Following BioWare’s recent announcement they have ‘let go’ of approximately 50 employees, including veterans of milestone franchises like Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect, things are starting to look bad for the company’s upcoming projects.
BioWare’s announcement reads like the typical babble you would expect from an industry giant publicly announcing bad news, where the company attempts to sugarcoat the negatives that affect their customers, and the humans working behind the scenes, as some kind of positive and intentional strategy.
The announcement was posted on Bioware’s own website, and it is honestly quite a difficult read – particularly when you consider how carefully BioWare general manager Gary McKay, the writer of the announcement, has to dish out this ‘shit sandwich’.
“In order to meet the needs of our upcoming projects, continue to hold ourselves to the highest standard of quality, and ensure BioWare can continue to thrive in an industry that’s rapidly evolving, we must shift towards a more agile and more focused studio. It will allow our developers to iterate quickly, unlock more creativity, and form a clear vision of what we’re building before development ramps up.”
All of this makes for extremely transparent reading, and some of the sentiment in this statement is counter-intuitive. When you look at phrases such as “ensure BioWare can continue to thrive in an industry that’s rapidly evolving”, and “It will allow our developers to iterate quickly, unlock more creativity, and form a clear vision”, written in an announcement regarding employee layoffs, the statement doesn’t come across well. I’m not exactly sure how reducing the number of creative roles within the company will “unlock more creativity”, but I guess the proof will be in the content of their next releases.
Of course, without knowing exactly what is happening internally at BioWare, and parent company EA’s current attitude toward the legendary RPG makers, it is difficult to say exactly what factors caused this shift in focus. However, based on the output of BioWare over the last few years, it isn’t hard to guess why these layoffs are happening.
McKay goes on to say: “To achieve this, we find ourselves in a position where change is not only necessary, but unavoidable. As difficult as this is to say, rethinking our approach to development inevitably means reorganizing our team to match the studio’s changing needs.
As part of this transition, we are eliminating approximately 50 roles at BioWare. That is deeply painful and humbling to write.”
I’m glad McKay makes an effort to acknowledge the gravity of this situation – the impact this has on the humans behind the studio, but no matter which way you look at this statement, it paints a very bad picture for the future of two of gaming’s best loved franchises: Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
Dragon Age: Dreadwolf Was Announced Far Too Soon
Dragon Age Dreadwolf was first announced at the 2018 Game Awards with a short CG teaser trailer, much like the latest Mass Effect game.
After the announcement, news of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf (DA:D) was fairly sparse. That was until October 2019, when information from a company earnings call for EA came out to the press, in which EA’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer, Blake Jorgensen, stated that Dragon Age: Dreadwolf “probably comes after fiscal 2022”, although this was caveated by him stating that “EA doesn’t usually give multi-year guidance on future games in development”.
Again, fans were left in the dark regarding DA:D’s development for a number of years, with rumours circulating that at one point the game was intended to be a multiplayer focused, live-service game, but this was later changed following major backlash from players. After 4 long years of hoping and praying, in October 2022 Gary McKay himself announced that Dragon Age: Dreadwolf had passed the alpha stage – the point at which the game is playable from start to finish. This re-fired interest in the sequel, creating an expectation that the game was close to release if it was now playable from start-to-finish in some capacity.
That was until February 2023, when footage of a short gameplay section and a handful of screenshots leaked to the internet. The footage itself showed gameplay that, whilst somewhat reminiscent of the more action heavy mechanics of Dragon Age: Inquisition, seemed more akin to the latest Assassin’s Creed games than anything else. Not to mention the leaked screenshot of the character menu, which looked almost identical to menus introduced in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. Once more, fans were sent into a frenzy about what the final version of Dreadwolf would look like, and if it would even feel like a Dragon Age game at all.
Whether this backlash caused BioWare to go back to the drawing board in some capacity is unclear, perhaps further delaying the game, but what the insider news cycles are telling us now is that Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is unlikely to launch until summer 2024 at the earliest – although it is more likely we will be waiting until 2025 to finally play the game. All of this was revealed as part of a GameSpot podcast called ‘Game Mess Mornings’ with industry insider Jeff Grubb.
What does all of this tell us about the current state of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf?
First, this is yet another case of a video game being revealed far too early in the development cycle, a point which Todd Howard of Bethesda recently lamented when discussing the reveal for Elder Scrolls 6. The simple problem with an early reveal is the anticipation and expectation that builds up through players waiting years from the point a game is revealed, to the point they can finally experience the game. Just look at Cyberpunk 2077, a game that was first announced in 2012 and wasn’t released until 2020. By the time it did come out, there had been 8 years of player anticipation building, and it’s possible that the developers released Cyberpunk 2077 before it was ready, simply because of the mounting pressure coming from the eager fanbase to release the game.
By this merit no matter what BioWare does with Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, unless the game turns out to be the most incredible 10/10 game you’ve ever played, it seems almost inevitable that it will be a disappointment.
Second, because Dragon Age: Dreadwolf has had such a public and dramatic shift in focus over its development cycle, it’s unclear exactly who this game is being made for, and who will actually buy it when it finally releases. Not to mention that with the recent announcement of mass-layoffs within the Dragon Age team, it seems even less likely that OG fans will be getting a true-to-form Dragon Age experience.
When the live-service intentions of this game were first revealed around 2017, it was an instant turn off for a large majority of Dragon Age fans – even those that enjoyed the multiplayer component of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Over the next few years there we rumours circulating of different iterations of Dragon Age, at one point it was even revealed that the new game would be more of a heist-focused game set in the Tevinter Imperium, but after the leaks in February it is now widely assumed that Dragon Age: Dreadwolf has once more switched focus to imitate another popular game – Assassin’s Creed.
The problem here is that none of this is what Dragon Age fans want or need, but furthermore, there is little need for any more games trying to emulate Assassin’s Creed’s recent rebirth. All of this means that the existing Dragon Age fan base are now more likely to bypass Dreadwolf until they see some positive reviews, and potential new players are unlikely to pick the game up if it is indistinguishable from other, less troubled games.
Further to that point, the recent success of Baldur’s Gate 3, and indeed a recent resurgence in interest for RPG’s in general, kind of shows that all of these changes being made to the Dragon Age formula were unnecessary. In the current gaming landscape, gamers are pining for exactly the type of game that Dragon Age used to be: deep, party driven games with interesting characters, unique settings, and gameplay that rewards tactical thinking. There are more than enough fantasy-action games on the market right now, and I fear that in trying to emulate the success of these games, Dragon Age: Dreadwolf has ultimately created a rod for its own back.
What is the Future of Mass Effect?
The issues with Dreadwolf will more than likely have a knock on effect for the next Mass Effect game, which was announced in 2020 and is still in the pre-production phase nearly 4 years later.
BioWare are no longer the proven entity they once were, and as such it is unlikely that the team will even begin full-production on the next Mass Effect game until Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is completely finished- and that problem will be further exacerbated by the recent layoffs.
Once more, this circles back to the problem of developers announcing games far too early. Of course, there are other motivations to announcing games early; such as renewing interest from investors and securing financial backing for games not yet in development, but this practice almost speaks to the hubris of game development companies. In announcing games too early, they may renew interest in old franchises and secure additional funds, but they also make things more difficult for themselves by unnecessarily building hype-over-time for their next release – which may potentially damage the final product if expectations run too high.
There is no telling exactly when the next Mass Effect game will arrive, but I personally won’t expect it any earlier than 2030.
BioWare are in an awfully precarious position right now, both in terms of the strength of their development team, and the high stakes surrounding the next Dragon Age game.
After their colossal and well documented failures with Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem, and the highly-publicised development cycle of Dreadwolf, the pressure is truly on for BioWare to produce a game that will satisfy new and old fans alike.
I hope that the recent layoffs lead to bigger and better things for the affected staff, because by the sounds of it, BioWare have just said goodbye to some truly incredible talent.
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