Last week, it was reported that BioWare Montreal is being downsized. This is the team responsible for producing and maintaining Mass Effect: Andromeda. The downsizing not only means that the onsite team will be shrinking but also that the game, as in maintenance/updating, story DLC, and sequel, will be put on the backburner for an undisclosed amount of time. Multiplayer maintenance and updating will still be handled by the remaining team.
First, let me make sure you understand what “downsized” means here. According to the sources reporting, this does not mean staff members of BioWare Montreal were fired. All of the ones who have been taken off of Mass Effect: Andromeda appear to have been transferred to other studios under BioWare or other extensions of EA. The bulk of which seem to have been transferred to EA Motive, also located in Montreal.
I have to applaud EA for this move. Usually when projects like this are broken up, people in the development industry are not treated this well. I have read countless stories about entire teams being fired with no notice. Projects like Scalebound get scrapped out of the blue and everyone involved gets left out to dry. And even when people do get to keep their jobs, they often have to transfer to other studios a world away. That’s not just true for the gaming industry. I have a friend right now who’s being forced to choose between moving overseas or losing his job with less than a week to make the decision. In this economy, labor getting screwed over is common place. EA not only letting these people keep their jobs, but stay in the same city is a truly commendable move in a time where companies often don’t care about the wellbeing of their employees past what the law requires. So for the first time in years, if not ever, I have to say kudos to you good guy EA. You’ve earned that.
As far as Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on ice for a while, I’m totally fine with that. In fact, I’m in support of it. I just recently finished Mass Effect: Andromeda with a 96% completion. It took me 94 hours. I still plan on putting a bit more time into the multiplayer. It was/is a good game and I very much enjoyed it. That being said, it’s a buggy mess with tons of glitches. I enjoyed the plot but I felt that it was a bit smaller than I would have liked. The fact that the game takes place in a new galaxy and only one new race was introduced really irritated me. Even the villain race is just the new race after having gone through massive genetic mutations. You only get six party members. The plot wraps up pretty well while still leaving room to grow, but overall I expected better considering what was delivered in Mass Effect 2 & 3. It’s because of this that I think a real break is needed.
I don’t want paid plot DLC like in Mass Effect 3. I don’t want a rushed out, badly written Mass Effect: Andromeda 2 like every Assassin’s Creed since Revelations (2011). They can continue to expand the multiplayer, but I really want the Mass Effect: Andromeda campaign to be considered closed. What I want is a top shelf Mass Effect: Andromeda 2.
History has shown us that no good can come from annual releases. Excellence isn’t bred from creating never ending games that keep piling on more and more paid DLC. Good games take time, preparation, and patience. Here’s what needs to happen and why I believe Mass Effect: Andromeda riding the pine for a while is not only a good decision but the right one.
The first thing that needs to happen is that BioWare, and by extension EA, needs to accept that Mass Effect: Andromeda 1 is finished. They don’t need to try to add anything more to that game. It’s a full sized adventure. It has a conclusive story. It already takes a good number of hours to complete even without ever trying the multiplayer. All they should do with that game from here on out is work on patching the glitches, improving the graphics issues, and continue to support the multiplayer. Everyone, including the consumers, needs to move forward based on the thought process that the next Mass Effect plot based experience is going to be Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. No DLC. No additional difficulty modes. No frivolous crap. Any unanswered questions like the whereabouts of the Quarian Arc should be left to be answered in the next full game.
The second thing that needs to happen is everyone involved in production and the next game in the franchise needs to just leave it alone. Step away. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about. Work on other IPs. Get Dylan completed. Get Star Wars: Battlefront II completed. Don’t make any announcements about Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. Don’t promise any release dates or windows. Just let it take a rest. Don’t try to force it out. Every writer is told that the worst thing to do when having just finished a piece of writing is to look at it again right away. Don’t do it. Your head isn’t clear yet. You haven’t mulled it over. You won’t be able to look at is unbiasedly. The whole team needs to just go off and work on other things. And hopefully not together.
After a fair amount of time, by which I mean literally a year or more, has gone by then someone can reopen the Mass Effect: Andromeda file. This does not mean start developing. This does not mean put a team together or back together. It simply means that certain key individuals should start to look back at the game in order to begin thinking about the sequel. Look at the flaws apparent in the first game and think about how they can be prevented in the next one. Think about the general direction of the plot. See if people are still actively playing the multiplayer. After much discussion, they can start to make a general plan. Really just ideas about the direction they’d like to take.
Finally they can start to set down some real plans and expectations. Set some goals and create a soft timeline. Again, no actual development has taken place at this point and we’re nearly at the end of year two since the dissolution of the team. Still no announcements to the public. I hate when games are promised too far in advance. It forces a deadline that most likely won’t be met and an expectation in the public which will then lead to negative reactions when not delivered on. I would rather they never announced games until they had already gone gold so there can be no debate about whether or not the game will be released and when. Again I point to Scalebound.
Now, in the third year since the game was iced, start building that team and make sure communication is honest and open. Ensure that everyone understands the desired direction for the game and is on board with it. It’s not about getting the best people when making a game. It’s about getting the right people that together can make the best game. And in the case of Mass Effect, the goal should be to make the best game. BioWare should not be settling for good enough. The Witcher 3 should be dethroned with this franchise. Mass Effect Andromeda didn’t even come close. That’s the bar they should be shooting for.
Then it’s as simple as making the game as they’ve done so many times in the past. Don’t rush. Continue not to make promises to the public. Don’t get bogged down by dates. Make the best game possible and take the time it needs to create and test that product. By the end of this process the market will be not only ready, but begging for the next Mass Effect game. Then when the game is actually ready, make the announcement, deliver The Witcher 3 level quality or better, and reclaim the throne.
People didn’t lose their jobs (supposedly). The franchise hasn’t been cancelled. This is just a much needed break. BioWare should use this opportunity to take the right steps to craft the best damn Mass Effect game ever made. Ideally the best damn game ever made period. I am fine with Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on hiatus because if handled correctly, this is a great opportunity for the next game in the series to come back stronger than ever thought possible. Here’s hoping they do it right this time.