BioWare is nearly up to bat with it’s new sci-fi epic Anthem. If you were courageous enough to pre-order the game, you were granted access to the “VIP demo.” Me, I was courageous. And like so many others, I joyously jumped on my PS4 Friday afternoon to see what we were getting ourselves into. Was this going to be another Destiny? Did EA’s trash fires of 2017 blow into 2019? Was Anthem going to stand out from Warframe, which has proven that time and tenacity can turn a game around?
I haughtily awaited the answers as three mighty Javelins under repair and the bold Anthem logo emblazoned my screen. And like so many others, I waited...and waited...and waited, but all I was given was the “connecting to online services” message. I waited for about an hour before shutting off the game, but others kept waiting up to twelve hours before ever getting into even the home base. There was a whole new set of issues when actually loading into an expedition (Anthem’s nom de guerre for ‘missions’). It was frustrating, disappointing, and worst of all, a time sink. People took to the internet and the problems lessened, but stayed consistent for the whole weekend.
With a demo-launch like this, anyone who’s tried to gain early-access on a game knows the pain that comes from a company underestimating the amount of servers needed to make the game stable. Since so many of us got nothing other than the “server” message, we all believed that the most logical problem was that EA didn’t allocate the power needed for Anthem to demo smoothly. However, it was later clarified by Casey Hudson at BioWare, that the servers weren’t the issue; instead, it was a bug in the code that only revealed itself when stressed with amount of players the demo had pulled in. Some of this was resolved and eventually people, myself included, got to try out the game. There were still plenty of frustrating elements, but people were getting out on expeditions eventually at least.
From what I played, the game seems intriguing enough to keep my interest and my dollar. That’s my one sentence review. But this article isn’t about reviewing Anthem. It isn’t even about shitting on BioWare and EA’s mistakes. No, this article is about Something to Love. And that something is Demos. Sorry, “Demos.”
If you’re looking for some entertaining commentary on the whole debacle, check out the Anthemthegame subreddit. You’ll get some good insight as to how people were feeling about the whole situation. To summarize it though, there were some who were lighting their torches, some happy to offer constructive criticisms, and others who were appalled that criticisms were even being posted. I was happy just reading the comments, feeling like it was unnecessary to add to the noise, and I was even happier when people started posting workarounds to actually get into the game. But there was a common thread occurring in the comments that, uh, well, it chapped my ass a bit.
I understood that this kind of performance was going to put people off of the game. It was a bad experience, no doubt. But the comment most used by these torch lighters was that they couldn’t believe that a game would be “launched” with these kind of errors. And well, I hate to break it to them or anyone else, but this “VIP demo” wasn’t a launch. I mean, it was claimed to be a “demo,” which certainly comes with some higher standards than an alpha or a beta, but it is just a demo. It isn’t the real launch of the game. And considering the design philosophies, sweat equity, and creativity that goes into Triple A development these days, games are constantly having their kinks ironed out; especially before launch. Every time a dev, tester, or demo player loads in, the whole team is looking out for possible issues that could arise. They hope to catch all of them before a larger spotlight shines on the game, but with millions of lines of code, there is going to be some imperfections.
I’m not saying that this a “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” kind of thing, far from it. I’m sure that in spite of the vitriol that can come out in criticism, the folks at BioWare were happy that the game was getting attention and the mistakes were being identified. With those criticisms and this “VIP demo,” I truly hope that Anthem’s actual launch goes off without a hitch. There’s an open demo starting February 1st that I hope anyone interested in the game jumps on. I’m positive that there will still be issues, but with more players jumping on, the problems will be identified and fixed in time for the launch hopefully.
The genius behind alphas, betas, and demos is that they’re the largest focus and tester group a developer could dream of trying their game. And the best part is, they don’t even need to pay us. In fact, we pay them so that we can be a part of the test audience. It’s an amazing little practice that has no end of ethical dilemmas floating around it.
Personally, I get riled up about it when games sit in “beta” for months, sometimes years, before launching, all the while banking huge dollars for people to be unpaid testers. It’s the worst and is definitely a no-no in my books. But with what BioWare has done with Anthem, opening the game for weekends at a time until launch, I’m okay with the practice (mostly). Because in my eyes, me and my fellow gamers are just making Anthem and all the other games with this kind of model that much better.
I’m not about to advocate for this kind of debacle in every game I play pre-launch. It was real bad. But if debacles like these mean that the game at launch runs smoothly, then I’ll at least try to keep a short memory. I mean, we get to play the game a little early, get a nice little teaser taste, and we make the game that much better. So for that, I think that demos are something to love. And hate. Hmm, there’s a common thread happening in this series of articles(you’ll see in the next article). This a whole love-hate thing is complicated. I should’ve named this series, something that sits okay at the time but could really start to piss you off if not treated with some respect. That isn’t a catchy title though.
What do you think of demos? Do you think they hurt or help the industry as a whole? If you have a demo you particularly liked, which one was it? And Why? (Mine was Final Fantasy XV Episode Duscae)
P.S. If you make me eat these words, EA and BioWare...I am Canadian and I know where your offices are...and you will be getting a very strong worded email.
You’ll be getting very harsh thoughts lobed in your direction! That’s right! I will think poorly of you. Doesn’t feel good, does it?