Anthem’s troubled launch happened the way it did for a multitude of reasons, many of which have been well documented over the last couple of weeks, from being rushed out the gate with just 16 months of proper development under the belt, to having issues with the problematic Frostbite engine yet again. However, another reason the game suffered so much at launch, at least according to Michael Condrey – former veteran of Visceral and Sledgehammer Games – was the fact that the game had no proper beta.
Though there were testing periods that were held for the game prior to its launch, BioWare and EA held no actual beta on a wider scale, and according to Condrey – who knows all about managing online-centric launches, having worked on Call of Duty for several years – the absence of valuable large scale data that would have provide about online performance and technical issues for the game cost it in the long term.
“I think of two different ways that betas inform the game,” said Condrey in a GDC panel held and transcribed by GamesBeat. “Some of it is qualitative. You’re looking to see how players react to the game design. Part of it is readiness. If you’re trying to figure out your readiness at scale in your beta, that’s a problem.”
Condrey went on to talk about his own experiences with Call of Duty titles, talking about bot farms, betas held for hundreds of thousands of people, and more things that Sledgehammer and other Activision teams did to ensure a smooth online launch for their games.
“Call of Duty had the luxury of time and big teams,” he said. “We had built a lot of tools around the simulation of the experience. We had a bot farm that ran matches all the time, every day, constantly. We had tools that would input lag into our internal network to simulate what that would look like in the real world. Betas are important, but the challenge — I haven’t made a battle royale game yet. This was a six-on-six experience. Just having 12 people playing all the time is a limiting factor.”
“In our private betas, we rolled out to 5,000,” he continued. “In public betas, we’d roll out to several hundred thousand. On day one you’d have millions of people showing up. The scalability of your game at launch is really hard to simulate prior to launch. That’s where a lot of things tip over. To the extent that you can build tools around what this is going to look like when it goes live — that’s what we learned along the way. We could never fully test what was going to happen in the live environment, but as much as you can do to simulate it before then — again, on Call of Duty we had our own problems too. But for Anthem, I feel like that was maybe a misstep.”
Given all that has emerged in recent days, and the state of the game itself, it’s hard to imagine that even with a large scale beta Anthem would have been able to rectify anything in a significant manner- but it’s certainly true that as far as what to do and not to do as an online game is concerned, having a larger pool of data to work with would have gone a long way toward helping BioWare see what their players wanted from the game.
Michael Condrey himself has moved on from Sledgehammer Games, and recently joined 2K, where he will be heading up his own new studio. Read more on that through here.