BioWare is coming off the disappointing Mass Effect: Andromeda, which it abandoned in the downloadable-content phase. That sci-fi role-playing reboot/sequel hybrid debuted to mediocre reviews and a number of bugs and animation problems, and now studio boss Casey Hudson is addressing the lessons from this experience are guiding the role-playing game house as it works on online cooperative sci-fi adventure Anthem, which EA said will hit consoles and PC in 2019.
Hudson has started a blog on the BioWare website where he plans to share the studio’s thinking and stories from development in the lead up to Anthem. But Hudson knows that he cannot look to what’s next without first looking back at the game that debuted just before his return. And that means coming to terms with Andromeda.
“When I returned to BioWare last summer, Mass Effect: Andromeda had just been released,” reads Hudson’s blog. “There was a significant movement among players asking for a story DLC that would answer questions surrounding the fate of the quarians. As you know, we were not able to deliver story DLC for Andromeda — this was as frustrating for us as it was for players, and it was something we knew we had to solve in future games.”
BioWare announced in August that it was ending content updates for Andromeda. Fans widely viewed this move as an admission that the game did not find a large enough audience and that EA would prefer the BioWare get to work on Anthem instead. While Mass Effect DLC has sold well in the past, Anthem is more in line with EA’s current strategy of providing a live service with microtransactions. That’s the popular business model of treating games like platforms that constantly change and grow through updates and provide consumers with more ways to spend money.
But while Anthem is more in line with what EA wants, Hudson explained that Andromeda provided important lessons for how it should approach its games in the future.
“That experience ultimately became a defining moment in refocusing BioWare’s mission,” said Hudson. “We need to delight players with new experiences and innovation, but we must stay focused on the importance of the world, character, and storytelling elements that players expect from our games. And our games must be designed to continue delivering new stories and experiences, in an ongoing relationship with players in the worlds we’re evolving together.”
We’ve only seen the “gameplay reveal” trailer for Anthem from last year’s E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show) in Los Angeles. That video shows a Destiny-style game with cooperative shooting mixed together with BioWare style conversations and storytelling.
That trailer had significant sections of fabricated gameplay from target renders (except for the flying, which is real), but it still accomplished its goal of showing the game’s direction. It also highlighted that BioWare was working to improve its facial animations. But Hudson is now explicitly reiterating some of the things that BioWare only implied in that video.
“[Anthem is] a game designed to create a whole new world of story and character that you can experience with friends in an ongoing series of adventures,” said Hudson. “It will be unlike anything you’ve played, but if we do it right, it will feel very distinctly BioWare.”
This blog comes at a time when Destiny developer Bungie is working on how to communicate its plans to its audience. Hudson may try to teach a potential Anthem audience that they can come to him for details about what to expect. But BioWare and EA are both growing more confident that Anthem is going to turn into a hit, and this may also just mark the soft launch of Anthem marketing.