Anthem Has Me Wondering What A 'Release Date' Even Is Any More

Anthem was released this week — even though plenty of folks have been playing it since last week. As games continue to evolve through patches and players pay for early access to fully priced titles, I find myself asking oddly philosophical questions: When is a video game “finished”, and when are games actually “released”?

Let’s be real: Anthem had been available to play since February 15.

If you were an Origin Premier member, you had full access to the full game. Your time wasn’t limited, and the content wasn’t partially locked off until the “release” day. If you wanted to play through the story, you could play through the story.

Despite the insistence of corporate executives that the game was not really out, folks sure as hell were playing Anthem.

I know because I was playing the game with them. While my access came from a code provided by EA, I was joined in game by my ex. She’s an enthusiastic BioWare fan who couldn’t wait to play Anthem. In order to play, she plopped down the full price for the game plus an additional payment for Origin Premier membership.

If she wasn’t paying for the game and it wasn’t even “out”, what the hell was she paying for?

This is a more complicated question than it seems. When we buy games, we’re actually buying many different things.

We’re buying copies of a work. We’re buying experiences. We’re compensating people for their effort while also lining the pockets of executives. In some cases, like Origin Access members who had limited 10-hour access to Anthem, folks aren’t paying for anything.

But to imply that players who threw down cash on a game aren’t really playing the game is some 1984 doublespeak nonsense. Sure, they’re doing it with the understanding that patches are coming and things might be messy, but their receipts don’t say that they paid for “The Highly Convoluted Early Access to Anthem”. It says they paid for Anthem.

I have to confess: As an anxious overthinker, games patches freak me the hell out.

When in its lifetime we play a game has an effect on what we experience. When I think about when a game is “released” or “finished”, it’s clear this question is complicated by our ability to change games on the fly.

While patches are good for fixing game-breaking glitches and ensuring players have access to the best possible version of a title, they also make questions of versions and finality far more complex. It’s the kind of crap that keeps me up at night.

Before I was working at Kotaku, I broke this down:

Is the authentic Dark Souls 2 the original, unpatched version? The version where I can still bino-boost and perform other glitches? Is it Patch 1.07 Calibration 1.10, when fatal blows online were adjusted and where the Red Tearstone Ring no longer modified the damage of spells? Or is it the new patch 1.10 that adds a swarth of content? The Scholar of the First Sin update?

These types of questions might seem unimportant, but they do creep up to affect video game players from time to time.

Speedrunners, for instance, need to contend with patches and how they affect games, which can remove essential glitches. If the goal is to go fast, are you required to play on a specific version? Is that fair to competitors who might not be able to access these versions?

In casual circumstances, patches and fragmented releases affect the experiences players have. Important moments in a game’s history — such as Destiny’s infamous loot cave — come and go. Things that helped define experiences fade away.

If I’m sitting up in bed wondering about the ontological implications of game patches and remakes, I’m absolutely doing a double-take at the increasingly complicated ways that companies sell their games. Because the honest answer isn’t that these models exist to benefit players; they exist for the purpose of making players spend money on special editions, pre-orders and additional services.

But my gut reaction to Anthem’s release model helps provide an answer to my question.

Folks saying “it’s not even out yet” are often (but not always!) insisting on a difference as a way of excusing problems that aren’t necessarily patchable. They want us to overthink it, and while I love overthinking stuff, the truth is straightforward: Anthem is Anthem.

I was playing it. My friends were playing it. If you buy it today, after patches have already started to altered it, you’re playing it.


Comments

    I still think the best review title I have read was polygon 'Stop hitting yourself'. Because at every single point that is what both Bioware and Ea has done. Releasing a VIP demo for money in which a lot of the paying people couldnt actually play, to Access weekend, where, once again people who had paid were locked out and losing hours all the while trying to log in. Then comes the real (?) launch time where NZ and AU players who had used Access were locked out of the game they had also paid full price for, absolute ZERO acknowledgement from devs or publishers for hours. It was only because of one random player on reddit that came up with a solution that allowed many of us to play.

    As much as I am having fun in the moment to moment, I cant say any of the reviews are particularly wrong. This game should have have been left cooking for another year. So many ill conceived and unfinished ideas just get in the way what should be fun. The launch has not left me thinking of Fallout 76 but it is equal to the unpleasant launches of Diablo III and Simcity. At least of one those game became a truly great game, the other was a gaming mistake that destroyed its studio. I hope Anthem is the former but time will tell.

    The worse part Anthem could have been great but it was clearly rushed out, and it was clear they didnt have a quality control team that had an influential speak-part. They needed an devils advocate to tell them bean counters to their face that wasting such a GREAT idea for a game is going to cause them more harm than good.

      Really makes you think about how a game can be in development for 6 years and still be rushed

        Not to mention that during its development, EA/Bioware funneled devs from other games (Andromeda, SWTOR & Dragon Age), onto Anthem, and THIS is still the end result, despite Anthem getting the best resources available at Bioware.

        I think it is time to accept that Bioware's best days are long gone, as that is now two AAA titles that have been a clusterf**k upon release.

        I imagine it's because you have to book years in advance if you want to get a pile of billboards in Times Square right next to each other. Once you've spent that crapton of cash for advertising you're locked in one way or the other.

        It's not when it comes to the Frostbite Engin. I think, right now, that's the biggest problem that Anthem had. Especially after you see what Amy has been saying about her time working on Ragtag, and how they had to BUILD the tools needed to make the game because Frostbite was so barebones. Like, EA needs to forget about FB, and ether builds a new engine that's flexible enough to do RPGs, or let Bio and others use an engine better suited to what they're trying to do.

          Frostbite as an engine isn't the problem. The lack of tools to develop on Frostbite is.

          EA needs a team dedicated to expanding Frostbite to allow it to be the main engine for EA's games.

      what boggles my mind is they saw the launch disasters that were Destiny 1 and 2. And both those games eventually fixed themselves. Yet EA repeated the exact same mistakes on launch.

      "Do you guys not have a QA department?"

        EA: "QA?"
        Person: "Quality assurance..."
        EA: "Qua...li....t...."
        Person: "Quality assurance..."
        EA: "Qua...li.......you seem to be speaking another language? PLEASE SPEAK SLOWERRRRRR SO WE UNDERSTANDY YOOOOOOU."
        Person: "Quality you fucking Mcnugget."
        EA: "Mcnuggets? Ooooh I'm hungry."
        Person: "Fuck you."
        EA: "Oooooh jetpacks + guns + nuggets! Anthem 2!"

          You're not thinking digital enough.

          /nugget emote is now in development.

        As a quality engineer, I expect _they do_ but have the executive orders to ignore them when they say "it isn't ready".
        Been there, done that.

          I imagine EA's QA department only requires that the game launches. If it does that it passes.

            Pretty sure that wasn't part of the checklist before the demo period started...

    Honestly, we can't apply normal definitions anymore because those lines are blurred and have been for a long time.
    One studios beta is another's alpha or early access, ones early access is another's feature complete release, the words and labels have become interchangeable to irrelevance.

    The one and only truth now is when they can start selling a product, real, finished, playable or not.

      Early access came about as a way for non-AAA studios to crowd source more funding for pre-release development.

      I don't think a AAA game and studio can legitimately claim an "early access" title

      Games-as-a-service means games are never finished.

    I feel like Anthem is a bad game to apply finished to. It was in development hell, they rebooted it, they chased a fad genre for cash, they shoehorned in Bioware "story"... This game could be finished and never need another patch, but still be deeply faulty because that's the game.

    A game is released when general members of the public are able to play it at their leisure without restriction or extended downtime (which would obviously exclude free weekends, demos and stress tests) while being asked to throw real money at it (either via purchase or microtransactions).

    The era of the extended beta is mostly just a way to manipulate the gaming media into excusing obvious problems on the basis that a game isn't yet 'finished', while getting a free second flush of media coverage when they arbitrarily announce that a game is finally 'released'. But seriously, if a company is asking for real money from players it needs to be treated as a full release and reviewed as such.

    This really should include pretty much anything mislabelled as 'early access', since there's no practical reason to expect that the devs will continue to follow their own roadmap if they even have one, will even imagine the vision in the same way that their players do, or even in some cases finish the game at all.

    I recall one such game, released to 'early access', where my negative Steam review received half a dozen comments from people annoyed at me down voting a game with such 'potential'. Well, three years later the same game has barely improved and is simply sitting around as a zombie game with no updates since April 2018, but remains 71% positive. The top 6 viaible reviews are all positive and include gems including "I knew this game was a winner when I supported it with Kickstarter. Even this limited early access content shows great potential" (11 March 2016) and "Eventually the tech problems will evaporate and we will be left with a true masterpiece of the RPG/CCG genre" (8 June 2017).

    This does introduce the issue of how the gaming media should treat games massively improved or expanded by post-release patches and content, but that's really just a matter of allowing room in the publishing schedule for periodic re-reviews. The gaming media (and the general public) need to start ignoring how badly they’re being manipulated by publishers and just call a spade a space – if it’s released it’s a full release. Simples.

    I don't think release dates have meant a thing since early access became a thing.

      I feel like this is untrue. It might apply to these service games, but take a look at last year's biggest and best releases. They came out, they were good, they needed no further development of the actual game part. I'm a warts and all lover of FFXV. When that game came out is was definitely finished; the release version was 100% the final game and a lot of it sucked, but it was ultimately (fortunately) greater than the sum of its parts. Even with all the dicking around for ten years in development, there was a clear vision in the end of delivering the finest boy band friendship simulator on the market and it totally hit that target. I don't know what Anthem's core conceit is and that's why it felt so underwhelming to play during the demo release.

      Fixing bugs and adding in content is great and I love that support, but fixing the actual game after "release" is woeful and right now it generally comes down to EA and Activision's games. They're stifled by being committee led business investments with no real vision for the final product aside from meeting revenue benchmarks.

      I feel like the concept of a game that allows those who pre-order to get a jump start on those who don't has been around longer than early access. Pretty sure there have been mmo's many years back that used this as a means of achieving a staggered launch.

    I still think it's the exception rather than the norm. The majority of console games released are finished products. Yes they receive updates and DLC but generally that's to expand the game rather than finish it.

    Talking about unfinished games. Have you guys heard the story of Tony Hawks Pro Skater 5?
    https://www.kotaku.com.au/2015/09/behold-the-terrible-tony-hawks-pro-skater-5/
    Here the link, now THAT was an unfinished game.They put pretty much the entire game into a day one patch cause they needed to get the discs printed and out the door before the licence expired.
    Thanks Activision. Dont you dare screw up Blizzard, i love my WoW and SC2 too much

      Dont you dare screw up Blizzard, i love my WoW and SC2 too much

      Too late.

    Personally, I view games a bit like a living thing. You get the 'finished' version only when they die (or are abandoned to never be updated again).

    That is the 'essential' version of the game to me, even if many people will have different memories of it - as friends who knew you in school would have a different memory of those who only knew you as an adult. They'll remember your awkward phase, your many childhood mistakes... they might even remember you as being more fun before you toned yourself down.

    So for better or worse, I now see games as 'living' entertainment.

    Last edited 24/02/19 2:45 pm

    Well I’d say it’s backfired... I don’t think giving some people early access has done the game any favours. All I’ve seen about the game has been pretty negative and it’s put me right off... I might wait until it’s really cheap and with a lot more content before diving in.

      Cheaper than $20nzd? Because that's what it costs right now.

      Just get Origin Premium for a month, play the shit out of it, and move on.

    I think indie gaming has taken off, in part, due to this current awkward era in gaming where titles are release in portions, and stuff we used to take for granted (such as bonus dungeons, optional characters, unlockable rewards) are now sold as DLC.
    When ya thing about it, it goes hand-in-hand with nostalgia: For example an older/more seasoned gamers recall the joy of getting, say Final Fantasy VII in one neat little package and then exhausting everything hidden on those discs, whereas now days it's all in your face up front (and it's yours to have if you have the cash).

    It's different for team shooters and battle royale titles, but the fact is this: You can't monetise a game before it is a viable product and still have the player feeling they are getting a "complete" experience. Not all of us are up for that. It negates an aspect of ownership we once had over titles (I don't actually "own" any of those downloadable titles on my Switch, for example).

    More and more I find myself going back to older games and ignoring newer titles in the hopes that everything that comes during their lifespan will be released in one neat little package. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for multiplayer titles very well.

      Plenty of indie games have abused 'early access' and released in broken states (or not at all) - arguably they're worse. It's probably more representative of the cost of game development increasing, especially because there's so many games competing for attention. These MP focused games are even worse for it because there's only so much time to capture the market when people are hooked on Fortnite or Anthem. With the need to inject funds to finish the title and a need to capture a player base to bring in that money, devs and publishers are under more pressure to deliver quickly. The end result are broken or incomplete games.

        I suppose you're right. I guess when I say 'indie' I mean the indei games I play, which is more like your Cave Stories, Owlboys, Shovel Knights, Into the Breaches, and Enter the Gungeons.
        Generally pixel stuff that comes as a complete package.

        Which, I guess, is also a bit limited in scope due to them not being 3D environments and so forth, involving a net code.

        I'm generally finding most games are broken and incomplete on launch now days regardless of developer and budget. Even fantastic titles like DBFZ could ahve done with an extra year before release (that game DOES NOT have enough characters to substantiate being a 3v3 fighter, and the fact they sell the rest of the roster that gets you there sucks dongs). I actually am extremely grateful R* drove their staff via this 'crunch time' we hear so much about to make RDR2, because the result was an actual complete package. Every hour spent in those studios paid off and as a consumer, I appreciate the outcome.
        All art takes crunch time to finish. They shouldn't get so finicky over launch dates and just let things take as long as they take to make.

          I think part of the problem is that we look at indies and AAA's in two different ways. On the one hand, we hold up any indie success as some sort of shining beacon of hope, and ignore the ones that fail, while with AAA's we do the opposite. We turn even small issues into something major, and pretty much ignore the games that get it right once they're released.

          Basically, would Stardew Valley get the same level of hate stories that FO76 did with something like the lockpicks junk?

          There arent many major AAA's in the past couple of years that haven't had some sort of hate thrown at it at one point or another. Even ones like Super Mario Odyssey that got it right got some heat because of costume costs or something.

          Or RDR2. The game got everything right. Even the horses, while not to everyones tastes, werent WRONG. Yet they got so much heat because of one thing or another despite that. Even with the crunchtime thing, when you actually read the story, wasnt it was only a handful of high end storywriters that were getting smashed, not everyone as standard practice? Bosses, not wage monkeys. Big difference between the two.

          Then when those small fires burnt out, barely a story about the game since. We ignored it and moved on to the next dumpster fire potential, and looked for embers in that.

          At the moment its Anthem's turn, and there are plenty of sparks for sure, but I also see enough stories saying that the base game is actually there waiting to shine, which seems to get missed by most as everyone rushes to tell just the negatives.

          Even here its happening. Official release date was Feb 22. Yet in the urge to tell a story, the writer has chosen to change that official date to something different. And while I understand why, and agree to a point, Feb 15 still wasnt the release date. There were caveats to playing on that date, just like every other advance date in other games.

          You dont see the same level of flame fanning for an indie game like Stardew Valley, even though there were plenty of flaws and bugs in that at the start. Or Minecraft, which was the same.

          What I'm getting at is that we hold the two tiers to very different standards.

            Yeah, 100%. One is seen as an accomplishment via an individual or small team against the odds (which I guess it is) and the other as an inevitability created via a corporate heavy that has pre-existing expectations placed upon it.
            I think also people prefer seeing indie games succeed because it can come across as an artistic form of "sticking it to the man" or, at the very least, dis-empowering the corporate gaming structure by creating something exceptional with much fewer resources that provide a more "pure" level of entertainment (or whatever).

            What I've gotten out of this is that video games now receive the same scrutiny as movies and television shows, which seems to be new and uncomfortable for everyone. This is perhaps why we get called "entitled gamers" for making outgoing criticisms whereas taking exception to a show like Marvel's Iron Fist is seen as a reflection on the production and not the fanbase.

            I keep coming back to FFVIII as where the heavy criticism of AAA titles started evolving into its current form: It was a widely played and purchased title that received ongoing criticism whilst still being played, completed, and even enjoyed by it's core fanbase for the smallest of infractions. Shortly afterwards, both Square and Enix went from being adored and lauded without scrutiny to being seen as greedy corporation that just wants your money and to destroy your dreams.

            Controversy draws more clicks n views than praise.

    Did Bioware/EA at any point give the impression that the game they released on Feb 15 was an unfinished and feature incomplete version of the game though?

    It was only after it was released that they attempted to play the matinee card in attempt to control damage. Once the underwhelming reviews started coming in, they moved the goal-posts and hoped people wouldn't notice while they hastily rushed out a patch to fix some of the more glaring issues. Reviews said quest X was long and tedious and the load times were really terrible so they targeted resources at resolving the issues.

    What's really odd is that they could have clawed back a little respect by accepting that the early reviews weren't great and saying 'we've heard and are working to fix some of these issues' rather than PR trying to cover it up.

    I can't speak for PC but I think on console having Wi-Fi connectivity and bigger hard drives this gen has made developers a lot more relaxed about games needing updates.

    My 360 has 120gb hdd with 70gb free, have like 50 games, lots don't need to be installed they run from the disk. My Xbone on the other hand, 120 games (including heaps of GWG) and they're taking up 3tb of space!

    Games like halo guardians, fallout 76 needed a 40gb update when I got them, got overwatch for Xmas it was a 20gb update but it only took 100mb from the game disk!

    I think these factors have removed any need for quality control, the game disk is not a final product anymore, especially for online games.

    I actually really love anthem, played about 60 hours in week, that being said, I would still give it a 6/10 at best due to the sheer amount of issues and bugs. EA released a 90 day road map and the most interesting things really should have been in the game at launch.

    I don't think the game is going anywhere any time soon but its a really shame that a game with such a great core gameplay (imo) is marred by what I'm guessing is a game released a good 6 months before its ready.

      I've been playing Anthem the last two days.
      I agree. It's not a bad game... It's just not amazing.
      It feels like they built an iron man simulator, and then didn't know what to do or how to make that work, so they tried to shoehorn it into mass effect 3 multiplayer.

      I think there was a lot of potential, but they've missed the mark. They needed more focus on movement, because flying is fun, but chose to have bullet sponge enemies, so that wouldn't work.

      They wanted mass effect style shooting, but no cover to shoot from... so drop that. Not enough variation in skills or weapons to be RPG style with abilities, talent trees or builds..

      I'm enjoying it... but I feel like there was a lot more it could be, and many design decisions weren't great.

        After seeing the early access locusts devour the content and go straight to end-game, it looks like there is a lot of potential for interesting builds, but it’s all attached to bonuses on crafted weapons, making your access to play style options a matter of luck, and only in the end-game.

          Which is what players wanted in contemporary games like Destiny. They liked the randomness in gear stats, to the point they brought it back in D2. It means you always have something to aim for, namely improvements in one area or another. That makes grinding the same content more palatable, which is what these games are trying to do just to keep players logging in.

          I dont think theres so much variety that the core builds will be hard to get to. It'll just be refining to bigger and better. Kinda like how Diablo 3 lets you get a gear set fairly easily, but then lets you build on it to get marginal increases in effectiveness. You get to a point where the improvements are small, but can make a surprising difference.

          This will have that same feel in a month or three.

            When I said builds I was equally thinking skills (Q, E and Z) on javelin as much as weapon stats.

            Compare it against Mass Effect, where combos of different guns + biotics or engineering meant you could have different play styles made it way more interesting.

            I feel like there's farming for guns that let you do more damage, but don't change fundamental play style as much.

    I must be one of the fortunate ones... Played about 12 hrs (PS4) since Friday Arvo. And have had zero issues... Except probably an average load time of 50secs, but since I'm doing most of it solo, so I can explore and do missions in my own time, it's not much of a bother for me...

    It's a fun game on you get past the issues.

    I don't feel bad for those that splurged to get early access to the game or beta or whatever... We know well enough to not preorder things anymore

      We know well enough to not preorder things anymore And yet, people still do, then complain that there are bugs, or a lack of polish, or something. Go figure.

      The whole release schedule for Anthem has been borked from day one. Some of the negativity I totally understand, but a good bunch of it is because people cant accept, or genuinely don't realise that they aren't playing the final version of the game.

      I've beta tested plenty of games back to the 90's, and the change from those days when it was clear you were bug testing, to today where you are still doing that but its ignored is profound.

      As soon as people get access to the product, they expect perfection. If it isn't perfect, even in beta, instantly its a dumpster fire that gets turned into YouTube clickbait.

        I definitely couldn't have said it better myself!

    Despite the foolish moves by EA to spruik their Origin Services with a gane that was still in the middle of QA and Polish process... Anthem suffers from the next-gen games as a service model.

    For the last 15 years, online games have a 3 month honeymoon period. Thats the time players get with MMOs and Online Shooters were everyone rushes to play it, have fun, max level and play a good round of engame content... before they get bored out of their goard.

    Thats when the player will mull over the idea to quit, either going back to their favourite (ie for MMO players WOW) or they find the next new hottness. The reason mostly has to do with the developers still riding high on their success or the rush to launch and restructure... havent got a steady stream of new content to keep players. (One reason Fortnite capped Pubg).

    Anthem was released in a state thenext content is already waiting in the pipeline... which means at some point they decided this was enough content for launch. Events, questlines, loot, guilds, pvp... all of it is mapped out in the future to keepfeeding players to keep the honeymoon going, but by doing so they released a gane people are comfortable to say wait a year.

    I don't care what anyone says, because the only way this stops is when people learn to stop pre-ordering AAA titles or buying the DLC. It's just more bad than good it seems these days. You can yell and scream about how bad a game is until you're blue in the face but at the end of the day, you gave them your money for it, and so did many many others. They made their cash. The game may be broken now, but it will be "fixed" eventually. They will be unpopular now, and perhaps also into the future, but you can bet that everyone will still rush to preorder their next big title.

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