Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson acknowledged during its recent Q4 2019 financial results conference that Anthem did not live up to expectations, and that the game's troubled launch period has the company strongly reconsidering its release process moving forward. Anthem's release wasn't necessarily a traditional one, given that it had an early access period for EA Origin subscribers, but its launch was marred by technical difficulties and ineffective Day One patches regardless, which apparently has EA going back to the drawing board for major game releases.
Anthem is being heralded as a dead game by its current community, which has dropped off precipitously over the past few months of borderline inaction from EA and developer BioWare. The issues being fixed are ones that are game-breaking, such as infinite loading screens, glitched loot ratios, and the strange case of Anthem shutting down PS4s during its console release. Unfortunately, patching those up has evidently taken a fair amount of resources, because quality-of-life updates like enhanced loot, better gear, and additional content has fallen by the wayside.
According to Wilson, Anthem still has support from EA and BioWare, but the experience of launching the game has fundamentally changed the way EA will approach handling large, live-service game releases. Wilson described some of the challenges that EA faced in launching Anthem during the call, suggesting that it's already a problem so large in scope that the entire industry is grappling with it:
"The reality is, it's not just an EA challenge, it's an industry-wide challenge. You're moving from what was initially a BioWare game which would be somewhere between 40 and 80 hours of offline play to 40 to 80 hours of offline play plus 100 or 200, 300 hours of elder game that happens with millions of other players at scale, online."
Obviously, then, those challenges also impact the way that QA processes are handled, creating a different sort of workload and strain on the developers working to launch these live-service games. EA is acknowledging that, with Wilson stating that the Western "drip-feed approach" of generating hype through marketing and a straight-up release might not be the future:
"You should expect that we'll start to test things like soft launches — the same things that you see in the mobile space right now. And it also comes down to changing how we communicate with players. Our entire marketing organization now is moving out of presentation mode and into conversation mode, and changing how we interact with players over time."
While soft launching might sound desirable when compared to the disaster that was Anthem's hard launch in February, it carries with it a few caveats as well. Chief among those concerns is the potential for EA to continue to label games as "early access release" titles, giving the company an excuse to implement features that should have been present at launch long after the fact. It's also another way to massage the fact that a game might not be good at release into a "wait and see" approach, marketing the game as something that will reward gamers for sticking around with it — think Star Citizen, only if that game was ever going to release at all — without needing to deliver on that promise in a timely manner.
That's the worst case scenario, though. EA has garnered a reputation as greedy, rushing out Star Wars games and Anthem in a way that worked as a detriment to the company's success. If EA and Wilson intend to learn from those experiences, then acknowledging their issues and earnestly looking into changing them could be the catalyst for a fresh start, one that is desperately needed for one of gaming's biggest publishers.
Source: EA Q4 2019 Conference Call (via PC Gamer)