An early idea was that there would be several cities that eventually developed into a city and player-created outposts that eventually became a city and a mobile strider base which eventually became a single fortress – these earlier survival ideas were gone. "They still have the core IP issues worked as [crafting material] Ember, as the technology worked, something like that, "said a former BioWare developer. "The whole backend architecture and everything was not clear yet."

At the same time, BioWare's studio management had to focus a lot of their attention on Mass Effect: Andromeda a game with this headache caused for almost all and their swiftly forthcoming release date was set in stone. In other words: The anthem might have started as if it were burning, but Andromeda was already almost burned to the ground.

These problems became even more complicated by the fact that when 's management team made a decision, it may take weeks or even months for them to see it in action. "There were a lot of plans," said one developer, "where, when they were implemented, they were a year later and the game had evolved." The explanation for this delay can be summed up in a word Many of the studios of EA have been plaguing for years, especially BioWare and the now deceased Visceral Games, a word that can still evoke a mocking smile or sad grimace from anyone involved has spent him every time.

Of course this word. is Frostbite.

"Frostbite is full of razor blades," a former BioWare employee told me a few weeks ago, summing up the feelings of perhaps hundreds of game developers who had worked at Electronic Arts in recent years. 19659005] Frostbite is a video game engine or suite of technologies used to create a game. The shooter shot by the EA owned by the Swedish studio DICE for the production of Battlefield has become ubiquitous in Electronic Arts over the past decade thanks to the initiative of former executive director Patrick Söderlund, who put all his studios into operation Technology. (By using Frostbite instead of a third party engine like Unreal, these studios could share knowledge and save a lot of money on license fees.) BioWare first switched to Frostbite for Dragon Age: Inquisition . which caused massive problems for this team. Many of the features that these developers took for granted in previous engines, such as a save-load system and a third-person camera, were simply nonexistent in Frostbite, so the team Inquisition had to build it all thoroughly. Mass Effect: Andromeda encountered similar problems. The third time would certainly be the attraction?

As it turned out, Anthem was not the allure. Using Frostbite to create an online action game BioWare had never done before has created a whole new set of problems for BioWare designers, artists and programmers. "Frostbite is like an internal engine with all the problems involved – it's poorly documented, hacked together and so on – with all the problems of an externally sourced engine," said a former BioWare employee. "No one with whom you actually collaborate designed it, so you do not know why this thing works that way, why it's called what it is."

In all the early years of development, the Anthem team realized that many of the ideas they had originally developed were difficult or impossible to implement on Frostbite. The engine allowed them to build great, beautiful levels, but they did not have the tools to support all the ambitious prototypes they had created. Slowly and gradually, they reduced the environmental and survival traits they had developed for Anthem (19459023), largely because they simply did not work.

Get enough on the engine to show what's possible, but then it took much longer to get the investment out of it, and in some cases you would run into a wall, "said a BioWare developer , "Then you would realize," Oh my God, we can only do this if we reinvent the wheel, which will take too long. "It was sometimes difficult to know when to cut and run."

Even today, BioWare developers say Frostbite can make their jobs exponentially harder, creating new iterations of levels and mechanics can be challenging due to sluggish tools while errors that take a few minutes to squeeze require days of conversation. "If you need a week to do a little troubleshooting, you will be prevented from fixing bugs," said a person who [Anthem "If you can hack around him, you'll chop him up instead of repairing him properly." A second one: "I'd say the biggest problem I had with Frostbite was the number of steps that were needed to do something basic. Mit einer anderen Engine könnte ich etwas selbst machen, vielleicht mit einem Designer. Hier ist es eine komplizierte Sache. “

„ Es ist schwer genug, ein Spiel zu erstellen “, sagte ein dritter BioWare-Entwickler. "Es ist wirklich schwierig, ein Spiel zu entwickeln, in dem Sie ständig gegen Ihr eigenes Werkzeug kämpfen müssen."

Von Anfang an hatten die führenden Mitglieder von Anthem die Entscheidung getroffen, von Grund auf neu zu beginnen ein großer Teil der Technologie des Spiels, anstatt alle Systeme zu verwenden, die das Unternehmen für Inquisition und Andromeda gebaut hatte. Ein Teil davon war vielleicht der Wunsch, sich von diesen anderen Teams abzuheben, aber eine andere Erklärung war einfach: Anthem war online. Die anderen Spiele waren nicht. Das Inventarsystem, das BioWare bereits für Dragon Age bei Frostbite entwickelt hatte, stand in einem Onlinespiel möglicherweise nicht auf. Daher kam das Anthem -Team zu dem Schluss, dass es nötig ist, ein neues zu bauen. "Gegen Ende des Projekts begannen wir uns zu beschweren", sagte ein Entwickler. „Vielleicht wären wir weiter gegangen, wenn wir Dragon Age: Inquisition Zeug gehabt hätten. Wir beklagen uns aber auch nur über das Fehlen von Arbeitskräften im Allgemeinen. “

Oft fühlte es sich für das Anthem -Team so an, als ob sie unterbesetzt waren Wem erzählte mir, dass ihr Team nur einen Bruchteil der Größe von Entwicklern hinter ähnlichen Spielen hatte, wie Destiny und The Division . Dafür gab es verschiedene Gründe. Eine davon war, dass die FIFA Spiele 2016 zu Frostbeulen wechseln mussten. Die jährliche Fußball-Franchise war die wichtigste Serie von EA, die einen großen Teil der Einnahmen des Verlegers einbrachte, und BioWare hatte Programmierer mit Frostbite-Erfahrung, weshalb Electronic Arts sie auf FIFA verlegte.

wirklich talentierte Ingenieure arbeiteten tatsächlich an FIFA als sie an Anthem hätten arbeiten sollen “, sagte eine Person, die an dem Projekt beteiligt war. Es gab auch die Tatsache, dass sich der Hauptsitz von BioWare in Edmonton befand, einem Ort, an dem Winter auf minus 20 oder sogar minus 40 Grad Fahrenheit fallen können. Laut Angaben der dortigen Mitarbeiter war es immer schwierig, Veteranen aus bewohnbareren Städten zu rekrutieren. (Man muss sich auch fragen: Wie viele Programmierer haben von den Rasierklingen von Frostbite gehört und beschlossen, sich zu scheuen?)

Wenn ein BioWare-Ingenieur Fragen hatte oder Fehler melden wollte, musste er normalerweise mit dem zentralen Frostbite-Team von EA sprechen. eine Gruppe von Supportmitarbeitern, die mit allen Studios des Verlags zusammenarbeitete. Innerhalb von EA kämpften Studios häufig um Ressourcen wie die Zeit des Frostbite-Teams, und BioWare würde diese Kämpfe normalerweise verlieren. Immerhin brachten Rollenspiele einen Bruchteil der Einnahmen einer FIFA oder einer Battlefront . “The amount of support you’d get at EA on Frostbite is based on how much money your studio’s game is going to make,” said one developer. All of BioWare’s best-laid technological plans could go awry if they weren’t getting the help they expected.

No matter how many people were involved, one thing about Frostbite would always remain consistent, as it did on Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda: It made everything take longer than anyone thought it should. “We’re trying to make this huge procedural world but we’re constantly fighting Frostbite because that’s not what it’s designed to do,” said one developer. “Things like baking the lighting can take 24 hours. If we’re making changes to a level, we have to go through another bake process. It’s a very complex process.”

Frostbite’s razor blades were buried deeply inside the Anthem team, and it would prove impossible to stop the bleeding.

By the end of 2016, Anthem had been in some form of pre-production for roughly four years. After this much time in a more typical video game development cycle, it would have entered production, the point in a project when the team has a full vision of what they’re making and can actually start building out the game. Some who were working on Anthem say that’s when they started feeling like they were in trouble, like the game was screwed, like they would soon have to face the same sort of last-minute production crunch that their co-workers were suffering on Mass Effect: Andromeda. Yet word came down from leadership that everything would work out. It was time for BioWare magic. “You had to throw your prior knowledge out and either go on blind faith or just hope things were gonna turn out well,” said one person who was there. “A lot of the veterans, guys who had only ever worked at BioWare, they said, ‘Everything is going to be fine in the end.’ It was really hard on people who couldn’t just go on that blind faith, I suppose.”

One former BioWare developer said that they and some of their co-workers would bring up these concerns to directors, only to be ignored. “You’d come to management saying, ‘Look, we’re seeing the same problems on Inquisition and Andromedawhere design wasn’t figuring things out. It’s getting really late in the project and the core of the game isn’t defined.’ Basically saying, ‘Hey, the same mistakes are happening again, did you guys see this the last time? Can you stop this?’” said the developer. “They’d be quite dismissive about it.”

Over the months, Anthem had begun naturally picking up ideas and mechanics from loot shooters like The Division and Destinyalthough even mentioning the word Destiny was taboo at BioWare. (Diablo III was the preferred reference point.) A few people who worked on the game said that trying to make comparisons to Destiny would elicit negative reactions from studio leadership. “We were told quite definitively, ‘This isn’t Destiny,’” said one developer. “But it kind of is. What you’re describing is beginning to go into that realm. They didn’t want to make those correlations, but at the same time, when you’re talking about fire teams, and going off and doing raids together, about gun combat, spells, things like that, well there’s a lot of elements there that correlate, that cross over.”

Because leadership didn’t want to discuss Destinythat developer added, they found it hard to learn from what Bungie’s loot shooter did well. “We need to be looking at games like Destiny because they’re the market leaders,” the developer said. “They’re the guys who have been doing these things best. We should absolutely be looking at how they’re doing things.” As an example, the developer brought up the unique feel of Destiny’s large variety of guns, something that Anthem seemed to be lacking, in large part because it was being built by a bunch of people who had mostly made RPGs. “We really didn’t have the design skill to be able to do that,” they said. “There just wasn’t the knowledge base to be able to develop that kind of diversity.”

One longstanding BioWare tradition is for their teams to build demos that the staff could all take home during Christmas break, and it was Anthem’s turn during Christmas of 2016. By this point, BioWare’s leadership had decided to remove flying from the game—they just couldn’t figure out how to make it feel good—so the Christmas build took place on flat terrain. You’d run through a farm and shoot some aliens. Some on the team thought it was successful as a proof of concept, but others at BioWare said it felt dull and looked mundane.

In the beginning of 2017, a few important things happened. In early March, Mass Effect: Andromeda launched, freeing up the bulk of BioWare’s staff to join Anthemincluding most of BioWare’s Austin office. The Montreal office began to quietly wind down and eventually closed, leaving BioWare as two entities rather than three.

Around the same time, Electronic Arts executive Patrick Söderlund, to whom BioWare’s leadership reported, played the Anthem Christmas demo. According to three people familiar with what happened, he told BioWare that it was unacceptable. (Söderlund did not respond to a request for comment.) He was particularly disappointed by the graphics. “He said, ‘This is not what you had promised to me as a game,’” said one person who was there. Then, those developers said, Söderlund summoned a group of high-level BioWare staff to fly out to Stockholm, Sweden and meet with developers at DICE, the studio behind Battlefield and Frostbite. (DICE would later bring in a strike team to help BioWare work out Frostbite kinks and make Anthem look prettier.)

Now it was time for a new build. “What began was six weeks of pretty significant crunch to do a demo specifically for Patrick Söderlund,” said one member of the team. They overhauled the art, knowing that the best way to impress Söderlund would be to make a demo that looked as pretty as possible. And, after some heated arguments, the Anthem team decided to put flying back in.

One biome, based on a volcano, was eventually cut from Anthem.
Image: Don Arceta (ArtStation)

For years, the Anthem team had gone back and forth about the flying mechanic. It had been cut and re-added several times in different forms. Some iterations were more of a glide, and for a while, the idea was that only one exosuit class would be able to fly. On one hand, the mechanic was undeniably cool—what better way to feel like Iron Man than to zip around the world in a giant robot suit? On the other hand, it kept breaking everything. Few open-world games allowed for that kind of vertical freedom, for good reason; if you could fly everywhere, then the entire world needed to accommodate that. The artists wouldn’t be able to throw up mountains or walls to prevent players from jumping off the boundaries of the planet. Plus, the Anthem team worried that if you could fly, you’d blaze past the game’s environments rather than stopping to explore and check out the scenery.

The leadership team’s most recent decision had been to remove flying entirely, but they needed to impress Söderlund, and flying was the only mechanic they’d built that made Anthem stand out from other games, so they eventually decided to put it back. This re-implementation of flying took place over a weekend, according to two people who worked on the game, and it wasn’t quite clear whether they were doing it permanently or just as a show for Söderlund. “We were like, ‘Well that’s not in the game, are we adding it for real?’” said one developer. “They were like, ‘We’ll see.’”

One day in the spring of 2017, Söderlund flew to Edmonton and made his way to BioWare’s offices, entourage in tow. The Anthem team had completely overhauled the art and re-added flying, which they hoped would feel sufficiently impressive, but tensions were high in the wake of the last demo’s disappointment and Mass Effect: Andromeda’s high-profile failure. There was no way to know what might happen if Söderlund again disapproved of the demo. Would the project get canceled? Would BioWare be in trouble?

“One of our QA people had been playing it over and over again so they could get the flow and timing down perfectly,” said one person who was involved. “Within 30 seconds or so the exo jumps off and glides off this precipice and lands.”

Then, according to two people who were in the room, Patrick Söderlund was stunned.

“He turns around and goes, ‘That was fucking awesome, show it to me again,’” said one person who was there. “He was like, ‘That was amazing. It’s exactly what I wanted.’”

This demo became the foundation for the seven-minute gameplay trailer that BioWare showed the public a few weeks later. In June of 2017, just a few days after that last-minute name change from Beyond to AnthemBioWare boss Aaryn Flynn took the stage of EA’s E3 press conference and announced the game. The next day, at Microsoft’s press conference, they showed a demo that helped everyone, including BioWare’s own developers, finally see how Anthem would play.

What the public didn’t know was that even then, Anthem was still in pre-production. Progress had been so slow that the demo was mostly guesswork, team members say, which is why the Anthem that actually launched looks so drastically different than the demo the team showed at E3 2017. In the real game, you have to go through a mission selection menu and a loading screen before you can leave your base in Fort Tarsis; in the demo, it all happens seamlessly. The demo is full of dynamic environments, giant creatures, and mechanics that bear little resemblance to the final product, like getting to see new loot when you pick it up rather than having to wait until the end of a mission.

“After E3, that’s when it really felt like, ‘Okay, this is the game we’re making,’” said one Anthem developer. “But it still felt like it took a while to get the entire team up to speed. It was also kind of tricky because there were still a lot of question marks. 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?’”

“The abilities and all that were still getting decided,” said another developer. “Nothing was set in stone at that point at all.” Said a third: “Going out of pre-production is never really a crisp thing. You have to just look at the attitude of the team and what they’re doing. The fact of the matter is, fundamental things were not figured out yet.”

At E3 2017, BioWare announced that Anthem would launch in fall 2018. Behind the scenes, however, they had barely even implemented a single mission. And the drama was just getting worse.

Until very recently, hardcore BioWare fans used to refer to the studio’s various teams using derogatory tiers. There was the A-team, the B-team, and the C-team. Opinions may have varied on which was which, but in general, “A-team” referred to the original BioWare, the office in Edmonton, Canada responsible for Dragon Age and the Mass Effect trilogy. A couple thousand miles southeast was the “B-team,” a studio in Austin, Texas that was founded to make Star Wars: The Old Republica massively multiplayer online role-playing game. (The “C-team” usually referred to Montreal, the ill-fated studio behind Mass Effect: Andromeda.)

What fans might not have realized was that even within BioWare, some people thought the same way.

Anthem is the game you get from a studio that is at war with itself,” said one former BioWare developer. “Edmonton understandably has the perspective of, ‘We are the original BioWare.’ Anybody not part of that brand is lesser, and does not garner the same level of trust as people that are in the Edmonton office. And so I think that’s a little bit of an issue there.”

After shipping The Old Republic in 2011 and continuing to cultivate and support it, BioWare Austin started a few of its own projects. There was Shadow Realmsa 4v1 multiplayer game that was announced in the summer of 2014, and then there were some other prototypes, like Sagaa multiplayer open-world Star Wars game that was in early development for a few months. (And then there was the dream of a new Knights of the Old Republic game, which some BioWare Austin staffers say was always dangled as a possibility but never really came close to getting off the ground.)

By the end of 2014, those projects were all canceled, and BioWare had enacted an initiative that it called “One BioWare”—a plan designed to get all of the company’s studios working in tandem. Many of BioWare Austin’s staff moved on to Dragon Age: Inquisition downloadable content and then Mass Effect: Andromeda. By early 2017, around the time Söderlund was demanding to see that new demo, most of BioWare Austin was officially on Anthemhelping with just about every department, from cinematics to storytelling.

Anthem’s lack of vision in Edmonton was even more pronounced in Austin, whose developers suddenly found themselves working on a game they didn’t quite understand. Was it an online loot shooter, like Destinyor was it more of a role-playing game? How did you get around the world? What would the missions look like? “One of the things we struggled with was, we didn’t understand the game concept,” said one former BioWare Austin developer. “When Anthem was presented to us, it was never really clear what the game was.”

“They were still finding the vision for the game,” said a second. “I saw multiple presentations given to the entire studio trying to define what Anthem was about. The Hollywood elevator pitch version of Anthem: ‘When we talk about Anthemwhat we mean is X.’ I saw many, many variations of that over time, and that was indicative of how much conflict there was over trying to find a vision for this game, and over how many people were struggling to have their vision become the one that won out.”

“One of the things we struggled with was, we didn’t understand the game concept. When Anthem was presented to us, it was never really clear what the game was.” – former BioWare developer

Even when they did figure out what was happening, it felt to BioWare Austin staff like they were the grunts. Developers who worked both in Austin and Edmonton say the messaging was that Edmonton would come up with the vision and Austin would execute on it, which caused tension between the two studios. BioWare Austin developers recall offering feedback only to get dismissed or ignored by BioWare Edmonton’s senior leadership team, a process that was particularly frustrating for those who had already shipped a big online game, Star Wars: The Old Republicand learned from its mistakes. One developer described it as a culture clash between a group of developers in Edmonton who were used to making single-player box product games and a group of developers in Austin who knew how to make online service games.

“We’d tell them, ‘This is not going to work. Look, these [story] things you’re doing, it’s gonna split up the player experience,’” said an Austin developer. “We’d already been through all of it with The Old Republic. We knew what it was like when players felt like they were getting rushed through story missions, because other players were on their headsets going, ‘C’mon cmon, let’s go.’ So we knew all these things, and we’d bring it up repeatedly, and we were ignored.”

After the E3 reveal, in June of 2017, the Anthem teams in Edmonton and Austin were meant to start moving into full production, designing missions and building a world based on the vision they could now at least somewhat see. But that just didn’t happen, the developers say. “They had been in idea land for four to five years, and nobody had actually gone, ‘Okay, we need to decide what we’re making and make it,’” said one member of the team. “They were still going back to the drawing board on major systems. Which is fine—part of game development is that you iterate, and it’s like, ‘This didn’t work, let’s go again.’ They never got to the point of like, ‘This doesn’t work, let’s iterate on it.’ It was, ‘This doesn’t work, let’s start from scratch.’”

The story was still in flux under new narrative director James Ohlen (who would also leave BioWare before Anthem shipped), and design was moving particularly slowly, with systems like mission structure, loot, and exosuit powers still not finalized. A number of veteran BioWare developers began leaving the studio that summer, and the untimely death of Corey Gaspur, one of the game’s lead designers, left a massive hole in that department. Core features, like loading and saving, still hadn’t been implemented in the game, and it became difficult to play test builds because they were riddled with bugs.

“It came time to move from pre-production to production in June,” said one BioWare developer. “June comes, we’re still in pre-production. July, August, what the heck’s going on?”

The Anthem leadership team and some other veterans continued to talk about BioWare magic, but it was clear to a lot of people that something was wrong. They had publicly committed to a fall 2018 ship date, but that had never been realistic. Publisher EA also wouldn’t let them delay the game any further than March 2019, the end of the company’s fiscal year. They were entering production so late, it seemed like it might be impossible to ship anything by early 2019, let alone a game that could live up to BioWare’s lofty standards.

Something needed to give.

On June 29, 2017, BioWare’s Mark Darrah published a tweet that may seem odd today. He noted that he was the executive producer of the Dragon Age franchise, then gave a list of games he was not currently working on: ”Anthem; Mass Effect; Jade Empire; A DA Tactics game; Star Wars…” The implication was that Darrah was producing Dragon Age 4. At the time, this was true. This iteration of Dragon Age 4 was code-named Joplin, and those who were working on it have told me they were excited by creative director Mike Laidlaw’s vision for the project.

But Anthem was on fire, and by October, BioWare had decided to make some massive changes. That summer, studio general manager Aaryn Flynn departed, to be replaced by a returning Casey Hudson. As part of this process, the studio canceled Joplin. Laidlaw quit shortly afterward, and BioWare restarted Dragon Age 4 with a tiny team under the code name Morrison. Meanwhile, the studio moved the bulk of Dragon Age 4’s developers to Anthemwhich needed all of the company’s resources if it was going to hit the ship date that EA was demanding.

Mark Darrah was then installed over game director Jon Warner to become executive producer on Anthem. His role became so significant that he took top billing in Anthem’s credits:

That the first name in Anthem’s credits is someone who started working on the game in October 2017, just 16 months before it shipped, says volumes about its development.

If Dragon Age: Inquisition hadn’t been so successful, perhaps BioWare would have changed its production practices. Perhaps studio leadership wouldn’t have preached so strongly about that BioWare magic—that last-minute cohesion that they all assumed would happen with enough hard work and enough crunch. But it was ultimately Dragon Age: Inquisition’s executive producer who steered Anthem out of rocky waters and into port.

When Mark Darrah joined the project in the fall of 2017, he began pushing the Anthem team toward one goal: Ship the game.

“The good thing about Mark is that he would just wrangle everybody and make decisions,” said one former BioWare developer. “That was the thing that the team lacked—nobody was making decisions. It was deciding by panel. They’d almost get to a decision and then somebody would go ‘But what about this?’ We were stagnant, not moving anywhere.”

“He started saying basically, ‘Just try to finish what you’ve started,’” said a second developer. “The hard part about that was that there were still a lot of things to figure out. There were still a lot of tools to build to be able to ship the game we were making. It was very, very scary because of how little time there was left.”

At this point, that developer added, it felt like “player-based gameplay” was in a good spot. Combat felt like a strong evolution from Mass Effect: Andromedawhich, despite its flaws, was widely considered to have the best shooting of any Mass Effect game. Now that flying was a permanent fixture in Anthemit was starting to feel great, too. Other parts of the game were in much worse shape. “It was level design, story, and world-building that got screwed the most, in that things kept changing and they had to rebuild a lot all the time,” the developer said.

By the beginning of 2018, by another former developer’s recollection, Anthem’s progress was so far behind that they’d only implemented a single mission. Most of the high-level design had still not been finalized, like the loot system and javelin powers. And the writing was still very much in flux. “They talk a lot about the six-year development time, but really the core gameplay loop, the story, and all the missions in the game were made in the last 12 to 16 months because of that lack of vision and total lack of leadership across the board,” said the developer.

This final year was when Anthem began to materialize, and it became one of the most stressful years in BioWare’s history. There was pressure within the studio, as many teams had to put in late nights and weekends just to make up for the time they’d lost. There was pressure from EA, as executive Samantha Ryan brought in teams from all across the publisher, including developers from outside studios like Motive in Montreal, to close out the game. And there was pressure from the competition, as The Division 2 was announced, Destiny 2 continued to improve, and other loot shooters like Warframe just kept getting better.

Meanwhile, the gaming landscape was changing. Electronic Arts had gone all-in on regularly updated “games as a service” but was struggling in several key areas, closing Visceral Games in San Francisco and facing serious drama at its ambitious EA Motive studio in Montreal. The Star Wars Battlefront II pay-to-win debacle led to a reinvigorated public hatred for all things Electronic Arts and a publisher-wide reboot of all things loot box, even as EA executives continually pushed for all of their games to have long-term monetization plans, Anthem included. EA has been public about its distaste for linear games that can be easily returned to GameStop after a single playthrough.

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And Anthem needed to be finished. By rebooting Dragon Age 4 and moving almost all of BioWare’s staff to Anthemthe studio, now under new leadership, was doubling down. Decisions had to be made that would get the game out the door, no matter what that meant cutting. There was no more time for ideation or “finding the fun” in prototypes.

“I would say it ended up being quite a stressful time and a lot of people started to develop tunnel vision,” said one developer. “They have to finish their thing and they don’t have the time.” That, the developer added, is one of the explanations for some of Anthem’s critical flaws. Consider its unreasonably long loading times, for example, which could take more than two minutes on PC before the early patch. “Of course we knew loading screens would be unpopular,” the developer said. “But we have everything on the schedule, hundreds more days scheduled of work than we actually have. So loading is not gonna get addressed.”

Anthem was so in flux during 2018 that even some major features that were discussed publicly that year never made it into the game. A Game Informer cover story on Anthempublished in July of 2018, detailed a skill tree system that would allow players to build up their exosuit pilots in unique ways: “Your pilot also gains skills that apply universally to any javelin you use. For instance, the booster jets on your javelins overheat with continued use, but by investing in a certain pilot skill, you can increase the amount of time you’re able to stay airborne in all of your suits.” That system was cut before launch.

“I don’t know how accurate this is,” said one BioWare developer, “but it felt like the entire game was basically built in the last six to nine months. You couldn’t play it. Es war nichts da. It was just this crazy final rush. The hard part is, how do you make a decision when there’s no game? There’s nothing to play. So yeah, you’re going to keep questioning yourself.”

It’s not unusual for a video game to be in rough shape close to launch. Some of the best video games in history, like The Last of Uscame out of rocky development cycles in which many of the staff felt like they were screwed until everything coalesced at the last minute. Something about Anthem felt different, though. Too much had gone awry; too many ambitions had not been realized. “I think if just one thing had gone wrong, we would’ve navigated that,” said a developer.

One mandate from Anthem’s directors had been to make the game “unmemeable,” a reaction to Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s jittery facial animations, which became an internet joke in the days leading up to that game’s release. For Anthemthe team used high-end performance capture in order to ensure that the characters couldn’t be turned into embarrassing GIFs and plastered all over Reddit. Since the bulk of the game’s story-telling would be told from a first-person perspective in the hub city Fort Tarsis, players would spend a lot of time staring at characters’ faces. The characters had to look good.

Performance capture, or “pcap,” did indeed make for beautiful animations, but it came at a cost. Because booking performance capture was so expensive, the team often had just one shot to get things right, which was a difficult proposition when Anthem’s design was changing so rapidly. Sometimes, the team would record and implement scenes that stopped making sense as a result of design changes. “There are little bits of dialogue, little moments in some of these performance-captured scenes, that if you stop and think, don’t make any sense,” said one developer. “The reason this doesn’t make any sense is because they changed some of the gameplay down the line, but it was impossible to change the performance capture.”

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.”

Hardcore fans have spotted other examples of Anthem dialogue that seems incoherent or odd, like characters talking about other characters as if they’re not present when they’re actually standing in the same room. “That’s a really strong example of the types of problems that befell us,” said another developer. “Why couldn’t they change this? It’s not that nobody wanted to. It’s because when we set the course with these huge assets, we’re sometimes stuck with them.”

Because decisions were being made so rapidly and there was so much work left to do, Anthem developers say they had a hard time looking at the game holistically. It was tough to zoom out and get a feel for what it’d be like to play 40, 60, or 80 hours of Anthem when entire missions weren’t even finished. How could you tell if the loot drop rates were balanced when you couldn’t even play through the whole game? How could you assess whether the game felt grindy or repetitive when the story wasn’t even finished yet?

Plus, the build could be so unstable, it was difficult to even log on to test for bugs. “I think there was an entire week where I couldn’t do anything because there were server issues,” said one person who worked on the game. Another said that the team had to test out and approve levels offline, which was a strange choice for missions that were meant to be played by four people.

Just a couple months before Anthem shipped, decisions were still being finalized and overhauled. At one point, for example, the leadership team realized that there was no place in the game to show off your gear, which was a problem for a game in which the long-term monetization was all based on cosmetics. You could spend money on fancy new outfits for your robot suit, but who would even see them? The game’s one city, Fort Tarsis, was privately instanced so that it could change for each player based on how much progress they’d made in the story. So the team brought on EA’s Motive studio in Montreal to build the Launch Bay, a last-minute addition to the game where you could hang out and show off your gear to strangers.

“I think there was an entire week where I couldn’t do anything because there were server issues.” – BioWare developer

Back in Edmonton, as the crunch continued, BioWare employees say leadership assured them that everything would be fine. The BioWare magic would materialize. Sure enough, the game did continue to get better—one BioWare developer emphasized that the improvements were exponential during those last few months—but the stress of production had serious consequences. “I’d never heard of ‘stress leave’ until the end of Andromeda,” said one former BioWare developer, referring to a practice in which BioWare employees would take weeks or even months off for their mental health. On Anthemthe developer added, this practice just got worse. “I’ve never heard of people needing to take time off because they were so stressed out. But then that kind of spread like wildfire throughout the team.”

This also led to attrition over the course of Anthem’s development, and a glance through the game’s credits reveals a number of names of people who left during 2017 and 2018. “People were leaving in droves,” said one developer who left. “It was just really shocking how many people were going.”

“We hear about the big people,” said another developer who left. “When [writer] Drew Karpyshyn leaves, it makes big waves. But a lot of people don’t realize that there were a ton of really talented game designers who left BioWare and no one knows. The general public is unaware of who these people are.” Some of those people took off for other cities, while over a dozen followed former BioWare boss Aaryn Flynn to Improbable, a technology company that recently announced plans to develop its own game. That list includes many former high-level staff—including art and animation director Neil Thompson, technical director Jacques Lebrun, and lead designer Kris Schoneberg—some of whom were at BioWare for over a decade.

By the end of 2018, those who remained on Anthem wished they could have had just a few more months. Under Darrah and the production staff, there was real momentum, but it became clear to everyone that the game wouldn’t ship with as much content as fans expected. They came up with some artificial solutions to extend the campaign, like Challenges of the Legionnaires, a tedious, mandatory part of the main story that involves completing grindy quests in order to access tombs across the game’s world. (Originally, according to two BioWare developers, this mission included time gates that might force players to wait days to complete it all—fortunately, they changed this before launch. “That mission was controversial even within BioWare,” said one. “The reasoning was to definitely throttle player movement.”)

There was no escaping EA’s fiscal targets, and Anthem had already been in development for nearly seven years. They had committed to launching within EA’s fiscal year, which ended in March of 2019. The game would ship in February. Even if they wanted a few more months, that just wasn’t an option. “In the end,” said one developer, “we just ran out of time.”

If there was one reason for BioWare staff to be optimistic, it was the fact that unlike the studio’s previous games, Anthem had room to evolve. Early mock reviews—critical assessments provided by outside consultants—predicted that Anthem’s Metacritic score would land in the high 70s. This was low for a BioWare game, but company leadership was fine with that, telling staff during company meetings that with some last-minute polish in the months following those mock reviews, they could get even higher. A few months after launch, maybe they’d have something special on their hands.

“They had a really strong belief in the live service,” said one developer. “Issues that were coming up, they’d say, ‘We’re a live service. We’ll be supporting this for years to come. We’ll fix that later on.’”

It turned out the mock reviews had been too generous. By the time Anthem came out, BioWare’s leadership would have killed for a Metacritic in the high 70s.

On February 15, 2019, Anthem launched in EA’s premium early-access services, opening the floodgates as players and reviewers began to see just how flawed the game was. The loading screens were too long, the loot system felt unbalanced, and missions were thin and repetitive. Plenty of players liked the core gameplay—the shooting, the flying, the javelin exosuit abilities—but everything around it seemed undercooked. As it turned out, this February 15 build was a few weeks old, a devastating mistake for BioWare that likely led to far more negative reviews than they might have received otherwise. A patch a few days later fixed some of the bugs, such as audio drops and sluggish loading screens, that were highlighted in reviews, but it was too late. By the time the Metacritic score had settled, it was a 55.

“I don’t think we knew what Anthem was going to be when it shipped,” said one developer. “If we had known the shipped game would have that many problems, then that’s a completely different take than, ‘Oh, it’s okay to get this out now because we can improve it later.’ That wasn’t the case. Nobody did believe it was this flawed or this broken. Everyone actually thought, ‘We have something here, and we think it’s pretty good.’”

While talking to me, a number of former BioWare developers brought up specific complaints that were voiced by players and critics, then shared anecdotes of how they had made those same gripes to the leadership team throughout 2017 and 2018 only to be brushed off. It’s easy for developers to say that with hindsight, of course, but this was a common theme. “Reading the reviews is like reading a laundry list of concerns that developers brought up with senior leadership,” said one person who worked on the game. In some cases, perhaps they just didn’t have time to address the issues, but these former BioWare developers said they brought up bigger-picture concerns years before the game shipped.

As an example, two developers brought up non-player character dialogue. Most of Anthem’s story is told through conversations in Fort Tarsis and radio chatter as you go through missions, yet the game strongly pushes you to team up with other players. As anyone who’s played an online game knows, it’s hard to pay much attention to NPC dialogue when you’re playing with other people, whether they’re blabbing in your ear or rushing you to hurry up and get to the next mission. Current and former BioWare employees say they brought this up with BioWare’s senior leadership only to be ignored. Anthem developers say they anticipated other complaints, too, like ones about the heat meter that prevents you from flying for too long without breaks, and the fact that so many of those Fort Tarsis dialogue choices didn’t seem to accomplish much.

In the weeks after launch, BioWare’s Austin office began taking over the live service, as had always been planned, while BioWare Edmonton staff gradually started moving to new projects, like Dragon Age 4. Among those who remain at the company, there’s a belief that Anthem can be fixed, that with a few more months and some patience from players, it will have the same redemption story as so many service games before it, from Diablo III to Destiny.

Yet questions linger about BioWare’s production practices. Many of those who have left the company over the past few years shared concerns about the studio’s approach to game development. There’s widespread worry that the soul of BioWare has been ripped away, that this belief in “BioWare magic” has burned too many people out. That too many talented veterans have left. “There are things that need to change about how that studio operates,” said one former developer. “There are lessons that need to be learned and the only way they’ll get learned is if they become public knowledge.”

One big change that’s already been enacted at BioWare is a new technology strategy. Developers still at the studio say that under Casey Hudson, rather than start from scratch yet again, the next Dragon Age will be built on Anthem’s codebase. (We’ll share more on that game in the near future.)

“I think Anthem might be the kick in the butt that BioWare leadership needed to see that how you develop games has changed dearly,” said one former staffer. “You can’t just start fresh and fumble your way forward until you find the fun. That doesn’t work anymore.”

Perhaps Anthem will morph into a great game one day. A few people who worked on it have expressed optimism for the future. “A lot of us were screaming at the wall,” said one Austin developer. “Over time, what builds up is, ‘Okay, when we get control, we’re going to fix it.’ Sure, the game has all these problems and we understand them. It’s very much a ‘motivated to fix’ attitude.”

The game that emerged from a six-and-a-half-year development cycle was the result of a number of difficult, complicated factors, ones that won’t be quite as easy to fix as Anthem’s loot drop rates or loading screens. When the Anthem team started development back in 2012, they hoped to make the Bob Dylan of video games, one that would be referenced and remembered for generations. They might have accomplished that. Just not in quite the way they hoped.

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