'Anthem': BioWare and EA abandon overhaul of critically panned 2019 game, here’s what went wrong both times
In a statement, executive producer Christian Dailey said working from home during the pandemic has had an impact on productivity. But there may be more than meets the eye
Canadian video game developer BioWare announced on Tuesday, February 24, that it, along with Electronic Arts, is giving up on the planned overhaul of the 2019 action-RPG ‘Anthem’ -- referred to as ‘Anthem Next’ or ‘Anthem 2.0’. In a statement, executive producer Christian Dailey said, “In the spirit of transparency and closure we wanted to share that we’ve made the difficult decision to stop our new development work on Anthem (aka Anthem NEXT). We will, however, continue to keep the Anthem live service running as it exists today.”
Dailey said that 2020 was a year unlike any other and “while we continue to make progress against all our game projects at BioWare, working from home during the pandemic has had an impact on our productivity and not everything we had planned as a studio before COVID-19 can be accomplished without putting undue stress on our teams.”
“I know this will be disappointing to the community of ‘Anthem’ players who have been excited to see the improvements we’ve been working on,” he said. “It’s also disappointing for the team who were doing brilliant work. And for me personally, ‘Anthem’ is what brought me to BioWare, and the last two years have been some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my career.”
He said that moving forward, BioWare needs to “laser focus” its efforts as a studio and strengthen the “next ‘Dragon Age’, and ‘Mass Effect’ titles while continuing to provide quality updates to ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’.”
But was COVID-19 the only reason why ‘Anthem’ did not happen?
In an interview with IGN, just ahead of this announcement, EA chief studios officer Laura Miele also said that ultimately the studio needed to allocate its time and resources to franchises like ‘Mass Effect’ and ‘Dragon Age’, and that the COVID-19 pandemic made it especially difficult to make the game into what players wanted.
When ‘Anthem’ launched in February of 2019, it was panned by fans and critics. As per reviews, the game was plagued with bugs; and while its combat was interesting, “its story was a grind and its endgame didn't have the chops to sustain the game long-term”.
A Kotaku investigative report from 2019 revealed -- based on interviews with 19 people who either worked on the game or adjacent to it -- that the game’s failure was a combination of technical failings, as EA’s Frostbite engine continued to make life miserable for many of BioWare’s developers, and understaffed departments struggled to serve their team’s needs.
EA ultimately opted to overhaul ‘Anthem’ in late 2019, planning to completely change the game's core loop and systems like loot, quests, and social elements. But earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Electronic Arts was planning to hold a meeting to determine whether it will continue trying to create a new version of the failed online game.
The report said that EA executives would review the latest version of ‘Anthem Next’ and decide whether to expand the team or abandon the project. The ‘Anthem Next’ team included about 30 people, BioWare said in 2020. However, people familiar with the project said the team would need to expand to at least triple that in order to produce new content and continue attempting to overhaul the game.
Speaking to Kotaku, a developer said in 2019 that creating ‘Anthem’ burned too many people out. Many talented veterans left the company. “There are things that need to change about how that studio operates. There are lessons that need to be learned and the only way they’ll get learned is if they become public knowledge,” they said.
“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.”
So, it would seem that understaffing may have been the cause of both -- the original game’s failure and the overhaul’s cancelation.