BioWare internal memo vows to address studio disarray, says Kotaku’s Anthem exposé was ‘traumatizing’

    
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Who is this guy, man?

On Tuesday this week, Kotaku published a devastating exposé of BioWare, interviewing 19 people in the know to reveal a state of “crisis” in the company over the production of Anthem, from a busted engine and “stress casualties” piling up over what sure appears to be poor management.

Immediately following the publication of the piece, BioWare added fuel to the fire by essentially publicly shading Kotaku for “tearing down” “specific team members and leaders” and “one another’s work,” but that was a tad bizarre, since Kotaku didn’t really do that; it appears to have limited name-drops to those of bosses in public-facing leadership roles, presumably because that is how leadership works. That led to a round of concern over whether BioWare was taking any of it seriously at all.

Well… maybe it is, kinda. According to Kotaku, yesterday BioWare general manager Casey Hudson sent ’round an internal memo addressing the Kotaku piece and calling them “real” and saying it’s the studio’s “top priority to continue working to solve them” – in line with his public statements on Twitter.

“I was – and continue to be – excited to help drive improvements in those areas because I love this studio, and above all I want to create a place where all of you are happy and successful,” Hudson writes.

“I’m not going to tell you I’ve done a good job at that, and on a day like today I certainly feel like I haven’t. But some of the steps we’ve taken towards this include a more focused studio mission and values, so that we have clarity on what we are here to do and how we define a high standard for our studio culture. We updated our studio structure around a matrix so that department directors can be fully focused on individual career support and well-being. We are defining better role clarity so that people can succeed better against clear expectations. And we are putting in place production changes that will provide for clearer project vision as well as a significant post-production period that will further relieve pressure and anxiety on teams during development.”

But don’t get too excited; Hudson also goes right back to shading Kotaku. “What we found out-of-bounds was the naming of specific developers as targets for public criticism,” Hudson maintains. “It’s unfair and extremely traumatizing to single out people in this way, and we can’t accept that treatment towards any of our staff.” In other words, he seems to be suggesting that Kotaku was naming-and-shaming rank-and-file developers en masse when in fact it seems to have painstakingly focused on management with power and responsibility – like Casey Hudson himself.

Source: Kotaku

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Stormwaltz

All the names mentioned in the Kotaku article, in order:

Casey Hudson
Casey Hudson
Jon Warner
Casey Hudson
David Gaider (quit 2016)
David Gaider (quit 2016)
Preston Watamaniuk
Jon Warner
Preston Watamaniuk
Derek Watts
Parrish Ley
Patrick Söderlund
Patrick Söderlund
Patrick Söderlund
Patrick Söderlund
Patrick Söderlund
Patrick Söderlund
Patrick Söderlund
Aaryn Flynn (quit 2017)
Patrick Söderlund
James Ohlen (quit “before ship”)
Corey Gaspur (died 2017)
Mark Darrah
Mike Laidlaw (quit 2017)
Aaryn Flynn (quit 2017)
Casey Hudson
Mark Darrah
Jon Warner
Mark Darrah
Samantha Ryan
Drew Karpyshyn (quit 2018)
Aaryn Flynn (quit 2017)
Neil Thompson (quit 2017)
Jacques Lebrun (quit 2017)
Kris Schoneberg (quit 2017)
Casey Hudson

I might have missed a few (it’s a long article), but TL;DR: a lot of BW department directors, a couple of EA executives, and a handful of team leads – all of whom left years before the game shipped.

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Greaterdivinity

Oddly enough, Söderlund is probably the one largely responsible for the best parts of the game that we finally got – the improved visuals and the flight.

That caused some god-damned whiplash for me.

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rafael12104

Heh. Yup. Very ironic and telling.

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Nathan Aldana

Its weird how theyre so angry they named a bunch of names that largely belong to Executive management.

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wratts

I wouldn’t call many of those executive management. Would have to see an org chart, but unless you’ve got discretionary spending authority to hire people, buy/license tools or hardware, you’re at the mercy of a budget and asking the executives when your team is telling you they need something.

“Indecision” is frequently what team members see when a manager is trying to get them what they need but isn’t authorized to just do it

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kalech

I can understand that Bioware people are upset, but I also don’t think Kotaku did anything wrong. All they did was name people who worked for Bioware, and included the opinions of other Bioware devs weither positive or negative. You can’t hide all of your staff behind anonymity everywhere. That’s just not how media works.

It’s a harsh light to have on you, but I think this kind of thing is important for the industry. As a consumer who has no involvement with that side of the industry, it was definitely an interesting read and rather than be angry with Bioware, I feel like it has increased my empathy towards developers. And I feel like it also improved my opinion of Anthem. It’s still not a great game, and as a solo player it has basically no content for me, but I’m impressed with what they managed to put together considering everything that was stacked against them during development.

I wish sometimes that big developers were not so afraid to show us what’s going on behind the scenes. I assume it has to do with shareholders opinions and such. A lot of gamers, not saying everyone, treat devs like garbage. I don’t know how many comments I see daily on steam patchnotes etc where gamers call devs idiots, cussing them out, saying they ruined a game or that their content is garbage, or that they hope their game fails. Just because they didn’t like a subjective aspect of the game.

Maybe we, as gamers, could use some more perspective when it comes to the making of games.

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DL M

The game was flawed at a deeper level tbh. If you’re going to make an MMO, it is critical to allow for players to feel unique in the persistent world. At its very conceptual base it is a mistake to design everything around the roles without taking into account that basic need. You can design a game that doesn’t provide it, but what is the ceiling and staying power of that game, the payoff for all the work? It’s a good studio I think, just the entire thing went down the wrong road.

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Fenrir Wolf

My consternation with this whole sordid affair is that it’s pointless to make a pariah of BioWare when the whole industry is like this, especially when — and let’s be honest — the neurotypical gamers of the mainstream carry more blame than anyone.

There was none of this back in the ’90s when video games were developed by small teams and targeted at a variety of niches. Hiring was even more diverse, too, with women, LGBTQIA folks, and even furries being brought on without a second thought. And if you don’t believe that, look up Dr. Cat, who was one of the most influential people at Origin Systems.

The Ultima developers, yes.

The problem began sometime in the early ’00s when big publishers realised that perfectly generic titles were more profitable if marketed properly. Think of it this way, if these were artists it’d be the equivalent to selling a perfectly cube-shaped block of polished marble rather than carving anything out of it.

It’s a lot less work, a lot more profit… Talk about a win-win for the big companies.

Unfortunately, everyone jumped on that bandwagon and now there’s loads of money being poured into convincing the neurotypical mainstream that any given company’s polished block of marble is better than any other’s. This means that pressure is on the marketing team to ensure people desire theirs over all others and the production team to ensure that their perfectly polished marble cube reaches the market first.

A lot more money has been put into better polish products and techniques to create an even shinier perfectly generic marble cube, and to ensure an absence of any imperfections. Sometimes, the cube itself cracks under all of the pressure and the only thing that can be delivered to the rabid, frothing masses is a flawed product.

Despite this, the neurotypical mainstream continues to appreciate the demand for perfectly generic cubes. It’s the same game they’ve played a thousand times before, and even they’re getting tired of it, but they don’t really know what they want. The companies who’ve invested so much into cornering the industry with the creation of perfectly generic, polished marble cubes can’t easily switch over to the production of something else either.

Their hand would be forced if neurotypical gamers began to demand diversity, but that’s really never going to happen.

On the flipside, you have smaller developers creating wonders with less fidelity and less stress. Eastshade is a particularly lovely example. Instead of offering a polished, perfectly generic cube, they’ve created something flawed yet beautiful.

The difference between autistic folks like myself and many gamers — hence the distinction — is that we can accept those flaws and even the failures. I feel sometimes failures can be more compelling than the successes. Look at Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines, for example.

We also understand the difference between dreams and intent, which grants creative forces a safety net. Look at how the neurotypical mainstream has treated Peter Molyneux, especially with that nasty interview over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun where, quite unceremoniously, he was painted as a pathological liar.

If anything, Molyneux is a serial dreamer. He’s always phrased things in the sense of what he wishes would be possible, at least at some future point. He enjoys discussions of wouldn’t it be cool if.

He’s never phrased any of that as features for his existing games, he’s always been surprisingly careful about separating up talking about existing features and his aspirations in general.

Despite that, many neurotypical gamers took every dream he shared as a contractual obligation, that by law it had to be in his upcoming game or they’d burn him at the stake. It almost drove him out of the industry and, frankly, I felt really sorry for him. He’d never done anything wrong… unless you consider dreaming to be wrong.

This is why I think that as time marches on we’ll see more groups leaving the large publishers to create studios focused around the development of passion projects targeted at underserved niches. All they really have to do is manage their games fidelity, ambition, and budget properly and there’ll likely be more profit in that than competing to be the most popular shiny, generic cube of the year.

So I don’t think Schreier’s article was really helpful. If anything it was a very mean-spirited hit piece, especially considering how it named names.

You could swap out BioWare with any mainstream development house though and get exactly the same story. That’s the problem, really, is that the problem can’t be sourced to any one studio as the problem doesn’t have its source within any one studio. It’s pandemic, across the industry.

So long as you have all of these large publishers all competing to be the one with the most shiny, generic cube sales, you’ll have this problem. I think that just more and more we’ll see focus shift away from this as creatives realise there’s profit to be had in creating the game they want to make, enough to live happily without all of the stress and horrors they’re currently being forced to endure.

Neurotypical gamers created this problem with their entitlement and their demand for homogeneous, familiar experiences.

This is the industry you made.

The one I’d want is much more diverse, much more akin to the fun era of the ’90s, where hiring is more inclusive and, thus, games are too. We’ve come a long way with progressivism since the ’90s and I’d love to see what that could bring to ’90s-esque games.

I feel that we’re already getting some of that with titles like Thimbleweed Park.

So all I can think is how many jobs this will cost innocent people at BioWare, and how many people will still go on to demand a greater number of shiny, perfectly polished generic cubes regardless. When you could take that cube, split it into ten equal pieces, and have smaller teams of artists work on those to create games for ten different audiences all while reducing the stress of their employees.

So long as you demand higher fidelity and very homogeneous games, you’re part of the problem that left BioWare in this sorry state.

Hamblepants
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Hamblepants

Extremely traumatizing my hairy tuchus, they just dont like the accountability that comes with the fat paycheques of leadership roles.

Extremely = 9/10 or 10/10. How could they possibly think that being held publicly accountable for the failure of their leadership is a 9/10 traumatizing event? That’s a 9/10 head-up-butt thing to think or say.

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wratts

From the Kotaku piece:
“The job of steering Anthem now fell to the creative leadership team, a group that included game director Jon Warner, design director Preston Watamaniuk, art director Derek Watts, animation director Parrish Ley . . . Some current and former BioWare employees feel a lot of resentment toward this group, and . . .accused the leadership team of indecision and mismanagement.”

I will agree with Hudson that this is unnecessarily harsh and personal. As someone who leads teams in IT delivery (non-gaming), these would be the equivalent of my project manager and functional leads.

These are people with a lot of accountability, but who aren’t typically public facing. In fact, my company has a very strict policy of not allowing people in those roles to speak to press. They also would have significant input to a delivery, but typically not a deciding vote.

Calling them out in public, when they’re likely leading the implementation of decisions more than making them, and are forbidden from defending themselves against public criticism would be a low blow and I’d have very much the same reaction as Hudson. Call out the shot-callers like Hudson, fine; the middle management doers aren’t expecting or deserving to see their names in the paper like this

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Kayweg

Said it before, saying it again…..Biowere

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Valen Sinclair

Bioware sacrificed ME:Andromeda for Anthem, now Anthem is likely to be a bullet in the head of Bioware (fired by EA).

Sad, sad mismanagement.

Random MMO fan
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Random MMO fan

Bioware will disappear after their next Dragon Age ;-)
Here’s what will exactly happen: Anthem will get slowly abandoned over time, a lot of current people will leave Bioware, the new people will get hired BUT it will take years for them to learn Frostbite. Some random writer will be writing a generic story. As a result, next Dragon Age will be released in very unfinished form, with ugly characters, boring sidequests and disappointing story, most people who will finish Cyberpunk 2077 will just laugh at it. Game will get less than, I’d say, 75 on Metacritic (maybe a few points more), will sell poorly and will be the last game allowed to make.

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Dankey Kang

While you’ve got your crystal ball out, you couldn’t give us the winning lottery numbers too?

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Fisty

Corporate speak.

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Armsman

I can see the ONLY major change (given it’s EA will be):

“Dammit! NO DEVs SPEAK TO THE PRESS ANYMORE, EVER – on pain of Termination! Talking to the Press is MARKETING’S JOB…”