What on earth is going on over at Bioware?

Well, this still isn’t the post I was planning to do today, so I’ll keep kicking the can down the road I think. I’m considering writing a second semi-related follow up to it. I’m currently unsure if I want to do it Saturday/Monday or do something different for Saturday and hit Monday/Tuesday instead. We’ll see what presents itself in the next 48 hours I guess.

When Kotaku posted an article the other day, How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong, I didn’t really give it much thought. Kotaku doesn’t exactly have a reputation for top tier journalism and Anthem seems like a pretty cheap shot. The next day, though, I see a headline saying that Bioware had posted a response. At that point, I began wondering what Kotaku could possibly have said to elicit a response from the developer, so I read the response. Still not the original article, though.

Honestly, the response was short and didn’t exactly specify what they were responding to. They made it sound like the Kotaku article was about specific individuals and not so much the game itself. When I looked Wednesday morning, though, I see yet another headling, this time from Polygon: The press is not your enemy, BioWare.

At that point I figured this was getting pretty big pretty quick, so I went back to read the actual original article from Kotaku. It was, ah, longer than I expected. It covered the entire six to seven year development period pretty closely, and presents us with a fairly troublesome picture. One that I personally believe is more common than we would like to believe. There are a number of tweets from the writer of the Kotaku article now that suggest this as well, such as the one below.

Sadly, the original concept actually sounds like a fun game. Unfortunately they lost some key figures early on and what followed was a mostly directionless with no clear leader or vision, which took a toll on both the product and the development staff. It didn’t enter actual development until the last year and a quarter.

The whole story seems to contain some features we hear about often. Required use of a specific development platform that isn’t designed for the project at hand and isn’t well understood by the team. I have seen similar statements regarding Bethesda’s Creation Engine and the Valhalla engine bought by Starbreeze. It also contended with talent loss and the idea that “Bioware magic” would somehow see it through to success in the end. Of course, that sort of cruch at the end of any project as it comes together can easily seem like magic. To think that your studio is somehow special in that regard seems… egotistical and/or cultish.

Now, according to the Kotaku article, the Bioware response went live within minutes of their own post, implying that it was pre-written without having read the article it’s responding to. I couldn’t find a time stamp to verify that, but I can at least agree that their response doesn’t seem super relevant to the specific content posted by Kotaku. It seems like they expected the article to name and shame a few critical figures then slam them for crunch and call it a day. While the Kotaku article does do some of that, it’s also much more than that.

“We put a lot of focus on better planning to avoid ‘crunch time,’ and it was not a major topic of feedback in our internal postmortems.” – Bioware

This one sentence alone raises some questions. It would appear to be in direct conflict with what the news story. You can’t “focus on better planning to avoid crunch” in a project that didn’t appear to have any strong focus or guidance anyway. Yeah, you can try, but you’re limited by the degree of focus you’re able to bring to bear.

The fact that the article in and of itself is something of a postmortem suggests that they hold a different view of events internally, at least at the management and PR level. That’s also the thing though. As someone who has “put so much passion and energy into making something …,” albiet in a completely different industry, that level of dedication creates a certain amount of burnout, especially if you already felt ignored. In that situation, even if you’re included in postmortem discussion, you’re probably going to avoid pointing the finger at the person you work for.

Having said that, I find the articles mention of weeks or months long breaks due to stress to be a positive thing. At least they got that much. It’s still not where it needs to be, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s at least being acknowledged as a problem after the damage has been done. Hopefully the things that cause this damage in the first place can soon be worked on as well.

Y’all take care, maybe don’t get into a fight with “the press,” intentionally or otherwise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s