Just when you may have thought the Mass Effect drama was starting to die down, the scuttlebutt has once again reared its ugly head. This time actually started with a bizarre hoax, with a troll on Facebook pretending to be a company nobody’s ever heard of, sending out messages claiming it was commissioned to develop single-player DLC for Mass Effect: Andromeda. In the same stroke, he was claiming said DLC was cancelled after the game’s undercooked performance. This was quickly debunked, by Mass Effect developer BioWare employees directly, but Kotaku took the matter a step further and reached out to its sources. The site then reported that it heard there are no plans to do any single-player DLC, plans for a sequel were shelved, and Mass Effect in general is in trouble as folks have been moved around so much at EA and the multiple BioWare studios.
This is a problem! Mass Effect as a franchise is one of the biggest IPs in the modern history of video games. Not every game can be a hit, but all three of the original Mass Effect games were tremendous successes. So one game, a new attempt at starting a new story, didn’t set off as many fireworks. That immediately shelves the whole franchise, including stripping down the development team to the point they can only work on patches and multiplayer content? I have my doubts it was such a catastrophic failure that EA or BioWare is in any significant trouble.
This raises questions about AAA game development. Is it so unstable that a rare miss from a huge company makes the whole plan untenable? Is it so expensive upfront that if the losses aren’t recouped in spades, the whole thing catches on fire and needs to be abandoned? Even if this is a bunch of baseless questioning that has plenty of reasonable explanations, this is not a good look for anyone involved. AAA game development already has a bad reputation with treating employees well, maintaining quality control, and staying in business. Seeing such a PR disaster happen so violently and publicly with a property that one would assume would be treated like fragile, nuclear materials.
One wrong move, especially one that wasn’t entirely a disaster like Mass Effect: Andromeda (oh no, 6-8/10s what horrible scores), shouldn’t sink a franchise, especially one generally placed on such a high pedestal. Mass Effect is an enormous brand, one that crosses multiple kinds of media, and is BioWare’s top IP at this point. A game not hitting revolutionary status shouldn’t be a sign to abandon a franchise; it should be a moment where many sequel developers go, “Okay, let’s learn from our mistakes and try again.”
We see that exact thing happen with so many games in smaller spaces, even still technically in the AAA space. They don’t blow any doors down, but do respectable numbers (which I’m sure Mass Effect: Andromeda totally did). The sequel is seen as a second chance to fix what was wrong with the previous title. Sometimes it pans out, but sometimes it doesn’t. Now what we’re facing is likely a huge hiatus, while games like Star Wars Battlefront II and Anthem take up all the resources that were used for Mass Effect: Andromeda.
The sad part of it is, if Kotaku’s reporting is to be trusted (and generally precedent is that Kotaku reporting on industry drama is spot-on), many of the problems from Mass Effect: Andromeda’s development were more publisher-level than studio-level. There was plenty of talent involved, but a lack of time, resources, and management would ultimately condemn the project to relative mediocrity. EA should take the brunt of the blame, and luckily people were moved to other spots for other games rather than laid off. But it’s something to think about. One wrong move and everything is scrapped indefinitely? That’s not sustainable, if IP is supposed to be the driving force of the industry.
Image Credit: MadSpike