Maybe Anthem Should Have Been An Early Access Game

Image: EA

BioWare’s Anthem launched with a lot of problems, and even after today’s patch, the game’s still got issues. On this week’s episode of Kotaku Splitscreen, we discuss the unpolished, unfinished feel of Anthem, compare its rocky launch to Destiny’s early days, and wonder whether Anthem should have instead entered an official early access period for its first six months.

The full episode starts off with us discussing the games we’re playing, with Jason describing his new love affair with Bloodborne (3:23), then my speculation about which age group Kingdom Hearts 3 is actually for (17:30), and Kirk describing Far Cry New Dawn’s charming choice to re-introduce him to Far Cry 5’s settings and characters (22:30). After our Anthem segment (32:13), we end the show with Kirk’s music pick of the week (73:17), which in this case inspires us all to reminisce about the cult classic comedy Wayne’s World.

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Kirk: The launch of a service game fascinates me. The way that we talk about it and the way that we consider it. The expectations game. Even the expectations game you’re talking about, the internal one, Jason, where they think, “Okay, we’ll get railed in reviews, we’ll do okay, and then we’ll make it better, and over time eventually it’ll be this big success story.” I think we’re really at a point where that’s—for reasons we’ve already talked about—not happening.

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With Fallout 76, for example, it seems like maybe that’s just not going to happen with that game. With this game as well, there’s a feeling that maybe it won’t. I don’t know. It’s so different from the launch of a standard game, like Metro, actually, which launched also with a lot of technical problems and that’s also sort of frustrating, that at least fits into this familiar paradigm of, a video game comes out and people play it and review it and it’s just a single-player game.

This is almost like a software launch, or an operating system launch, right? I feel increasingly like each of these games comes out and — when Windows 11 comes out, or whatever, you don’t necessarily buy it on day one, because there are usually all these problems, and then you see all the reports on Gizmodo or wherever that are like, “Windows reveals your credit card information to everybody! Don’t buy it yet! And they’re gonna patch it, but don’t get it!” This is sort of that same feeling of, don’t play the game initially. Which is something that gets said a lot on this show. We give that advice for various reasons. This reason strikes me as an interesting one, is that it’s basically software in development. They almost always launch rough, maybe not always this rough, and then we assume that they’ll get better over time, and that’s a very strange place to be in, I think, because of how video games have been released for so long.

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Jason: Yeah, and even more than software, games are so dependent on hearing what players think and what they want out of them that it’s almost impossible to get it right the first time you launch a game like this.

Kirk: I will say to BioWare’s credit, they are being very, very responsive to the community. No one’s saying they’re railing on Reddit and not getting heard. They’re all over the place responding. And those first patch notes are pretty impressive...

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Jason: Those first patch notes signal to me that the game that they launched last week is a much earlier build, like from a few weeks ago maybe, and that they’ve been working on this day one patch for a long time.

Kirk: And even those demos also had problems.

Jason: I mean, yeah. Such a strategic blunder to not think of February 15th as your launch day, instead to think of the 22nd. And the reviews are just punishing them for it. But the point I was going to make earlier is that I think because it’s so difficult, if not impossible, for a game like this to get it right on the first try, I think that all of these publishers need to step back and if they’re launching a new service game, they need to say, “Hey, we’re not gonna do a traditional triple-A launch with this because it’s just going to blow up in our faces. We need to do an early access or a long beta.”

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Imagine if Anthem had been like, “All right. We are going into beta in February. And for next five months, for the next six months, this game, you can buy it for $60, but we are warning you, it is gonna be broken. It is gonna be a work in progress. We are gonna work with you players to make this game what it can be for the official launch in September.” Imagine if they had approached it that way. And they still get their sales or whatever, but they make it clear to players that this is a game that is a work in progress and are just honest about that fact instead of being like, “Yeah, Anthem launch! We’re expecting high 70s Metacritic and then hopefully we fix it later.”

These traditional publishers are embracing this future technology and this idea that games are constantly changing, which is really cool and good, but they’re sticking with the old way of doing things, which is a single launch day and marketing all tied to that day.

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Kirk: Selling a season pass. And it’s like, preview the season pass now!

Jason: Although Anthem doesn’t have a season pass.

Kirk: I guess that makes sense. That’s kind of EA’s thing, right? They do a lot of free updates now.

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Jason: I think so. The whole point is that it’s cosmetic microtransactions and then free updates attached to the game. But yeah, imagine if they had just done that approach. It’s almost like No Man’s Sky when we talked about that back in the day and how that should have been an early access game.

Kirk: And Fallout 76. I think we’ve said this for multiple games.

Jason: Should’ve been an early access game. It’s like, some honesty and transparency and just being like, “Look. This is fucking hard. Making this game is hard. We have no idea—”

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Kirk: “Look. This is hard.”

Maddy: “We have no idea how to make games!”

Kirk: “We have no idea what the fuck we’re doing! Anyways, bye!!”

Maddy: [laughs] I don’t know! Don’t you feel like the counter-argument to that would be that there are many players who don’t like that and find it irritating that they’re basically being asked to pay to be a QA tester for a game for six months or a year, and that that is now just a cultural thing we’ve accepted as being normal and fine?

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Jason: Well, we’ll see if people accept it. They didn’t accept it with Fallout.

Maddy: I mean, a lot of other games, people have kinda done it. But yeah, Fallout is an example of players being like, “No, this isn’t what we wanted, and we are not going to play it.”

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Jason: I can’t see people accepting this. The big question here—the elephant in the room is, is EA going to allow Anthem the time, and BioWare the time, to get Anthem right and give it the foundational fixes and big scale changes that it needs? Is Anthem even gonna have a chance to have its Taken King moment? I don’t know.


For much more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at splitscreen@kotaku.com with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.

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About the author

Maddy Myers

Managing editor, Kotaku.