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A Constant Evolution: BioWare's Doctors Talk Present And Future
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A Constant Evolution: BioWare's Doctors Talk Present And Future

April 17, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next
 

Edmonton-headquartered game developer BioWare has become synonymous with quality over the years since its inception in 1995, since it swiftly stepped up to the plate with genre-leading PC RPG titles such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights.

From there, the company made fairly confident strides into console territory with acclaimed titles such as Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic and Mass Effect. A team-up with Pandemic Studios as part of a holding company roll-up in 2005 was followed by that same deal's mastermind, John Riccitiello, helping Electronic Arts to acquire the company in 2008.

Since then, the company is further expanding, have finally announced its Old Republic Star Wars-based MMO in association with LucasArts, based out of the firm's Austin office, and also opening a Montreal satellite office. Its announced, active projects also include Mass Effect 2 and a new fantasy franchise, Dragon Age.

Thus, the original company co-founders and BioWare/EA VPs, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk sat down with Gamasutra recently to discuss their development studio's fit with the larger organization, their role in the creative process at the studio these days, and how the company drives to evolve the RPG genre.

It's been over a year now since the acquisition. How much have your roles changed in that time? Has BioWare itself seen much change?

Ray Muzyka: No, honestly, I don't think there have been too many changes at all. We've always had an orientation towards making sure we have a great place for employees, quality in our workplace, a great place in terms of products or in customers making quality in our products. "Each game better than the last" has always been our vision, and always trying to provide a good return for our investment partners and shareholders. That's us, that's our employees basically. That's the other folks at EA that we work with.

From that perspective, it hasn't really changed what we're doing. If anything, we feel enhanced. There's more opportunity. There's more partnership. There's more opportunity to talk to people. Just running around a trade show and running into other people who are from EA is really cool.

We're all partners. We're all on the same team. It's neat to have that feeling and perspective, and be able to share things freely with them and get perspectives and viewpoints and advice and technology sharing and design sharing. We have people going back and forth between our studio and other studios all the time. I gotta say, we got a taste of that with Pandemic, and it was really good.

Having more opportunity for that as part of EA is even better. Beyond that, now we're a publisher, too, so we have even more contact and direct consumer interaction. We have embedded marketing, and we control our destiny in terms of both development and marketing now. And we work with a great sales force through EA. So we have more capabilities and more opportunities to do cool new things, which I'm always excited about.

We just opened a new location as well in Montreal, and that was definitely assisted because we're working with the folks at EA Montreal. While the people at BioWare Montreal report into BioWare, they're colocated with EA, which made the process really easy and streamlined for us. It's been accelerating a lot of the things we're doing.

You now have three locations. Aside from EA specifically, when you look back at the history of BioWare and how big you are now, how much has that changed the company? This is a big operation you guys are managing at this point.

Greg Zeschuk: Yeah, it's been interesting. Early on, we've been on record saying, "Well, we won't be more than a hundred people."

RM: We went on record saying that?

GZ: Well, I don't think there's any proof, but people claim that they saw us say that.

RM: Well, I don't remember being on record saying that.

GZ: I think it is different. In the early days, we were right in there as the producers on the game, working on stuff. Now, I think it's still a very rewarding job, because we get to work across all the products. You look at things from a portfolio perspective in terms of all the games you want to work on, and you actually tend to work on the teams themselves -- sort of, "How do we help our teams be successful? How do we help them be among the best?"

RM: We coach or mentor them.

GZ: Coaching and mentoring, that's a great way to describe it.

RM: It's very satisfying.

GZ: And on the other side of that, we still get to play. This is the best part. We're involved pretty early in the products, in that idea phase, focused on bouncing ideas off. We play a lot of the games and see just how they're just turning out.

Ray's playing tons of Dragon Age, and I've played it a bit. I've played a bit more of the Austin stuff lately [Star Wars: The Old Republic], and it's neat to have this chance to play these games and provide input. People want to listen, and it's good.

RM: In the early days, we were directly producing games -- this was over a decade ago -- ourselves. Now we have great exec producers and project directors, leads that are responsible and accountable and delivering on all fronts for our games.

We have a great team on Dragon Age, and our Mass Effect 2 EP Casey Hudson is amazing, and we have a great team in Austin with [studio co-directors] Rich [Vogel] and Gordon [Walton] and the other guys down there. There are EPs on other projects that aren't yet announced that are fantastic, too.

From our perspective, now we get to play the games and just really enjoy them as consumers, and offer feedback from that perspective, at the early start of the ideation phase. We say, "What's our audience excited by? What's our aspirational fantasy? What are solving for here? What goals are we setting up for this project?" Then the team goes and they work on that. We play it throughout the process and give feedback whether the team's meeting the goals that they set out at the start of the process.

It's been a lot of fun. I'm loving playing Dragon Age and The Old Republic and Mass Effect 2. I think our best work is still ahead of us. And we have some super secret stuff we haven't announced yet, too.


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Comments


Jason Bakker
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As soon as I heard references to similarities to George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I understood where this game is trying to go story-wise, and that really piqued my interest. The "lower" slant on fantasy that Martin takes is what got me back reading fantasy again... it's no longer about how cool/crazy the world and its magic is designed, but back to the characters themselves, and how they fit into and interact with this world and each other.



I'm hoping that the Dragon Age team keep their focus on this ideal, because it's something that could definitely elevate the fantasy RPG the same way Martin's works did for the fantasy novel genre.


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