Bioware’s upcoming Anthem looks set to be a great game, there’s no doubt. The studio can pull out the best of gaming when given the chance. Yet as EA seemingly butchers its 2017 library of AAA-games in the name of profit, I can’t help but not trust the company when it comes to their 2018 slate of games, leading me to worry that Anthem might not escape the same fate.
Let’s be honest, EA’s behavior this year hasn’t given me any cause for any optimism. Having looked at the state of the latest Need for Speed, a game that ejects car tune-ups in favor of Loot Box style card upgrades, it showcases a complete lack of respect for both the genre it represents as well as the audience who pay full price for laughable mechanics. EA has always had a negative reputation but they now seem quite content to relish in that, as long as the game generates big in microtransactions.
Why else would EA risk damaging its relationship with Disney over Star Wars: Battlefront 2, a game that even has the company’s investors asking pointed questions. So much negative coverage has lined the pre-release period for the new Star Wars game, killing the hype and derailing any hope long-time fans had that this would finally be the Battlefront game to live up to past titles.
Yet despite these failures, EA continues to march down its current path. Its lineup of major games for 2018 contains major titles from across the board – perhaps none bigger than Bioware’s upcoming Anthem. It stole the show at E3 this year and even managed to get gamers genuinely excited. After the amazing Mass Effect trilogy, Bioware Edmonton has a lot of stock with gamers at large. It’s not Bioware that concerns me because I genuinely believe they can deliver a solid title. I just worry incredibly that EA’s tampering will only serve to harm the game and its potential.
That’s because EA can’t help themselves. Already the company is talking about Anthem as a platform – echoing recent talk of the “games as a service” chatter from the company. Bioware’s new franchise, declaring that they see the game as a 10-year project. If this all sounds familiar, that’s because Bungie and Activision made the same noises prior to the release of the original Destiny – and we all know how that turned out.
Destiny was far from a flop but it didn’t come close to matching the ambition that its publisher had placed upon it. What was a competent, if slightly repetitive shooter, had been elevated to the pinnacle of AAA-gaming – and it suffered as a result.
That pre-release hype only drew more focus on to the games shortcomings and lack of new content. One of the biggest complaints Destiny 1 attracted was just how slow Bungie was in executing new content – despite releasing two expansion packs. Destiny ultimately never reached that level set by Activision prior to release – because they’d set the bar so high for Bungie. Instead of building to greatness, they anticipated it out the gate.
Which makes that talk from EA feel all the more misguided. The reason few games outside of MMO’s bother with such long life cycles is that consumers ultimately get bored and move on. The industry is ever changing and while today’s trends bring gamers in the door now, it won’t be enough to keep them around when new games are fighting for their attention. Why then are EA already talking about Anthem like its a long-term cash cow, when gamers have still yet to be convinced that the series has the legs to make it anywhere that long?
This is why I’m concerned about Bioware’s upcoming game. Because it seems EA has already seen the dollar signs in its eyes. Its implementation of microtransactions in this year’s output of games suggests a company that’s not concerned with the damage it causes, so long as it hooks enough gamers to make the service viable. It’s done this with Star Wars, a franchise it’s effectively leasing from Disney. If that’s how its treating a series it doesn’t entirely own – imagine what it’ll do to a brand new IP that it can craft and direct from conception.
While the game is being developed, it’s hard to not imagine EA producers whispering in Bioware’s ear, pushing them to fragment the experience to maximise revenue. Following in the footsteps of games like Destiny 2, which EA so desperately wishes to emulate the success of, the idea of microtransactions being baked into the core experience leaves me feeling cold. EA don’t know how to balance their microtransactions at the best of times, so why should we trust them to not go overboard in this new game? When they have full control of the IP, there’s nothing stopping them from taking more and more away.
Worse than this, Anthem represents a huge moment for Bioware a studio. At a time when the studio needs to deliver a home run to prove they still have “it”, I can’t help but worry that their vision could ultimately be compromised. EA isn’t looking for an artistic tour-de-force, they want something that can make them money on a consistent basis. We’ve seen this through the closure of numerous studios – developers that were making great experiences but didn’t ultimately fit into EA’s vision for “games as a service”. They don’t care about how amazing a title is, so long as it retains enough gamers to justify its existence.
Why else would they close studios with such great single player pedigree? Visceral Games were reportedly working on a linear single player Star Wars game – something that’s being reworked now to fit into the company’s “games as service” vision. Heck, EA has already shuttered one Bioware game this year because it didn’t offer enough revenue potential. After Mass Effect Andromeda failed to impress, EA shuttered everything to do with the single-player experience. Planned DLC was canned, expansions disregarded. The company wasn’t willing to take the time to make their game right because it wasn’t making the money. The only part of Andromeda still being updated is the multiplayer – one can speculate that’s only because of the money it generates.
So when EA talks about Anthem as a decade-long experience, I’m not gleefully waiting to see an amazing story – I’m just imagining a fragmented experience, punctuated by microtransactions. I’m not expecting the campaign to blow my world, purely because that’s not what EA is striving for anymore. This game wouldn’t be happening unless it fits into EA’s bold vision of selling every aspect of a game back to gamers in smaller chunks.
So when I’m asked if I’m excited about Anthem, I can’t help but not feel a sense of looming disappointment. The E3 trailer showcased a huge open world with quests and exploration – but this is EA’s house. EA doesn’t operate on a quality basis these days, it only wants your wallet. It wants you to like something enough to dump real money into it. If it was about quality, they wouldn’t have butchered long-established franchises like Need for Speed in the race to maximise profit.
This ultimately is why I can’t help but worry that Anthem may not be the game I once hoped. I want to be proven wrong on this one, but EA of 2017 hasn’t given me much optimism in that regard.