In an Anthem related report by Jason Schreier, we got some info about early plans for Dragon Age 4, the next entry in one of my favorite RPG series’. The report revealed juicy details, such as executives at EA changing the entire direction of the game in order to make the game more in line with Anthem.
Apparently, creative director Mike Laidlaw had plans to reboot the series and take it in a refreshing direction that wouldn’t focus on the typical “save the universe” style storytelling that we’ve come to expect.
The plan for Dragon Age 4 was to bring back concentrated storytelling and world-building that would give players choices and consequences. The story would have seen you lead a group of spies in Tevinter Imperium and take on heists. Narrative based mechanics would allow players to approach these quests in a number of different ways.
But before getting cancelled in October 2017, development on the project had to be paused because BioWare needed everyone to help finish Mass Effect: Andromeda. The same would happen again during Anthem’s development, but this time, the Dragon Age project was cancelled and rebooted. At this point, creative director decided to leave the company—and understandably so. Now, the direction for Dragon Age 4 is to produce the game inside the Anthem code-base, to eliminate the need for customizing Frostbite or a new engine.
The problem here, is that when a company like Bioware, that we used to associate with creative excellence, is micro-managed by a corporation who is only concerned with numbers on a spreadsheet, the narrative-driven ideas that customers identify with most, get pushed aside in favor of company decisions based on increasing revenue.
Since Dragon Age Inquision, Bioware has failed to deliver a product that has appeased the masses. And when you look at it, EA’s desire to farm Anthem has compromised the two biggest IPs we associate with Bioware. Both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dragon Age 4 have suffered in the development phase because EA thought prioritizing Anthem would be a better allocation of resources; because they thought Anthem would be the more profitable game. Boy how that backfired on them.
Anthem released, and critics who saw through its attempt to milk the pockets of gamers, attacked it relentlessly. Many saw it as a shallow means at replicating on-going service based games like Destiny, Warframe and even Fortnite. I’m actually one of the people who supported Anthem by purchasing the Legion of Dawn edition, knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t even have the time to continue playing the game. Why did I spend £70 on a product that had so much bad press surrounding it? Because I care about the Bioware that I remember.
EA needs to understand what happened with the release of Anthem, and see that fans want (and expect) better from a studio like Bioware. If you want to make money, you need to allow Bioware to steer their games in their own creative direction. Give them the freedom to develop the games they want, with the engines that are necessary for the job. And if you can’t do that, then let Bioware go. Sell them to a company who understands the value in prioritizing creativity.
Of course, this will not happen. Because executives can’t deal with the humiliation of a rival company profiting from supportive fans, all because the rival company understood what they didn’t.
Electronic Arts would rather see a studio crumble to pieces than allow its strength to shine. They want studios to produce games the way they view as the profitable way, and if the studio can’t do that then it’s completely acceptable to burn them to the ground.
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the video games business in 2019.