Q&A: BioWare on the EA buyout

Drs. Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk discuss their studios' big deal--and reveal Dragon Age and top-secret MMORPG are already playable.

400 Comments

Last week, Bungie Studios stunned the game industry by announcing that it was separating from cash-flush corporate parent Microsoft. This week, another unexpected blow floored industry watchers when Electronic Arts announced it was buying BioWare/Pandemic, the "superstudio" formed by the union of the eponymous Canadian RPG maker and the Californian action studio.

Other than the staggering sums involved--$860 million dollars, including $620 million in cash--the deal drew interest because of the players involved. Less than two years after thumbing its nose at the traditional publisher business model by eliciting nearly $300 million in venture capital, BioWare/Pandemic was being bought. The purchaser in question is the world's biggest third-party publisher, and has been rightly or wrongly perceived as preferring to hit corporate deadlines over supporting creative vision.

Recently, EA has taken great pains to dismantle its negative image by striking deals with top independent developers such as Crytek and Valve Software. This trend accelerated in February, when ex-EA CEO John Riccitiello retook his old position after a several-year hiatus. Ironically, during that time, he served on the board of the venture capital fund Elevation Partners, and oversaw the BioWare/Pandemic merger in November 2005.

Riccitiello went on to become BioWare/Pandemic's CEO and worked closely with the cofounders and co-CEOs of BioWare, Drs. Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeshcuk. Shortly after the EA deal was announced today, GameSpot spoke with the two developers about its implications for their company, which has been an fixture of independent development since the mid-1990s. Now that it's joined other former mavericks such as Criterion and Digital Illusions CE under the EA Games umbrella, what does the future hold?

GameSpot: Going from the worlds' biggest independent developer to part of the world's biggest publisher? People are kind of taken aback. What's your reaction to that?

Ray Myzuka: Well, I'm really excited about the opportunity to integrate the great development teams we have here, the marketing teams we have here. As you said, EA is the largest, and I think, the best publisher in the world, and I think we can [add] some value to that team, and that organization as a partnership.

GS: Right, but you guys were always an icon of independent development, and were even more so after the deal with Pandemic...

Greg Zeschuk: Well, to be blunt, I don't really see ourselves as not being independent anymore. We've got a goal of making great BioWare games, and we believe in [EA CEO] John [Riccitiello]'s vision--we can't overemphasize that. We've worked with John for years, and we're looking forward to keep doing what we're doing and doing it well.

GS: You said you still think of yourself as being independent, even though you're now owned by EA. So what exactly, besides the fact you're obviously wealthier, has changed under the deal? Will day-to-day operations at BioWare change at all?

RM: Well, we can achieve more. We've got more opportunities, more resources for the great development and marketing teams here to take advantage of. We're also a lot more direct to the consumer now, since we're part of the publisher. It's going to allow us to fulfill our mission statement of making the best story-driven games in the world, even better than before. Nothing's going to change about that, since we're really passionate about that, and that's in line with what we've heard from John in the values and mission he's expressed.

GS: So is the name going to still be BioWare or is going to become "EA BioWare"?

GZ: Well we're still BioWare...

RM: BioWare is a name that's associated with some really positive things. The fans like the brand, it's a consumer-facing brand, so we're not going anywhere with it.

GS: Well, I was speaking in purely nomenclature terms, like how Mythic became "EA Mythic"?

RM: That will be a collaborative discussion as we work with the folks at EA Games. We're proud to be working with Frank and proud to be working with John. [EA Games president] Frank [Gibeau] is a big gamer, and a great advocate for BioWare.

GS: People are now wondering what is happening with some of your properties, specifically Mass Effect, which is due out next month. That's a wholly owned BioWare property, correct?

GZ: Yes, it is, and it's almost done. Ray and I have both played it! There's other stuff too, there's Dragon Age, there's the Sonic RPG we're making with Sega, there's what we're doing down in Austin, and some other secret stuff as well.

GS: Right, but Mass Effect was billed as being this big booster for Microsoft's publishing efforts and as one of the biggest Xbox 360 exclusives. Will it remain a 360 exclusive?

RM: Microsoft is a great partner, a great publishing partner, and we're really excited to work with them. And we love the 360. One of the things we've talked about is getting multiple iterations of this franchises out during its lifetime, since it's such a great system to work with. And we see Microsoft as a long-term partner on Mass Effect.

GS: Will Microsoft be publishing future iterations of Mass Effect or will EA be publishing it itself?

GZ: We can't predict the future. We'll see what happens. The key thing is we're making a trilogy of Mass Effect games, and we've got a great story arc.

RM: I think people should check it out and just focus on the first game. The team's efforts are going to shine through, since it's an amazing, amazing experience.

GS: Now one of the main reasons EA gave for acquiring BioWare/Pandemic was the upcoming massively multiplayer online role-playing game you're developing in Austin. After listening to John's comments in the conference call, one walks away with the impression that said MMORPG is a wholly owned IP of BioWare--and therefore EA. Is that correct?

RM: We haven't revealed any details about the game. It's super secret right now. It's got all the characters and story arc that BioWare is known for, and I wish I could say more. It's the best of breed of MMO, with the magic BioWare's associated with, and our goal is to make sure people can't stop playing it.

GS: Right, but judging by John's enthusiasm, it sounds pretty safe to say the MMO is an all-original IP. Would that be fair to say?

RM: [Long pause] We haven't revealed any details about the game. It's super secret right now. It's--

GS: OK, OK, I get it.

GZ: I can say one thing: It looks awesome! [Laughs.] We can say a second thing, too: It's really fun to play. We're already playing it. We were playing it just last week.

GS: Now, you just mentioned Dragon Age. Since Dragon Age wasn't mentioned in the acquisition announcement and so little has been heard about it, there's been some speculation that it was canceled.

RM: Oh, no. We were just playing that last week as well. It's one of the more enjoyable things I've done in the past few weeks, by far. I could not stop playing it. I meant to play it just for a little bit just to check it out, but I ended up playing it all weekend. I wish we could say more about it, as the team has been putting in some late hours on the project, and they've come up with some amazing stuff. We're gonna be revealing some more about Dragon Age very soon, I think, and I think you'll be excited to hear about it.

GS: EA announced that there were 10 BioWare/Pandemic franchises, six of which will be series that EA will wholly own. Does that number include existing franchises? I.e. would Mass Effect be counted among that number?

RM: It's a mix of both.

GZ: Tor, are you trying to figure out how many secret games we have? [Laughs.]

RM: No, that includes some absolutely unannounced stuff, some super secret stuff we're really proud of. I wish we could talk about it more.

GS: Now, I also notice John mentioned Jade Empire as a property EA was excited about. Does that mean we can expect some new Jade Empire games down the line?

RM: That's an interesting question. [Long pause] We certainly haven't announced anything on that front.

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spow

i predict a future in wich bioware will make a game that you cannot stop playing. the bad news its that yu will have to pay it montly :/

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jonfigs

The purchase of Bioware really does shift the power of balance back in EA's favor. Very interesting events. What I think some people are missing is the new leadership at EA. I think they really want to change the negative perceptions around. Look, I hated what they did to Madden last year but this year I love it. I hope EA can continue to improve.

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waynekautz

I'm not against big buisness but this is really disturbing to me. Can you imagine that one of the best, almost indi-game type publishers is now on mega corp EAs payroll? I guess that means less brilliance like Mass Effect and more brand new, rushed movie-to-game titles. Better meet your game deadlines Bioware. EA won't hesitate to put out crap if it feels like it.

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sonicare

It's definitely about the money. The 2 bioware ceos are filthy rich now. Not that they did anything wrong.

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ebookerd1

OH CRAP!!! Another good company down the drain! I pray EA doesn't kill another Franchise like they Killed Zenosaga/Zenogears. OH MY GOD THEY ARE GOING TO KILL GAMMING AT THE RATE THEY AR GOING!!!!

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migduvednok

I remember my thoughts on Blizzard making World of Warcraft. :-D If they can pull that off, then BIoware can CERTAINLY also make a mmorpg. A great one, that is.

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jaisons

And now for something completely different.....I cannot wait for this game !!

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FearNinja

He does not care about Bioware as much as He does all that money they gave him.

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Dill-Man

rofl they dodge every question thrown at them

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LEGOslayer

Peter Moore's at it again

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TheoleDominion1

As far as him not mentioning whether Mass Effect would stay exclusive to x360 or not, it really doesn't matter. Most hard-core gamers who enjoy great games, already or eventually will own all platforms ( PC,x360,Wii,and PS3} anyway.

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TheoleDominion1

Man..it must really be tough to be independent these days to make a successful living. Let's just hope the quality doesn't suffer because of it.

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Puckhog04

"RM: Microsoft is a great partner, a great publishing partner, and we're really excited to work with them. And we love the 360. One of the things we've talked about is getting multiple iterations of this franchises out during its lifetime, since it's such a great system to work with. And we see Microsoft as a long-term partner on Mass Effect. " Look at the last sentence. Looks like the Mass Effect Trilogy is going to remain a 360 exclusive. :) In all honesty, i just want to play it. I'm also glad that Bioware is finishing Mass Effect (at least the first of the trilogy) before EA can get their money hungry hands on it and screw it up. Judging from EA's past of taking series and screwing them up; The future is going to full of lackluster Bioware games. Hopefully Bioware has enough guts to keep Mass Effect where it started and do the trilogy like they want without any of EA's greedy hands interfering.

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osleyee

its seams to me that EA want to take over every single company in the market they do not care about the gamers they want money here money there. one of this days EA is going to make a bad move and they going to screw themself as long they lets the developers do their job and support them everything is going to be alright.

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blkkplayers

There just going to screw up mass effect

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mark_unix

better EA then Microsoft, if microsoft would have bought them we would only see Windows/Xbox exclusive and extremely crappy games ala Halo3.

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zellwwf

EA ROX

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Xymos

Electronic Arts just shelled out close to a billion dollars to acquire Bioware, I think it's safe to say that they aren't going to be doing all that much to mess them up. They paid that much money for Bioware and it's IP's because they recognize the greatness of the developer, we can all sleep at night because Bioware isn't going to be going down the toilet. Hell now that they have the most powerful publisher backing their already great games, maybe they will become even better? Unlike all the doom-sayers I think this aquisition is good news for us gamers, not the opposite.

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Dman4Life1217

I really don't like this move at all. EA is known for churning out sequel after sequel with high turnaround times. I honestly seeing this turning out great for EA in that they'll gain a bunch of IPs that they didn't have to spend time developing, but can whore the holy hell out of, and bad for the Bioware/Pandemic team in that they won't be in control of their own destinies and be stuck within the corporate mold within a year. And they'll pull a Rare and leave the company, and start their own company anew.

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godzillavskong

Can't blame EA. It is a smart business move. A lot of companies do this but it sucks for us as gamers though. But they don't own the talent. We are starting to see this a lot in the videogame market. A big company buys a smaller but real succesfull company, then the companies top programmers decide to split years later to form a new company. Look at Bungie for instance.

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X-RS

at least ley them keep their logo. kicks the $#!+ out of E-A.

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imperial_agent

i heard it's a Star Wars MMO, that's why EA bought them out so they could own the rights to the game. This must mean it's gonna be a really, really good game if EA is willing to shell out nearly a billion dollars for it.

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Gorge-a-Maniac

As long as EA keeps its plague-ridden fingers off Bioware, Crytek, etc, and just those studios extremely well funded while not interfering, everything will be A-OK. But of course... They want people to ignore the hard-workers and think of these releases as why EA is the son of god. All they're doing is piggy-backing decent dev-houses to success since they inherently suck themselves. Cheap.

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Game-o_O

Bioware? You think we care about Mass Effect? lol. The "PS3-Fanbase" worry about Mercenaries. EA isn't as biased as MS is, so it'll be great news that they plausibly wont be producing it anymore. I get sick of that taunting "it's only for the 360, we're so great ;)". It isn't like anything on the 360 can't be ported or in fact 'made better'. Take oblivion. Didn't Rockstar comment about L.A. Noire being too powerful/space based for the 360 to get it?

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Aracno1D

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

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97spencerc

BioWares games were always released in a basically BETA stage as it was (look at the NWN2 patching frenzy ever since it was released) Erm NWN2 was developed by obsidion not bioware and bioware rock. Not sure how i feel about this may be good if ea pours money into bioware

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Po77InAtOr

HawkOfNavarre Microsoft worked its way to the top, EA bought its way to the top.... I see no similarity between the two :S That's funny. Billy bought DOS for 14 dollars... he never developed it. Without DOS Microsoft doesn't exist today. But back to the topic at hand... EA can go screw themselves. BioWares games were always released in a basically BETA stage as it was (look at the NWN2 patching frenzy ever since it was released) and EA is only going to make that much worse. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. That's all that matters to them.

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Adam_the_Nerd

I hope Bioware can stay true to it's independent roots and keep EA from effing things up. With all that money EA will be pumping in to their games, sure that will make them better, but EA may step in and say "hey we want a piece of the action". BioWare is the best thing that has happened to RPG and games in general. I hope they stay that way!

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batosaims

mass effect will remain a 360 exclusive ms has the publishing rights sry ps3 fanboys just another reason why the ps3 sucks well at least u got lair wait thats a bad thing

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NikokingNL

EA suck balls there games aren't good most are sh!t

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StarFry

.... i hate EA even more

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HawkOfNavarre

I personally havnt bought a decent EA published game since Black and White... probably because I avoid them like the plague. Microsoft worked its way to the top, EA bought its way to the top.... I see no similarity between the two :S

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duke-nukem11

ea and microsoft are the same type of company. big corps thats all money money money! but think this new merger is a good thing. and ea have brought some brilliant games but the more high profile flops ruined its name. but games like black,skate,battlefield {and more i cant be arsed to put} mean that the brown tide of crapness is turning! but one thing that ea completely blow at is there servers! there cack

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Gamemaster1588

Really though, aside from my overly sarcastic prior post. I do have hopes for this merger. Personally I hate EA, I hate the business practices they use, I hate how they rush games and I hate Madden. However I don't want to scream doom from the top of my house. I do however feel that EA is getting to big for the industry. Just as the console war, it will be a sad day when one company owns too much. Honestly, if EA keeps buying business' like this then that gives no set competition. No competition is BAD, I just hope EA stops trying to own the entire gaming industry. And don't think I am saying EA will, but think about it, they are quickly on there way to doing so. Because remember " EA is the largest, and I think, the best publisher in the world." So, just something to think about people.

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Gamemaster1588

Just announced!.....Jade Empire 2....you get to play all the characters you love. Madden, the CEO of EA, and introducing Satan....oh wait....that is the CEO.

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i_got_you60

ok now we r gonna see ea milk dry more great frachises just great

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blargon66

make a baldurs gate 3 ahhhhhhhhhh

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martin_f

As long as they don't touch Mass Effect its fine.

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machine_B

So was it a coup?

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Humorguy_basic

And I get flamed for saying I think PC gaming is not going to be around for much longer because of decisions being made in the business..... This is another nail in the coffin of quality PC gaming and I am not a happy man!!!!

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Meskamo

yep i hear dat fortixxar EA must be stopped before there's only their crappy games to choose from. I'm not sure about Mas Effect now and i was really looking forward to that game :(

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foritxxar

"Mowshnan Really crappy news. I was looking forward to Mass Effect. Not anymore. Oh well, more time for Halo 3." You're saying that just because EA bought BioWare during Mass Effects final phases of testing, you're not going to buy it? =/ It's not even being published by EA. Are you really that ignorant and arrogant?

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Fenriswolf

Well if Mass Effect 2 and 3 are multiplatform, how does Bioware expect to import characters from ME1?

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onthe_dl

""As you said, EA is the largest, and I think, the best publisher in the world" LOL, yeah, right. I wonder how much bonus cash they get from EA for saying that." yeah ok that's why they have some of the biggest franchises in the industry. Just because you hate them as a publisher doesn't mean they suck, they have been releasing top notch titles for many many years now. i appreciate what they've brought to the table and whats in stores for us in the near future. mass effect is going to be unreal. definitely something the 360 needs to follow up after halo 3.

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dastang21

I just hope EA will let BioWare do what they have to do in making games and not push them in anyway. BioWare is my favorite developing company and I would hate to see it ruined by the money hungry giant, EA.

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Mowshnan

Really crappy news. I was looking forward to Mass Effect. Not anymore. Oh well, more time for Halo 3.

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Chr0nos_Zero

"As you said, EA is the largest, and I think, the best publisher in the world" LOL, yeah, right. I wonder how much bonus cash they get from EA for saying that.

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batosaims

microsoft still owns the publishing rights and license for mass effect and since the game will be done before the deal is final however as far as the ttrilogy im not sure but with ea running the show im not gonna even bother with the other two mass effects

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FallenAngel

Ok, that was a very vaguely worded interview. Gspot didn't get much out of Muzyka at all. Notice how he kept saying they see MS as a long term partner, but wouldn't commit to Mass Effect or future instalments staying X360 exclusive? And EA being the maximum profit seeking corporate suit that they are, I wouldn't be surprised to see Mass Effect making its way to the PS3 sometime next year.

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Disciple_Gamer

I just can't get past the buyout !!