Q&A: Pandemic's EA deal postmortem

As the dust settles on the $860 million buyout of BioWare/Pandemic, Josh Resnick and Greg Borrud explain how the purchase will free up their studio to make better games.

Last week, Electronic Arts stunned the game industry by announcing that it was buying one of the world's biggest independent developers for $860 million. The studio in question was BioWare/Pandemic, the union of the eponymous Canadian RPG developer and the Californian action studio.

In November 2005, the two companies joined forces in a deal brokered by Elevation Partners, a venture capital group that vainly tried to acquire Eidos earlier that year. The merger was backed up by nearly $300 million in venture capital, a sum that helped the company break free of the traditional publisher/developer relationship, which sees the latter dependent on the former for financing.

Less than two years later, BioWare/Pandemic was purchased part and parcel by the world's biggest third-party publisher. As soon as the news broke, EA's numerous detractors decried the news as the ultimate sellout, given that both BioWare and Pandemic had been independent since the mid- and late 1990s, respectively. Critics of the deal predicted that the two studios would share in the fate of other EA acquisitions such as Origin Systems and Westwood Studios, both of which were eventually folded into the publisher's massive corporate hierarchy.

That won't happen, according to Pandemic CEO Josh Resnick and director of production Greg Borrud. Speaking with GameSpot, the two executives stated repeatedly in no uncertain terms that they still see Pandemic as an independent operation. They also look at EA not as a dominant corporate parent, but as a big brother with numerous connections, ample resources, and bottomless pockets.

GameSpot: How does it feel going from the best-funded, highest-profile independent developer in the world to becoming part of the biggest third-party publisher in the world?

Josh Resnick: Well, the reason we did both those deals is so we could focus on making great games. We asked ourselves what we could do to build the value of the Pandemic brand, to invest our technology and our IPs. There's tremendous talent there. We've had different phases here at Pandemic; we had Pandemic 2.0 and Pandemic 3.0. So this is just another phase of growth for the company.

Greg Borrud: I just wanted to add to that by saying that, even though we're now part of a much larger organization, we still plan on operating as an independent company. Our day-to-day operations aren't going to change much. Naturally, we want to draw upon the vast resources that EA can bring to bear, especially when it comes to marketing and sales, but also looking at their other teams in terms of knowledge-sharing. But in terms of the day-to-day, we're still here, we're still running the studio as an independent company, whether we're part of a larger organization or not.

GS: Now one of the issues often faced by independent developers is the fact they are dependent on publishers for funding, and spend a lot of time negotiating deals to get said funding. Do you feel liberated by the fact you no longer will have to do that?

JR: That is a big part of why we're partnering with EA, because it allows us to focus on making unbelievable games. I mean our goal at the end of the day is to get that 13-year-old kid or that 35-year-old kid to spend their allowance on our games. That's what counts. That's what's important to us.

GS: Now your friends over at BioWare told us that a key factor in this deal was John Riccitiello, who was CEO of BioWare/Pandemic before he rejoined EA as its CEO...

JR: Well, that was one of the big reasons we got so excited about this deal, was that we share John's vision for that. He was one the people who came to us with the idea of putting Pandemic and BioWare together in the first place. So now, for us to be able to partner with him on a much bigger stage, on EA, is really exciting for us. Again, the key thing for us is getting his support for building the Pandemic brand, our teams, and our franchises. And he's on board with that, and we love being part of that.

GB: The whole concept of BioWare/Pandemic was John's brainchild, and without him, I don't think we'd be having this conversation. What he's trying to do at EA totally matches perfectly with our idea to focus on creativity, creative talent, and to give us the freedom to make great, great games.

GS: So now that Pandemic is part of the EA Games subdivision, will its name be changed to "EA Pandemic"?

JR: Over our dead bodies! [Laughs.] Seriously, though, nothing is going to change. John and the rest of EA have no interest in changing that. They want us to continue to operate as an independent entity within EA. They want us to be Pandemic Studios, our games are going to be branded as Pandemic Studios, and they've talked to us a lot about continuing to build the value in the Pandemic brand. Honestly, they want to provide us with support where we need it, but otherwise they want to stay out of our way and continue to let us do what we do.

GB: We've been building Pandemic for nine years now, and I think in our minds, we're only halfway to where we want to be as a developer. Continuing to build Pandemic is what gets us up in the morning. And the key to this transaction is that we'll be able to keep doing that.

JR: One final thought on that. Some of our favorite developers, such as Blizzard and Rockstar, those guys have been able to do incredible work and continue to build their brands and the excitement people have about their products while inside large organizations. So, we're happy to follow in those footsteps.

GS: I was going to say it sounds like you guys are aiming to be like Criterion Games, which was allowed to keep their name and largely do their own thing while technically under EA's management.

JR: And DICE too, from my understanding.

GS: So, when this deal was announced, there was some pretty delicate wording about which properties Pandemic wholly owns and will be transferred to EA. When we spoke to BioWare, they confirmed Mass Effect, Jade Empire, and Dragon Age as three of their original IPs which will become EA properties. Now, for the record, the Pandemic games which will now be wholly owned by EA included Saboteur, Mercenaries, and Full Spectrum Warrior, correct?

JR: Yes. There are also an additional four unannounced products we're working on that we will be partnering with EA on.

GS: During the conference call after the announcement, John mentioned the 10 games being worked on by BioWare and Pandemic, "several unannounced titles that are targeted both at the Wii and DS." Is it safe to say some of these four games will be on the Wii and DS?

JR: Um... [Pauses.] Let's just say we're looking at all types of platforms and are very interested in the Wii and DS.

GB: Yes, totally interested. [Laughs.]

GS: So you guys have several previous, popular games which were published by THQ (Destroy All Humans!) and LucasArts (Star Wars: Battlefront). Will this deal now mean that EA will collect royalties from its rivals?

JR: Obviously, when we developed those products for those companies, we had deals with those companies to collect royalties from those products, and will we continue to collect those royalties.

GB: But at our studio, we have a focus on our employees and we want to reward them. So we have a history of paying them royalties for them being successful, and that will continue to happen. However, the money that used to go into the company pool, as such, will now go into the EA company pool. So I imagine there will be some interesting conversations there when it comes to royalties.

GS: You said you like to reward your staffers by sharing the wealth. Are your employees getting some of the not-so-small fruits of their labor from the EA buyout?

JR: Oh yeah. We treat the employees here as an ownership society, and it's very important for us to make our employees feel like they have a stake in the success of the company and the products we make. It's very important to us to make Pandemic the best place for talent in the industry, and revenue sharing is just part of how we do it.

GS: Now EA, for lack of a better term, has its fingers in many pies such as mobile and in-game advertising. Do you plan on taking advantage of those options with your properties? If so, how are you going to make sure your properties don't get overexposed?

JR: Look, at the end of the day, we look at how to best manage each of our franchises, whether it's with EA or some other publisher. We only bring our properties to the platforms which make sense for those properties, and that's not going to change at EA.

GB: Well, I hope we're creating IPs and brands with a life outside of gaming. That said, our focus is still on making games, first and foremost.

GS: Now, I know some studios that have done deals with EA have essentially outsourced some development tasks to the publisher. I guess the most famous example is Valve Software handing over all PlayStation 3 porting duties of The Orange Box to EA. Do you guys plan on taking advantage of EA's vast resources to offload some development duties?

JR: Well, we work with outside developers right now, and will continue to make that choice on a product-by-product basis. If there's some way to leverage EA's internal resources and external resources in a way that's appropriate, then we'll do it. And we'll continue to work with outside developers on a SKU-by-SKU basis.

GS: Now, a lot of people are saying that, for lack of a better term, you guys have sold out. Rightly or wrongly, EA has acquired a reputation for pushing out products according to rigid milestones not necessarily tied to whether or not developers are 100 percent satisfied with the game's final quality. What kind of assurances would you like to give to Pandemic fans that the games you'll release as an EA subsidiary will be as high a quality as the games you released as an independent developer?

JR: Well, the guarantee is we're Pandemic, and we're not changing how we operate. EA bought us to continue to be Pandemic, and we had that in mind when we decided to partner with EA. This transaction will allow us to focus on making great games, and EA honestly doesn't want us to do anything else.

GB: We can talk, and we can try and come up with reasons why EA won't change us. I know people are skeptical--we're reading the message boards too, believe me! But at the end of the day, we'll just have to let the games speak for themselves.

GS: Now, a game that really spoke to me a lot is Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Does that still have a nebulous early 2008 release date?

GB: Well, we've said "Q1 2008." I guess you could consider that nebulous.

JR: Well, this is part of the tradition we started with our deal with Elevation Partners. The core of who we are are the games we put out there, and the last thing we ever want to do is rush a game to market. Mercenaries is in a great place, but we know that it needs that extra polish that can take it to the next level, and we're taking the time to make it as good as it possibly can be. So sure, Q1 is kind of nebulous, and we could just pick a date and try to hit it. But we've taken a lot from how BioWare handles their development. I know people get frustrated by games, but we just won't release a game until we're totally satisfied with it.

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122 comments
djedi_master
djedi_master

let's hope that it will be something good at last

dithindious
dithindious

I hate EA yet at the same time love them for funding some games that have turned out to be fantastic *very few though* with any luck they realise that interfering with Bioware/Pandemic will jus cause the games to go downhill and the fans to dwindle but then again since when has luck came into it...

upstartrex
upstartrex

A fool sales himself. He has food today for slavery tomorrow. A wise man takes an oppressor's desire to own him as affirmation of his worth which is equal to he who'd be master. EA may have wanted to own Bioware so badly because they feared its' potential. Pandemic's idiots, convinced by the lies or confident they'll be rich and gone before their workplace is scuttled, have put faith in EA's claims that being one of EA's servants is better than independence. There may be immediate benefit but it is an evil state to be chained to another entity's fate. Logically, it never makes sense to agree to a loan. If what's given will be earned and repaid then there's no benefit to having it sooner and working to earn its' worth instead of working to earn its' worth and having the thing later. Bioware and Pandemic have set the price of their members at 860, 000, 000 slips of inked paper. Or maybe the idea, "credit" of 860,000, 000.

bloodystump
bloodystump

I wonder how many more developers EA has to buy before they can effectively enforce their single format console quest...

hordaak
hordaak

wow. sellin out to the man. never thought bioware would do that. Now EA will do what they usually do...make sequel after sequel. need for speed 7....the sims 8...madden 2008 with the added ability to control cheerleader careers. ea sucks man.

Devvy01
Devvy01

Its a shame to see these companies gobbled up , usually something suffers in the end, quality

Dav_id83
Dav_id83

I am just dam well hoping EA don't jump into the Mercenaries 2 project and **** it up big-time. I was waiting for it to come out this month but it got delayed till next year so maybe the buyout is the cause ot it all. It better be dam well good M2 or I'll be pi**ed.

Crush_Project
Crush_Project

Just another few names to add to the boycott list. Bioware now translates to Biohazard. The article here is basically the same thing every other company that sells out says when it happens, only they are shouting it louder. So long Bioware. And yes siiixon a sad day indeed.

siiixon
siiixon

an other sad day for gamers all over the world. JONVaillant: yes of course because after EA buy'ed them all there are only a handful left probably in the next 5 years only 2 will be left EA and MS, and then you can still say "F_ Yes! EA is the only game company i like"

JONVaillant
JONVaillant

F_ Yes! EA is the only game company apart from 2K and Rockstar that I like.

kratos_karmakar
kratos_karmakar

this is a good news bad news kind of thing. good news is that since they are 3rd party every 1 gets to play bioware's awesome games. bad news right now seems to be there are no assurance whether the "assurances" given to bioware fans that bioware remains unchanged will remain true or not. in my honest opinion i think bioware games will change (in ways) no matter wat they say. independence is not as simple as GB an JR make it sound. its always the guys bankrolling production who have the last say in any matter on the game and no one can possibly protest to that.

Anthony9000
Anthony9000

And i was hoping for a GOOD sequal to Star wars battlefront 2....=(

harhuge
harhuge

The problem with interviews such as these is most wont admit that they fear the guy who signs the cheques will start roughing them up like the kid down the street. The truth of the matter is that while Bioware/Pandemic are going to have additional resources available to them, they will also have a lot more pressure and attention to deadlines than ever before placed on them. Also, I guarantee that within a year or two Bioware and/or Pandemic will have an EA slapped to their name. Guarantee it. I'm thinking its Pandemic first.

spuddyt
spuddyt

well... so long as their game output doesn't lower it's quality, Who cares? Its not in EA's interest to make the games suck, and lower the income of these expensive studios

jedioutkast
jedioutkast

This is the end of the gaming world! Why doesn't the government look into EA like they looked into Microsoft? This looks like a monopoly!!!!!! Crap this sucks!

bennae66
bennae66

i hate ea. i hate them, i hate them i hate them. i hate ea. i hate them. oh yeah, i hate them. and i love bioware. one of my favorites! they better not stuff things up or i will be more upset than i am now.

Holopaw
Holopaw

I hope these guys are speaking the truth.

K_M82
K_M82

Thigeic & ObiKKa: remember Jedi Knight : Jedi Outcast? It was developed by Raven (a subsidiary of Activison), and published by Activision and Lucas Arts together. So it's not unprecedented for Lucas Arts to cooperate with other publisher. If Lucas Arts wants Bioware to developed KotOR 3, then it can happened. But Obsidian did a good job on KotOR 2 so I think Lucas Arts will go with them instead.

grifonik
grifonik

VolcanoMan001 - right on. My thoughts exactly. When you're owned, your freedoms and choices are forever lost. I only differ in thought that the bioware/pandemic duo knows fully well what they traded for all that cash. I think they're eyeing retirement more than staying in the industry. Time will tell.

internationaal
internationaal

"JR: Well, the guarantee is we're Pandemic, and we're not changing how we operate." That's a shame... as I was hoping they wouldn't release any more buggy, 'wait 4 months for a patch and it's STILL not working but you're too late for a refund and are left with an unplayable game' sort of crap like "SW: Battlefront II" on the PC!

matt_dangelo
matt_dangelo

i ahte ea..anohter title that is lost, microsfot cant stop ea's suckiness

Zerosumgame
Zerosumgame

EA shares will be punished by investors if it keep buying. I hope it buys more.

ObiKKa
ObiKKa

Stepn2myworld "EA, the Microsoft of game publishers. I expect to see the following franchises run into the ground with expansion packs and half-hearted sequels: Full Spectrum Warrior Never Winter Nights KOTOR series Baldur's Gate Mercenaries" Nonono, you got it wrong. Atari probably owns the Baldur's Gate (bought it from Interplay probably), and, of course the Neverwinter Nights series. I mean, they publish the NWN series! Are you blind!? And other people did mention the fact that the KOTOR brand is owned by Lucasarts.

jmate03
jmate03

I just want to say the it's not realy a big deal. Some of you think that Mass could end up going on PS3as well. Dont think so. Not 1 2 or 3. Its still under MS deal. CrushedGroove is right.E.A. will keep things running like thay are. Why would they change a good thing?

amidamaru18
amidamaru18

I had just gotten over the fact that EA bought the Phenomic (the producers of Spellforce) and now this ! Well good by Bioware you made some great games but this is as far as you go I think that Mass Efect should be considered a farewell gift.

Thigeic
Thigeic

Why do people even bother beliving EA got anything to do with KoToR? Its star wars. Lucas Arts owns that: EA cant even touch it without getting burned. KoToR will always be published by Lucas Art, no one else. EVER. As they did with Kotor 1 and 2, And Kotor 2 wasent even made by Bioware, they helped, but never made it. If anyone is going to make KoToR 3, its Obsidion. If it says Star Wars, its lucas art.

uriel2222
uriel2222

e·pon·y·mous adjective Definition: giving a name to something: having the name that is used as the title or name of something else, especially the title of a book, play, or movie

CrushedGroove
CrushedGroove

"Seriously, though, nothing is going to change. John and the rest of EA have no interest in changing that. They want us to continue to operate as an independent entity within EA." So basically...Bioware/Pandemic can continue to do their thing while EA capitalizes on it, and dips into the profits without having to do any work themselves. This whole business of EA buying studios just to whore their name out is getting ridiculous. If everyone would just stop buying NCAA and Madden every year, maybe we could see EA go the way of the buffalo.

Stepn2myworld
Stepn2myworld

EA, the Microsoft of game publishers. I expect to see the following franchises run into the ground with expansion packs and half-hearted sequels: Full Spectrum Warrior Never Winter Nights KOTOR series Baldur's Gate Mercenaries In addition, said sequels and expansions (even for the consoles) will be be released simultaneously to PC, PS3, 360, Wii, DS and PSP.

K_M82
K_M82

DFalcon999 please read more carefully : I said "unlike Westwood, Bioware did not have a strong IP". I know Westwood had very strong IP. As for Maxis, maybe what you said is true, maybe it's not, we can never know for sure. But before it was launched EA had doubts about The Sims. Maxis is kind of special, after it became a subsidiary of EA in 1997 it is still very independent, unlike Westwood that EA liquidated in 2003 (5 years after it was acquired by EA). But beside Maxis there is still DICE (EA acquired in 2004) that still retain its independence. EA even made a new office for Criterion (in 2007, after it's acquisition in 2004). Then there is Mythic (OK EA changed their name to EA Mythic, but EA gave them Ultima Online) that EA acquired in 2006 and still independent despite the name change. EA only liquidated Westwood and Origin. DICE, Criterion, Maxis, Mythic, are all still independent and I don't think EA would liquidate them. And don't forget, Bioware & Pandemic can always do what Bungie did (leave their corporate master). Come on people, it's not all doom and gloom!

hump
hump

I never thought Bioware would sell out. They were in such a great position to continue without having to be chained to a monster like EA. The money they were offered must've been astounding.

gamerkid99
gamerkid99

i won't be calling Microsoft M$ now...EA took that award...Xbox 360 alone pwns EA

juggleJUGGLER
juggleJUGGLER

i could really care less if they bought them out i just want my mercenary 2 game

Gruug
Gruug

Who are they kidding? They got a lot of change ($) for the deal and now EA owns them lock, stock and barrel. EA WILL call the shots because EA has the green. While both Pandemic and Bioware were great makers of games, they aren't smart in how to keep the business suits at bay. EA will squeez the dollars out fo this deal for as long as they can and then roll them into the greater EA machine just like they did Westwood, Origins and others. I have said I won't buy another EA product and I am sticking to it. So long EA!

mastertimx
mastertimx

wii and ps3 games from bioware? i'm in.

kittykiller897
kittykiller897

Pandemic made some of my favorite games, EA didn't. This really sucks.

Simmy2
Simmy2

yeah right "for the greater good" eh?

Merl57
Merl57

by better they mean better for business cause thats all EA is about money and power.

FirstAlchemist1
FirstAlchemist1

I wonder if the C.E.O of EA looks like the monopoly guy? Its great what they are doing just hope they dont get 2 proud and start giving these developers deadlines and development restrictions but its great...for now

dillyhox
dillyhox

Why does EA have to buy everything?

MasterChief725
MasterChief725

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

nsmnpc5000
nsmnpc5000

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

aries1
aries1

I remember seeing someone post Origin's story around the net. Origin's President and CEO etc. did say exactly the same as John Resnick is saying now. EA closed its Origen's door, after having bled them dry for about 12 years. A tiger might camouflage its stripes but but it is still a tiger. it is very interesting that John Ritticiello was one of the architechts behind this whole Pandemic merging with Bioware deal in 2005. It could be seen as EA's way? to get Bioware as I have learned that EA had wanted to buy Bioware many timers before?

jackle2071
jackle2071

Why explain? You never see them say! Oh god EA bought us! Now our games are going to suck big time! I'm not saying thats going to happen I'm just say this Article is a bit Redundant.

endocrine
endocrine

I find it funny that people complain about EA and yet still buy their games. If they were as bad as people claim, they would not be as rich as they are. The simple fact of the matter, whether people like it or not, they make alot of great games including: C&C and Sims, along with their multibillion dollar sports franchises.

VolcanoMan001
VolcanoMan001

"How does it feel going from the best-funded, highest-profile independent developer in the world to becoming part of the biggest third-party publisher in the world?" I have first hand experience in the gaming industry (*evil laugh*) and regardless of what JR and GB say and believe, now that EA is FUNDING them then they must answer to corporate time tables and deadlines as well as general tampering of ideas. You subject your company to that once you are *bought out*. THIS is the reason why all previous EA purchases fail -- because they start to rush the process or they alter original ideas to what the corporate vision thinks would be more "popular". Independent developers are always more creative, successful and innovative over subsidiaries in the long term. You would think that they would know this, but I am sure they do and are just in denial. Apparently tons of money thrown at you seems to cause this unfortunate side effect.