A lot has been written about Anthem: it’s rocky development process, uneven launch state and the constant revisions made to the game’s post-launch roadmap. We’ve even talked about it in previous episodes of the TMG Podcast.
This week, at the company’s investor call, EA delivered its official take on the game’s performance. The familiar refrain of “underperformed” but not being enough of a disappointment to cease “commitment,” was heard. “The launch of Anthem did not meet our expectations," EA boss Andrew Wilson said at the investor call.
But although Anthem did not perform well in terms of physical sales – it shifted a mere half of the boxed units that Mass Effect Andromeda sold in the same period in 2017 – it did much better in digital sales, perhaps due to its nature as an online service game. EA chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen said, "Judging from sales so far, [Anthem] is the most digital game we have ever launched.”
As far as the overall financial performance of EA is concerned, revenue from game downloads was up by 10 percent, which was "driven by the launch of Anthem and by the ongoing shift to digital". Almost half of full game sales on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were sold digitally during the last financial quarter. This is, again, a stat boost attributed to Anthem.
EA made it clear to investors that it would still be incurring expenses to support Anthem for the foreseeable future and maintained confidence in BioWare, the famed RPG studio that has now suffered two commercial flops in a row. We continue to invest heavily in Anthem […] It's great original IP and we've doubled down on the product," Jorgensen said.
"We are committed to the live service for Anthem, and delivering for our community in this new IP over the long-term," Wilson later added. "We believe in the team at BioWare, and we also believe in what they set out to achieve with this game - building a new IP and melding genres to reach a new audience."
But towards the end of the call, one interesting query was met with an intersting response. Regarding how the launches of games like Anthem and Star Wars Battlefront 2 may affect big budget EA releases going forward, Wilson implied a future of mobile-style soft launches. He noted that in Asia, major online games go through soft launches and community tests before everything goes live.
This gives a publisher a better idea of how their games will perform at scale. Wilson suggested that the Western "drip-feed approach" to marketing to "build up the appetite and excitement for the game," that leads straight into release might not be the best one for publishers like EA anymore. “As games have gotten bigger that system isn't working as as well as it has done in years gone by.”
“So what you should expect from us is that it's not just about changing the development processes in the game, it's not just about changing the QA process in the game—although both of those things are being changed dramatically inside our organization right now—but it also comes down to changing how we launch games," Wilson said.
Wilson believes that change in approach should help ensure that games run better and more reliably when they go fully live, and help players "understand exactly what it is that they're going to be playing, and how they're going to be playing both on the day of launch and over time."