Anthem's VIP demo isn't giving me much faith in a smooth launch

In the five hours since Anthem's VIP demo launched, I've played maybe 30 minutes. The rest of that time has been spent staring at the login screen, jumping between error messages and overanalyzing the in-game characters as they cycle through animations that were never meant to be seen for more than a few seconds. It's a tale as old as time: A new online game arrives and somehow—despite this happening seemingly every time—the developers are caught off guard, the servers buckle, and people spend their time spamming login buttons just hoping for a chance to play. It's a problem that felt unavoidable in 1999, was annoying in 2009, and now, in 2019, is inexcusable.

Since going live at 9 am PST, Anthem's servers have been hammered by players. At one point, Origin's own servers even crashed. EA and BioWare responded, saying that they're working on getting more servers online.  But that just raises the question of why those servers weren't online to begin with? After all, the VIP demo is available to Origin Access subscribers and those who pre-ordered (plus the three friend codes given to each account). BioWare and EA should have had an idea of exactly the maximum number of players who might be trying to get into the demo today.

It's just baffling that the same issues that plagued World of Warcraft's launch in 2004 still cast a shadow over games that release today.

Given how many people can't play, something isn't adding up. If this is how bad things are in a demo only open to a select few, what can most players expect when they try to play next week during the demo that's available for anyone to try for free? What about two weeks after that when Anthem launches? It's probably not a great sign when the smallest sample size overloads servers weeks before an exponentially larger one is due to jump into a game.

Day-one server issues are a frustratingly normal part of playing online games. A month earlier, the developers of ARK: Survival Evolved launched a pirate MMO called Atlas after continually delaying it for almost three weeks. And even after all that waiting, Atlas was unplayable for days thanks to Studio Wildcard's inability to gauge the how many players would want to sail its seas. And those that managed to get in were greeted by atrocious server lag that made it impossible to move a few steps forward let alone start building a ship. 

Some of the worst PC game launches of all time were due to server issues preventing players from logging into games that they had bought. In the case of Atlas, it can hide behind the caveat of being an Early Access game where players have to understand the experience may be hamstrung by all sorts of annoying issues. Anthem, as a $60 blockbuster game published by EA, doesn't have the same excuse.

Keep in mind this demo is the "very important person" demo marketed as an incentive to those who preordered or subscribe to EA's game subscription program. But instead these players who are most likely Anthem's most motivated fans are being used as guinea pigs to run stress tests.

It's also worth mentioning that Anthem is developed in part by BioWare Austin, the studio behind the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. Though Anthem might seem like a big departure from BioWare's usual remit of singleplayer-focused RPGs, the truth is the studio has been running a successful MMO for almost eight years now.

The good news is that the situation seems to be steadily improving. Over the past few hours, I've been able to get into Anthem's singleplayer hub area a few times, but usually that just means running into other issues like endless loading screens. It makes me wonder why BioWare consciously called this a demo instead of a beta, given how many problems there are.

Even though Anthem has "gone gold" (meaning finalized and sent to factories for production) and any player feedback from this demo won't be incorporated into the full game at launch, it feels disingenuous to suggest that this demo is for the benefit of the players instead of a stress test for BioWare. I love that BioWare is at least being transparent about these issues, with Casey Hudson tweeting out updates as they continue to investigate what is going wrong.

I'm not expressing these frustrations to incite rage at BioWare, who I'm sure is working its collective ass off. But it's just baffling that the same issues that plagued World of Warcraft's launch in 2004 still cast a shadow over games that release today. It could be that these problems are too expensive to fix for how temporary they are. Eventually the hype dies down, players stop body slamming the servers and these annoyances become harmless memes like Diablo 3's Error 37. But I yearn for a time when server problems don't spoil a fun evening of gaming—especially as always online games become the norm.

For now, I'll probably do something more productive with my time until Anthem's servers have had a chance to stabilize. But if things are this bad today, I'm not all that convinced Anthem is going to have a smooth launch when it finally releases on February 22.

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.