Anthem looks like a promising step in a new direction for BioWare, the studio behind Dragon Age and Mass Effect. But it’s not there yet, clearly.
Publisher Electronic Arts picked the final weekend in January to serve as the timeframe for Anthem‘s “VIP Demo,” ahead of a Feb. 22 release. Unfortunately, it’s been a bit of a mess.
Anthem is an online-focused game with “live” features that shift and evolve according to a schedule, not unlike recent favorites such as Destiny 2 or The Division. What that means is there’s a bunch of different moving parts, many of which are difficult to test inside the studio prior to release.
The stated reason for the release of a VIP Demo, as EA called it, was to let players “dive into the world of Anthem” a few weeks early. Progress made during the demo weekend won’t carry over; rather, the whole thing is designed to give players a taste of the various activities they’ll come across in the final release.
Of course, the demo weekend also served as a live test. Friday marked the first time the general public had any way to try the game, so everyone signing on at once (or trying to) gave BioWare a taste of what the Feb. 22 launch might feel like.
It hasn’t gone well. Players have faced excessively long load times; the inability to access certain unlocks or even progress in the demo; in many cases, people were barred from even starting up the game to begin with.
It got so bad that BioWare’s head of live service, Chad Robertson, wrote an extensive blog post on Saturday running through the demo’s various issues and detailing plans to get them fixed. There are three types of problems players are running into, according to the post.
1. Platform connections – this was caused by the spike in players entering the game when we opened up. Unfortunately, these issues did not present themselves during our internal testing. Investigations are ongoing, and we will continue to apply fixes throughout the weekend.
2. Entitlements – these are account flags that grant players things like their pre-order incentives and demo access. During the demo weekend, we identified a bug where VIP players with a specific combination of entitlements were being blocked from accessing the demo. We believe we’ve resolved most of these, but have additional cases we are addressing.
3. “Infinite loads” – this is occurring for some players, particularly when they transition from Fort Tarsis to an expedition. We saw this only in isolated cases during internal testing and believed it was resolved. Unfortunately, the problem is exacerbated in the real-world where differences with player’s ISPs and home networks introduce new behavior.
Fixing all of this is an ongoing process at BioWare, Robertson wrote. The data the studio was able to start gathering on Friday is going to be essential for making Anthem release-ready, from the sound of things. And for some players, that’s kind of what the problem is.
You see, the VIP Demo was framed as a buy-in bonus. To get a code, you had to either pre-order the full game or be a paying subscriber to one of EA’s “Access” services (EA Access on Xbox One, Origin Access on PC).
It’s not unusual in this day and age for publishers to make offers like this. Commit to buying one game or another and you can play in that game’s pre-launch beta test. In cases when those tests are open to the public, a pre-order often gets you more time than the general public, as is the case with Anthem (there’s an “Open Demo” running from Feb. 1-3).
The problem, as many have pointed out, is EA’s decision to call the “VIP” access period a demo. That word creates false expectations, some say. Pre-order players went into the weekend planning to sample a working version of the game, and so they were deeply disappointed when that wasn’t universally the case.
It’s not an uncommon problem for EA, or even the games industry. While the situation has improved somewhat in recent years, publishers are generally averse to transparency when they don’t have to be transparent.
Games take a long time and a lot of money to make, which means every single official utterance carries risk. Moreso than in many other entertainment fields, game publishers work hard to control public perception through calculated messaging.
Unfortunately, that means when things go wrong you get a situation like this: the publisher and/or developer facing a massive backlash because they and their customers had different ideas about what was happening.