"Triple-A game creation is a poor goal for developers working today," said BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk at a Gamasutra-attended talk during the UK's Develop conference in Brighton today.
"While blockbuster game creation is everything that most game developers working today growing up wanted to do, it's precisely the wrong thing to chase in gaming’s contemporary landscape."
Risk-taking from publishers and investors has dramatically declined in recent times, the Mass Effect and Dragon Age studio-runner noted: “As a result, innovation and creativity [are] being squeezed. Where the bottom of the market had dropped out at one point, now it’s the middle of the market has dropped out. Unless you can be in the top ten releases at one given time, it's unlikely that a triple-A game is going to make money.”
Zeschuk was at Develop to give a keynote on the importance of defining a studio’s culture when making games. “Think of company structure and culture like a game designer,” he encouraged.
“Start by identifying what you want to be and the steps you need to take in order to get there, just like you would when designing a video game from the ground up."
"Simply saying that you want to make a triple A game is no longer a viable goal," he continued. "Rather, you must make clear, defined and measurable goals, and build a studio culture that allows those goals to be realized. Your structures and processes must always be consistent with your cultural goals."
He described how the RPG developer has been through a series of company iterations over the course of its existence. Nevertheless, throughout these changes, the company has maintained a consistent set of characteristics, a set of values and goals that a game designer might typically hold to when developing and growing a series.
For BioWare, these defining characteristics are expressed in the mantra: "Quality in workplace, quality in products and entrepreneurship all in a context of humility and integrity.” According to Zeschuk, quality in the workplace, providing work life balance for employees, and creating the sort of culture that people want to get up for each morning creates hard workers.
Likewise, quality in products involves striving to make each game better than the last, a value that Zeschuk feels is exemplified in the transition from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2.
For BioWare, entrepreneurship means achieving and exceeding studio metric targets, achieving financial success and profitability, creativity and productivity. Zeschuk was eager to encourage developers foster an environment for entrepreneurship as this is the key way to attract investors.
Finally, Zeschuk gently encouraged developers to consider BioWare’s own value of humility and integrity -- you are only as good as your next game, he reminded, and a studio attitude of humility allows a team to take feedback from critics and fans without growing indignant. Hearing feedback is key to improving a studio’s output
Zeschuk was keen to emphasize that, as in game design, there is no best culture for any developer to subscribe to: "It’s all about fit,” he explained. “Good game developers are very mobile, and the smartest candidates will check for the culture of a new place before joining to see if it fits them well. The key is always in finding the right employees to fit the right culture. Happy and engaged employees make better games. If the team is happy they do better work, so the focus should always be in marrying culture with disposition. And culture is paramount: it informs and guides the operation of your group.”