Kotaku added an update to their story shortly after publication, that a summary of bullet points of the story was sent over to BioWare previously, but that the blog post from BioWare was posted shortly after Kotaku had published their piece.
Kotaku’s Jason Schreier outlines in his piece that dozens of veteran developers have left BioWare over the past couple of years, with many noting stress being a driving factor. Some from the Edmonton office touched specifically on mental health, with doctors allegedly forcing the employee(s) to take a mandated leave for weeks or months – something that was reportedly known around the office as, “stress casualties.” Some people would come back after a few months, and others would not.
“I actually cannot count the amount of ‘stress casualties’ we had on Mass Effect: Andromeda or Anthem,” a BioWare developer, who remained anonymous, told Kotaku.
Another former developer for BioWare told Kotaku they would often go into a private room, close the door, “and just cry.” And someone else said, “Depression and anxiety are an epidemic within Bioware.”
A developer shared that a term called, “BioWare magic” is well-known around the studio. It’s reportedly a way of thinking that no matter how challenging the production on a game is, it will all come together seamlessly in the end. Kotaku writes that this belief worked with the Mass Effect Trilogy and Dragon Age: Origins, but after the large failures of Mass Effect: Andromeda and now Anthem, there needs to be a shift in attitude and working conditions.
Another aspect of the challenges with Anthem reportedly came from technical issues with EA’s Frostbite engine, which was created by DICE and pushed to be used across all EA studios, as opposed to using a third-party engine such as Unreal.
As the report notes, Frostbite reportedly has been known to produce major issues for those working with it as it doesn’t offer the most up-to-date tools to create – especially on a game in a new territory for BioWare.
“Frostbite is like an in-house engine with all the problems that entails—it’s poorly documented, hacked together, and so on—with all the problems of an externally sourced engine,” a former employee of BioWare told Kotaku. “Nobody you actually work with designed it, so you don’t know why this thing works the way it does, why this is named the way it is.”
Alongside the alleged forced crunch and engine issues, Anthem – which was originally going to be called Beyond – was reportedly scattered with its ideas from the beginning. Decisions allegedly wouldn’t get made, which would prolong the process of adding in core features, and mechanics such as its signature flying suits were allegedly taken out and brought back in multiple times.
In BioWare’s response to the article the company said, “We chose not to comment or participate in this story because we felt there was an unfair focus on specific team members and leaders, who did their absolute best to bring this totally new idea to fans. We didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring them down as individuals. We respect them all, and we built this game as a team.”
BioWare touched on workplace culture and mental health as well, saying, “The health and well-being of our team members is something we take very seriously,” and added that, “We do everything we can to try and make it healthy and stress-free, but we also know there is always room to improve.”
BioWare also said it accepts all types of criticism for their games, especially from players.
“The creative process is often difficult. The struggles and challenges of making video games are very real. But the reward of putting something we created into the hands of our players is amazing. People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.”
Manveer Heir, a previous BioWare employee who worked on Mass Effect: Andromeda shared the same feelings on Twitter as the anonymous developers in Kotaku’s article.
Funny for a studio that claims one of its values is humility. Wouldn’t humility include listening to the voices in your studio that tell you the culture is toxic https://t.co/tZ9afNefYB
— Manveer Heir (@KingCurryThundr) April 2, 2019
Heir publicly said that he, “left BioWare in 2017 with massive depression and anxiety,” which took him a while to recover from. He also mentioned working on Unreal versus Frostbite and said in another Twitter post that, “seriously my life is so much better on Unreal now where things, you know, work and content creators are, you know, empowered.”
IGN gave Anthem a 6.5 in our review of the game, saying, “Anthem has energetic combat but it saves too much of what precious little content it has for the endgame, making playing through its mismatched story a tediously repetitive grind.”
Let us know in the comments how you feel about Anthem and this new report that was published.
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Jessie Wade is a news writer at IGN and thinks mental health and work-life balance needs to be taken more seriously and respected in all industries. Chat with her on Twitter @jessieannwade.