Is free-to-play the solution to all of Anthem’s problems?

free-to-play Anthem BioWare

Another day, another rumor, another disappointing AAA game that “anonymous sources” are saying is going free-to-play soon. This time it’s BioWare’s latest release, Anthem, the online multiplayer action RPG that failed to live to the hype. I must admit that a “tedious and repetitive grind” isn’t exactly my idea of a fun time gaming.

Anthem is the second strike for BioWare after the lackluster Mass Effect: Andromeda. One has come to expect nothing but epicness from this developer, but ultimately things took a turn for the worse. Anthem is on the receiving end of an endless dose of backlash, something that has stirred up rumors of a disappointing project and a business model switch.

But will free-to-play solve the trouble with Anthem? There are two sides to this question, so let’s investigate.

free-to-play Anthem BioWare


• Player base and revenue increase

Apex Legends has proved that there is a lot of money in free-to-play and it would be stupid not to seize the opportunity. Even if the game is now seeing its player base declining, it was already worth it, as it brought millions in revenue and even helped Electronic Arts’ stocks to rise in response to the critical success.

Heck, for a moment everyone was thinking that Apex Legends could even beat Fortnite out of the top Battle Royale spot. You can forget about that, though.

Making Anthem free-to-play would bring a massive influx of new players to the game, a few of them being the so-called “whales”, players that spend a lot of money in micro-transactions. With an invigorated player base and a moral boost from the newfound revenue, Anthem would be granted a second lease on life.

• Every new free-to-play game is by and large an incomplete game

Anthem was literally destroyed for not feeling complete at launch, particularly the unfinished endgame. This tragic realization is nearly irrelevant for those used to free-to-play development, where nearly every game “soft-launches” in a bare-bones state.

There are a couple of great examples to support this theory. Path of Exile is nowadays one of the most acclaimed and appreciated action RPGs ever, but it started as a game made by Diablo fans who had an idea about their dream hack and slash game. The slow start and little coverage ensured that Path of Exile grew without much backlash, supported by a small but confident community, up to a point where it was brimming with content and all the core mechanics were in place. The rest is history.

free-to-play Anthem BioWare

The same goes for Warframe, Digital Extremes’ sci-fi third-person shooter. Ostensibly dismissed by a few publishers, the developers decided to stick with their vision of an athletic shooter with “space ninjas”. Many years went by and Warframe is now one of the best action games ever made, with an impressive player base and a consistent revenue stream. Ironically enough, deluded Anthem players are often pointed to that other game… Warframe.

The main problem with Anthem was that it was deemed ready for the official launch. Had it remained in beta – a real beta, not the couple of days here and there that effectively happened –, or opted for a soft-launch, something that is usual with free-to-play and Asian releases, perhaps it would be spared the colossal backlash. But at this stage and being a premium game, the outrage is understandable.

• BioWare isn’t the development powerhouse that it once was

BioWare isn’t synonymous with GOTY anymore. Mass Effect: Andromeda raised many eyebrows and Anthem felt like a rushed game trying to cash in on the hype surrounding Bungie’s Destiny… and Warframe. It failed due to many reasons, one of them being the fact that BioWare doesn’t feel like the same studio that created the great Mass Effect and Dragon Age games, among others.

At this point, one must be somewhat suspicious of a new BioWare game, not least because Electronic Arts is frequently in the spotlight due to its love for loot boxes and the like.

If BioWare fails to redeem Anthem and its next game is another disappointment, Electronic Arts may well end up assimilating its talent and dissolving the studio for good, like it has done with others before such as Bullfrog or Westwood Studios.


• You made a choice, now stick to it

Business models aren’t to be taken lightly. This is a tough decision, one that can make or break a game, so it must be carefully considered and planned for the long run.

Changing from a premium game that had a significant budget to a free-to-play monetization system is often seen as a copout, an admission that a game disappointed or simply failed to attract enough costumers… I mean, players. Multiplayer games are dependent on a healthy player base, so if your game isn’t attracting new players on a regular basis, its lifespan could be endangered.

If Anthem goes free-to-play during 2019 it almost feels like Electronic Arts is acknowledging failure.

• A tedious, unfinished game will remain a tedious, unfinished game

Anthem is what it is and unless BioWare drastically improves the game, it will be stuck in a rut until it eventually shuts down. This won’t change with a simple business model switch, as the tedious gameplay and lack of content won’t magically disappear.

BioWare should stick to solving Anthem’s more pressing issues first, No Man’s Sky style, so that the game finally turns into something that feels complete, rewarding and fair to its players. Any business model considerations should come further down the line.

free-to-play Anthem BioWare

• Original buyers would burn the house down

Paying full price at launch for a game that was supposed to be the next big thing is routine, but when the game disappoints you naturally feel cheated. To add insult to injury, when that game goes free-to-play a few months or a year later, you feel robbed. Whether you are right or not, that is another question entirely.

It’s easy to imagine that Anthem buyers wouldn’t be happy with the switch to free-to-play. They would obviously feel betrayed and bothered with the “freeloaders” that would ramp up the toxicity – because that is bound to happen.

Unless Electronic Arts comes up with a truly valuable compensation package, I can already feel the disapproval and badmouthing, and Anthem surely doesn’t need anymore of that.

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