Zero Punctuation does Anthem

Not being a fan of the “loot shooter” sub-genre, when EA launched Anthem it was just “the other game” they released in February along with Apex Legends.  Of course I wasn’t going to play Apex Legends either, but at least it was an interesting diversion in the battle royale genre.

Also, if you Google “Anthem logo” you get a lot of different results.

Used without permission

So I would have ignored Anthem the way I have pretty much ignored Destiny, Borderlands, and The Division, save for the fact that the internet seemed quite obsessed with Anthem.  But it was hard to tell if the game was just bug ridden, something that can theoretically be fixed over time, or a genuinely bad design.  Reviews seemed to not like the design, but couldn’t stop fretting over bugs.  The PC Gamer review probably focused on design more than most, but a lot of the frustration was still about bugs.

Despite a reputation than leans on humor and quick pacing, I think Yahtzee Crowshaw might have the most design-centric review of Anthem, focused pretty much on game play design without a mention of the software problems.  Also, he makes fun of EA, something most of us can get on board with.


The upshot was Anthem is BioWare trying to make something that really isn’t in their wheelhouse.  And I would have left it there had there not been the giant How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong story over at Kotaku.

Holy moly.  I mean, I’ve lived some of that.  Ill defined goals, misidentified competition, and  corporate dictates about what platform or tools are allowed regardless of their fitness for the current development purpose are all daily occurrences in any larger organization.  I spent most of last summer dealing with the fact that our 2018 continuous integration dictate was not compatible with our  2015 platform dictate, both of which came from some senior exec who either used the same thing at their last company or saw a cool demo and decided to bet the company on it.

But the Anthem story… well, it just shows that when you have an entertainment property there are a lot more ways things can get completely screwed up.

And then there was the EA/BioWare non-response to the article, posted minutes after it was posted, meaning it was a pre-formulated deflection that feels a bit like it is refuting some other article about the game.

All of which I could have ignored, but it seems like a moment in gaming that might be a tipping point for change.  Not good change, of course.  More like EA laying off more BioWare staff or retiring their brand or something.  We shall see.

5 thoughts on “Zero Punctuation does Anthem

  1. Jeromai

    The saddest thing about the Anthem exposé is that many of the named problems can give anyone who has ever worked at a large company PTSD.

    It seems like gaming is growing up (or at least the way games are made now necessitates larger sized organizations) and thus running into the same problems of organizational management as everybody else. This is not to give blanket permission for the same problematic state of affairs to continue, of course, but if there were any easy solutions, a lot of larger organizations out there dearly need them as well.

    A lot of it seems to boil down to the wrong people in the wrong positions, but it may take Acts of God to move them somewhere else where they can either do no harm or possibly even thrive and do a good job based on what they’re good at, as opposed to royally screwing up and driving others up the wall attempting to do what they’re not.

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  2. Naithin

    I work for a large corp (by NZ standards), and I swear to God running through that initial article was like a check-list of things that happen and that we deal with when releasing anything.

    No clear vision? Check.
    Props deep into development, months from release, core still not defined? Check.
    Teams / Areas of the business that each think they’re better than the other? Check.
    Heck, an initiative called One ? Yep, check on that too.

    It’s pretty dang crazy.


  3. Asmiroth

    Right, that “expose” was more of a sanity check that confirmed BioWare was a large company and not some cult of magical unicorns.

    BioWare (or I guess I could extrapolate to game dev as a whole) has a fundamental issue – and that’s talent management (related – succession planning). In large organizations, people get promoted to their level of incompetence. The shining stars are moved into either a) areas where they can no longer shine, or b) to another company. Finding someone to replace them takes a ton of time and effort.

    I work in a rather specialized field. On the planet, there are perhaps 100 people who have the skillset I need. Not one of them is sitting on their couch waiting for me to call them. Either I need to offer them gold and some babies, or I need to “build” someone like them. If I do the former, then I set precedent and they will eventually leave. If I do the latter, they are likely going to leave as well, but at least I have a system to build internal talent.

    It’s really quite interesting. The people BioWare needs to work for them all have better jobs. The internal people they could promote are all being burnt out by a general lack of resources.


  4. Shintar

    Yahtzee is still entertaining, but it’s interesting to note how his framing of the whole thing (evil EA making Bioware create a Destiny clone) is completely at odds with the Kotaku article (Bioware wanting to do something different and failing to come up with a clear plan). Wonder which narrative will prevail…


  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Shintar – I don’t think that Yahtzee’s EA narrative is necessarily meant to be taken seriously except to note that, in the end the boss is responsible for what goes on during their watch. But in the Kotaku article it was interesting to note that the team clearly got that they were making a game that would go head to head with Destiny, yet were not allowed to bring that up as the internal narrative was that it ought to match up with Diablo III.


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