So, this issue has been on my mind for...probably at least five years. I'll get to that date later. That said, I'm finally at the point where I feel the need to let it out - why I dislike the concept of branding, or rather, why so many consumers feel the need to keep it. This is a very long post, so I'm going to use a spoiler tag to save space:
So, if you read all that, congratulations. If you haven't and/or want me to get to the point, I'll put it this way:
1) Is there any artistic merit in branding?
2) If a creator/group of creators makes it big doing one thing, is it reasonable to expect them to always do that one thing?
3) If they do something else, is it reasonable to hold that as egregious from the previously established fanbase?
And please try to avoid the whole "selling out" argument. Obviously there's some trend following, but art doesn't exist in a vacuum.
Being good at one thing does not make you good at another. I think creators deserve the opportunity to prove they are also good at other things different than what made them notable, but it wont be far-fetched for them to do poorly, especially compared to their previous work.
Bethesda is really good at open-world RPGs. Pixar is good at 3D animated children's films. I would not expect either to be good at the other. Perhaps they both might do fine in that they both work with 3D animation and graphics, but would Bethesda be good at creating an un-interactive film with a linear plot? Would Pixar understand why an open world with nothing in it is bad and having tons to do between point A and B is what makes open world worth it? Hell, most game devs still fail at open world compared to Bethesda.
And I doubt JK Rowling could do either of those things.
I only can question if paying too much thought at randos confusing bad with different in the Internet before the game is even released is healthy for one's psyche (there will always be the "they should stick to X" crowd)
OT: If you give the benefit of the doubt to "Anthem is a departure from BioWare's previous RPG titles", it just means, "I'm very interested in the style of previous BioWare RPGs, and this doesn't seem to have it".
Overwatch was a departure for Blizzard, sure. But Blizzard for the most part has generally been regarded as competent developers, putting time into their products, and generally putting out quality material. And Overwatch landed in a mostly original niche (othen then Team Fortress, which was a decade old at the time. And Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare) I say this despite not being particularly attached to most of Blizzard's stuff and definitely finding Overwatch to have been an anemic AAA-early access style release.
Bioware on the other hand, has had multiple questionable releases in its recent history. Much of the talent associated with the quality Bioware years (which are also kind of overstated) is long gone. They have a publisher known for forcing studios and Bioware itself to mangle up their ideas in various ways. We've seen their efforts with similar third person action gameplay and "satisfactory at best" is largely applicable. And they're diving into a well band-wagoned popular genre (with your Warframes, Destinys, Divisions, and all that)
Blizzard putting out OVerwatch was maybe a coin toss, with some odds in its favor of being good. Bioware putting out Anthem is like the hail mary long odds. It might work, but there's plenty of reasons to be skeptical about it, and its not simply an irrational fear of change.
I dunno. Maybe BioWare is secretly great at making action games. They sure as hell suck at making RPGs these days.
Seriously though, at least as far as media goes I like to think that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If tomorrow it was announced that Zack Snyder is gonna make a romantic comedy, Michael Bay is gonna adapt a Shakespeare play and Terrence Malick is gonna direct Star Wars Episode 10... I'd be eager to see where they're going with it. Might turn out awful but at least it's gonna be fascinating to see how they're gonna approach these genres.
I don't think any artist should ever let themselves be pigeonholed into a certain position or resign themselves to pander to a specific established audience out of fear their attempts at doing something else will be rejected. I think that would be a great loss, both for the artist who wouldn't be able to pursue his interests and the people who'd miss out on something that could be potentially very good. Plus, if they keep making the same thing because that's what people expect from them they'll eventually grow tired of it.
Look at poor old Hideo Kojima. Whenever he indicated that he might want to make something other than Metal Gear he got actual death threats. And what did it all amount to? Him phoning MGS 4 and V to a point where no one can tell me that he wasn't going out of his way to piss off people who still care about the series. "You play as some guy doing repetetive mercenary work in Afghanistan and Africa which you have no personal investment in while the real Big Boss is off somewhere else meeting all the characters you actually care about and getting all the important character development you don't get to see" is the type of story you write when you've run out of fucks to give and just want to move on.
but would Bethesda be good at creating an un-interactive film with a linear plot?
I can't think of many things they would be worse at.
I've got to say, when I think of annoying things about branding, it's about things like some Staropramen being brewed in the UK. Well, okay, but then it's not really Staropramen, then, is it?
It was a great beer because it was lovingly brewed in the Czech Republic with great attention to quality and detail. At the point it went into the hands of InBev or Anheuser InBev or whatever that soulless mass producer of a million varieties of alcoholic piss calls itself these days, it's just a name with a reputation to destroy in the cause of flogging debased mediocrity to undiscerning punters.
Independent dev studios make what they like and proudly stamp their name on it, because it's theirs.
The publisher-owned studios aren't really making their own games. They're making certain types of games at the behest of the publisher, and it makes sense that Brand X with a reputation for a certain type of game pumps out that type of game. Customers get to know that a brand creates a really good type of game. If the publisher wants a different type of game, they'll hand it to a different internal dev group.
They might want to mix things up - perhaps the brand appeal can be utilised to flog a different game, but it does create a risk of diluting the brand or causing uncertainty. If Bioware has any semblance of independence, of course, it might be noting its declining reputation in its traditional output and realising it needs to shake up its operations with something different.
This is not dissimilar to JK Rowling publishing her crime novels under a different pseudonym. JK Rowling could be viewed as a "brand", and it equates to Harry Potter. That means a lot of expectations. Publish under a different name, she's freed from that burden where everything is measured against HP, people reading and reviewing her work on the basis that she's that children's author. (She gets a lot less money, but it's not like she needs it.)
Its a double edge sword. At one point it gives you a reconizable edge in that style or that genre, but like others have mentioned it can pidgion hold you there.
I forget what movie this was referenced to, but I remember watching something on Walt Disney and he said this after watching a movie: I wish I could make a film like that." The remark was on his own films, and while he enjoyed the cornier side of things, he felt he couldn't alot do a film with a more serious edge to it.
This would be proven with Black Hole years after his death, as it was too dark for the typical Disney fair, so the studio came up with Touch Stone Pictures to do anything that didn't fit the image of the Mouse (which is why Ironicly the slasher film Scream was one).
Another was horor film Legend Wes Craven wanted to do Romantic films, but because of how amazing some of his horror films are he was stuck doing that.
I think this was also a complaint with JK Rowlings first none Harry Potter book. It was meant for adults but because she's the harry potter person it has to be kid friendly...despite never intending to be.
Some can get away with it. Hunger Games and Brother Bear I beleive were written by the same woman. It is just rare.