Video game publisher EA revealed during its Q4 2019 financial results conference call that BioWare’s Anthem has failed to live up to the lofty expectations that were (perhaps unfairly) placed upon it.
Since launching in February this year, Anthem has been the victim of a dwindling playerbase, technical issues, and a general lack of engaging content. In fact, a recent player survey on Reddit found that over half of those asked have already stopped playing the online shooter, and have no intentions of returning to it.
In what is undoubtedly a disappointing time for EA and BioWare, the publisher used the recent conference to reaffirm its support for Anthem, but acknowledged that it needs to handle how it releases these kinds of games differently than how it used to in the past.
CEO Andrew Wilson said:
The reality is, it’s not just an EA challenge, it’s an industry-wide challenge. You’re moving from what was initially a BioWare game which would be somewhere between 40 and 80 hours of offline play to 40 to 80 hours of offline play plus 100 or 200, 300 hours of elder game that happens with millions of other players at scale, online.
With games of this scale comes a more complex QA period, though Wilson implied in future EA games should adopt a slower build up to launch with multiple community tests and a “soft launch” before everything goes live, which is traditionally the case for major online releases in Asia.
In the West, Wilson explained, major publishers favour a “drip-feed approach” that usually goes from marketing straight into release. Wilson believes that, at least for EA, this process doesn’t work anymore.
You should expect that we’ll start to test things like soft launches—the same things that you see in the mobile space right now. And it also comes down to changing how we communicate with players. Our entire marketing organization now is moving out of presentation mode and into conversation mode, and changing how we interact with players over time.
Wilson feels this new approach will result in EA’s games having much smoother launches, with many of the issues ironed out thanks to a more conclusive testing process. He also says this should “understand exactly what it is that they’re going to be playing.”
We think that we’re in a really good position for this—I think this gets really hard if you don’t have scale to do this, and so we feel very good about it. And over time we hope that we can lead from the front and help other developers and publishers change the way they do things as well.
It’s worth noting that EA already tends to hold closed and open betas to allow the community to test its major online games, as well as allowing players an early look at releases through the EA Access subscription service.
It’ll be interesting to see how EA adapts and adopts the concept of a soft launch for its major titles going forward, especially if it helps the publisher put out better quality games at launch – that’s an obvious win for everyone.
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Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.