Kotaku has another lengthy expose up today, this one homing in on Anthem. Author Jason Schreier interviewed 19 Anthem (and Anthem-adjacent) developers to paint a picture of a studio in chaos – the word he uses is “crisis,” in fact. Under cover of anonymity, developers discuss how the game’s name was chosen from the runners-up list just days before the announcement, how two studios suffered a “tense” relationship, how production was a tangled mess of departures and reboots and a broken engine, how employees were forced to take “stress leave” or bail out of the company as crunch-induced “stress casualties,” and ultimately, how “BioWare’s magic ran out.”
“Anthem is the game you get from a studio that is at war with itself,” one ex-employee put it. Indeed, it sounds as if SWTOR’s developers, moved from the MMO to Anthem, felt frustrated since they’d actually shipped a major online title – and were being ignored.
“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.”
I don’t think most of this will surprise any of you who’ve been watching BioWare and Anthem with us for a long time. What made my eyebrows inch upward was the fact that Destiny – on which the game was obviously slowly becoming based – was considered “taboo” to mention, meaning the developers felt hamstrung, unable to truly study their closest rival and iterate upon it. Sound familiar?
Where this goes from yikes to double yikes is that while Kotaku had contacted BioWare and EA asking them to comment ahead of time, they declined, but then BioWare put up a blog post right after Kotaku’s piece went live, apparently having prepared it in advance without the benefit of having read it. The message acknowledges, without going into detail, the criticism being leveled at it, but ultimately it appears to be shaming Kotaku, suggesting the outlet is trying to attack individuals at the company and tear down their work.
“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,” the company says. “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.”
In its own followup, Kotaku called the response “particularly bizarre” and points out the only named individuals in the article are leadership staff cited by sources. We’ve since seen commentary across the gaming world, from MMO developers like former Trion boss Scott Hartsman, who said the article “nearly triggers a PTSD” reaction in him, and from Polygon, which opined that “the press is not [BioWare’s] enemy” and suggested the company look inward as – we’ll quote Ben Kuchera here:
“Kotaku’s piece — and reporting like it — absolutely helps to make gaming a better place. It’s the reliance on crunch and dysfunctional management on the part of companies like BioWare that hinder the longterm success of the big budget games industry. And, as BioWare has shown, this development strategy doesn’t always lead to good games. Which means everyone loses.”