- The first huge game of 2019 was supposed to be “Anthem,” a brand-new game from EA’s acclaimed BioWare studio
- Instead, “Anthem” is the latest example of hype and marketing leading to extraordinary backlash.
- Worse, after launch, the game has been plagued by major issues.
What went wrong with “Anthem”?
That’s the big question in the first few months of 2019. The new game was a highly-anticipated blockbuster from EA’s beloved BioWare studio. The storied studio is responsible for popular franchises like “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age,” and spent decades earning good will with gaming’s most evangelic fans.
But rather than celebrating, BioWare is now scrambling to fix its newest game and stem the barrage of negativity it’s seen since the rocky, complicated launch of “Anthem” in mid-February.
Here’s a step-by-step recap of how EA blew it:
1. “Anthem” was officially announced in June 2017 at E3, the annual video game trade show. Here’s what that looked like:
A lengthy gameplay video – “captured in-game running in real time” – demonstrated what players could expect from the brand-new franchise.
“It’s a dynamic world, where the unexpected is around every corner,” an announcer explains as the gorgeous, detailed video plays.
That first look introduced much of the foundational aspects of “Anthem”: Fort Tarsis, the concept of “javelin” suits, and the social, online-only nature of the game.
It also set a potentially impossible bar for the game to reach: Despite the trailer’s insistence that it was captured from the actual game, there are massive discrepancies between the game demonstrated at E3 2017 and the game that launched in mid-February 2019.
Videos highlighting those differences have gone viral in recent weeks.
2. It was shown once again the following year, at E3 in June 2018, with a lengthy gameplay demo:
It was at E3 2018 where public sentiment on “Anthem” went from cautious interest to cautious worry.
BioWare, a studio known for its storytelling chops, appeared to be creating a so-called “loot shooter” along the lines of the “Destiny” or “The Division” franchises, a genre in which gameplay trumps storyline. Though lots of BioWare fans enjoyed the gameplay of the “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age” games, what drove so many players to BioWare games had always been the rich worlds and the characters within those worlds.
BioWare repeatedly promised that those fans would still find something to love in “Anthem.” There’s even a marketing phrase tied to it: “Our World, My Story.”
The idea was that the looting and shooting aspects of “Anthem” would be tied to the game’s online-only open world. The story aspects would be tied to an area named Fort Tarsis, which is where you’d go between missions.
What fans mostly heard was that BioWare’s latest game was focused on gameplay over story – a concern that turned out to be founded.
3. The first major sign of problems: The “Anthem” buyer’s guide chart from EA.
What you see above is an actual chart published on EA’s official help channel. That any game requires a complex chart to explain to players when and how they can actually play the game is absurd.
That’s worth stressing: No game should require players to consult a chart in order to figure out when they can play it.
By doing so, EA illustrated an ongoing issue with modern blockbuster games.
In an effort to diversify and increase profits while facing increasingly high production costs, many blockbuster games come in a variety of different editions. In the case of “Anthem,” there was a standard edition for $60 and a “Legion of Dawn” edition which cost $20 more. Pretty simple so far!
Here’s where it gets complicated: EA offers several different subscription services.
If you pay $5 a month or $30 a year for EA Access, which is available only on Xbox One, you could start playing “Anthem” on February 15. If you pay $5 a month or $30 a year for EA’s Origin Access Basic plan, which is only available on PC, you also could start playing “Anthem” on February 15.
For everyone else, the game officially launched on February 22.
That applied even if you preordered the game and paid $80 for the special “Legion of Dawn” version and, more bizarrely, even if you pay for the more expensive tier of EA’s Origin Access program. Huh?
It was, put simply, a mess – a mess that came with its own chart to illustrate how much of a mess it was. “Anthem” was taking flak before it even came out.
4. The public first got to try “Anthem” in early 2019. Things did not go well.
Right around the same time as BioWare’s owner, EA, released the buying chart, the “VIP Demo” for “Anthem” launched.
The idea of the “VIP Demo” was to reward people who pre-ordered “Anthem” with an early taste. Additionally, if you were a paid subscriber to either of EA’s subscription programs, you also get access to the demo.
In so many words: The only way into this demo was with money.
And that’s exactly why people were so mad when the demo was busted for the majority of the weekend it was available. Many were unable to get past the login screen seen above; others were forced to restart the game after it hit an “infinite loading” bug where a loading screen showed progress until, nearing completion, it froze indefinitely.
Before the general public could even play it, the game had hit another major snag with potential fans.
5. By its mid-February launch, the hype for “Anthem” among gaming’s most ardent fans had turned into snark. It was received poorly by critics.
“Anthem” has a Metacritic average of 60 based on over 60 reviews from a variety of publications. The studio’s last game, “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” was widely regarded as a disaster – it has a Metacritic average of around 70.
Put simply: Critics had a resoundingly negative response to “Anthem.”
“It has the impressive budget and production value you expect from Electronic Arts, a major publisher. It’s a brand-new franchise with ongoing support from BioWare, the celebrated creators of the ‘Mass Effect’ series. ‘Anthem’s’ most important hook, the mechanized ‘javelins’ that let players fly and explore the game’s massive open world, are awesome in design and amazing to see in motion.
And yet, I’m not sure if all of that makes ‘Anthem’ a fun game. While I’ve mostly enjoyed the 10 hours I’ve spent with ‘Anthem’ so far, I couldn’t fight the feeling that parts of the new third-person shooter felt more like work than play.”
6. Post-launch bugs have taken the situation from bad to much worse.
Initially, some folks were claiming that the PlayStation 4 version of “Anthem” was outright killing – or “bricking” – their consoles. The reality wasn’t quite that bad, but the version of “Anthem” on PS4 does indeed have a bug that powers down the console.
Hilarious as that may sound, it’s potentially dangerous for the data on a PS4.
That’s because modern game consoles are essentially PCs. And what happens when you suddenly, without warning, pull the plug from a PC? The next time you turn it on, the computer lets you know not to do that again.
The same thing goes for the PlayStation 4. Some users had to restart their consoles in Safe Mode just to get things running correctly again. This is far from normal, in case that wasn’t already clear – games don’t force consoles to restart, let alone major console games from major publishers like EA.
7. EA got in its own way by releasing “Apex Legends” near-simultaneously with “Anthem.”
- “Apex Legends/Electronic Arts
“No one really knew how much it would take off,” BioWare lead producer Mike Gamble told Business Insider in a phone interview last month. Gamble, the lead producer on “Anthem,” was commenting on the curious timing for the release of EA’s other title, “Apex Legends,” right before his own game’s long-planned launch.
Since its surprise announcement and launch on February 4, “Apex Legends” has attracted more than 50 million players. It’s a bonafide hit across Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC – in fact, “Apex Legends” is growing even more quickly than “Fortnite.”
It’s safe to say no one could’ve expected this kind of reaction, even in the wake of the “Fortnite” phenomenon.
But what does the massive, sudden success of “Apex Legends” mean for “Anthem”? Major blockbuster titles like “Anthem” typically take tens of milions, sometimes even hundreds of millions, of dollars to create over several years. After all that time and money though, there is far, far more conversation about “Apex Legends” righ tnow than there is about “Anthem.”
8. BioWare has more “Anthem” in the works, and is focused on fixing bugs in the meantime.
BioWare laid out a 90-day roadmap for “Anthem” that details a variety of upcoming additions to the game. Additionally, there appear to be plans for even more content beyond those first three months.
It remains to be seen if BioWare can turn the fate of “Anthem” around, or if it even makes sense to continue putting resources into the game – especially in comparison to the massively popular “Apex Legends,” also published by EA.
“‘Anthem’s’ launch represents a commitment we’re making to you: we’re just getting started,” BioWare head of live service Chad Robertson wrote on the BioWare blog on February 22. “This is just the start of a rich Live Service we’ll be creating together.”