A Constant Evolution: BioWare's Doctors Talk Present And Future
April 17, 2009 Page 2 of 5
So you've got three announced games, plus other projects. How many teams do you guys have running across your three locations?
RM: It depends on how you count them. It's five or more.
GZ: Some are small, some are bigger. Right now especially, it's great to be doing ideation and exploration. I think it's a pretty exciting time in the business where on one hand, there's a lot of challenges in terms of the economic times, but on the other side of that, they're blowing out more platforms than ever before. The possibilities are pretty significant.
What we like to try and do is have those big huge properties, like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins running, but at the same time we try other stuff. It's actually very rewarding to people that are working on those big games to try the smaller things. We did the DS game [Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood] last year, and all those are fun to do.
RM: Downloadable content is another opportunity for that, too. Those are almost separate teams in some way that we don't count as such, but we're doing a ton of downloadable content for Dragon Age and other projects in the future, and we're releasing user content creation tools for Dragon Age, so we'll have the fans making content as co-creators. It's all really exciting stuff.
Diversification of our portfolio is exciting to us. Being a publisher now as well as a developer, we have the opportunity to really pursue different models, different target audiences, different development platforms, different types of genres, IP settings.
We're in a business unit within EA. We're a division of EA, so we get to propose, "Here's where we'd like to be investing, and here's why we think that's a strategic investment, to take the idea of emotionally engaging narrative into new audiences, new platforms, new business models, new geographics," and so on.
That's what we're doing -- just carefully, cautiously taking our core competencies and expanding into new markets and always delivering high quality to our audience.
BioWare's Mass Effect 2
You have a specific stated goal of making the best story-driven games, which is a pretty big part of your company culture. But now with three locations and almost half a dozen teams, and however many employees, how do you actually retain any kind of consistency of culture and not just become a really, really big company?
RM: That's a great question.
GZ: It's funny. The answer in a sense is simple, but it's hard to implement. It's the concept of consistency with what you believe in. For us, it's always been the concept of quality in our products, where each game has to be better than the last. Quality in the workplace, creating a great place for growth and learning and delivering awesome games. And finally, entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurship piece is very much about making a business that's viable and profitable and a good investment.
You repeat those things, and you make them the fiber of the company. Secondarily, you direct your efforts a lot around emotional engagement, telling stories. Those two things are where, from a technology development direction for example, with a lot of the facial and conversation stuff we've done, many of these things are now automated.
It's also not independent from a game. Each game increments something a little bit -- say, it takes the dialogue in some element of the conversations a little bit further in digital acting.
So it's about having that unified view. It's telling everyone. It's trying to live it, trying to explain it as part of who we are. And I think it's finally also selecting folks who believe in that. When we hire people, we tend to hire people who know our products, like them, and want to make them. It comes to a virtuous cycle where you get the right people, you have the right goals and objectives, and then you get the right product. It goes round and round.
RM: We live our values. We talk about them a lot. We make sure that we never compromise one stakeholder group at the expense of the others. We believe a sustainable business is one that takes care of its customers, its employees, and its investors, always, simultaneously.
If you compromise one or the other, somebody's losing, and that's not sustainable. We try and live by those. We try and make decisions with the studio based on those. We do orientations with our teams, and we try and express it. We show examples of how those values work.
When you hire people in that vision, everybody is hungry. Everybody is very humble and confident, yet still ambitious and hungry and realizing that we still can do more. I really believe our best work is still ahead of us. I think the stuff we have in development, fans are going to play it, and say, "This is the best stuff BioWare has ever done." And then beyond that, we have even better stuff.
You need that hunger and ambition and humility at the same time, knowing you're only as good as your next game. That's always the philosophy we have. Humility is one of our core values. Our values are in a context of humility and integrity. We know we always have to be honest with ourselves, honest with our fans, our employees, our business partners, the press, everybody.
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