Dragon Age 4 - Before and after GaaS

Jason Schreier has a companion piece to his big Anthem article.

The story behind this reboot isn’t just a story of a game going through multiple iterations, as many games do. The Dragon Age 4 overhaul was a sign of BioWare’s troubles, and how the company has struggled in recent years to work on multiple projects at the same time. It was indicative of the tension between EA’s financial goals and what BioWare fans love about the studio’s games. It led to the departure of several key staff including veteran Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw, and it led to today’s Dragon Age 4 , whose developers hope to carefully straddle the line between storytelling and the “live service” that EA has pushed so hard over the past few years. (EA did not return a request for comment.)

Perhaps the saddest thing about Dragon Age 4 ’s cancellation in 2017 for members of the Dragon Age team was that this time, they thought they were getting it right. This time, they had a set of established tools. They had a feasible scope. They had ideas that excited the whole team. And they had leaders who said they were committed to avoiding the mistakes they’d made on Dragon Age: Inquisition .

But Anthem was on fire, and BioWare needed everyone to grab a hose.

Fucking Anthem.

Inquisition development was troubled because it had to work with a completely new engine and the team had to build new tools. After Inquisition launched, they had a perfectly fine engine they all knew how to use and working tools all ready for the next game.

And then they threw that away, leaving a major franchise lying fallow for 5 years (and counting) and literally making the same mistake twice in a row. What a shame.

At least on this one, unlike perhaps Anthem, we can blame EA.

Yeah, I find this one more troubling than the Anthem debacle because I gave a shit about Dragon Age. They learned all the right lessons from DA2, then they did all that work to struggle through DAI, only to have the GaaS mandate and the garbage fire of Anthem bone up all their progress.


About the cancelled Dragon Age 4 in 2017 (codenamed Joplin):

That sounds pretty cool.


I mean, really, what else is there to say?

“Anthem with dragons!”

I don’t get how Anthem is to blame. It was just a symptom of BioWare’s inability to manage a project and get anything done.

Yeah, this is all on bad leadership at Bioware. It’s not Anthem, and it’s not EA. It’s a management culture that encourages multiple years of indecisive fucking around followed by one year of desperation and hope.

I won’t be optimistic about BW unless I see new leadership there.

This is where I’m coming from. If EA hadn’t forced BioWare into needing Anthem as a GaaS we might instead have had a big team of people all working on a better Dragon Age. Instead we got Anthem, and then once it started to go tits up, we had nothing else.

Agree 100%.

I’m still not seeing it. The problem isn’t Anthem or the type of game Anthem is, the problem is BioWare dicked around for 5 years without having any idea of what the game was actually supposed to be, then they frantically tried to slap a game together to match the E3 2017 charade they showed. As Schreier’s article mentioned, the developers watching the E3 demo said “Oh, so that’s what the game is supposed to be?”.

This isn’t EA or Anthem or GaaS, it’s incredibly inept BioWare leadership.

Agreed. That sounds like a game I would love to play.

Yeah, that does sound like they were on the right track.

I still think Anthem was an EA decision, and so BioWare - a studio that probably wasn’t tuned for this kind of game - was forced into something outside of their wheelhouse. But I could be wrong, maybe the folks at BioWare were all “Hey, I know, let’s make a game that’s just like all the other successful service games out there! We’ll make millions offa da whales!” and it was entirely the leadership team seeing $lla $lla billz, y’all. But I think it was an EA thing, because I believe EA is what killed BioWare, ultimately.

How many scoops of Bioware Magic would this have needed. I’m ballparking a little more than two.

While I do like the core game play loop (which sounds like it was the one thing settled and ironed out well before release) … I still don’t know what kind of game Anthem is! I don’t think it does either. I’ll leave details on that to that thread, except one …

There was something said on a panel by one of the GW2 leads, and it was paraphrased, it is a bad idea to make a game without considering how you will monetize it as part of the gameplay design. OK, I see two hooks on Anthem … money for craft mats (which are useless and people complain when they get them for free!) and Fashion Wars (the GW2 cosmetic things) but read the one open lobby area was added within months of release by a pinch team and I’m not sure anyone uses it, esp. with new hot keys in Tarsis. So what exactly is the plan for long term monetization? No money, and I’m sure it is toast even if content is patched up.

It seems sure that making a game that was monetized as GaaS was an EA mandate, yes. What personal enthusiasm individual designers may have had for an online game in any of their franchises (and a new IP to boot) I have no clue.

But if the publisher says they will pay for, and want GaaS monetization, and you develop for years a game that has no gameplay loops supporting that, and stick to a design that works with initial box sales only, who is to blame for that call?

I think, if planned, Anthem could have had some GaaS in a very GW2 type pattern with minor changes, but even that isn’t there. Was EA wrong, would Anthem have flopped, even if it had been well made, had at least average content at launch a good progression plan and a way to monetize?

I ask since that also seems like what DA4 Dylan was. A great game, in the era of single box, but still likely to get underfunded or cut when the publisher asked about it meeting the rest of the criteria. And you can substitute “rebooted DA4 Morrison” for “Anthem” in above paragraph, and ask the same question.

I am curious to the answers. I’ve done project management to specs outside of games, so have biases on where I’d assign blame (see plenty to go around). But I don’t understand the full relationship between game studio and publisher.

The entire Dragon Age 2017 team was pulled to work on Anthem. Thats Bioware’s fault. Often when that sort of thing happens they lose momentum and the game ends up canceled.

Then EA mandated GaaS, so Bioware was forced to kill DA2017. That’s EA’s fault.

And then, the decision to base DA202x on the Anthem engine and tools, to literally make that same mistake twice in a row, that was Bioware’s fault.

So there’s plenty of shit sandwiches for everybody to share.

I don’t think these things can co exist

I assume GW2 here is EA’s Garden Warfare 2?

Guild Wars 2, I see some hooks in Anthem that would have let it monetize the same way as that GW2 … ability to buy craft mats with real money and what the players there call “Fashion Wars”, heavily monetized cosmetics bought on a rotating basis.