Despite speculation that Electronic Arts would shut down game studio BioWare after back-to-back flops Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier recently published an article claiming the beloved studio is alive and kicking. The game company is working on an overhaul of Anthem, he says, which it may call Anthem 2.0 or Anthem Next.
Given that the game that spent seven long years in development, it’s no wonder EA is willing to spend millions trying to course correct the game, which was intended to be a tentpole property.
Perhaps its continued support of the game is a redemption effort of sorts. Back in February, in a move that signaled how drastically out of touch game publishers can be with the gaming community, EA surprised the world by launching Apex Legends within weeks of Anthem’s scheduled release. The former appeared as a surprise drop on Feb. 4, 2019. The latter officially launched on Feb. 22, 2019, following a beta event from Jan. 25-27 and early releases for EA Origin Access on PC and EA Access for Xbox on Feb. 15.
At the time, several gaming news outlets questioned the decision to release the games so close in proximity to one another.
"The overlap starts to get less and less when you look at the kind of games that they are," BioWare's lead producer Mike Gamble told Business Insider's Ben Gilbert in the days leading up to Anthem's launch.
"So I think there's enough room for both of us to co-exist equally," he said.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
It's impossible to say whether Anthem would have fared better had it not been competing Apex Legends. The two are very different games. One is a PvP game, while the other is an RPG with gunplay mechanics. However, they share similarities in that they’re both sci-fi FPS games that rely on gunplay and tactical strategy.
However, one only needs to look to Destiny to know those two game styles have overlapping fanbases. People play Destiny for PvE strikes and raids, but they also play PvP modes such as Crucible and Gambit.
If EA intended to segment audiences with these two supposedly distinct titles, it proves they don’t understand crossover audiences. Think of Switch players who played both The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Fortnite. Think about someone like DrLupo, a former Destiny player who now primarily plays Fortnite and dabbles in World of Warcraft Classic.
It's a gamble to launch any two major releases within a week of each other. However, it was especially bold of EA to bring on some of Twitch's biggest names to play Apex Legends, spending a rumored $1 million to have Ninja play on stream. In doing so, Anthem fell by the wayside.
Apex Legends was poised to immediately garner a large fanbase due to its status as a free-to-play game. Anthem, on the other hand, had a higher barrier to entry as it cost at least $60 to download and play. This alone should have led someone at the top to question whether the games would hinder one another's success.
It's possible the decision to release Apex Legends before Anthem was an intentional move to draw attention away from what EA knew would be a disastrous launch. Maybe in the weeks leading up to Anthem's release, executives realized the game would be critically panned. After the beta period, players were quick to note how "broken" the game felt.
And then there are the investors. Apex Legends dropped on Feb. 4, 2019, just a day before a major EA's Q3 2019 investor call. Perhaps if there was any indication the company wouldn't reach its revenue marks with Anthem, it instead had to find some other solution — even if that meant throwing away any hope for Anthem's long-term future in favor of a short-term bump in projections.
Regardless, EA must accept responsibility for the fact that it failed to give Anthem the chance to find its audience. A quick glance at Twitch prior to publication of this article shows nearly 19,000 people currently watching Apex Legends. Anthem pales in comparison with a measly 37 viewers.
The thing is, Anthem isn’t a terrible game. It certainly isn’t the best, but there are plenty of objectively bad games with dedicated audiences. If the masses hadn’t been so mesmerized by Apex Legends' launch, Anthem may have had a chance to find its footing within the streamer community.
EA should have prepared for whatever bad PR it knew was forthcoming and still tried to get people to adopt Anthem anyway.
Comparisons to Destiny
In its original incarnation, Destiny wasn’t a great game. However, players stayed with it while the creators committed themselves to improving the game. The first Destiny went through a drastic transformation with The Taken King expansion. In Destiny 2, which also had a shaky start, Bungie turned it around again with the Warmind expansion. It only got better from there.
Destiny 2 may not have quite as many players as other major games, but its community is passionate. They work hard to keep the game alive and support improvements. The core game itself is now free to play on all consoles and platforms, including the newly-launched Stadia. This will spawn even more revenue opportunities as players invest in seasonal content and purchase cosmetics.
In contrast, Anthem had no fan base to start with. EA didn’t give it room to develop one. For all the criticism of Mass Effect: Andromeda, people were still talking about it. Even as a critical flop, it had little impact on people’s feelings about the franchise as a whole.
Anthem quietly rolled on to EA Access and Origin Access in September. But even with that, it's not quite the same as Destiny 2 as players have to subscribe to these services in order to access this content.
It’s hard to know what to make of another iteration of Anthem. Certainly, people won’t flock to it in droves due to name recognition or a relationship with the franchise. Without that going for it, Anthem 2.0 will have to be a groundbreaking game if it wants to attract a fanbase.
And this time, hopefully EA will give Anthem the chance it deserves.