Anthem development plagued with mismanagement, Frostbite challenges says report

David Matthews

TS Maniac
Staff member

Anthem was supposed to be a literal game changer. This was BioWare's chance to put their unique RPG spin on the growing "looter-shooter" genre that was popularized by Destiny and The Division. Unfortunately, the February launch of Anthem was fraught with bugs, long loading screens, disconnects, sub-par story, and anemic loot mechanics. Kotaku's Jason Schreier released a scathing account of the six year development of a game that literally only came together during the last 18 months.

Schreier, who's renown for his long exposés, interviewed 19 anonymous people who either worked on the game directly or who were close to development. These people recount stories of gross mismanagement and struggles with the Frostbite engine. Ironically, BioWare's parent company Electronic Arts wasn't the primary antagonist.

According to Schrier, Anthem was drastically different in the beginning stages.

One concept that quickly emerged was the idea of a dangerous, hazard-filled planet. Anthem would be set on a hostile alien world, and in order to go out into the wilderness, you’d need a robot suit. A realistic, NASA-inspired robot suit. The pitch was simple: Iron Man, but less cartoony. Over the months, a core concept started to crystallize: Anthem’s planet would be sort of like the Bermuda Triangle of this universe, with an inexorable gravity that was constantly pulling in alien ships and hazards. As a result, the world would be lethal and full of dangerous creatures. ”You are the bottom of the food chain, and everything is significantly more powerful than you,” said one person who worked on the game. When describing these early iterations of Anthem, developers have made comparisons to Dark Souls, Darkest Dungeon, even Shadow of the Colossus. There would be big, scary creatures out in the world, and your job would be to see how long you could survive. One prototype allowed the player to attach themselves to a giant monster; others centered on the atmosphere, the weather, and environmental effects.

Early prototypes seemed promising, however, trying to implement all of the ambitious dynamic systems on the Frostbite engine, developed by EA-owned Dice, was challenging to say the least. Frostbite was originally meant for first person shooters and simply was not flexible enough to handle all of the environmental features that early Anthem prototypes had.

Part of the trouble was you could do enough in the engine to hack it to show what was possible, but then to get the investment behind it to get it actually done took a lot longer, and in some cases you’d run into a brick wall. Then you’d realize, ‘Oh my god, we can do this only if we reinvent the wheel, which is going to take too long.’ It was sometimes difficult to know when to cut and run

One reason for using Frostbite was because theoretically, development studios could share knowledge and use a common platform for all of the games. It would also keep EA from paying licensing fees to use third-party game engines. The problem is that EA prioritized their Frostbite support team only to games that made the most money, namely the FIFA and Madden franchises. BioWare was often left to fend for themselves in order to figure out Frostbite.

By far the biggest hindrance to Anthem's development was poor management and indecisiveness by the game producers and directors. Schrier writes that whenever creative decisions were being made, nobody stepped forward to actually make a decision which would leave everyone confused as to what was happening. When decisions were made, it would often take weeks or months to implement them.

This was partly because of the departure of long time BioWare creative director, Casey Hudson. Bioware employees likened Hudson to Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek where he would be "laser focused" on what direction the team needed to go. After he left, that iron-clad direction was lost. Hudson eventually came back onboard but the damage had been done.

On top of leadership issues, there was the tension between BioWare Austin (who made Star Wars: The Old Republic) and BioWare Edmonton, the primary location.

Developers who worked both in Austin and Edmonton say the messaging was that Edmonton would come up with the vision and Austin would execute on it, which caused tension between the two studios. BioWare Austin developers recall offering feedback only to get dismissed or ignored by BioWare Edmonton’s senior leadership team, a process that was particularly frustrating for those who had already shipped a big online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and learned from its mistakes. One developer described it as a culture clash between a group of developers in Edmonton who were used to making single-player box product games and a group of developers in Austin who knew how to make online service games.

Finally, the lack of direction and general instability of what the game was about caused mental health issues for many employees. Workers had to take "stress leave" for weeks or months at a time to deal with depression and anxiety. One developer noted that "depression and anxiety are an epidemic within BioWare." Others had mental breakdowns and resigned from their position.

There is much, much more that Jason Schrier reveals and it's a very sobering look into a developer that previously garnered a lot of respect in the gaming community due to the success of the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises. It seems that respect is waning fast with the failures of Mass Effect: Andromeda in 2017 and now Anthem.

For its part, EA and BioWare posted a three paragraph blog post that went live just minutes after the Kotaku article went up. While Schrier did send bullet points to BioWare for comment, they did not see the actual article before it was posted.

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.

Feel free to judge for yourself but the post seems tone deaf to what Schrier actually wrote. He didn't "tear down" any of the developers or even BioWare itself. The article seemed to just place a spotlight on the many issues that lead to the downfall of Anthem. If anything, the article is a lesson in how not to develop games. As a huge Mass Effect fan myself, I hope that BioWare learns from their past two failures and changes the culture of development.

Permalink to story.

 

Evernessince

TS Evangelist
How is this not EA's fault again? They forced all their developers to use frostbite and ultimately management of their studios fall unto them.

100% on EA here. They completely failed to put the right people in the right management positions. How they failed to realize what a disaster this was for 6 years is beyond me.

Casey Hudson would not have helped either. The only games he's been head honcho over are Mass Effect 2 and 3. Otherwise he's played bit roles in other bioware projects. He had the benefit of original Bioware writers in 2 and 3 and he still completely flubbed the 3rd game single handedly. Of course the current Bioware staff like the guy, none of them are from the original Bioware and they are a bunch of dude bros who jive with Casey's style.

Respect for Bioware died a long time ago. It was crystal clear since DA II that they were no longer a deep RPG studio but a shallow action game studio that put RPG skins on their games.
 

Manuel Romero

TS Rookie
How is this not EA's fault again? They forced all their developers to use frostbite and ultimately management of their studios fall unto them.

100% on EA here. They completely failed to put the right people in the right management positions. How they failed to realize what a disaster this was for 6 years is beyond me.

Casey Hudson would not have helped either. The only games he's been head honcho over are Mass Effect 2 and 3. Otherwise he's played bit roles in other bioware projects. He had the benefit of original Bioware writers in 2 and 3 and he still completely flubbed the 3rd game single handedly. Of course the current Bioware staff like the guy, none of them are from the original Bioware and they are a bunch of dude bros who jive with Casey's style.

Respect for Bioware died a long time ago. It was crystal clear since DA II that they were no longer a deep RPG studio but a shallow action game studio that put RPG skins on their games.
Listen, I don't deny that EA played a role in the issues surrounding Bioware. But we have to admit that Bioware also played a role in a lot of its problems as well, specifically the upper management at top.
 

ghostf1re

TS Guru
How is this not EA's fault again? They forced all their developers to use frostbite and ultimately management of their studios fall unto them.

100% on EA here. They completely failed to put the right people in the right management positions. How they failed to realize what a disaster this was for 6 years is beyond me.

Casey Hudson would not have helped either. The only games he's been head honcho over are Mass Effect 2 and 3. Otherwise he's played bit roles in other bioware projects. He had the benefit of original Bioware writers in 2 and 3 and he still completely flubbed the 3rd game single handedly. Of course the current Bioware staff like the guy, none of them are from the original Bioware and they are a bunch of dude bros who jive with Casey's style.

Respect for Bioware died a long time ago. It was crystal clear since DA II that they were no longer a deep RPG studio but a shallow action game studio that put RPG skins on their games.
Listen, I don't deny that EA played a role in the issues surrounding Bioware. But we have to admit that Bioware also played a role in a lot of its problems as well, specifically the upper management at top.
I agree. This does not fall on EA completely. BioWare is still their own smaller company with their own leadership. Does EA have a say in that leadership? Sure, but they don't directly have a say in what goes on at BioWare from a day to day basis. This falls on BioWare more than EA for sure.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Hexic

Aenno

TS Rookie
How is this not EA's fault again? They forced all their developers to use frostbite and ultimately management of their studios fall unto them.
Actually, it's an argument I just can't get. Ok, EA is shooting itself and forced BioWare use Frostbite (because, you know, they don't want money, considering BioWare can make in-studio engines, and already had some) - in, like, 2010, when Dragon Age Inquisition development was started. I would be first to accept that Bioware team had troubles with Frostbite - it was new engine for them after all; still, they somehow managed to deal with it. DAI definitely had issues, but I can't say it's engine issues.
Even if it's difficult to adapt Frostbite to RPGs, BioWare themselves already proved it's possible. But somehow when they did Andromeda or Anthem, Frostbite supposedly just can't do RPGs?

100% on EA here. They completely failed to put the right people in the right management positions. How they failed to realize what a disaster this was for 6 years is beyond me.
That's funny, but, reading an article Schrier wrote, it really feel like EA decided: "ok, this studio makes great games giving good results, and they doesn't need manual direction; it's not Montreal, it's Good Old Bioware. Let's give them resources and wait."
And that took them 6 years (hell, in 6 years it was possible to write entire new engine - they did it once in 5 years, under same EA, for Dragon Age Origins) to realize that it's not gonna work.
 

Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
The bottom line is that EA is responsible for the creation and end result but the sub-contractors have to be allowed to run their own respective operations. Had they established a sound project management practices there should have been weekly communications between EA and those contractors so there would be NO surprises & god help the contractor that mislead them, no matter the reason. Poor management? Sounds more like NO management to me .......
 

Evernessince

TS Evangelist
Actually, it's an argument I just can't get. Ok, EA is shooting itself and forced BioWare use Frostbite (because, you know, they don't want money, considering BioWare can make in-studio engines, and already had some) - in, like, 2010, when Dragon Age Inquisition development was started. I would be first to accept that Bioware team had troubles with Frostbite - it was new engine for them after all; still, they somehow managed to deal with it. DAI definitely had issues, but I can't say it's engine issues.
Even if it's difficult to adapt Frostbite to RPGs, BioWare themselves already proved it's possible. But somehow when they did Andromeda or Anthem, Frostbite supposedly just can't do RPGs?


That's funny, but, reading an article Schrier wrote, it really feel like EA decided: "ok, this studio makes great games giving good results, and they doesn't need manual direction; it's not Montreal, it's Good Old Bioware. Let's give them resources and wait."
And that took them 6 years (hell, in 6 years it was possible to write entire new engine - they did it once in 5 years, under same EA, for Dragon Age Origins) to realize that it's not gonna work.
Bioware is old in name only. Much of the talent is either new or fairly new to the studio. There's no way the original Bio would have given us this with 6 years.

Heck some of the original Bioware talent went to make 2 indie games in that same time period.

Listen, I don't deny that EA played a role in the issues surrounding Bioware. But we have to admit that Bioware also played a role in a lot of its problems as well, specifically the upper management at top.
And it's EA's job to fill the upper management of the studio. Yes the individuals have to take responsibility but it's EA who put them there in the first place.

Everything always trickles up the chain of responsibility.

So, essentially we're blaming EA for NOT meddling with studio's internal creative process.
Wrong, you'd blame EA for not hiring the right people for the job in the first place. Experienced project managers and game directors should have no problem executing a game's vision without outside intervention. This is what happens when you bleed talent. The fact that Anthem didn't even have a flying mechanic until the CEO told them it was garbage says that they clearly did not have a set artistic vision for the game.
 

Aenno

TS Rookie
Bioware is old in name only. Much of the talent is either new or fairly new to the studio. There's no way the original Bio would have given us this with 6 years.
Just to clarify - when do you believe "original Bio" ended?

Heck some of the original Bioware talent went to make 2 indie games in that same time period.
I'm sorry, who exactly do you mean? Thing that stroke me some days ago is I can't name any big name who left BioWare and made something worth noting.

Experienced project managers and game directors should have no problem executing a game's vision without outside intervention. This is what happens when you bleed talent.
Actually, no. This is what happens when you have too many talents, especially artistic ones, in one place without strong leadership. Especially if they're believing they're geniuses who would deliver a masterpiece anyway. Look into Alpha Protocol development history. You'll see same problems Anthem had (lack of united vision, lack of internal leadership, lack of willing colloboration with publisher).
After all, are we believe that Preston Watamaniuk is unexperienced? Or it was Gaider (who supposedly couldn't get that you can use one plot scheme limited number of times until it became cliche)? Was it Derek Watts, maybe? Or Parrish Ley?

P.S.
Casey Hudson would not have helped either. The only games he's been head honcho over are Mass Effect 2 and 3. Otherwise he's played bit roles in other bioware projects.
Oh, yes, one more thing. Casey Hudson is listed as Game Director in Mass Effect 1 credits. Same about KOTOR.
 
Last edited:

Evernessince

TS Evangelist
Just to clarify - when do you believe "original Bio" ended?


I'm sorry, who exactly do you mean? Thing that stroke me some days ago is I can't name any big name who left BioWare and made something worth noting.


Actually, no. This is what happens when you have too many talents, especially artistic ones, in one place without strong leadership. Especially if they're believing they're geniuses who would deliver a masterpiece anyway. Look into Alpha Protocol development history. You'll see same problems Anthem had (lack of united vision, lack of internal leadership, lack of willing colloboration with publisher).
After all, are we believe that Preston Watamaniuk is unexperienced? Or it was Gaider (who supposedly couldn't get that you can use one plot scheme limited number of times until it became cliche)? Was it Derek Watts, maybe? Or Parrish Ley?

P.S.

Oh, yes, one more thing. Casey Hudson is listed as Game Director in Mass Effect 1 credits. Same about KOTOR.
How about for starters the banner saga (both games) which have been critically acclaimed. Aside from other members going to Ubisoft's Quebec studio and EA both working on a AAA title. Other devs moved onto their own companies like Improbable who are making two games. There are so many former Bioware devs moving in so many directions.

Actually, no. This is what happens when you have too many talents, especially artistic ones, in one place without strong leadership. Especially if they're believing they're geniuses who would deliver a masterpiece anyway. Look into Alpha Protocol development history. You'll see same problems Anthem had (lack of united vision, lack of internal leadership, lack of willing colloboration with publisher).
After all, are we believe that Preston Watamaniuk is unexperienced? Or it was Gaider (who supposedly couldn't get that you can use one plot scheme limited number of times until it became cliche)? Was it Derek Watts, maybe? Or Parrish Ley?
/facepalm

And I said they had a lack of good project leads. So really you just said I was wrong and then went on to explain I was right. Please read my comment before contradicting yourself.
 

Fearghast

TS Addict
I can only wonder why is Anthem profitable. How is it possible that so many stupid players bought it?
Will people never learn their lesson? Are players really sheeps with no brain?
... wait a second ... Razer, "gaming chairs", "gaming headphones", "gaming drinks" ... yes, we gamers are really stupid, dumb and easy to manipulate ... it's our fault.
 
  • Like
Reactions: RedGuard
If EA just let the Devs do their work how they want, they'd be making more money with a better reputation.... CDPR is the benchmark for gaming..... I felt bad grabbing the Witcher 3 on sale. The game is a modern masterpiece. There's no reason BIOWARE can't pull of similar results they had/have the ability.
 

Fearghast

TS Addict
If EA just let the Devs do their work how they want, they'd be making more money with a better reputation.... CDPR is the benchmark for gaming..... I felt bad grabbing the Witcher 3 on sale. The game is a modern masterpiece. There's no reason BIOWARE can't pull of similar results they had/have the ability.
Wasn't part of the OG report it's Bioware's fault as well, because they were not able to make a decent concept for the game for 6 years?
+ Bioware :-D Bioware ... you are forgetting one thing: This is not THE Bioware you remember, those people that made those great game you love? They are long gone in other game studios.
 

texasrattler

TS Evangelist
Bioware had a extra year to figure out the game, they couldnt get it done due to issues on their end not with EA. Time to stop blaming someone else when the writing was on the wall from day one. Bioware is done, they failed.
People complaining over Frostbite being used, thats laughable. Its been EAs engine since they got the BF series and has done well. Not to mention Bioware had the issues internally.
 

Fearghast

TS Addict
Bioware had a extra year to figure out the game, they couldnt get it done due to issues on their end not with EA. Time to stop blaming someone else when the writing was on the wall from day one. Bioware is done, they failed.
People complaining over Frostbite being used, thats laughable. Its been EAs engine since they got the BF series and has done well. Not to mention Bioware had the issues internally.
Having an engine and having an engine that does what you need makes a whole lot of difference.
If you even need to do basic stuff like an inventory system, because the one made for other Frostbite game does not suit your needs, you have a lot of time spend on stuff you wouldn't need to worry otherwise.

This is a complex topic and you can't just say it's EA fault or Bioware fault, this is huge mismanagement on both sides. "Bioware" was dicking around for years not being able to produce anything that makes sense and EA did not check up on them what they were developing, or traditionally EA forced them to make something stupid.
 

Mr MR

TS Rookie
Bioware had a extra year to figure out the game, they couldnt get it done due to issues on their end not with EA. Time to stop blaming someone else when the writing was on the wall from day one. Bioware is done, they failed.
People complaining over Frostbite being used, thats laughable. Its been EAs engine since they got the BF series and has done well. Not to mention Bioware had the issues internally.
Having an engine and having an engine that does what you need makes a whole lot of difference.
If you even need to do basic stuff like an inventory system, because the one made for other Frostbite game does not suit your needs, you have a lot of time spend on stuff you wouldn't need to worry otherwise.

This is a complex topic and you can't just say it's EA fault or Bioware fault, this is huge mismanagement on both sides. "Bioware" was dicking around for years not being able to produce anything that makes sense and EA did not check up on them what they were developing, or traditionally EA forced them to make something stupid.

I fully agree that this is a complex topic and hard to "attribute blame" in the "fair and correct way", and that would be the case even if we knew EVERYTHING, which we don't.
BUT in my opinion the "problems and weaknesses" with "Frostbite" should at least have been known by Bioware and shouldn't have taken them (as an organisation) with surprise.
At least that's my 5C's