Gamers first had a chance to lay their hands on Anthem on February 15th, a week before the official release date. From a technical standpoint, it hasn’t been pretty.
Despite the game’s triple A budget and status as BioWare’s next “miracle child”—a redemption for the sins of Mass Effect: Andromeda—it wasn’t long after the beginning of its Early Access program that players began to stumble on hilarious cutscene bugs, crashes, endless loading screens, connectivity issues and a plethora of subjective issues. The servers, of course, went down.
This does not imply that Anthem is a bad game, or that one should feel guilty for enjoying it. Heck, there are plenty of fulfilled promises and great concepts that make the underlying “Looter Shooter with a Plot” satisfying to play instead of a boring more-of-the-same. Javelins—the customizable hi-tech suits that represent the largest share of Anthem’s appeal—are varied and fun to fly, especially after the improvement of mouse and keyboard controls. One can argue that the least enjoyable sections are those which rip the player from combat and subject them to the hit-or-miss plot, which doesn’t have much to do with the sprawling narratives representing BioWare’s claim to fame.
We know for certain that BioWare has a lot riding on Anthem’s success, possibly even the company’s future, so one can easily deduce that they would focus all available resources on this multimillion-dollar project. Given the amount of technical and marketing effort necessary to produce such a game and to have it become as hyped as it is, it’s a foregone conclusion that this flagship is meant to represent the developers’ best.
Turning Back on Their Word
So why is it that the actual game exhibits heavy-handed downgrading from its first E3 showing, back in 2017, despite promises that this wouldn’t happen? Why are there so many issues with getting it to run properly and avoiding, say, being stuck in loading screens that either take way too long to complete or don’t at all? Programmers are already hard at work in providing a day-one patch to fix these issues, but why is this necessary in the first place?
An amazing game can make players turn a blind eye, but it’s not the first time that a large project is released unfinished and unready. Far from an isolated accident, this rushed production is something we have come to expect. The mind wanders back to Diablo III, with its legendary log-on errors, Batman: Arkham Knight, when Warner Bros. was even forced to pull the PC version from sales and—representing the largest launch catastrophe of recent times—the broken promises of No Man’s Sky.
In defense of the other side, however, it is extremely hard to pinpoint the exact causes of these botched releases. This is because, as decades have passed, even creating a single game has become a millionaire enterprise. Development teams have gone from two or three hobbyists to hundreds of people with specialized tasks—artists, managers, 3D-modelers and programmers, to name a few. Sometimes it’s not even the production team’s fault if something goes wrong: a publisher’s deadlines and requirements might be too stringent to allow them to do their job properly.
A Common Practice?
The complete overtake of game distribution by online stores has accentuated this problem even further. While it used to be that reviewers would bash a developer that shipped a buggy game to users who likely couldn’t download an online patch, now even launching it requires the player to be logged-in.
This harmful trend has risen for one reason: the people who perpetrate it know that there is no repercussion. This is not meant to be an attack on teams that are pressed into conforming to industry norms, but so long as throwing a game out of the gate as soon as possible and fixing it later—or not at all—is acceptable, it’ll continue to happen. The backlash to this issue feels more like a tired moan by exhausted customers than actual protest.
Like many others, I was disappointed by great concepts that were developed into subpar games. It is never good to look at a promising idea squirm under the weight of negligent production, something that has recently been so many times the case. If finding a way to give bug-fixers enough time to do their job—while keeping all parties satisfied—were possible, it would be a boon to the videogame industry as a whole.