BioWare, Bungie execs talk building blockbuster franchises

GDC 2010: Ray Muzyka and Joseph Staten talk about 10-year franchise plans, switching development teams between sequels, and <i>Police Academy</i> films.

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Who Was There: Two of the leading figures behind gaming’s biggest hits joined to talk about their keys to success. On hand was Ray Muzyka, CEO, general manager, and cofounder of BioWare Corp, and Bungie creative director Joseph Staten. BioWare, of course, is the company behind some of the most iconic role-playing games of all time, including Baldurs’ Gate, Mass Effect, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, while Bungie is best known for one of gaming’s biggest franchises: the Halo series.

BioWare's Ray Muzyka.

What They Talked About: The moderator opened up this GDC “fireside chat” by asking both panelists why the industry relies so much on sequels. Muzyka--whose company just released the critically well-received sequel Mass Effect 2--said there was an anti-sequel mindset in BioWare’s early years, but it had eroded simply because the development teams found them fun to create. He said BioWare now looks at every one of its games as potential franchises that could expand well beyond the game sphere to include other media, such as books, comics, movies, and more. And he added that the company now plans a game’s potential life cycle up to 10 years in advance.

As for Halo, Staten said the team at Bungie had absolutely no plans to make the shooter into a franchise when they were working on the game nearly 10 years ago. “We had absolutely no 10-year plan. But as we look to Bungie’s future, we’re a lot more forward thinking,” he said.

While BioWare now plots out future strategies for its franchises, Muzyka says user feedback still impacts greatly on those plans. For example, BioWare made a prioritized list of changes it wanted to make to Mass Effect 2 based on reviews and user feedback on Mass Effect. “We’re proud to say we nailed everything on that list. Really, the changes you saw in the second game came from feedback,” he said.

The session’s moderator then switched the focus to the question of how important keeping the same team on a franchise was to maintaining quality. Both Muzyka and Staten said while it was possible to switch developers in between sequels, it was an extremely difficult thing to do well, thanks to the enormous amount of knowledge transfer that needs to happen between the old and new teams. Muzyka said it certainly wasn’t impossible, but it carried its own risks.

The moderator then switched to a controversial topic—last week’s firings of the heads of Infinity Ward. The moderator asked Muzyka and Staten if they had any advice for Activision on how to keep the Call of Duty series fresh, but both declined to comment directly on the situation. Muzyka instead gave some general advice on how to keep franchises interesting by saying developers need to stay humble and not be afraid to take criticism on board.

Quote/Takeaway: “I guess the industry are big fans of the Police Academy series.”--Joseph Staten, design director, Bungie, joking about why the games industry loves sequels.

Discussion

111 comments
Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

@Marky360 your brilliant rhetoric continues to amaze and astound us all.

Marky360
Marky360

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Marky360
Marky360

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Marky360
Marky360

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Marky360
Marky360

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Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

@Marky360 i dont care what you like, i dont know you from adam, so consequently your game preferences mean nothing to me. I was mocking your statement that you dont like a franchise, half of which you have never experienced. Its analogous to me claiming i love the Mass Effect franchise, but I've only played the first one. You dont seem to understand my criticism and I cant be bothered to dumb it down any more. Do yourself a favor and develop some analytical reading skills.

Marky360
Marky360

@Bigbudd0045 why does it matter to u that I don't like the franchise. I just don't think it seems like My style of game maybe u like Mass Effect and it's sequel but to me I think there are Better things on the Market Like God of War 3 for instance now thats a game I can really get into.

Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

@Marky360 its not a matter of what i like or dont, you made a blanket statement saying you dont like the franchise, but you ve only played one game, if you just said you didnt like mass effect then well enough, but you claimed you didnt like the whole series. Thats an asinine statement since you havent played the whole series. Everyone has an opinion, just seems some people feel the need to inflict their ignorant ones on the rest of us.

Marky360
Marky360

@Bigbudd0045 dude if u like mass effect thats good for u all I'm saying is I personally don't.

Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

@marky360 see my prior comment, you said you didnt like the series, it was your first statement. You havent played the series, just the first game, thus you statement was inane.

Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

@arsenic911 Bungie first made Marathon, which was a Mac FPS (at least i believe so) and strangely enough Halo was originally conceived as RTS for the Mac prior to MS stepping into the picture. I cant comment on originality in Halo as i dont play them enough to comment, im not into FPS games really, but I wouldnt put Bioware on the forefront of innovation. I like their games but they have been taking incremental steps on their dialogue and morality trees. Feels more like refinement then innovation to me.

Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

@deesnuts25 the guy dislikes a franchise based on one game...just because he is entitled to his opinion doesnt mean I have to respect it. I respect that he is entitled to his own opinion, i dont have to respect the opinion or him. He doesnt like a series and has only played one game. If he said he didnt like mass effect so he didnt pick up mass effect 2, fine, but he prefaced it with the statement that he doesnt like the series. Well he hasnt played the series. If he is going to make such a sweeping statement then he deserves a similarly sweeping response.

bossmon19
bossmon19

dose it mean the bungie have to make games for ps3 too i would understand pc but they never used a ps3 i think they should stay with ms

AnelZukic
AnelZukic

it was an interesting topic to read, and planning 10 years cycle is really crazy, and in my opinion only big studios can do something like that :) Well I believe to Bioware to make a great 10 year long franchise and to Bungie also since when they finish with Halo Reach there are not anymore bound to Microsoft, and the Halo series goes to a Microsoft internal studio, but not an inexperience one ;)

steelmouth
steelmouth

what a waste of my time reading this,not even a single game in development of planned was mentioned

topsemag55
topsemag55

Muzyka was correct when he said Bioware listened to our feedback. I loved ME1, and you can see many changes we wanted for ME2.:) Both are great RPGs. ME3 will be the crowning masterpiece.:)

Marky360
Marky360

@Bigbudd0045 Whoa don't u think your overeacting all I said was I didn't like the first Mass Effect so based on my dislikes of the first I'd rather not play the second but u go and get all offensive like u made the game or something. I'm not bashing the series i'm just saying i didn't care for it and would rathe Bioware make a new Jade empire instead of a Mass Effect 3

smbius
smbius

The moderator asked Muzyka and Staten if they had any advice for Activision on how to keep the Call of Duty series fresh. Muzyka and Staten: "Fire Bobby Kotick"

ninjaroach81
ninjaroach81

Well, we're right at about the 10-year point for Halo (damn, has it been THAT long already?!?!?), so it makes sense that Reach will be it for Bungie. I just hope that the franchise doesn't get ruined by someone else. As for Mass Effect, they're off to a good start! Let's hope the next 7 years are as good as the first 3.

SpiritOfFire117
SpiritOfFire117

@roosteraxe1 Well you should be glad to know that Reach will be Bungie's last Halo game.

dentui
dentui

Anyways, Read the title a bit longer. "building blockbuster franchises", see that S at the end of Franchise. That means they are talking about what they have built, not that they will join.

dentui
dentui

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MERGATROYDER
MERGATROYDER

Sounds like good ideas are floating around. We'll probably hear more about this around the end of the year.

Nobri
Nobri

Maybe they'll start to migrate to another console (hint, hint)?

starduke
starduke

No they are not collaborating. Would it be cool if they did? Yes!

DrunkenGoon
DrunkenGoon

Where did anyone pick up the idea that they were collaborating? Unless GameSpot has changed the title it is fine the way it is.. Maybe you need a better understand of the way the English language works.

TBoogy
TBoogy

No real interesting words here, but my two favorite developers nonetheless.

abbnormmal
abbnormmal

They are talking about their individual franchises, not collaborating. Headline is misleading,

Agent_StarFire
Agent_StarFire

IMO its more of a bungie rescue call imo not saying it is but I think bungie just wants some of biowares action. I am personally strongly against this because i strongly prefer bioware more than bungie. Not saying i hated the halo games i just think they would be better as individual companies. Maybe if they made like 1 or 2 games together that would be sick but totally combining with each other makes me sick :(

Decessus
Decessus

@arsenic911: You should look up information about Marathon and Myth. Both were developed by Bungie and both were excellent games.

Leviathan96
Leviathan96

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Leviathan96
Leviathan96

I remember a tale of a amazing company, Blizzard. They made great games and such...then...they went with Activision (they ruin everything -_-) Now Blizzard sucks. I seriously hope this doesnt happen with Bioware...

arsenic911
arsenic911

I'm not sure if it's a good idea matching Bioware with a company that lacks originality like Bungie. Not saying Bungie sucks but besides the Halo series, which didn't evolve alot, I can't recall them making any other game. In the end, I think Bungie will benefit from this more than Bioware.

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

A collaboration of BioWare & Bungie would be epic, given the strengths of both companies, e.g. on the one hand you would have an immersive narrative with deep characters and sprawling universe to explore, in addition to an extremely slick FPS component. As long as Ego's dont get in the way, a game developed by BioWare & Bungie would be potentially mind blowing. Although Borderlands was labelled as an RPG/FPS, i fail to see how simply allocating a few points to your character constitutes an 'RPG' tag, little to no character interaction, no impact in the universe (characters percieve you dependant on previous decisions made) etc, although the gunplay is great fun and i do enjoy playing it, i just dont think of it as an RPG.

deesnutts25
deesnutts25

@Bigbudd0045 If a person has a different opinion than you it makes him dumb and he should go play in traffic?? The dude dislikes ME because he disliked the first one, that is his choice, it doesn't make him a bad guy. Maybe he just doesn't like sci fi rpg games, that is his choice. Now I liked KOTOR, but I didn't like Dragon Age, it doesn't make me close minded, just means I didn't like the other game. I didn't like all of the Halo games, I liked the 2nd one, but the rest were kind of so-so to me. I have never played ME and I won't say anything bad about them, but I probably will not play them either, just because I feel it is KOTOR in a different universe, just like DA was. We all as gamers like and dislike games, some people liked FFXIII I didn't, just because I like the older FF games more because they made you think and there was a lot of exploration involved. As far as the article goes, I wouldn't mind seeing the 2 companies team up and make something, I'm sure it would be interesting and have a pretty good story to it. @solidniko Play Borderlands it is a FPSRPG.

Wings_008
Wings_008

i loved ME and Halo 3, so a game made by the two will be phenomenon to say the least

solidniko
solidniko

they should team up and make a fps rpg

Amz1217
Amz1217

personally I loved ME 1 & 2 and I also enjoyed the Halo games so it would be interesting to see what Bungie and Bioware cook up...hoping it will be something great

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

ME2 was a massive improvement over ME1 IMO, i think its great that BioWare not only listened to consumer feedback, but acted upon it, as most devs simply could'nt care less as long as the $$$'s roll in, with this in mind, i really cant wait for ME3. As for Bungie, HALO:Reach IS a complete overhaul, not only visually, but also gameplay wise, as for the 'Milking' of the Halo franchise, there are currently 5 Halo games, which is by no means 'Milking' when you consider other franchises such as FF, Tekken, SF, COD, MOH, NFS, FIFA etc, etc, etc and lets not even mention the king of 'milkers' Mario. To be honest im not personally a massive Halo fan, however 'Reach' definately has my attention.

Raykuza
Raykuza

Maybe Bungie can work on an original IP instead of milking the Halo name for all it's worth and then some.

Bigbudd0045
Bigbudd0045

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Marky360
Marky360

I realy don't like the Mass effect series. the first one was a bit of a bore which made me not pick up the second one. as for a Halo I think it's a great series one of the best in my opinion. Bungie should keep up the good work as for Bioware I think they should drop the Mass effect series and go back to Jade empire now there's a good RPG.

wolf0
wolf0

a WIN for gamers

ericstifer
ericstifer

@mkeezay22 Are you joking. Halo 1-3 were all VERY similar games. Halo 1 was a surprise hit. with Halo 2 bungie was tasked with making a game that was focused on making xbox live a hit and a selling point on the game. Halo 3 was halo 2 on a next gen console. Halo Reach looks to be like nothing that we've seen in any halo game. Armor abilities, a single shot BR, reticle blooming, assassinations, no duel wielding on xbox live? my god, how is that just a graphics overhaul? i will agree with you on mass effect 2. That game was so awesome! Mass effect 1 was amazing, mass effect 2 was everything mass effect 1 was x10

jadefury27
jadefury27

"The moderator asked Muzyka and Staten if they had any advice for Activision on how to keep the Call of Duty series fresh, but both declined to comment directly on the situation." Translation: We all saw this coming but nobody said anything. It's like when people watch a man beat his wife or someone commit a crime everybody wants to say or do something but doesn't want to be next. game developers\studios need to unionize.

mkeezay22
mkeezay22

personally I don't think bungie is the best people to talk to about keeping a games sequels fresh,they lived off halo for so long now and it hasn't stayed to fresh in my opinion. Reach just looks like a graphics overhaul on halos gameplay I doubt it will do anything to keep the series fresh. Bioware has done an amazing job making mass effect 2 a huge improvement over the last which was a damn good game to begin with but you still gotta wonder how long it will stay that way,mass effect 3 will have to be a masterpiece to keep up with the improvements of the first two and keep it fresh,but if anyone can do it its bioware.