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BioWare 2011: The Doctors Speak

May 19, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

In this extensive interview, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, founders of BioWare, speak to Gamasutra about the company's current efforts -- everything from launching Dragon Age II to its Facebook companion Dragon Age Legends (in collaboration with EA2D) to Star Wars MMO The Old Republic, DLC launches, and beyond.

One thing that is consistent across these games is the company's philosophy toward creating and engaging with its audience, which the pair outlines below in clear, precise terms -- and beyond that, the benefits of approaching games this way.

The two also candidly discuss their expectations for The Old Republic, with Muzyka claiming that "once you've tried it, you just can't go back" to more established MMOs like World of Warcraft.

You guys often talk about emotions in games, and games as an art form. As the guys at the top of the company, how do you communicate that through all of your teams, through all of their work?

Ray Muzyka: We set vision statements. We talk about core values a lot, and we try to live them. We set a vision. Our vision for our group within [parent] EA, for BioWare, is create, deliver, and evolve the emotionally engaging games in the world.

It's been pretty consistent for the last few years. We've iterated that based on feedback with our leadership team. Each studio has a mission that's sort of like a different facet of that. They're delivering that emotion in different ways, different kinds of games -- games that are more massively multiplayer-focused, or more traditional role playing, or action role playing-focused; sometimes multiplayer, sometimes single player, lighter MMOs, or ongoing MMOs.

These are different facets of how we deliver this experience. There is a lot of roleplaying. There are a lot of characters. There's a lot of story. There are also a lot of familiar elements to action players, too, like combat, exploration, customization, and exploration. These are all things that we try and deliver in our games, but the net goal is to try and make an emotionally engaging experience.

Greg Zeschuk: Yeah. I think another interesting element is everyone that joins the company knows why they're there. It's not like, "Oh, I'm joining this BioWare company. I'm not sure what they do, or what they make." They know why they're there. They know what the mission is. The first day through the door, I mean, there's orientation of, "Here's the history, here's what we've built."

I mean, everybody knows, but to really drill down into, "We're about making emotionally engaging games," we're about people with passion that are incredibly engaged in what they're building. I think from top to bottom, I think everyone believes it. It's very consistent because we never really compromise on the standards of quality and excellence that we try to deliver.

RM: We talk about them a lot. Yeah, we take them seriously. Like, we make decisions in that context. Our employees, our customers, our investors, we try and deliver things that are really aligned with all three of those groups to have a sustainable business long term. We try to make decisions that reflect quality in the workplace, quality in our products, entrepreneurship. We try to be very humble, high integrity with how we deal with all the people we work with, and all those stakeholder groups.

You've mentioned humility as one of the factors that BioWare tries to uphold. Can you explain that? Why is that important?

RM: Sure. It's about learning, being able to admit you're wrong, and learn from your mistakes. It's about trying to improve each game, try to make it better than your last, never sitting on your laurels, never resting. It's a very active word. It's a very bold word. It's a very confident word, in many ways, because it's sort of a willingness to say, "Yes, we're ready to change, if we need to change, based on feedback."

We're also able to say, "This is good, and we're going to move forward with it because we recognize that we have to try some things." It's a powerful word. It's sort of a word that forces you to listen to feedback. It's a collaborative kind of word. It's a word that [means] you have to be open. It's a meritocracy of ideas. That's how we run BioWare. The best ideas surface. This could come from internal sources, employees. It could come from press feedback and reviews. It could come from our fans. It comes from all three, actually.

BioWare has made all kinds of games, but right now it's the fantasy and the sci-fi genres that you're very focused on. Do you consider moving beyond that and trying to get more people that might not be into sci-fi or fantasy settings, and try more real world-type settings? It seems like that would be an opportunity to deliver emotions.

GZ: Yeah. That's something we've absolutely debated over time. As we look forward, that's something we consider more and more. It's interesting, I think. Initially, I remember, the debates were kind of entertaining. I think our context initially was from a very traditional RPG perspective.

So, think of the discussion 10 years ago. Okay, [compare] Baldur's Gate to current day. ... You look to where both Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 2 and then 3 have evolved to, and it's very, very different.

You can imagine the cop drama set in the Mass Effect sort of framework. You can imagine a spy adventure in that context. I think actually that what's happened is our ability to conceive and understand different game contexts has evolved. Then that starts opening up new platforms into things that are maybe less traditional than we have historically [done].

We're not confirming anything today, but it's something we discuss a lot, because one of the things we want to do is really try and broaden our appeal, broaden our reach, sell more units, get more fans.

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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JB Vorderkunz
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The Sky is Blue, Grass is Green, and BioWare roxxorz the F*ING HOUSE!!! Seriously, what isn't to love about them - great games, fantastic perspective on work and life, every studio can learn something from these fine folks :D

Sean Currie
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Now they just need to jump on the LA Noire and Heavy Rain bandwagon. I want to see what Bioware's take on interactive drama is.

*cough* AndiftheycouldhiremethatwouldbereallyawesomeIworkcheap *cough*

Bertrand Augereau
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What's not to love about modern RPGs?

Come on...

Maybe not much if you never played Ultima V, Torment, Martian Dreams, Fallout, and the likes but I can't stand anymore the tasteless romances, the linearity, the cookie cutter background, the fake dialogue choices, the in-game DLC advertising...

Nathan Verbois
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Great interview! Love these guys and the company as a whole. Which makes me all the sadder that I probably won't get into SW:TOR too much as Guild Wars 2 will be releasing at the same time or soon after. I don't have the desire to play more than one MMO, but I know others probably will. Best of luck to them, as I'm sure The Old Republic will still be very successful.

David Serrano
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"RM: Great support from EA to build our games.

GZ: There's a lot of EA support in all our stuff.

RM: In fact, that's one of the reasons we joined EA, like the inspirational leadership from guys like John Riccitiello. He's still inspirational to us. He's a mentor to us."

Good. Good! The Force is strong with you. Powerful Siths you will become. Henceforth you shall be known as Darth Muzyka and Darth Zeschuk. Go to the Mustafar system, wipe out Viceroy Kotick and the other Activision leaders. Once more EA will rule the Galaxy.

Honestly, I've lost all respect for "the Doctors."

Andrew Calhoun
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The Reel Big Fish song, "Sell Out!" comes to mind, in a playful sense.

I still love their games, but they do smell of EA interference now. Perhaps though, getting them into a wider audience will benefit the genre in the long run. That remains to be seen.

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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Dont worry, Ricci will close Bioware, after their MMO failure, as the true professional :)

Craig Jensen
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No questions from the interviewer about going from Dragon Age: Origins with a 90.50% game rankings average to Dragon Age II with a 78.92% ave? Kind of a softball interview I thought...

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Anna Tito
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Thanks for the interview.

I respect Biowares committment to quality which is clear in the quality of their game production but also their supporting material like modding tools. The DA:O -DAII question is an interesting one though I feel that bioware has answered it already. They were looking at changing/ expanding their audience. The DA franchise evolved from the NWN family of games, DA:O stuck to much of the same narrative and game play styles of that predecessor. DAII really shifted the play space and style and I feel that the RPG world is better for it. Gamers tend to get stuck in this is what we know this is what we like, don't change it. But things have to change especially when you are in such a young and fast moving industry as games. I def think that in terms of game design, flow and narrative pacing DAII was better than DA:O. This is not to say that DAII is without it's flaws, it has some pacing issues at the beginning and is very reliant on the player making emotional attachment with the NPC's without a wide enough range to appeal to enough of the original DA:O gaming community, but it is a shift in an interesting direction.

Once again thanks for the interview it was definitely an interesting peak at the philosophy of BioWare :)

Sting Newman
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The only real issue is the old-time PC RPG fanatics vs action games. I've always detested Bioware's RPG's for their boring combat and just forced myself through them to see the content, at least when it came to Baldurs gate 1+2 they haven't really done a good RPG in a long time. I hated the combat in Dragon age origins, it was so half baked, despite having some decent content.

Dragon age 1 vs 2 was more about the boring battle system then anything else, and even despite speeding up the battles in DA2, the game still had horrible level design. The re-use of art assets was just awful.

Anna Tito
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Where as I find allot of action games tedious in game play, it is a matter of taste I suppose. And really the battle system issue is something bioware can improve on, so well see how the next stage of devs go. :)

The excessive reuse of levels bothered me, but knowing the toolset & engine, I know why the game did what it did. I am not saying it is a good thing, but I can see that they tried to make some of the engines limitations part of the game design. Given the relatively fast developer cycle I can understand it. I may not like it, and I am not sure it was a successful solution, but I know why.

Sting Newman
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"Where as I find allot of action games tedious in game play, it is a matter of taste I suppose."

The problem is the amount of passivity in games these days, dragon age 2 was a game that practically played itself. I really dislike how automated things are getting and the emphasis is all on the cinematics... at some point you might as well just watch the walkthrough on youtube of someone else playing the game and save the money since your participation in the experience is so trivial.

Anna Tito
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I don't disagree. I find that allot of games that are trying for the RPG or narrative focus are moving more and more towards the interactive movie style of the JRPGs like FF. I think this is a larger problem than just DA though, more and more of the RPG style games i am playing are moving away from their more dynamic and frankly engaging game play mechanics. That being said I found that if I played the game around the NPCs and less around the core story or the battle mechanic in DA2 I found it more interesting. I have replayed both DA:O and DA2 just to see if I play the character interrelationships differently, what changes in the game narratively.