BioWare, Anthem, and UA


#1

Jason Schrier has dropped a detailed article in Kotaku describing the development process that eventually yielded Anthem, BioWare’s co-op loot shooter.

While there are some important differences, starting with studio size and experience and project resources, it’s difficult not to perceive some possible parallels with OtherSide and Underworld Ascendant.

This isn’t intended as criticism – in fact, it’s more a defense of the UA team: Anthem is proof (if yet another confirming instance were needed) of at least a couple of truths:

  1. Yes, making games is just plain hard. These aren’t mass-produced widgets; they’re art. And if you think making good art is an easily followed process, I invite you to try it yourself.

  2. Working out the core fun of a game can be so difficult a task as to defy game studios of any size and age. And I’d say it’s an order of magnitude harder than that for a game whose fun is largely meant to emerge from system interactions.

As usual, I have to caveat this by saying I don’t agree with all the things I saw from OSE during UA’s development. Despite some big differences, I think I see some similar creative difficulties between UA and Anthem (though obviously not on Anthem’s scale).

But I also have a small idea how hard “finding the fun” in a game concept can be. There’s no easy-to-follow blueprint. It’s messy. (And that’s with a single indie dev; it’s even messier when several personalities interact.)

So I invite you to read the story on Anthem and see whether you think comparisons with UA are fair, or odious.


#2

I think the marked difference between Anthem and UA was that Anthem was a new property, so had really zero direction at all.

UA had a lot of direction, and they had a zillion big dreams for it. They just lacked time and funds to realize many of them fully, and ended up having to to the absolute minimum releasable featureset, and the absolute minimum on all the features they did get. So it came out as a pale ghost of what could have been.

The patches since have started to show what they initially planned, but even with all four in place, it’ll never be everything they dreamed.


#3

A couple of us in the office who have had the chance to read the Kotaku article have been startled but not entirely surprised by the story, but it was incredible for us to see a lot of parallels with development. As Flatfingers mentioned, I agree this should not entirely remove the blame from the missteps in UA development, but it makes it easier to realize we have an industry-wide problem as well. Priorities have changed since UA’s launch in November, and I hope BioWare can do the same.