Anthem's Launch and the Power of the Sunk-cost Fallacy

Last month, BioWare released their co-operative action-RPG Anthem. The game wasn't particularly well-received and its launch was accompanied by numerous issues, crashes, and complaints. But being a constantly-evolving online title means that at some point, Anthem may become much better than it currently is, and this article tries to explore how the sunk-cost fallacy may help the game eventually find its loyal fan base. An excerpt:

This isn't to say that Anthem is a bad game; it is a broken and unfinished game, but if anything it is rendered all the more frustrating by the fact that its technical failings mar or block off the experience of a hugely promising game and a fascinating world. Reviews have not been kind to Anthem, which is fair enough -- a reviewer's task is to assess what exists in the here and now, rather than musing over foundations and thinking about how the house might look when it's finished -- but we all know that these big online titles develop and blossom as they go along.

That's been a persistent question about reviewing online games for decades; how do you effectively do justice to a game that keeps changing? Some of them launch in a good state and improve; others launch lacking content or with some poorly thought out aspects but quickly evolve into something excellent (Destiny 2 is a great recent example). Granted, few start out quite as much of an ugly duckling as Anthem, but even Final Fantasy XIV is a genuinely great game now and it had arguably the roughest start of any major online game of the modern era. For many players who invest in such a game at the start, seeing the potential in a broken product and the great game that shines at the heart of the rough, uncut rock is part of the process.

Why is that? Straight up, it's sunk-cost fallacy, and I should lay my cards on the table at this point -- I'm in the throes of that fallacy right now. I dropped £80 on the special edition of Anthem -- dress up a clever fantasy concept in sci-fi trappings and a loot compulsion cycle and you'll take me for my last penny every time -- and stopped playing it after a few days. Like many people, I have limited time to play games and a game which is going to piss away that time by crashing, hanging, or disconnecting, then making me redo missions from the start, with all the attendant enormous load delays, is not a game that's going to stay on the top of the pile for very long. The final straw was a handful of hangs during the absolutely baffling load delay which you get before seeing the results screen at the end of a mission; I haven't touched the game since then.

Yet I know I'll be back, and that's where this experience is interesting from a commercial perspective. Anthem is a mess right now, but it's sold fairly well by all accounts; there are lots of people out there in the same position as I am, with £80 sunk into a game that's clearly not in a fit state to be played (okay, more like £60 for the majority who probably have better sense at not being attracted by shiny things of extremely questionable value).

And if you'd like to know what BioWare is doing to improve Anthem, you should check out the latest patch notes. The notes are quite extensive, so here are just the general fixes:

High level fixes and changes
  • Respawn restrictions have been removed - Respawn timers are now based on the activity a player is in. Crit-Path, Agent Missions and other non-end game missions now have a respawn timer of 10 seconds. Strongholds, Legendary Contracts, and other end game missions now have a respawn timer of 30 seconds. The respawn timer Freeplay remains unchanged.
  • Loot Changes - Common (white) and Uncommon (green) drops will no longer appear for players that are level 30.
  • Improved stability for all platforms - this includes fixes for a number of issues that were causing crashes or connection problems
  • Audio Improvements - Fixed a number of issues that could cause audio to drop out
General Fixes and Improvements
  • Fixed a number of issues that were blocking players from accessing the Forge
  • All missions should now properly end when all conditions have been met
  • The inbox now properly displays information on PC (the inbox is found in the newsfeed)
  • Fixed an issue that would cause players to be unable to interact with NPCs in Fort Tarsis
  • The vault is no longer accessible from the Forge. This change was made to improve performance
  • Fixed an issue that would cause the game to hang when entering menus while on an expedition
  • Titans will no longer respawn on missions after they are defeated. Example: if players defeat 2 out of 3 titans and then wipe on the third, the first two will not reappear when players respawn during a mission
  • Server shutdown messages should now appear less often
  • The ability to Quickplay into a Stronghold has been added back to the game
  • Mouse button 4 is no longer bound to the back button for PC players
  • Crashes that occurred while selecting certain conversation options when interacting with an NPC have been fixed
  • Players should no longer get stuck at the end of the “Tomb of General Tarsis” mission
  • Players should now run into less issues during Quickplay missions. Additional improvements to Quickplay will be coming in future updates
  • Players should no longer get stuck behind fogwalls on missions or in strongholds as often
  • Players should now receive credit for the “There Be Giants” challenge when they are downed and when the event is active
  • Improved the audio when defeating creatures to provide better feedback
  • Changed wording for server shutdown messaging to better indicate that it is just the players server shutting down, not the entire game server
  • Players may now launch an expedition from anywhere within the launch bay and Fort Tarsis.
  • PS4 led lights will now change based on the javelin being used
  • It should now be harder for players to get stun locked by certain enemy compositions
  • The values on max flight time inscriptions have been increased
  • The appearance of the N7 vinyl on Legion of Dawn armor has been improved
  • Haluk will now properly face players during certain dialogue scenes
  • The message “Open the Cortex to track the legionnaire Challenges” will no longer pop up after completing the appropriate challenges