BioWare's General Manager, Casey Hudson, has stated that he wants to fix workplace problems after an article by Kotaku stated that many of the company's employees suffered from anxiety and depression.
BioWare, the once-lauded progenitor of such classic games as Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and later the Mass Effect trilogy, seems to be in dire straights. Signs that things weren’t quite right with the developer first arose with the release of the critically-panned, bug-riddled Mass Effect: Andromeda in 2017 and have recently come to a breaking point following a Kotaku exposé, which uncovered a culture of anxiety and crunch mandated by corporate higher-ups.
The article uncovers just how chaotic and segmented the development of Anthem was, and, on the heels of this variable PR nightmare, BioWare’s General Manager Casey Hudson has vowed to do better.
“These problems are real and it’s our top priority to continue working to solve them,” Hudson said in a staff note that was issued in the wake of Kotaku’s article. “I was — and continue to be — excited to help drive improvements in those areas… I’m not going to tell you I’ve done a good job at that, and on a day like today I certainly feel like I haven’t.”
While Hudson seems to have his heart in the right place — he originally left BioWare in the wake of Mass Effect 3’s controversy, but later rejoined, citing his “love” for the studio — words are, in cases such as these, far from worth their weight in gold. Irrevocably tied to the failing Anthem for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to know what’s next for BioWare, especially given its place under the vice grip of publisher Electronic Arts.
The fault, of course, is hardly Hudson’s own. Kotaku shed light on the bleak, depressing atmosphere at the studio, revealing that team members were frequently ordered to take month-long mental health sabbaticals and how some employees simply quit the company altogether after succumbing to the burden of Anthem’s production.
The article makes it clear that, though hopes were high when pre-production for the game started all the way back in 2012, Anthem slowly morphed into a project about which few were interested. What’s more, marred by technical issues inherent in EA’s mandated Frostbite engine, development of the game became downright punishing.
"Making games, especially new IP, will always be one of the hardest entertainment challenges." A message from our team regarding Anthem's development process. https://t.co/WC7Cui0jQh— BioWare (@bioware) April 2, 2019
Most crucially, the Kotaku article details how those working on Anthem’s development were constantly forced to live up to impossible expectations set by those above them. The demo showcased at E3 2017, for instance, was largely falsified, with some team members only made aware of the game’s direction alongside the rest of the public.
Kotaku’s followup to its original article stated that many industry insiders felt that their work schedules were similar to what was shown to be going on at BioWare, and it’s important to remember that crunch and hyper-inflated demands by major publishers have made the AAA video game development space totally untenable.
Nobody knows what’s next for BioWare, but it’s safe to say that, if the appropriate action isn’t taken, it probably won’t be around for much longer.
Electronic Arts, as we know, has a history of dissolving studios that it thinks have failed to live up to its expectations, and those behind Anthem could be next on the chopping block. It’s clear that Anthem won’t be the eternal cash cow the publisher was hoping for, and Hudson’s commitment to a revitalized workplace likely won’t change that.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the failure of Anthem is more endemic of the industry as a whole rather than an outlying case. At this point, EA CEO Andrew Wilson needs to make a similar commitment, lest the whole thing reach critical mass.