Bioware's Anthem and the future of AAA games

22 Jun 2017

Alright, so it looks like EA really wants in on that shared world RPG market currently occupied by Activision’s Destiny and to a much much lesser extent Ubisoft’s The Division. Details have been slowly coming out about a game being developed at Bioware Edmonton internally codenamed “Dylan” and most of the rumors ended up being true. The video shown at E3 is a very slick looking slice (with cringeworthy gameplay chatter) of what looks like an RPG lite with MMO elements. Unlike Destiny, and check this one out cause it’s really gonna set it apart, Anthem is played from the THIRD person perspective. Oh and Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer on KOTOR + Mass Effect 1 and 2 has returned to work on this game, so thats nice.

But whatever, the game will probably look great, sound great and be a serviceable experience through yet another “open world.” My main issue is that these type of games are looking more and more like what the future of AAA development is going to be. I’m already not a fan of shoving multiplayer into games for the hell of it to say “We have multiplayer!” in the ad copy. Take a look at Grand Theft Auto V, whose half baked online multiplayer is now the primary moneymaker (and this number is from 2016) for Take Two Interactive. The microtransaction heavy, Korean MMO-like GTA Online is a cash cow for the company, and now is seemingly defining all future development plans for Rockstar.

Brief aside here: I was ready to pull my hair out when a $50 GTA “Shark Card” was the best selling item in the last PSN sale. Kudos to Rockstar, they basically took this scene from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, made it actually work and morphed it into their company’s entire business model. I mean, if the game was fun I would have absolutely no problem with myself or others spending money to keep playing. I feel like I ripped off CD Projekt by only paying $40 bucks for The Witcher 3, CHARGE ME ANOTHER $50 I WON’T MIND. But GTA Online sucks; it’s a grindey mess designed to encourage even more grinding and spending real money for cosmetics, cars and other in game items. How this turd gets a pass but everyone shits all over freemium mobile games I will never understand, at least those games don’t cost $60 upfront to play.

Another thing to look at is piracy, which has to be another driving force behind developing these kinds of games. Requiring an always on connection to some server to merely launch the game is the ultimate in anti-piracy measures. These “live service” MMO-lite titles will become more and more attractive for huge publishers to sink money into as they are virtually piracy proof and have a shot at becoming a money maker on the scale of GTA Online or F2P games like DOTA 2 and Hearthstone. It only takes a handful of whales to keep spending for a game like this to keep going. Plus, it’s not like Anthem will be free to play, this is a $60 title with planned expansions. Oh, and EA is also trying to sell that same 10 year plan diddly poo that Activision pitched to make up for the Destiny base game being half baked and terrible.

I’m rambling now but the fact of the matter is this MMO lite movement could be the future of almost all AAA development. Sure you will get the big budget movie style games (Uncharted, The Last of Us) and whatever awful cookie cutter nonsense Ubisoft craps out next, but why spend tens if not hundreds of millions on a 20-40 hour single player game when you can spend the same amount developing a product that can have all this stuff tacked onto it to sell (Expansion packs, cosmetic microtransactions, loot boxes, in game currency) and then because there is a 10 year plan, recycle a ton of assets, use the same engine and build a new game thus resetting everything!

Finally, what do you think they will call Shark Cards in Red Dead Redemption 2? You’re excited for that right?