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.