EA and BioWare have a problem. To say that Anthem is currently underperforming would be a massive understatement. It is the worst-reviewed BioWare game in the studio's history, somehow beating out Mass Effect: Andromeda for that lofty accolade despite the latter having facial animation glitches so prolific they still haunt the dreams of thousands of unfortunate gamers. Anthem also can't seem to go longer than a few days without unearthing a fresh bug ready to break the way weapons work or to force PlayStations to shut themselves down out of fear of having to process whatever's going on inside the game. Just today, Anthem Update 1.0.4 released, only to immediately and unintentionally alter the game's loot tables to behave in such a manner that they actually regressed significantly. That's saying something since loot was already one of the title’s most criticized features.
Inexplicably - or maybe not, if you're willing to entertain the idea that its convoluted release schedule and review system was deliberate - Anthem also topped sales charts in February. There's a lot to unpack there. Maybe reviews don't matter anymore. It's possible that early review copies will become a thing of the past, since abandoning that practice seemed to insulate Anthem from getting scorched in sales the way Andromeda did a few years prior. There's also the believable argument that fans are so overexposed to an AAA game's development process that they'll have their minds made up well before the game actually launches, rendering critiques of the title ineffective.
However you explain the sales, though, they're actually an issue and not a boon. Anthem's early success may well cause EA and BioWare to continue down the spiral that has seen the game patched constantly since launch without managing to fix much of anything. We've been stuck on loot drop rates as an issue for over a month; if this game was salvageable, there would be a better indication of that fact by now. Anthem is not salvageable. It is a collection of good ideas built on a foundation of several bad ones, executed with the precision of an over-caffeinated sharpshooter. That being said, there's historical precedent in an adjacent genre that suggests these problems in execution aren't the end of Anthem's world. Final Fantasy XIV went through a similarly disastrous launch period, but now, nine years later, it's one of the most popular and enduring MMORPGs in the world.
Final Fantasy XIV Ended Its World, And It Worked
How did Final Fantasy XIV pull it off? It's simple: they torched everything about the first iteration of the game to the ground. Three months into one of the worst launches Square Enix had ever experienced for a Final Fantasy title, Naoki Yoshida was put in charge of fixing the intimidatingly long list of problems with the MMO. Yoshida and his team then spent actual years designing an elaborate relaunch of the game, one that incorporated the feedback from frustrated fans on top of the lessons the company had learned about what was needed to make a good Final Fantasy MMO. In 2013, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn launched and, despite initial skepticism from fans who had been burned before, it went on to host major fanfests worldwide while boasting millions of subscribers.
It’s relevant to note that Final Fantasy XIV is a paid, subscription-based service, too. Anthem is not. While the former needed to sweat the possibility fans would spend their monthly budget elsewhere, all EA and BioWare need to worry about if they choose to follow Square's example is whether fans would be willing to give the game a second chance at all; the revenue’s already been earned. Given how many people are still playing Anthem right now, in spite of the myriad ways the game tries to drive people away from it, getting a second chance for a better version of the title doesn't seem unlikely at all. In fact, it seems probable - a lot of people bought into the wonder and potential of Anthem, and that magic has only just begun to fade, which is an illustration of just how much staying power the game could have if BioWare got it right.
Anthem Is In A Perfect Position To Start Over
We're certainly not suggesting that BioWare outright take Anthem away from players. Sparse, planned updates and some quick fixes to major issues like loot drop rates - just ramp them up, for the love of all that is holy - would probably be enough to keep players interested for a while. From then on, it would be intensely hard work, the kind that requires resources and time many publishers aren't willing to give. With that, though, Anthem stands a chance of being successfully redesigned and rebuilt. BioWare could even incorporate a similar transition event, hosting a cataclysm that eradicates the original Anthem as we know it and introduces the brave new (and hopefully bug-free) world.
One of the things Yoshida preached relentlessly in the redesign of FFXIV was keeping a long-term plan as the focus for future content. This sentiment continues to drive that game's development philosophy. On the other hand, we're only a month into Anthem, but can we really say there's much focus being paid to long-term planning? BioWare is earnestly trying to save the game, but it feels a lot more like watching someone performing the old cliché of plugging small holes in a ship that's sinking. All of the fixes to Anthem feel distinctly short term, too. Each patch addresses only some of the community's most recent concerns, and it feels a lot more like a studio throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. That approach sometimes works in panic mode, but after a month of doing it, all that's left is a really beaten-up wall and a fanbase that's even more bruised.
When it comes to Anthem, there's no shame in saying it is a failed experiment at this point. It doesn't feel like The Division, where the issue was tied largely to content-related problems. Something about Anthem is fundamentally broken, just like the first version of Final Fantasy XIV. Just like Final Fantasy XIV, though, Anthem can be saved. It's just going to take tearing all of it down and building up from the community outward. It's doable, but it’s still a waiting game to see if EA and BioWare have other ideas. If they do, they'd better act on them quickly; Anthem is bleeding, and if it was just a trickle before the last few updates, now it's hemorrhaging out on the looter shooter floor as we speak.