Yesterday, a report emerged from Kotaku on the many reasons why the development of Anthem was far from smooth. Between statements from nearly 20 developers who worked on the game, or who worked adjacent to the game's development, problems ranged from major design overhauls and narrative reboots to overworked employees. Now BioWare has issued a statement to address the report and acknowledges that "there is always room to improve".
Anthem was originally called Dylan, a codename that eventually gave way for the more definite name of Beyond, according to the report. The game was due to be revealed at E3 2017 and the team even had t-shirts printed with the game's name on them. A mere week before the reveal was due to take place, EA revealed the trademark would be too difficult to secure. The game needed a new name quickly, and the team settled on backup option Anthem. The problem was the name didn't mean anything. The team did eventually come up with an explanation for the name, but it was based on lore that didn't exist at the time of the E3 demo.
This sort of scenario seemed to be common during the game's development if Kotaku's report is to be believed. While the idea for the game emerged in 2012, the game spent years in the pre-production stage, far longer than intended, and only entered production for the final 18 months of development. This was for a variety of reasons, but the biggest issue was that the leadership teams could never make final decisions on content and never provided "a consistent vision". This meant that many major design overhauls occurred, like the removal and readding of the flying system, and meant the team never quite knew what they were building. The game's narrative was changed multiple times as writers left and others with new visions were brought in. The Frostbite engine caused numerous problems as the team tried to build the type of online game that had never been built in the engine before. Many features were not implemented or finalized until the final months of the game's development.
The worst allegation, though, is of conflict between studios and the overworking of staff. When Dragon Age Inquisition did well, morale amongst the staff who then moved onto Anthem was high. By the time development finished, many of the development team had taken some form of "stress leave", periods of weeks or months away from work to recover their mental health. Depression and anxiety were purportedly widespread. This wasn't helped by fraught relations between the two BioWare studios working on the project.
Not long after the full account was published, BioWare released their own statement to counter the claims. The statement addresses the claims of inconsistent leadership and workplace culture, acknowledging that "there is always room to improve". Their full statement is below:
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.Whichever account you believe, the report and statement once again raises the issue of rushed game development and the crunch culture that is present in many development studios, neither of which are seen as positive practices that should continue. Regardless, Anthem's post-release development continues onwards.
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.
We've got the full list of Anthem achievements - check the list for guides to unlocking them.
Check out our Best Xbox One RPGs Available in 2019 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.