Anthem is BioWare’s Funeral Song
If someone were to set aside morality and emotion, death could arguably be the most fascinating force in the universe—especially the process of a slow, unforgiving death on public display—like the one acclaimed developer BioWare is currently going through. If I wasn’t a BioWare diehard, I might find this all quite amusing indeed. Many people of the past and present often write grandiose songs or anthems about their fallen comrades after they die, but it’s very rare that someone ever writes their own funeral song. Rare occasion or not, BioWare seems to be writing their own funeral song now, appropriately titled Anthem.
BioWare has a long history of unforgettable games and has provided some of the most unique experiences in gaming, so why am I calling Anthem dead on arrival? Perhaps it was the mergers starting in the mid-to-late 2000s, or the number of employees and core staff members that left the company. There’s also the very shady process Electronic Arts (EA) used to acquire BioWare, which I only recently learned about.
After the massive disappoint and failure of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which some gamers would say is a contender for the worst game of all time, many gamers are beginning to wonder, “what the hell is going on at BioWare?” Within the past ten years, BioWare has become a revolving door of employees—although more so in the past six years—and the people leaving the company are its core staff, ranging from longtime writers, animators, and designers, all the way to Presidents and Co-Founders. The majority of problems started after being acquired by EA via merger, which was not the first unfortunate merger for BioWare, as you’ll soon see. Can we really point a Mass Relay at EA and launch all the blame on them? Or is BioWare at fault just as much? When did all this turmoil start at BioWare, and how much did EA have to do with it?
One thing I’ve always wondered is how the hell so many creative minds end up in the hands of terrible parent companies. As many gamers know, BioWare currently finds themselves under the very sad, very demanding, and very corporate umbrella of Electronic Arts. If you didn’t know, Mass Effect was originally a Microsoft exclusive. Afterward, I assumed things just didn’t work out and BioWare rushed into some deal with EA without reading the fine print. But the truth is a bit more complicated than that, as one might expect with EA being involved.
The truth is somewhere within a confusing web of multi-million dollar deals and buyouts that I’ve tried to simplify in this article. These deals are coated with the usual comments and statements by the people involved, which go something like, “we are so excited to be a part of this deal.” Blah blah blah, you’ve heard it all before. The first weave of this web starts in 2005, when BioWare was part of a joint deal with Pandemic studios, and a third party investor named Elevation Partners. This resulted in VG Holding Group owning both BioWare and Pandemic.
In 2007, after the release of Mass Effect on Xbox, EA announced that they had acquired VG Holding Group for over $800 million, one of the most expensive deals in gaming at the time, and still in the top ten most expensive. It’s important to know that according to Elevation Partners, and official statements from BioWare and Pandemic, that both studios and Elevation were equal owners and had a say in all matters while they were a part of VG Holding group. After being acquired by EA, official statements of approval seem to thin out rapidly. This is where our road of misery really starts, and BioWare’s slow transformation into a revolving door begins.
“I Think These Meatbags Have Hostile Intentions, Master”
The first few years under EA’s umbrella seemed beneficial to BioWare, with Dragon Age: Origins, and especially with Mass Effect 2, which is constantly in the conversation for greatest game/RPG of all time. The future seemed bright, until somebody woke up and realized EA’s big umbrella was blocking out the sun. Most of the material for these games was written prior to or shortly after the EA acquisition. And what would come next paves the road to the present.
In 2009 there was another quiet merger, Mythic studios (owned by EA) became a part of BioWare, and EA announced an “internal restructure” and a sudden interest in the MMORPG genre. The Mythic merger resulted in multiple job roles being re-assigned, CEOs and managers being flipped, and even more rapid expansion for BioWare—which now had multiple franchises in development all at once—and all at EA’s behest.
While there are no official statements, the results and actions speak for themselves. BioWare’s long streak of incredible games came to an end in 2012, a streak that featured Baldur’s Gate, Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age and of course Mass Effect, among others.
The downfall really begins to accelerate in 2012 with Mass Effect 3, which was divisive to say the least, the game was clearly unfinished and rushed in certain areas with notable changes in the quality of dialogue and scenario. In addition, a key squad member was locked from the base game unless customers pre-ordered. This was after the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, which felt a bit overpriced at the time, but would probably fit in with modern times, thanks to gamers becoming complacent with the practice.
Dragon Age 2 was arguably even more disappointing than ME3, and BioWare’s MMORPG, Star Wars: The Old Republic (not to be confused with Knights of the Old Republic), became a financial black hole that was almost unplayable on launch and generally disappointing when it did work. It was obviously lacking content and good writing—and was also very amateur in design. BioWare was also struggling to get updates out in the early days of the game, and by the time they hit their stride, the player base had dropped significantly. These were all problems that were not in BioWare games previous to the EA acquisition.
Not Holding the Line
This is when the revolving door was built into all of BioWare’s studios, apparently. In 2012 two remaining BioWare co-founders, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, simultaneously and suddenly announced retirement from BioWare. Then, later in the year, Drew Karpyshyn (lead writer for Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2) also departed. Jack Wall, the musical composer for all of Mass Effect 2 and parts of Mass Effect, is also nowhere to be found on Mass Effect 3, which has a far less memorable soundtrack.
BioWare went without real leadership for nearly a year after Muzyka and Zeschuk left before EA—yes EA—finally appointed an outsider as head of operations: Mathew Bromberg, former CEO of Major League Gaming. This was once again followed by more “restructuring,” meaning people being moved around needlessly, new positions being made, and old ones being terminated. In 2014, Casey Hudson, the creator of Mass Effect also departed BioWare and Mass Effect, not an easy thing to do. In 2016, David Gaider, the writer for Dragon Age, also suddenly announced he was departing BioWare.
In 2016, Samantha Ryan, head of EA Mobile was moved to BioWare where she was named Head of Studio. Samantha Ryan was previously president of Monolith Studios. Multiple core members of Mass Effect Andromeda, including BioWare staff members Chris Schlerf and Chris Wynn, also departed this year. In 2017, Mike Laidlaw, a lead story developer and director for Jade Empire and Dragon Age, also departed from BioWare after serving more than 15 years with the company.
Andromeda and the Anthems of Death
Well, if your head isn’t spinning from all those names that left the company, you’re made of better stuff than me. But a revolving door works two ways, and so I should mention that as of 2016, Casey Hudson, creator of ME, has returned to BioWare as President. Drew Karpyshyn, a writer for KOTOR and ME, also came back shortly to assist with Anthem, but has recently left again, before the completion of Anthem. Many fans of Mass Effect and KOTOR largely credit Karpyshyn as being one of the essential members of the team and that there is a noticeable difference in quality when he is not involved, pointing to his absence from ME3 and Andromeda to support their claims.
So between the end of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect: Andromeda, BioWare suffered through two mergers, was assigned an MMORPG, lost co-founders, lost lead writers for multiple franchises, aggressively expanded, and had outsiders—including a mobile game specialist—come in and take over for a short stint. It is absolutely no wonder why Andromeda was seen as a total dumpster fire and is considered to be one of the worst games of all time. Look at the development hell it went through.
After Mass Effect: Andromeda, EA responded very aggressively and completely shut down the Montreal-based studio of 100+ employees in less than two weeks. Some of the staff who departed said they’ve never seen a building empty out faster. The gutting of the studio got some attention on social media through pictures of the studio as it was being emptied out. It’s also important to know that Andromeda was developed by BioWare Montreal, a studio filled with amateurs and people who have been moved around through EA’s various studios. BioWare Edmonton studio is considered the “A” team. They were too busy with Anthem to manage Andromeda, it seems
I really wish I could believe this was the “A” team, but with so many higher-ups and longtime employees leaving, I personally don’t believe there is an “A” team anymore. It has also recently come out that BioWare is pulling members from their Dragon Age team to assist with Anthem, which has already been in development for over three years and has seen its own share of writers and animators leave. They would not pull Anthem members to go help the Andromeda team. This is a clear sign that something has gone wrong late in Anthem’s development
It’s clear that something inside BioWare’s studio is causing even its most loyal employees to leave their properties behind to start anew somewhere else. Dragon Age is a major franchise for BioWare, they wouldn’t pull staff from that project and risk a major delay to Dragon Age unless there was major issue afoot for Anthem, considering the companies didn’t resort to this tactic for Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Few have as many claims to fame as BioWare, the developers of multiple franchises that have become some of the most endeared in gaming. They have created timeless experiences that go across the entire spectrum of time periods, bringing their trademarks of choice-based gameplay, intricate characters, branching story lines and quality storytelling to Dungeons and Dragons-esqe stories, all the way to Sci-Fi and Lovecraftian inspired elements. This list includes well-respected titles like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, Jade Empire, Baldur’s Gate and most notably Mass Effect. With so many powerhouse titles on their belt, it’s hard to believe they have had financial troubles. But in some recent statements in 2018, that seems to be the case. BioWare claims EA saved the company financially and that it would have closed down long ago without EA’s help. If any of that is true, then perhaps death would have been better than its current state. Going by the list of names that left BioWare and the falling quality of their games, coupled with EA appointing mobile gaming specialists to head multiple AAA studios, it seems dancing to EA’s tune is a fate worse than death, and instills no confidence in me for Anthem’s future whatsoever. Hopefully, I’m wrong.