Dragon Age 4 as Live Service

Jason Schrier is on a bit of a roll of late with the BioWare inner-sanctum access articles. The latest is a look at the history and likely future of Dragon Age 4. That future including the perhaps worrying ‘Live Service’ descriptor, on top of the further worrying decision to use the Anthem code-base.

It would be hard to fault anyone for giving up all hope with that combination alone. My initial gut reaction was… not the most positive either. But I think there are some mitigating factors here that at least leave the doors of chance open for an enjoyable title at the end of all this.

Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey — Also a ‘Live Service’ Game

Dragon Age 4 would not be first Live Service single-player game. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is proof that it can be done well. AC:O released as a complete package in its own right. The Live Service element tied in through (admittedly small) weekly-ish events/content drops, and the odd larger content drop even outside of the DLC content.

Admittedly it did also contain some less-than-savoury monetisation in the form of cosmetics in a single-player game where you can’t even show them off. And then of course there was the rather infamous XP Booster. A $10 transaction in order to permanently boost your earned XP by 50%.

At least for first play through, if you were doing at least some degree of the side quest content, it was by no means a necessity. Your process kept up with the level-gating fairly well. If you, however, preferred to beeline just the main story… Weeeeell… The $10 option was always there.

In any case, I digress, the point was Live Service doesn’t have to mean a game held together with sticky tape and glue that possibly gets better over time. It also doesn’t have to mean an online-only experience with a perfunctory story experience tacked on and in the way of the ‘game’ side of things.

Jason’s article reports BioWare’s Casey Hudson as saying, “Reading lots of feedback regarding Dragon Age, and I think you’ll be relieved to see what the team is working on. Story & character focused. Too early to talk details, but when we talk about ‘live’ it just means designing a game for continued storytelling after the main story.”

If we are to take Casey at his word, then there is some hope that DA4 will be more AC and less Anthem.

…Excepting of course for the code base commonality…

What gives me some inclination toward hope here is that DA4 is (again, post-reboot) in preproduction. There are some years yet before we should expect to see the title ship. In that time, they should be able to do a lot with the groundwork laid over the past 12-18 months.

I guess we’ll have to see. But at least there is potential light at the end of this tunnel. And possibly further work done by the DA4 team can be used as improvements in Anthem’s own branch of the code too.

Making it Official: Anthem on Hold

Warning: Some elements of the negativity drive might be spinning up in this one.

In case it wasn’t clear — I’ve put Anthem to one side for the moment. This started out in a fairly happy and OK space. The revised expectations I put on the game during the second demo weekend were all met if not actually exceeded.

And despite my warning at the top of this post, I’m not yet ready to make any dramatic style, ‘I’m done forever!’ type statements. I may not even be done for long. But without any doubt, for the moment at least, I am done.

I was near to just letting that fact slide until I was ready to revisit (likely in April after the alternate player progression, new stronghold and some other fun bits were added.)

Then this tweet happened:

There are two more in the thread, one which indicates they believe they can take ‘Months’ to fix this.

Rather innocuous sounding if unaware of the context, I know. You may recall Isey’s post from a couple of days back urging BioWare to claim and own the increase to the loot drops people were seeing. Isey warned of the anger that would stem from taking this away a second time.

Prophecy fulfilled.

The video is well worth a watch for a summary of the reactions at the moment and the camps forming around the change.

I get what BioWare is after. They are making an effort to chase down a long tail of play through masterwork and legendary scarcity. They are following a philosophy of, ‘People will stay longer if there are still gear optimisations left to be made.’

What they’re perhaps not understanding yet, is that even with their loot improvements — their loot game simply isn’t strong or engaging enough to have that effect yet. Scarcity plus relatively uninspiring loot is becoming a player-churn driver rather than they player-retention driver they hoped for.

Once you’re decked out in ‘Somewhat OK’ masterworks in the Javelins you personally care about, the shine wanes fairly quickly. What should be the best part of a loot game — the refinement and optimisation of your build — is entirely missing or is too dispiriting to try chasing after for very long.

This could potentially be addressed in a number of ways, and a raw increase in the number of drops exchanged for your time invested is possibly the bluntest instrument in the toolbox. I acknowledge that. But it’s also the only one BioWare has right now.

They can clearly switch it up quite quickly, something that would not be true of introducing alternate, more delicate, options such as a reforging ability1 or adding more diversity to the masterwork/legendary effects and items pool.

But… Chad’s response really got under my skin in this instance. I’m not even 100% sure I can adequately articulate why, either, other than to say it is some awful mix of condescension while also being completely tone-deaf. There is a lack of empathy or understanding there so complete it makes me not want to hear from Chad again. Certainly he should refrain from tweeting again on issues like this, and possibly it should be reconsidered whether he is the right person for ‘Head of Live Service’.

*sigh* I’m a bit surprised at how much this tweet chain resonated and in such a negative way with me. Text is a poor communicator of ideas at times, and I’ve been trying to keep myself open to this fact. Interpretation of the emotive content (or lack thereof) is always going to be subjective at best. I acknowledge that. And yet I feel it so completely with this I know I’m going to be hard-pressed to be convinced.

Like I said earlier, I’ll be back to check on progress again. I’m not ‘done’ done, I’m not even ready to take the game off my ‘interested’ list. There are plenty of distractions (too many, in fact!) here now or coming soon. All the while though, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a strong April and May in Anthem-land!