This account of Anthem’s development, based on interviews with 19 people who either worked on the game or adjacent to it (all of whom were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about Anthem’s development), is a story of indecision and mismanagement. It’s a story of technical failings, as EA’s Frostbite engine continued to make life miserable for many of BioWare’s developers, and understaffed departments struggled to serve their team’s needs. It’s a story of two studios, one in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and another in Austin, Texas, that grew resentful toward one another thanks to a tense, lopsided relationship. It’s a story of a video game that was in development for nearly seven years but didn’t enter production until the final 18 months, thanks to big narrative reboots, major design overhauls, and a leadership team said to be unable to provide a consistent vision and unwilling to listen to feedback.
Perhaps most alarming, it’s a story about a studio in crisis. Dozens of developers, many of them decade-long veterans, have left BioWare over the past two years. Some who have worked at BioWare’s longest-running office in Edmonton talk about depression and anxiety. Many say they or their co-workers had to take “stress leave”—a doctor-mandated period of weeks or even months worth of vacation for their mental health. One former BioWare developer told me they would frequently find a private room in the office, shut the door, and just cry. “People were so angry and sad all the time,” they said. Said another: “Depression and anxiety are an epidemic within Bioware.”
This makes two incredibly high-profile BioWare flops as a result of severe mismanagement and gross negligence by executives, harming the lives of countless hardworking developers in the process. Once, BioWare was one of the greatest game development studios, but now, it’s barely a shadow of its former self, a running internet meme, and a studio whose upcoming games are not met with anticipation and excitement, but with rolling eyes and distrust.
I’m deeply worried about the studio’s future.
I’ve never worked in the game industry, although I hear it’s brutal. Actually I feel most places I’ve worked have been mostly high stress, high turnover, unpaid overtime, gloomy environment, unrealistic expectations with too few resources, etc. While I had higher expectations going into CS, this seems entirely “normal” to me in my field now that I’ve been working for so long. However I’m not sure how much my experience matches other’s? I’d like to ask everyone: who can relate to this or can not relate to this? What part of the world are you in? What is your industry?