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BioWare's founding doctors leave video games behind
BioWare's founding doctors leave video games behind
September 18, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

The two founding members of longstanding RPG studio BioWare have resigned from the company -- and, at least for now, the entire video game industry.

Doctors Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, who were instrumental in the development of well-respected titles including Mass Effect, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, announced their retirement from video games on BioWare's company blog on Tuesday.

"Iíve reached an unexpected point in my life where I no longer have the passion that I once did for the company, for the games, and for the challenge of creation," Zeschuk writes, while Muzyka mentions a "need now to move on to a new chapter in my career."

"Iíve largely personally achieved what I wanted in video games," says Muzyka, with Zeschuk adding that he's "not going to be working in games for a while, and thereís a strong possibility that I wonít be back."

BioWare, which was independently founded in 1995 by Muzyka, Zeschuk and fellow University of Alberta medical doctor graduate Augustine Yip, became a division of publishing giant Electronic Arts in 2007 through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Notably, today's news comes exactly five years after that deal was struck.

Under its new ownership, BioWare was tasked with creating its most ambitious project yet: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively-multiplayer online RPG that is rumored to be the most expensive video game production in history.

Don't Miss: What went wrong with Star Wars: The Old Republic?

The venture hasn't been going well: after a moderate start, the game lost many of its monthly subscribers almost immediately, and has yet to recover. Development studio BioWare Austin subsequently saw a round of layoffs that included the game's executive producer. And after less than a year on the market, the game is turning to the free-to-play model in order to try and recoup development costs that are estimated to be as high as $150 million.

By the end of their tenure, the two docs were overseeing the most expensive online game in the world, a rapidly growing pool of studios, and an entire division of a video game publishing giant, but their roles weren't always this complicated.

A storytelling legacy

The formation of BioWare is a unique story in game development history. In the mid-90s, co-founders Muzyka, Zeschuk and Yip, who met while studying at the University of Alberta, were practicing medical doctors with an affinity for unwinding by playing computer games. The trio pooled together the $100,000 necessary to found the company and, in 1996, shipped Shattered Steel for publisher Interplay, a 3D combat game with players piloting giant robots inspired by the MechWarrior game series.

It was the company's next game, however, that set the stage for what BioWare would be known for: 1998's Baldur's Gate, a story-driven role-playing game based in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, was praised for its intricately crafted narrative and its mature themes.

Baldur's Gate is often credited with reviving the RPG genre, and ushered in a new age that was mostly dominated by follow-up BioWare efforts that included a sequel, a separate Neverwinter Nights franchise, the LucasArts-licensed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and, in modern times, sci-fi trilogy Mass Effect and the fantasy-themed Dragon Age.

Rapid growth

In 2005, outside investment led by then-former Electronic Arts president John Riccitiello saw BioWare merging with Destroy All Humans! maker Pandemic into one "super-developer" (then called VG Holdings).

That parent company was acquired by Electronic Arts in 2007, which saw Riccitiello returning to the company as its new CEO.

BioWare continued as its own independent brand under its new ownership, and in 2009 a restructuring saw BioWare merging with EA-owned Mythic Entertainment into the BioWare Group, an umbrella name covering all of EA's RPG and MMO development.

That group, led by both Muzyka and Zeschuk, rapidly expanded to six studios as EA continued rebranding and reshuffling its studios under the BioWare banner.

Zeschuk temporarily led BioWare Austin as it completed The Old Republic but, for the most part, the roles of the two doctors expanded from leading a game studio to leading an entire division of a major publisher.

What's next

It looks as if for now, the docs are splitting up.

Muzyka says he will be investing in and mentoring new entrepreneurs who are looking to impact sustainable social change.

"For me, getting involved in social impact investment stems from the simple hope of helping the world to be a better place," he writes.

As for Zeschuk, he's following his passion too, though one that's a little more grounded: his love of beer.

"The main project I will be working on is a web-based interview show called The Beer Diaries where I interview notable brewers and showcase their beers," he writes. "If things go well, Iíll work on other beer-related shows, apps and projects.

"If not, Iíll have drunk a lot of tasty beers and may be back in games or even something else completely different."

Photo: Jacob Kepler

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Rob Wright
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A sad, sad day, but not an unexpected one -- consider the lukewarm lukewarm reception of Drago Age II, the backlash against Mass Effect 3's ending, and now the utter disappointment of SWTOR, and you could see this coming.

It's a shame too because BioWare elevated the RPG genre like no other studio, and its legacy will be remembered more for the highlights (Mass Effect, KOTOR, Baldur's Gate) than the aformentioned lowlights. When Gamasutra/Game Developer Mag finally builds a Game Developer Hall of Fame, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk will be first-ballot inductees.

Kenneth Wesley
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While seeing 2 of the most influential people leave the game industry is gutwrenching, I believe Muzkya and Zeschuk leave behind an amazing lineup of games to be proud of. And if their next endeavors contain as much of the ingenuity they brought to video games, then they're making a world a better place. Best of luck to both!

Matt Mihaly
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Bon voyage, guys. You came, you saw, you conquered. Onto new and exciting things I hope.

Mike Griffin
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Interviewed both gentlemen on a few occasions over the years; great people.
Sad to see them shift tracks, but they've certainly left behind a legacy of killer games
and classy leadership.

Quest Complete.

Mike Motoda
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Zeschuk's new venture is something I can definitely support. Let me know if you need additional beer "testers". :) Good luck to the both of them.

Alex Covic
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This answers all my questions as of late (EA) ... thanks for the fish, Duders, and some of the most amazing games in video game history.

Dave Troyer
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Some awesome guys doin' some awesome stuff.

I agree with Rob Wright up there. It isn't easy when you dump heart and soul into some projects and they don't get received well, maybe even more so after you taste some awesome success.

Though, I don't blame them for the flaws that started appearing in recent games, I blame the pressure they obviously had on them to deliver and the people under them that cut corners within development.

Really some sad news, but I wish them the best and I appreciate everything they've done for the industry as a whole.

Rob Wright
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That's the thing -- I know this is being portrayed by BioWare and the doctors themselves as a pursuit of new interests and creative challenges, and I agree that's probabaly a big part of it, BUT...'d have a hard time convincing me that the turmoil and pressure of the last couple years hasn't taken a toll on them. In other words, if ME3 hadn't been assailed by fans and SWOTOR was at 5 million subscribers and counting, I doubt they'd be moving on or blogging about lost passions.

Mathieu Dumont
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A sad day for the industry. Two pillars of the Western RPG genre are now gone. Let's hope they find satisfaction in their new endeavors.

Troy Walker
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a large company can suck the life and passion out of you...

Axel Cholewa
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People like Muzyka and Zeschuk are probably not driven away from games just by mediocre receptions of their latest games. You don't get that far if you can't stand a few throwbacks (though these might be the hardest ones for them).

I am actually happy to see two people with such a secure position in a still growing industry make such major changes in their lives. They show that if you have reached your goal, you should not just continue on that path only for the sake of financial safety.

Good luck to both, but especially to Dr. Muzyka (sorry, Dr. Zeschuk, but I live in Germany, and I know enough about beer already to be passionate about you endeavor ;)

Mike Weldon
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I just want to say thanks for making Baldur's Gate, and for bringing the RPG genre back to life.

Charles Weng
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This is a sad day not just for RPG'ers like myself, but for gamers -- and the legion of game developers, writers, artists and technicians that stand behind them -- everywhere.

The era of Bioware is (long) over. May other worthy teams pick up the mantle for creating thought-provoking, emotionally-compelling story-driven games.

** Raise a beer in salute of Muzyka and Zeschuk **

Ron Dippold
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When you can no longer make the games you want to make, it's probably time to leave. Especially if your new job involves drinking beer.

It was a good decade and a half, thanks guys!

Ian Welsh
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It's hard to see this as good news. But once Bioware was taken over, this day was only a question of time. You sell your company, you sell control, and that loss of control must be made up for by whatever amount of money you managed to cash out. Hope the money was worth it.

TC Weidner
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yep, I agree. Take the money , leave the corporate drama. Take some time off, then start back up a small studio and do what is fun and creative. If your not following your own voice and vision in this industry, I dont see it as a very fun place to be.

Gern Blanston
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After 20 years with a company, there are usually 2 reasons people leave and change their life's direction completely... Either they've gotten old and begin a retirement plan, or the people they work for make what they're doing seem no longer worth it. They don't seem old to me.

Bob Johnson
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The timing of both of them moving on at the same time seems like more than a coincidence.

Sounds like they got tired of the EA bs.

Eric Adams
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Amazing legacy, but the Doctors will be back in gaming soon...or invent Warp Drive.

Lyon Medina
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Good luck and traveling mercy be apon you.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutraís Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Kristijan Lujanovic
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This is what actually happened to Olympus and Old Gods. They switched to beer.

I read somewhere that their favorite quest line is in Jade empire and how they got really disappointed when reception for that game was not all positive. it got bypassed by a lot of critics and fans. not to mention when majority skiped the quest.

Its not total surprise. Like David Jaffe, Ken Levine and CliffyB complained about huge teams and how you became less creative person and more management type. whole day nothing but business/investor/leads meetings...

I blame them for nothing. They gave me one of the best gaming experience of my life.

Sad day for my best friend. I don't have a heart to tell him.

Mikhail Mukin
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They accomplished what most game developers dream of: created and sold a company for a lot of $ (or maybe even sold it twice ;)

There might have been some point in the contract preventing them from leaving right after EA bought them or till some SW busyness is clarified or something... Now they can enjoy life or do whatever they please.

Pandemic's Josh Resnick has a candy boutique ("sugarfina" - good looking candies!) so why not some beer recommended by Bioware founder! :)

Congrats on a job well done and setting a good example!

Rob Wright
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Tycho at Penny Arcade pointed this out and it's worth repeating -- the timing of their departure is almost five years to the date since EA acqired BioWare in 2007, and thus would match the standard backend payout for acquisitions. I can't believe I missed this myself, because I remember thinking back in 07 when the acquisition was announced that I'd be surprised if both doctors were still with BioWare by the fall of 2012.

Greg Perry
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This was my first thought when the information hit. Who knows when they really wanted to leave, but the fact the 5 year mark has hit, and they're out the door seems to indicate that this was always the plan. We can hope that they stuck around to make sure that their child would be left in good hands, but it was probably was for money/stock reasons.

They may also have been facing some pressure from the higher-ups at EA with the lackluster performance of SWTOR, but after the reception of DA2, SWTOR and ME3, I'd probably want to call it a day as well.

They helped make great games; they made a small fortune doing it, and now they got to walk away before things burn to the ground.

Jeanne Burch
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I drag out Baldur's Gate (all three of 'em) and play it completely through once a year, usually in December when my university shuts down for a couple of weeks. Replaying Shadows of Amn over and over again got me through multiple surgeries in the early 2000s. I always claim it's the most expensive series ever, because I purchased my first (and second and third) gaming laptops just to play it.

Thanks, guys. Enjoy making the world a better place. And the beer!

tony oakden
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they'll be back. No one gets out of the games industry alive :)

Chris Melby
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Goodbye Bioware! You now join the ranks of the early nineties Lucas Arts, Looking Glass Technology, and other greats, that are now dead or have become soulless companies. :(

Fred Marcoux
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good luck to both. Tip of the hat to some great games!

John Flush
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Good luck to both of them - and good luck to Bioware.

Justin Lynch
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Good luck to them both! They've created a company that produced some of the best games ever made. At this point they've more than earned their retirement and a chance to start a new chapter in their lives!

kevin williams
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Just for the record, they will be missed - but the bigger question is if consumer gaming is so 'broken' what will be the fate of the rest of the sector?

mike madden
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Regardless of the why, it is sad to see two step away. But in all of it, they created some great games, made a bit of coin and had been able to pursue a passion into a fully realized reality.

May the pursuit of your next passions bare the same fruit.

David Hoffman
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It's better to burn out than to fade away...

Shava Nerad
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I just blogged about this on my professional blog here...

Daniel Martinez
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Godspeed gentlemen. You achieved what many of us aspire to become. You have my eternal admitration and respect.

Matt Ployhar
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Sad day for the Gaming World at large. These are 2 of the BEST people I've had the privilege to meet & work with in the 17+ years I've been in this industry. Take care guys! All the best!!!!

Gian Dominguez
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It really is a sad day. Hopefully they find there passion again someday and treat the world to something new/awesome for the video game world.

Paul Schwanz
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From the linked story on the original acquisition:

"EA will pay up to $620 million in cash to the stockholders of VG Holding Corp. and will issue up to an additional $155 million in equity to certain employees of VG Holding Corp., which will be ***subject to time-based or performance-based vesting criteria.***"

Alexander Ivanov
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Calling The Old Republic's launch "a moderate start" is a vast understatement. I am inclined to believe that such and similar false statements made the Doctors leave with a bitter taste.

More than one million accounts on day 1, complete server and service stability, responsive international Customer Support and various launch event parties...
You can't call the biggest and most successful MMO launch in history "a moderate start".
It's not wrong, it's a lie. If SW:TOR did ANYTHING absolutely perfect it's the start.

The game lost subscribers since, yes. But, God, it did have an explosive start!