Electronic Arts removes multiplayer mode from Dragon Age game in big pivot

The next Dragon Age is seen as critical to the future of BioWare after its last two games, Anthem and 2017’s Mass Effect Andromeda, were both critical flops. — AFP

Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc has made a major pivot on the next game in the popular Dragon Age series, allowing the developers to remove all planned multiplayer components from the game, according to people familiar with the matter.

Dragon Age is a series of fantasy games from the EA-owned developer BioWare. The next Dragon Age, which doesn’t yet have an official title or release date, had previously been designed with a heavy multiplayer component, said the people, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the press. In recent months, it has transformed into a single-player-only game after EA was stung by a recent multiplayer flop.

The move is a significant shift for Redwood City, California-based EA, which in recent years has pushed almost all of its games to include online components that can be monetised following their releases. As video game budgets have grown significantly more expensive, publishers like EA have looked toward alternative revenue streams. One popular route is to fill a game with optional gear that can be purchased for small fees. Another is to continually update a game with new content over time, charging players for access. Chief executive officer Andrew Wilson called this trend, known as games-a-service, as “foundational to our future” in a 2019 interview with GameDaily.biz.

The diverging trajectories of two recent games changed the minds of Wilson and other executives at EA, according to the people. One was Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, a single-player game released in November 2019 that won critical acclaim and outperformed EA’s sales expectations, reaching more than 10 million players in its first four months. The second was BioWare’s Anthem, a multiplayer game that was widely panned when it launched. The games showed that single-player games could still be lucrative and that BioWare, traditionally known for its single-player, role-playing games, might be better off returning to its roots. A spokesman for EA declined to comment.

The next Dragon Age first entered development in 2015. But in the fall of 2017, EA and BioWare rebooted the game to push for long-term monetisation. The change led to the departure of creative director Mike Laidlaw and caused some employees to dismiss the game as “Anthem with dragons”. EA announced the new Dragon Age in 2018 but has not shared many details since then. Behind the scenes, the game has been in flux, game website Kotaku has reported.

During development, some members of BioWare’s leadership team fought to pivot the next Dragon Age back to a single-player-only game, according to the people familiar with the discussions. BioWare has also been working on a new game in the sci-fi Mass Effect series as well as a remaster of the original Mass Effect trilogy, which will be out in May.

The next Dragon Age is seen as critical to the future of BioWare after its last two games, Anthem and 2017’s Mass Effect Andromeda, were both critical flops. This week, EA cancelled a planned improved version of Anthem called Anthem Next. The team of about 30 people that worked on that game was told it will now help develop the next Dragon Age, according to people familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

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