Bioware and CD Projekt Red seem to have a lot in common. Both have made great games in the past but in recent times have fallen from grace.
Let’s first look at Bioware. They have made games like Baldur’s Gate, KOTOR, Jade Empire, Neverwinter Nights, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and the Dragon Age series. Highly beloved games. They also have a history of bad leadership and mismanagement, leading to games being stuck in pre-production for a long time before entering full-scale development in the final months. This practice goes as far back as the first Mass Effect, possibly earlier. They got so used to these development practices they actually came up with a name for it: BIOWARE MAGIC. A belief that no matter how rough, slow, or troubled a project seems, it will not only come together at the last minute, but it would ship to great success. To leadership, that’s just how things were done. Then things got worse than ever with Dragon Age Inquisition. Not only was management more indecisive than ever, the introduction of the Frostbite engine made staffs’ jobs more exponentially more difficult due to it not being designed with RPG’s in mind. Inquisition only came together just one year before it launched, and that year was reportedly filled with the worst crunch Bioware Edmonton had ever gone through at that point. It was so miserable that staff apparently wished the game had flopped in order to show leadership that this method of making games cannot continue, that it would come to hurt them in the long run. As we now know, Inquisition was a critical and commercial darling, even winning a few game of the year awards. To higher-ups, it was another example of some sort of “magic” coming in at the last second and rescuing a project from the brink. Mass Effect Andromeda was not so lucky. While Bioware Montreal’s inexperience, understaffing, and lack of budget all played a part in that games, the problems they experienced were largely the exact same ones Edmonton had seen while making Inquisition. In the end, Andromeda received a lukewarm response and undersold. Montreal experienced no magic. However, Edmonton seemed to believe that was because they were a lesser team and Edmonton themselves were the “A Team”. Surely when Anthem came out it would be a big hit like all their previous efforts…………….. it was not. If Andromeda suggested that the Bioware Magic was running out, Anthem confirmed it. While reading Jason Schrier’s article detailing the games’ development, one part stood out to me. When Anthem was in its fourth year of pre-production, lower level staff was concerned that the project wasn’t going anywhere and they would have to crunch hard like they previously had with Inquisition and how their co-workers at Montreal were with Andromeda. Yet management ignored these concerns, basically sayin “eh don’t worry. Bioware Magic will kick in any second now and everything will be fine.” The poor development practices that they became complacent to were no longer going to cut it. Not only has the company’s overreliance on Bioware Magic wreaked havoc on employee health, morale, and retention, it’s beginning to affect the quality of their games.
Which brings us to CP Projekt Red. They have run into similar problems over the years and with Cyberpunk 2077 have found themselves in a similar situation. Most of us know by now the story of how Cyberpunk came out the way it did. The technical struggles, the crunch, the unrealistic deadlines, how management cared more on hype and buzz than the actual game itself, the lack of manpower, and the ego that stemmed from Witcher 3’s monumental success. All are things that CDPR have struggled with since Witcher 1 and, like Bioware, never sought to improve. Why? Because their games were always great. Call it CDPR Magic if you will. Like Bioware, this is more or less the only way they’ve ever known how to make games, and have only ever seem success with these methods. During Cyberpunk’s development, teams would repeatedly bring up concerns to leadership, yet leadership would ignore them, confident everything would work out because they had made Witcher 3. Sound familiar? When the games’ release date of April 2020 (obviously before it got delayed) was announced, CDPR staff though it was some sort of prank, believing that the game wouldn’t truly be ready until 2022. CDPR higher-ups thought that since Witcher 3 was made in 3.5-4 years, they could do it again with Cyberpunk. However, the fact the Cyberpunk was a more ambitious, complex, and technically demanding made the notion that it could be done in that timeframe ridiculous. Not to mention they had to build a brand new engine from the ground up and didn’t have nearly enough people needed to get it done that quickly didn’t help matters. If they wanted to fully realize the vision they had, the game probably should have been delayed until 2022. That’s why Cyberpunk launched so unpolished and missing so many features. Executives and higher-ups wanted it out as soon as possible, promises be damned. I personally think Cyberpunk 2077 is a good game (or at least better than Mass Effect Andromeda and WAAAAAY better than Anthem), but the numerous technical issues and amount of broken promises is heartbreaking.
So there’s my two cents. Bioware and CD Projekt Red are easily two of my favorite game companies, which makes all of this the more depressing to write. Their falls from grace have a lot of parallels. I feel more optimistic about Cyberpunk, hoping that it will one day become they game we were promised. But that’s gonna take time, and the damage to CDPR’s reputation will never be fully repaired. As for Bioware, I admittedly don’t have much faith in them anymore. I was completely indifferent to the announcements of Mass Effect 5 and Dragon Age 4, though I am cautiously excited for the Legendary Edition. The Bioware we fell in love with is long gone. The odds of them making a comeback isn’t non-existent, but I don’t have high hopes.
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