Anthem currently fails as a service game.
It hasn't properly engaged its audience or re-engaged the gamers who have left. Players are upset about the rather stingy drop rates, and everything feels artificially elongated in a way that's detrimental to the overall experience. Right now, Anthem isn't set up to be the long-term revenue generator BioWare had hoped it'd be.
The game is specifically designed to earn money over time via optional cosmetic purchases, but like Fallout 76, the game is missing one crucial component: meaningful fun.
Analyst firm SuperData recently gave visibility into Anthem's monetization performance. Out of the $100 million Anthem generated from game sales at launch, only $3.5 million of those earnings were from microtransactions. That means the game monetized at a rate of 3.5% during its critical release period. That's not so good, and that number has likely dropped as bad press, reviews, and feedback has taken hold.
Ultimately BioWare just doesn't understand how to make live games. And that's okay, because this is their first time. It's a hard lesson to learn for sure, and to competently run any live game, devs must inhabit three different time periods at once: the past, the present, and the future.
Here's a quick breakdown:
- The Past - Devs must always pay attention on what went wrong and right in previous periods
- The Present - Devs must use what they've learned to create enjoyable experiences for gamers in the now
- The Future - Devs must constantly plan ahead and lay out new content, all of which can be disrupted or aided by decisions made in the past and present phases
That's not it, though. That's just the content maintenance and creation phase. The most critical element to any live game is to create meaningful fun. You can't monetize a game before your audience is engaged, and you can't engage an audience if they're not having meaningful experiences. And more importantly, you can't infuse too many "hooks" to force engagement.
BioWare has simply tried to force engagement by bombarding players with a frustratingly tedious loot grind. Any loot grind needs to be carefully balanced; devs have to make sure things aren't too crazy, but at the same time they can't withhold too much. The flow has to be just right.
Right now Anthem's flow is just a trickle and it's severely disrupted the endgame phase. The endgame phase is absolutely critical to any live game, and how gamers continue repeatedly engaging with your product after the main content is consumed will make or break your service title. Some would argue Anthem doesn't even have an endgame, and they'd be partly right.
The problem is there's really not anything left to do in Anthem besides run particular objectives over and over. There's no trading, no real raiding presence, no dynamic quests that have meaning that shape the world, etc.
Gamers are simply spending too much time doing endgame content without getting adequately rewarded. Players are repeatedly playing the same strongholds on the highest difficulties in the hopes of getting better gear, creating a rote loop of play that's burning many people out. If you can't reward your playerbase, they'll simply quit, and deterrence is the death of all live games.
There's just not enough loot being distributed, and it's not like Anthem doesn't have an insane amount of randomized gear to collect. That's the main driving force behind the loop, after all, which is actually the most disappointing part of the game itself. It's a loop without much actual substance. The crafting doesn't help anything either, and the Dragon Age: Inquisition style material gathering is tedious and annoying.
What makes Anthem's loot grind particularly damning is the game's lack of stats or meaningful, tangible progression. Even if you find the best Masterwork of Legendary gear in the game, it doesn't add to a pool of viewable stats, which is a huge missed opportunity for player satisfaction. Finding the best gear should always be punctuated by concretely showing how a character has grown. The easiest way to do this is simply show the before and after stats.
So Anthem isn't properly engaging players because of the loot grind issue and lack of endgame content. There's not a lot of meaning to the experience, and the fun is being drowned out by the repetitive nature of the game. BioWare's IP simply wasn't set up to meet all of its lofty goals, and therefore it won't succeed as a live game unless it makes some big transformations.
And as we know, Anthem can't yet be comfortably, consistently monetized before it's engaging and fun. Not one or the other--it has to be both.
How to Fix Anthem
But all hope isn't lost. BioWare can turn this around. They've already created a core framework--the world is there, the combat is there, the weapons and skills and overall system is there. They just need to significantly tweak it over time while listening to the playerbase.
Here are a few ways BioWare can fix Anthem:
Let us see our stats: This is incredibly important. How can we measure how much we've grown without knowing how weak we were beforehand? I don't mean weapon damage stats or the vague Power mechanism; give us real-time stat tracking that shows us health, shields, resistances, and overall DPS in a clean, easy-to-read layout.
Turn on the loot shower: If gamers want loot, give them loot. They're on a quest that sees them spending their most precious resource, time, on your game. Don't waste their time.
Inject meaning into loot grinds: Attach story missions, lore, or other innate immersive aspects to the loot. Make weapons only findable in certain locations at certain times or from certain quests, use your magical world to bring new inventive ways to infuse the weapons with new energies. We need a reason to grind besides just getting better loot--make it fun, get creative, and most of all, add meaning to our endgame experiences.
Add more unique things to do in the world: Anthem's world is incredible, but it's not very interactive. You need to change that, BioWare. Add more secrets, add doors that only open up on a certain day, add more secrets and strange things and make good on your promise to create a living, breathing world. Take a page from Fortnite and have timed/weekly world events that actually change the world in unique ways. Have a cyclopean titan blast in out of nowhere, have a mysterious light that attracts players, create something that keeps us excited and buzzing and talking.
More endgame content: This is the hardest to solve. I'm sure BioWare has plans for this, but we need them ASAP and we need something better than replayable harder missions and the loot grind. Create timed boss-level events that are unique, difficult, but also rewarding in other ways besides loot. You have to get creative to solve this one; the content has to be fun too.
All of these alongside smaller quality-of-life improvements like a mini-map and a cleaner UI will go a long way to breathe new life into Anthem. Like I said, the core is already there, but the house still needs a lot of work before it's ready for a big party.
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