Jason Schrier's Anthem piece for kotaku is done and out, it's a doozy


#41

I also think, especially with the success of Apex Legends, that Respawn has a bit more leeway to kind of do what they want. And also, unlike Bioware, Respawn still has its founder in Vince Zampella, a man who left EA to co-create a money-printing machine in the form of Call of Duty, then made Activision pay when they tried to screw him out of earnings. I don’t think they’re eager to get into a fight with Respawn - pretty sure Vince can do whatever the hell he wants.

Edit: Compare that to Bioware, which no longer has “The Doctors”, and an argument can be made that with their departure, they lost the only people who can go to bat for them with the publisher and tell them to fuck off with some level of credibility.


#42

sure, because the half dozen other pieces that described almost the exact same issues at other studios have done so much to improve things?

I understand that these anectodes are important to make folks aware, but after hearing the same kind of story over and over again (and only when the game in question ended up being not that well received), at some points starts feeling like some weird kind of desaster tourism for me.


#43

It’s still necessary because most gamers don’t understand anything at all about even the basic concept of game development. First hand accounts are necessary to have that basic understanding and delude the effect of publisher spin that slows down the process of unionization both due to fan backlash and inner developer hesitation.

Just because we get that unions good and business generally bad doesn’t mean everyone else is. We all spend so much time among ourselves that we sometimes forget these stories aren’t necessarily for us, but much wider audiences.


#44

The fact that good reportage doesn’t change the world immediately doesn’t mean that good reportage is without value


#45

I don’t think this is why for a few reasons: FIFA was forcibly switched to Frostbite in spite of the fact that it is, according to the article, their most successful product. Secondly, you seem to be saying that Apex Legends isn’t built in Frostbite because of the success of Apex Legends. Alternatively, Titanfall 2 was, arguably, a failure, so either way you slice it, Respawn didn’t necessarily yet prove that they deserved a long leash for Apex Legends.

I’ve read a few lauch articles about how Apex Legends came to be, but I can’t really find anything concrete about the development of Apex Legends beyond that it was a spinoff from a preproduction Titanfall 3 project and that they wanted to act quickly to take advantage of the battle royale trend. Maybe agility was something Respawn was able to negotiate for.


#46

It is worth noting that as team-based FPS with open maps, Apex Legends probably would have gotten along just fine in Frostbite, which was made for team-based FPS games with open maps. I still think the reason Apex Legends is built on the Titanfall 2 Source fork is simply because they had a lot of stuff already working by the time EA came along.


#47

are people actually talking about reasons why the working conditions at Bioware were so awful?

Most of what I’m seeing is some rumblings about the Frostbite engine, and something about incompetent project management and it’s because this is how the piece approached this story.

It’s not about the problems in the games industry at large. It’s interested in a story about how a game from an acclaimed studio failed its mark, and not that these stories happen everywhere in the games industry.


#48

[continues to beat an increasingly large series of drums marked “Crunch Culture Is A Product Of Willingly Terrible Project Management”]


#49

Well, I’ve read the article - which is very well-done - and wrangled with things, and dealt with my friends on Twitter (most of whom are big BioWare game nerds).

Listen…I like Anthem, more than most of y’all here at any rate. I’ve had a lot of fun times with it, despite its flaws. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it grow and evolve.

However, the stories from inside the studio…the incredibly incompetent management, the nightmarish environment for the staff, the continued Frostbite fuckery, etc. - combined with the incredibly shitty “We do it for the gamers! Don’t tear people down! GAMES JOURNALISM BAD!” kind of response that EA/BioWare posted, and the way a lot of the same people I know from Twitter are dumping all over Jason for his article…I’m just tired, and crushed, and sad.

Like, y’all, I don’t know how to express how much BioWare has meant to me. It was playing the Mass Effect trilogy, as FemShep, a few years ago that was the catalyst that stirred up some WILD emotions and realizations in me and lead me to come to understanding my gender identity for the first time in my life. So I’m invested. But now, I’m just…sigh. The shitty crunch stuff and the dogwhistle-y response post…I’m just so disappointed in a studio that meant a lot to me.

It’s going to take a lot for me to ever return to Anthem at this point.


#50

The good news is that a lot of that talent formed other studios or went elsewhere, and the article mentions one studio already preparing their own game.

The flagship is sinking, but the people who did the work are still out there and still creating.


#51

Bioware’s response is the worst kind of cowardly. It’s infuriating to hear that Jason is once again taking undeserved flack for reporting on worker conditions from Corporate Gamer Stans (you know the type), but I take solace in the fact that convincing everydude gamer that Corporations Are Bad isn’t the real goal here. Jason’s piece only needs to move the needle to the left on the need for labor organization among current devs, as well as continue to expose the hellhole of corporate game dev to deplete the pool of future “passion talent” among current and prospective students of game dev. The sooner that the quasi-infinite well of Passionate Game Dev Student dries up, the sooner corporations are forced to come to the negotiating table with an organized, professional labor force.

On a related note, how do people feel about the recent piece on Ubisoft (“At Ubisoft you always have a second chance”)? As a European company, they seem to be on the left flank of corporations treating their workers decently and consistently finds itself on lists of Best Game Dev to Work For. Their products always seem to be mediocre design-by-committee hodge-podges that I’m never surprised to learn have 1000+ people in the credits, but I can’t seem to bring myself to fault Ubi for that, given their apparently nice working conditions. As you can tell from the above, I’m not one to cape for a large company, but does Ubi get credit for being least bad, bordering on decent? Or am I anti-union trash for suggesting that?


#52

This seems like a weird attitude to me. The point of this article isn’t to solve labor issues in the industry, or even necessarily to highlight them, at least not specifically. It was to investigate and find an explanation for why and how this particular game turned out the way it did. Labor conditions turned out to be a huge part of the story, and I personally like seeing these things create awareness and think it’s a key part of changing things, but it’s kind of silly to judge journalism like this as if it’s activism.

Separately, from the perspective of wanting things to change, the fact that people don’t pay as much attention to labor problems when a game turns out well is is itself a reason to focus on failures. “These practices do not guarantee success, and in fact make failure more likely” is actually a pretty potent argument.


#53

Man video games are such a weird intersection of creativity and corporations. Sometimes I’m surprised they get made at all.


#54

One thing I keep thinking about is this pattern: an experimental project is started with lofty goals of re-thinking a genre. Mass Effect Andromeda wanted to expand Mass Effect’s exploration onto hundreds of proc-gen planets. Anthem at one point was going to be a co-op survival action-adventure game in a systems-driven open world. I just finished watching the video JKDarkSide linked earlier, and Final Fantasy XV also fits, with its ambitions of cinematic gravity-defying combat and storytelling integrated with gameplay. In each case, once the project went too long without producing anything that could be turned into a tent-pole release, the scope got cut until it reached a point where it could be crunched out in a couple years.

Trying to make a single big-budget game that shatters both design norms and sales records looks like a recipe for failure far too often. The processes of the large-scale game industry just aren’t compatible with rapid change. It seems almost inevitable that a studio that tries will end up tossing their most interesting ideas and going through awful and completely unnecessary crunch cramming five years of work into two, all to ship a game that would have been better if they had started with a safe design in the first place.

I’m just some gamer Monday-morning quarterbacking it, but it looks from here like BioWare needs a research division whose only job is to experiment and prototype without the demand to turn every project into a full-price retail release. A never-ending game jam, minus the all-nighters. Ideas that work can be integrated into a main studio’s work or turned into budget games, ideas that don’t work can be discarded without taking a giant studio’s multi-year project with them. Meanwhile BioWare proper would be working with well-understood processes to create games that have less initial ambition but can be produced on a schedule less ruinous to the physical & mental health of the workers. I imagine EA doesn’t want to budget for free-form experiments that might never make money, but wouldn’t it be cool?


#55

I think Ubisoft also has/had a “Isle of Misfit Devs” situation where they had a small studio to move people to after a major project finished where they could work on assets for various other projects until they were moved to their next long-term position. To prevent turnover and keep people rolling and wind them down and back up for another.

But that report was from, like, 5 years ago by now? I think? Still like… I see a lot of “we shouldn’t praise decent behavior” but while I understand the reasoning, I think it’s important to recognize when someone in the same industry working at the same level of prestige is doing better, and proving you can do better. I think it helps us look at conditions like Rockstar and Bioware, and know there is another way. By no means the final step, but a potential for progress.


#56

I know people already commented on it but I want to reiterate how uniquely gross the phrase “BioWare Magic” is. That mismanagement and crunch were so common they had their own term for it. And they were proud of it! They hoped it would happen so that a messy project would turn out great in the end. But great for who? Not the employees having breakdowns trying to fix problems at the last second.

It speaks volumes about BioWare that they didn’t make major structural changes after multiple people were overworked to point that their doctor had to step in to say “This is killing you, you need to take a month off.” I’m no businessman so what do I know, I just can’t imagine seeing people go through that and not only ignoring it but making it a term of affection. “That’s our BioWare Magic, its what makes us special! Don’t worry about Gary crying in the breakroom after working for 100 hours and not seeing his family in weeks. Look at all the progress we’re making.”


#57

BioWare just beat Randy Pitchford for the title of worst magic in video games.


#58

Wish they’d do a disappearing act.


#59

It’s unfortunately pretty common for projects to meander in design goals for the bulk of development time, sort of figure out what the big picture should be for vertical slice, and then have a mad dash in the last few months to make something resembling a cohesive game. It’s frustrating from an insider perspective.

People in this thread have been pointing to FFXV as an example, but the worse one was FFXIII; per a Gamasutra interview, the development team didn’t seem to have any vertical slice until less than a year before release of a game in production for about 10 years.

What enabled us to conquer this line of seemingly endless conflicts was the development process for the Final Fantasy XIII demo, which was included in the Japan-only Blu-ray version of the animated film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete. The demo was not in our original plan, so we had to make adjustments to the overall schedule to accommodate it. Whatever effects creating the demo had on the schedule, once it was complete we realized it was just the panacea we needed.

Even games most of us have liked, likely came to being under these conditions. If there’s a silver lining to the scope of projects spinning out of control in recent years, it’s that we have more visibility on the labor exploitation to point towards when demanding for unionization.


#60

I think some of these issues also come about when the people with vision either have no experience with the tools being used, or possibly even worse have a very outdated idea of them.

Yes that experience can tie down creativity, but if you actually have to ship at some point, then maybe being tied down isn’t such a bad thing.

A large part of my own creative experience is repeatedly telling clients that they can’t have what they want because it literally doesn’t exist.

It also sounds a lot like management believing their own PR far too much. The hubris of calling projects Dylan and Joplin is kinda wild