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Report on Anthem’s development woes draws terse response from BioWare

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‘The creative process is often difficult’

Anthem: Ranger Javelin in a cave Electronic Arts / BioWare

This morning, Kotaku published a report on the development of BioWare’s latest title, Anthem. The game is currently struggling in its post-launch period, with issues ranging from technical issues on PlayStation 4 to community frustration with the lack of content and satisfying rewards to the scaling math behind end game gear. But the Kotaku report on its development enumerates the challenges both the game and its creators faced long before release.

The report extensively quotes current and former BioWare employees who were with the company during the years-long development of Anthem. The piece should be read in full, but there are a few key takeaways.

Kotaku’s report paints a picture of dysfunction. The BioWare process, which relies on a confluence of systems coming together in a sudden success right before the launch, seems to no longer work. A steady drain of both leadership figures and talented developers has turned this formula on its head, and that can be seen in both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem. Both titles went through several years of development and iteration before critically panned launches that disappointed players.

EA’s Frostbite engine has reportedly further hampered development, forcing developers to fight their own creation tools in order to implement features. Frostbite delayed progress and caused small issues to require significantly more manpower and time than would be otherwise necessary, according to the report.

The report further alleges that this process has led to a major mental health impact across BioWare staff. According to the report, depression and anxiety are both common, with co-workers taking stress leave mandated by medical professionals to cope with the demands of development.

BioWare has since released a statement replying to Kotaku’s report. The statement reads:

We’d like to take a moment to address an article published this morning about BioWare, and Anthem’s development. First and foremost, we wholeheartedly stand behind every current and former member of our team that worked on the game, including leadership. It takes a massive amount of effort, energy and dedication to make any game, and making Anthem would not have been possible without every single one of their efforts. We chose not to comment or participate in this story because we felt there was an unfair focus on specific team members and leaders, who did their absolute best to bring this totally new idea to fans. We didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring them down as individuals. We respect them all, and we built this game as a team.

We put a great emphasis on our workplace culture in our studios. The health and well-being of our team members is something we take very seriously. We have built a new leadership team over the last couple of years, starting with Casey Hudson as our GM in 2017, which has helped us make big steps to improve studio culture and our creative focus. We hear the criticisms that were raised by the people in the piece today, and we’re looking at that alongside feedback that we receive in our internal team surveys. We put a lot of focus on better planning to avoid “crunch time,” and it was not a major topic of feedback in our internal postmortems. Making games, especially new IP, will always be one of the hardest entertainment challenges. We do everything we can to try and make it healthy and stress-free, but we also know there is always room to improve.

As a studio and a team, we accept all criticisms that will come our way for the games we make, especially from our players. The creative process is often difficult. The struggles and challenges of making video games are very real. But the reward of putting something we created into the hands of our players is amazing. People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.

Our full focus is on our players and continuing to make Anthem everything it can be for our community. Thank you to our fans for your support – we do what we do for you.

BioWare ends the statement with thanking fans for their support, and reiterating earlier promises to remain committed to the ongoing development of Anthem. Despite being released only 15 minutes after the Kotaku report, the third paragraph takes a swing at the piece and other reports on the challenges of video game development. The statement doesn’t specifically address many of the troubling information in the report, specifically claims about mass departures and mental health challenges.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the timing of the release of Bioware’s statement. The company has since reached out to clarify that the statement was published 15 minutes after the publication of Kotaku’s report.