Ian Saterdalen (currently a lead producer at Mythical Games) previously worked at Crystal Dynamics, Blizzard, and Riot Games before moving to BioWare. Having been there during the Anthem era, he has a strong insight into what happened there.
Saterdalen has written a lot about Anthem on Twitter, and we’ve compiled it into a coherent piece of text he wrote on the microblogging platform. He has the floor: “I learned a lot on this project. We knew it wasn’t ready, as this game was created in 15 months, which is unheard of for a title that scope. Anthem 2 would have been great! I’m sure 18 months before shipping is when the first level and Ranger Javelin were started. Fifteen months is when I started, and the Ranger was not finished, and the world crashed every 2-3 minutes.
90-hour work weeks weren’t sustainable and not even a position we should have been in. I’m fine now, but not without damage. It contributed to the cost of my marriage, and I needed therapy for a while after that endeavor. The shittiest part, besides no endgame and replayability, was that during development, management was putting in gating mechanics to ‘lengthen’ the time it took to complete the story. If I remember correctly, it was removed from the final version after backlash from the developers.
It was a great team effort to get the controls on how we shipped. We went through many iterations, which were super rough initially. I know the team was delighted where the controls landed too. We took in a lot of feedback from the EA game-changers [influencers who get to play the games before they are released to the public].
It was definitely above my pay grade for the decision of ‘this isn’t ready’ – I think everyone was just backed into a corner, and I assume that if we didn’t release Anthem, BioWare would have been dissolved. I don’t think it was all Electronic Arts’ fault. A developer and publisher is supposed to be a healthy relationship of trust and transparency. It’s a two-way street that I don’t think was satisfactory. I think maybe in the public eye, Anthem may have been positioned to be a Destiny killer. It came up in conversations internally, but we didn’t have the muscle or know-how to take on Destiny. It was squashed very fast [because] that’s a lot of pressure. Let’s walk before running.
Most people at BioWare didn’t believe in the ‘BioWare magic’ – I just laugh at it all now, though. It’s sad to see that is one of the critical things in people’s minds that tie to Anthem. On Anthem 2.0/Anthem Next, the game was entertaining and was going in the right direction. The team hit an incredible milestone when Electronic Arts canned it. It was a different development team driving Anthem 2.0. The team was gutted when it was canceled. My assumption was there was just too much baggage from Anthem 1 or the cost involved to get Anthem 2 out. Anthem Next was Anthem 2. It was real. It would honestly be interesting to see Respawn take this IP. I think BioWare could do it again, though, with the right direction, Anthem 2.0 was going. It’s great to see players passionate about what Anthem could have been. There is a lot of nuance, and it’s hard to convey everything in tweets. Please be nice to each other and bring positivity. Life is too short,” he wrote.
A lot of concept and world-building preceded the 15 months, it was difficult for the studio to work with the Frostbite engine, and morale was unsuitable due to the vicious cycles. Anthem was eventually postponed, but it was necessary due to the lack of essential features (even the endgame wasn’t there), which confirmed the then-Kotaku writer Jason Schreier’s article about the game (Saterdalen says that at some point during development, Schreier was 100% authentic). He sees that due to non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), the whole story may never be made public, but that sounds rough.