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Why BioWare may never release another game

It's officially time to start worrying about BioWare.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was a disappointment to many fans, for certain, but that's a well-meaning misfire. Anthem, on the other hand, is a full-on Hindenburg that was on fire before it even launched, and hasn't stopped burning since. The disaster has culminated with a damning expose from Kotaku's Jason Schreier, detailing a studio in complete turmoil. The days of "In BioWare We Trust" are over. The days of wondering when heads start rolling have begun.

No matter how many statements they issue, no matter how many roadmaps for Anthem's future exist, and no matter how many promises we get that they're in it for the long haul, the fact is, there's already enough precedent and enough evidence to suggest BioWare's best days may be behind them, if they have many days left at all. While it'd be a beautiful, god-sent miracle for this article to look ridiculous years down the line, here, regardless, are a few reasons to believe (to paraphrase a famous doctor) that BioWare's in the end game now.

You're only as good as your last game

Let's have a quick rundown of BioWare's last five years, shall we? While there's a segment of the gaming populace that will never forgive BioWare for dropping the ball on Mass Effect 3's ending — some of us disagree, but let's not even open that can of worms right now — that didn't stop folks from being excited about Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was received rather well, all things considered. Since then, BioWare has released two games in a row that weren't just relative flops, but were actively despised by a good portion of players.

Now, consider all the other studios that EA has shuttered over the same period. Dreamworks Interactive. Mythic. Maxis. Visceral. EA has eaten studios for failures far less egregious than BioWare's. Well, except Dungeon Keeper Mobile, that's just a disease of a game. The point being, it's rare for a studio as high-profile as BioWare to get a second chance, let alone a third. Given how much time and effort went into even making Anthem happen, and how many vastly more successful studios they currently have in their stable, it wouldn't be unprecedented for EA to say they're not gonna get it.

A prison of their own making

Let's do something that, apparently, BioWare didn't do while they were making Anthem — let's look at Bungie. Not just the minutiae of how a shooter MMO is supposed to operate, but in terms of sheer output. Between 2000 and 2010, Bungie made six games: Oni, and every Halo title from the first up to Reach. Between 2010 and now, Bungie made two games: Destiny, and Destiny 2. They have literally worked on nothing that wasn't those two games, and no, Destiny's expansions are not fundamentally different experiences the way the Halo games are.

BioWare may work slowly, but Mass Effect is not Dragon Age is not Anthem, and there's been one each of those in just five years. Managing an MMO, however, is a job that doesn't stop until the servers go dead, which is the exact reason why BioWare Austin's main business is primarily Star Wars: The Old Republic (and why it's so egregious that BioWare Edmonton listened to them so little while making Anthem). Sure, BioWare might have promised Dragon Age 4, but with BioWare already boiled down to just two studios who both feel like Anthem is their all-or-nothing moment, where exactly they're meant to find the time to really put effort into anything except Anthem for the foreseeable future is anyone's guess.

Trapped under (D)ICE

Frostbite, by reputation, is the Mariah Carey of game engines. When it works and it's doing its thing, it's absolutely incredible. Actually working with it day-to-day, however, is exhausting, infuriating, and comes with absolutely preposterous demands. Of course, there are developers who can do amazing things with it. Obviously, since DICE created the thing, their games absolutely shine with it. And then, there's BioWare.

Contrary to what many people believe, EA supposedly never foisted Frostbite on BioWare, but whether they worked with it now or later, It's becoming abundantly clear that the things that BioWare need Frostbite to do simply aren't happening. And even though the engine has a reputation for being a royal pain to work with, it's also clear the engine has become EA's gold standard, and it's not hard to believe that if BioWare didn't choose it, it would've eventually been chosen for them. If it's not the requirement already, being able to make stunning games using it is likely going to become a requirement for working under EA's roof. How many substandard games can BioWare afford to make using an engine that doesn't suit them?

The red-headed Shep-child

It doesn't help that BioWare isn't exactly EA's bread-and-butter studio. Savvy gamers might like to pretend they are the heart and soul of the industry and should be catered to, but real talk, folks — "core" gamers are ants rolling sugar cubes around a planet-sized anthill built on Call of Duty, FIFA, and Madden money. EA, of course, makes two of those franchises, along with The Sims, and a smattering of mindless but insanely lucrative mobile titles. BioWare's titles sell, of course, but not even close to that level of ubiquity.

So, it should come as no surprise that when BioWare asks for help using Frostbite, they take a number and get in line behind the folks who need help making Madden 2020. Kotaku's article even mentions that EA had no qualms pulling staff off Anthem to go help the FIFA folks for a time. It's not foolhardy to put resources where they're most needed, but BioWare's talent pool being a malleable resource for bigger projects doesn't exactly make them bulletproof when it comes to EA's ravenous appetite for well-known smaller studios.

Luck runs out

A running motif in the Kotaku article about Anthem is this in-joke concept of "BioWare magic," describing what happened on Dragon Age: Inquisition, where the whole thing took shape at almost zero hour, resulting in a pretty decent game at a devastating human cost thanks to the last minute crunch. Mass Effect: Andromeda may have not gotten that far, but considering the hot mess state that game was in after nearly three years of pre-production, it's a miracle the game's as cohesive as it is.

That's clearly not the case with Anthem, where virtually every aspect of it that's not flying or shooting is half-baked at best. And bear in mind, many of Andromeda's problems stem from BioWare's teams being understaffed, especially the animation department. Much of Anthem was made with all hands on deck, and the result was still, well, Anthem. BioWare may have dragged Casey Hudson back for an assist, but the brain trust that was onboard in the company's glory days has been long since gutted. The studio can't coast on luck forever, and Anthem is fast showing that BioWare magic is starting to run dry without clear vision and leadership.

Don't look back, you can never look back

Usually, when a creator takes a massive swing and misses, it's good to retreat to a place of safety, maybe remind everyone and themselves of whatever spark of creativity launched them in the first place. It's a good way to regroup.

Unfortunately, at the moment, that's not an option for BioWare. Baldur's Gate already got an Enhanced Edition back in 2012, and there's not much they can do that they haven't done with Dragon Age. BioWare's been begging EA to let them have another crack at Knights of the Old Republic, but to no avail. Jade Empire, as brilliant as it is, is too much of a black sheep to carry the studio to safety. Mass Effect is grounded thanks to Andromeda's failure, and despite fans screaming at BioWare for years to just remaster the original trilogy — even just a 60fps Ultra setting once-over — EA's stance on remasters runs cold. Plus, one gets the vibe they'd force BioWare into doing it in Frostbite, and as has been established, Frostbite doesn't play well with others.

That leaves BioWare with just Dragon Age to fall back on. But that's not much of an option, either — despite that Game Awards teaser, even if BioWare gets its crap together, has a clear concept, figures out how to spare the hands currently working on Anthem, and manages to crack Frostbite, DA4 would still be years upon years away. Right now, there is nowhere for BioWare to retreat to.

Maybe it's time to let the old ways die

All that said, this could just all be pretense for a simpler truth: the studio may have just run its course. We've all seen studios keep going as soulless revenants shambling on after their creative genius is spent. The pursuit of money keeps them from doing anything to please their fans and their priorities shift. One need look no further than Valve or Konami for good example of that. But imagine a Valve that called it quits after Portal 2, and didn't live on to bury the Steam Store in shovelware, make a laughingstock of content standards, and become cruelly silent at the mere mention of Half-Life 3. Imagine a Konami that had the grace to cry off video games after Hideo Kojima left.

Right now, BioWare's on a downward spiral that could lead to an awful place that damages the things we love about them. That runs concurrent with an EA that increasingly values ideas that run counter to BioWare's traditional sensibilities. If it's true that you either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain, with the studio already on strike two, there may be nothing more heroic for them to do than knowing when to cut and run.