Was the bad publicity surrounding Mass Effect: Andromeda a tad overblown? Yes. Was it funny? Absolutely!
Those who sought to critique the new BioWare production largely didn’t bother with hyperbole or swearing. They simply shared clips of the game. In March the internet was awash with vids of NPCs glitching in and out of existence, flitting about at supersonic speeds, or delivering exposition while locked in T-poses. Even when functioning perfectly, they all had glassy stares and terrible posture. While much of the dialogue was cringe-inducing, some was so nonsensical it sounded like it hadn’t even been proof-read before being given to the voice actors.
Those who sought to defend ME:A mostly used rhetoric. That is, they employed deft persuasion techniques to discourage people from believing their lying eyes. One indie dev’s hot take on the terrible facial animations: “If you think you can find ‘the person responsible for x’ in a 300 person AAA team, you’re deluded about how AAA Dev works.” Of course! It’s all so obvious! One single person amongst 300 can’t possibly be completely responsible. That means that no-one is responsible, and nothing is wrong!
The Snark and the Shill, like Yin and Yang, are locked in perpetual combat until the end of all things – until the death of death. But beyond the spin, it’s a straightforward matter to get to the truth. Andromeda was launched on March 21, just before the end of the Fiscal Year as defined by EA’s accountants. EA clearly wanted to bring the long and costly production process to a close, and to get some profit on the books before the end of Fiscal Year 2017.
Yet the game clearly wasn’t quite done. Mass Effect is a franchise with an established formula, but a smooth production process was impossible because of the recent departure of some key BioWare talent.
Mass Effect creator Casey Hudson left BioWare on August 7 2014. Andromeda game director Chris Wynn announced that he was leaving BioWare on December 22 2015. Writer David Gaider announced he was leaving on January 22 2016. Lead writer Chris Schlerf confirmed he was off the project on February 15 2016, and senior editor Cameron Harris announced he was leaving the video game industry entirely on March 4 2016.
Without their institutional knowledge, their hard-working replacements simply couldn’t get all the kinks out in time. Any developer will tell you that games simply do not want to be made – their work is vexing and exhausting, and bugs are often being squashed right up to the last minute. And if you don’t have that last minute to work with, then don’t be surprised if an over-worked animator accidentally rigs a gun model in backwards. And yes, that infamous glitch made it into the finished product.
Why did the BioWare veterans leave? One could infer that they were unhappy with the direction the company had taken since being bought out by EA. As with Origin, Bullfrog, and Westwood, the unique character of BioWare was being inexorably dissolved, and they didn’t want to stick around to watch.
Ultimately the responsibility lies with Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka, who chose to sell BioWare (or rather, BioWare/Pandemic, as it was then known) in 2007. But arguably BioWare’s death warrant was written in 2005, when the company’s fearless leaders took on 300 million dollars in venture capital to fund the Pandemic merger. A lot of that cash was funnelled into The Old Republic, back when competing directly with World of Warcraft still seemed like a good idea.
Venture capital is sometimes called ‘vulture capital’ – it’s not a charity. They expect big returns, and in this case they got them. VG Holding Corp, encompassing BioWare and Pandemic, was sold to EA in a US$860 million deal, including US$620 million in cash.
Are you a saint, dear reader? If someone dangled half a billion dollars under your nose, would you be tempted to compromise your artistic integrity? If you’re lucky, it’s a decision you’ll never have to make. But like Pathfinders exploring new galaxies of high finance, Reg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka had to make an agonising choice in pursuit of their noble mission. We are now seeing the results of that choice. Though please don’t send Zeschuk or Muzyka any angry letters. They both quit BioWare in 2012.