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Is it time for EA game developers to move on from the Frostbite engine?

Anthem flight
Anthem flight (Image credit: EA)

Last week, Kotaku's Jason Schreier published an investigative article that revealed many of the issues behind Anthem, BioWare's latest title. The problems range from poor management to hesitant decision making and everything between, and most of them were surprising to see from such a highly-regarded game studio. However, there was one culprit that didn't surprise players at all — the Frostbite engine, notorious for both its incredible visual potential, and its extreme difficulty to work with, which often results in barriers that are as numerous as they are frustrating for developers to work through.

Anthem is perhaps the perfect embodiment of Frostbite's pros and cons, combining breathtaking visuals and maddening performance issues into one bittersweet package. And as it joins the ranks of several other titles that had rocky development due (at least in part) to the Frostbite engine, one has to wonder if the engine's peak potential is worth the demoralizing climb developers have to embrace to reach it.

Why DICE shouldn't move on from Frostbite

DICE's Star Wars Battlefront II was, for the most part, stable from the get-go.

DICE's Star Wars Battlefront II was, for the most part, stable from the get-go.

While it's clear that the Frostbite engine is incredibly problematic for most studios, one company that makes it work wonderfully is DICE — and this is because they made it. Back in 2008, DICE made the Frostbite engine for its Battlefield first-person shooter series, and ever since it has served them extremely well, throughout all of its iterations. The Battlefield and Battlefront franchises, by and large, have great technical performance.

Because of this, there's little reason to suggest that DICE stop using its own engine. So far, it hasn't failed them.

Why other developers should move on from Frostbite

Mass Effect: Andromeda was built on Frostbite, and it suffered because of it.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was built on Frostbite, and it suffered because of it.

Frostbite has been a thorn in BioWare's side for years.

While DICE may have few issues with Frostbite, it has become clear that it presents a mountain of problems for most other developers that use it. BioWare's various teams have practically been at war with Frostbite from 2014's Dragon Age: Inquisition onward. That game, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Anthem all experienced major setbacks during development because of its difficulties. Frostbite was also a major factor in the collapse of Visceral Games' now-cancelled Star Wars title. While currently unconfirmed, many suspect that the swap to Frostbite for recent FIFA titles has caused their development teams to struggle as well, as they have numerous technical problems.

In addition to the anonymous sources from the above Kotaku articles, Manveer Heir, who previously worked on Andromeda, personally wrote on Twitter that "...all the criticisms of Frostbite, the shittiest engine I've ever worked with are 100% on point and seriously my life is so much better on Unreal now where things, you know, work and content creators are, you know, empowered." He then went on to add that "Some days I wake up from nightmares of Frostbite taking 2 days to do something I can do in 2 hours in a competent engine. Beautiful looking engine that is dogshit to use."

Anthem

Anthem's visuals are gorgeous, but Frostbite simply isn't designed to be used for games like it. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Based on all of the evidence we have, it seems very clear that the Frostbite engine is a huge pain to utilize if you're making anything other then a first-person shooter. Sure, the engine allows for incredible visuals — I noted in my review of Anthem that it's easily one of the best-looking titles I've played — but are those graphics really worth the cost of having to fight with the tech you're using at every turn?

At the end of the day, I don't think they are. Amazing visuals are always a treat, but other engines are capable of great graphics too, and they don't cause significant problems for developers that ultimately turn into technical issues for the player. Naturally, this makes Frostbite a contributor to developer stress levels, with one BioWare employee that spoke to Kotaku stating that "It's hard enough to make a game. It's really hard to make a game where you have to fight your own tool set all the time."

If a game engine is a significant contributing factor to declining morale in a company's ranks, and if it's the direct cause of numerous bugs and glitches, I think it's safe to say that it's time to look for a new one, no matter how great the graphics are.

Conclusion: Retire Frostbite for everyone — except DICE

Battlefield V

Battlefield V (Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Frostbite is simply too problematic for anyone other than DICE to use.

While DICE has managed to use its Frostbite engine well for its games, it was designed for the first-person shooter titles it makes. It was not made for third-person action games, role-playing games, or sports games, and it seems that as long as developers keep trying to use it for those genres, both players and programmers will suffer as a result.

It's unclear whether or not EA forces the companies under it to use Frostbite. Former BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn revealed that BioWare chose to use it because of concerns about its current engine at the time, suggesting that they, as well as other companies under EA's wing, are not mandated to use the engine. However, if that's the case, why keep using it now despite all the problems?

The answer to that question may never come. However, one thing is certain — the Frostbite engine needs serious work if developers want to take it beyond its first-person shooter roots.

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

9 Comments
  • It's time for EA to stop asking/mandating developers use Frostbite until it's fully fleshed out like Unreal.
  • I totally agree
  • I've heard stories that Dice managed to get the other studios to be charged a budget item for the use of Frostbite, even if that studio was using a different engine, which caused management to demand that they switch to Frostbite.
  • I'm not a game designer, but with the rising costs of middleware everyone really needs to take a hard look at engines again. This is just beyond embarrassing.
  • The only chance I see for Bioware to survive as a studio is for them to be purchased by another publisher.
    And the only one that would really give them a chance to do their thing without crippling them
    is Microsoft. So step up to the plate Microsoft! Bioware needs you! Mostly it needs to break away from EA.
  • Microsoft should just buy out EA completely. EA are just slowly crippling all of their studios. And with Apex legends now bringing home the bread, they are just going to cripple the other studios even more. Think they'll push all their sports games to have a BR game mode in there too. Lol
  • They don't have to retire it. It's just that documentation is poor and support is limited by the availability of the people that have experience with the engine. Plus it's hard to add new features to it
  • Pretty sure that's EAs call not their developers. Even with all its flaws EA probably invested boat loads of $$$ in it and aren't going to abandon it anytime soon
  • time for MS to buy Unity and EA