Patch Notes

Patch Notes: BioWare’s Problems, Borderlands & Pre-Owned Sales

In case you missed the past couple of Patch Notes this is a mid-week article where we cover a couple of pieces of news from the past week and I ramble about them, because rambling is what I do. This week has been pretty busy, but I’ve grabbed three things in particular that grabbed my limited attention span. So lets tackle the problems over at BioWare, the announcement of Borderlands 3 and the decline of pre-owned sales in the UK.

Anthem’s Development & BioWare’s Problems

Anthem continues to stagger from one bad situation to another, it seems. Thanks to Jason Schreier over at Kotaku we now seem to have a better understanding of Anthem’s long development and the current state of developer BioWare. Jason penned a truly mammoth 11,000+ word article in which he interviews no less than 19 BioWare employees who tell the story of a studio that doesn’t seem to know what its doing anymore.

This account of Anthem’s development, based on interviews with 19 people who either worked on the game or adjacent to it (all of whom were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about Anthem’s development), is a story of indecision and mismanagement. It’s a story of technical failings, as EA’s Frostbite engine continued to make life miserable for many of BioWare’s developers, and understaffed departments struggled to serve their team’s needs. It’s a story of two studios, one in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and another in Austin, Texas, that grew resentful toward one another thanks to a tense, lopsided relationship. It’s a story of a video game that was in development for nearly seven years but didn’t enter production until the final 18 months, thanks to big narrative reboots, major design overhauls, and a leadership team said to be unable to provide a consistent vision and unwilling to listen to feedback.

I really can’t compliment Jason’s work enough. His article is in-depth and provides a fascinating examination of both BioWare and the development of Anthem, a game that apparently didn’t really enter production proper until 16-months before its release.

Since publication BioWare have issued a frankly poorly thought out reply that attempts to address in a few hundred words what Jason spends 11,000+ dissecting. Weirdly, BioWare’s response almost seems to attack the article itself: ” We chose not to comment or participate in this story because we felt there was an unfair focus on specific team members and leaders, who did their absolute best to bring this totally new idea to fans. We didn’t want to be part of something that was attempting to bring them down as individuals. We respect them all, and we built this game as a team.”

It’s odd because the article that Jason wrote doesn’t specifically target anyone, and names are typically only mentioned when explaining certain events, such as people leaving the company. BioWare continued, “People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.”

Such a reply ignores the fact that investigative journalism is vital to bringing important problems into the public eye as well as shedding light on subjects that people may not know much about. Jason’s lengthy article is an impressive piece, and clearly many people inside BioWare felt that the company has problems which need discussion.

There’s only a single sentence that really addresses the points brought up in the article: “We do everything we can to try and make it healthy and stress-free, but we also know there is always room to improve. ” It’s a generic PR response that ignores everything said. Unsusprisingly people have not viewed BioWare’s response favorably.

Regardless of what was happening internally at BioWare one thing is extremely clear: Anthem’s development was messy from start to finish, and it’s no wonder that the final release recieved a lukewarm critical response.

Borderlands 3 Reveal

Following the short teaser trailer Gearbox put out they officially revealed the existence of Borderlands 3, coming September this year. Two trailers have thus far been released that show glimpses of the new game. Neither trailer was particularly impressive, to be honest, but I’m still very excited about Borderlands 3 considering the wealth of time I’ve spent looting and shooting in the previous games.

Speaking of the previous games, Gearbox has announced and launched a remastered version of the Borderlands: Game of the Year edition, meaning if you never played the first Borderlands then this is the perfect time.

However, Gearbox also revealed that Borderlands 3 is going to be yet another Epic Store exclusive, or at least it will be for six months before coming to other platforms, which presumably means Steam. Six months is half the time of the other Epic Store exclusives, but it still left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths as the Epic Store continues to lack a lot of basic features. Moreover, people simply aren’t liking the idea of PC games being exclusive to certain launchers.

Earlier this week Epic CEO Tim Sweeney stated that,
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about this since GDC. Epic is open to continuing to sign funding/exclusivity deals with willing developers and publishers regardless of their previous plans or announcements around Steam.”

I’ve mentioned before that regardless of my own feelings about the Epic Store in its current state this is smart business from Epic. Grabbing exclusives, even if they are just timed, is a surefire way to draw people away from Steam and get the Epic platform installed on their computer. It’s an expensive tactic, but one Epic seems willing to employ.

Pre-Owned Game Sales Struggling

This isn’t really news as such because I think we all expected this, but pre-owned videogame market here in the UK is sinking quite rapidly. The data comes from UKIE and said data mostly has to do with stores such as GAME and CEX, and doesn’t really reflect second-hand sales through the likes of Ebay or just at the local car-boot sale.

According to UKIE pre-owned software sales have dropped by 30.8% while the actual gaming economy has risen by just over 10% for both software and hardware.

Digital sales rose over 20% as well, which is most likely what has been hitting pre-owned sales the hardest. More people than ever are buying digitally, including myself. With that said I do still buy physical copies for the larger games simply to save myself the download time. According to UKIE the digital software side of things (which includes DLC and the like) is now 50% of the overall software market in the UK.

Throw on top of that the fact that things like Xbox Games Pass exists and that many games are being designed to stick around for months or even years and it’s hardly surprising that pre-owned sales are struggling. It doesn’t help that pre-owned prices in GAME and other stores are often absurdly high with just a few pounds more typically getting you a brand new physical or digital copy.

I’ve got mixed feelings about all of this. I still enjoy going into a shop and browsing through the pre-owned section for games that I’ve missed over the years, and I still sell on games via Ebay, typically so I can use the money to pick up another game to review. Like many others I do a lot of my game buying online now, though, but it remains a problem that the digital versions of games are priced very high, usually comparable to their physical counterparts. If the industry wants digital to be the way forward, which is certainly does given its hatred of the pre-owned market, then they need to start pricing digital content reasonably.

Finally, UKIE also revealed that VR hardware sales had dropped just under 21%, which as a VR proponent is a genuine shame to hear. The next generation of headsets is coming, though, so hopefully we’ll see a surge as people pick those up or take advantage of the cheaper price of older models.

Categories: Patch Notes

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