5 Years Later, BioWare’s Biggest Failure Looks All Too Familiar

A sign of the times.

key art from Anthem

The goal of a live service game is to give players an experience they can enjoy forever, or as close as possible to it. Their persistent worlds, constantly updated with exciting things to see, can nurture communities that endure for years. With years of new additions, these games have time to evolve, offering totally different experiences to players from one era to the next.

Anthem is not one of those games.

From its first announcement, Anthem was an oddity. Developer BioWare is known for single-player RPGs with deep stories, vibrant worlds, and casts of loveable characters that have inspired more fan art than a person could see in a single lifetime. Anthem, which was released on February 22, 2019, has none of that.

Anthem promised a living world that never saw the light of day.


Instead, it’s a looter shooter, more concerned with all the cool guns you’re collecting than its world or characters. That’s not to say that Anthem ignores its narrative. It’s made by BioWare, after all, so there are plenty of well-written characters around the game’s central hub of Fort Tarsis. It’s just that brief conversations with those characters are jammed between hours and hours of blasting away space bugs in a mechanized exosuit.

And for what it’s worth, the bug-blasting is pretty good! Behind a deeply unsatisfying upgrade and loot system, Anthem did still feature heavily armed exosuits, each with their own weapons. Its structure encouraged players to work together and lean on the specialties of its four different exosuits, from the zippy Interceptor to the hulking Colossus.

Those exosuits are essentially the whole pitch for Anthem. As good as they feel to fight in, they feel even better just to fly. At its best, flying around Anthem’s world in a rocket-powered exosuit is an absolute joy. The flying mechanics are nicely crunchy, with exosuits building up heat as they fly, forcing you to think a bit strategically. For all Anthem’s faults, the feeling of zooming around its gorgeous world, dipping under waterfalls to keep your engines cool as you take in the sights, is magical.

The feeling of flying in Anthem is still worth praising despite its flaws.


If you want to see for yourself, you still can. As surprising as it may seem, Anthem’s servers are still online, the game frozen forever in the middle of BioWare developing updates that many hoped would give it a second chance in the vein of No Man’s Sky or Final Fantasy 14.

The problem is pretty much everything else. Anthem’s flaws are numerous, with everything to its dull mission structure to the distinct feeling that the game was released before it was finished well documented in reviews at the time. Its biggest problems, though, seem to have happened behind the scenes.

Ten years before Anthem’s reveal at E3 2010, the massive publisher EA acquired BioWare, paying $860 million for the studio that had made Baldur’s Gate and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. At the time, it was EA’s largest ever studio acquisition.

Just over a month after Anthem’s launch, a massive report from Kotaku spelled out the game’s troubled development history. Stress levels were reportedly through the roof at BioWare, as senior staff members rapidly burned out and left the company entirely. The game was completely rebooted multiple times, with features that were once central to the game — like a living environment that reacted to players in real life — being scrapped. Most of the game reportedly came together in the last year before Anthem’s release, at the tail end of a more than five-year development cycle.

There’s a good game at Anthem’s core, buried by a troubled development.


Not all of that is EA’s fault, despite persistent belief that the publisher had driven BioWare to make a competitor for Destiny 2. However, EA did complicate things, by forcing BioWare to use its Frostbite engine, which was not built for the kind of game that Anthem was shaping up to be, and by demanding games that could keep players spending money on them for years through microtransactions. In the end, it was also EA’s decision to ship the game in 2019, despite developers reportedly saying it just wasn’t ready. And it was ultimately EA that pulled the plug on Anthem, after BioWare went to work on the total revision called Anthem Next, which it hoped would save the game.

It’s easy to look at Anthem as an outlier, a singular failure so large and specific that it can only be a tragedy or a joke. But in another way, it was a look ahead to the next few years of AAA development, which built the world we’re living in now. The push toward live service games and long-term monetization has been alienating players for years, but studios keep pursuing it, spurred on by the success of the model’s few winners.

Games like Marvel’s Avengers and more recently Suicide Squad, cram in live service elements to their own detriment, turning what could be interesting games into hopeful money-making machines for their publishers. But as both of those games show, it’s no longer a winning formula for a beloved game or a financially successful one.

Anthem was a spectacular fiasco, but its failure isn’t totally unique.


EA’s acquisition of BioWare was record-breaking at the time, but it pales in comparison to Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, or to Embracer Group ceaselessly gobbling up smaller companies. On top of the friction the clash between studios and their new owners can create in a game’s development, as it did with Anthem, it can be disastrous for developers themselves. BioWare laid off 50 employees in 2023, Microsoft laid off 1,900 this year, and Embracer has laid off hundreds more across its many studios.

In that way, Anthem’s spectacular failure is more emblematic of AAA development now than it’s comfortable to think about. The push to monetize games, to hit publishing deadlines at any cost, to force development into a shape directed by publishers, all contribute to the industry’s rampant burnout and a preference for the safe route over experimentation.

Anthem’s development may have been particularly dysfunctional, but it was caused by the same pressures being felt at studios throughout the industry. As unique as its story is, it was also a warning of the untenable demands of blockbuster video game development, which can take an experience that should have been about the joy of flying and run it into the ground.

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