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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MuscleCarMan

Honestly when i see a game with "EA" on it i just pass over it. That all started when they bought out westwood way back when. Hopefully these guys will change that and not have their brands dragged down with it.

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neonblueshadow

And EA sux only as bad as all the other game corps, except slightly less, b/c they make more money. The bussiness world isn't run by ethics, like we would all like. And this world is definitely not full of "ethical" people, its a fairy tale world you look forward to if thats what you expect. Most people stop caring when they get money, and still want more, Microsoft isn't any different (if not worse), neither is activision, or capcom, or any of the large publishers, this is why they get big. and good god no, if you're complaining about people buying stuff, then microsoft is the last corporation that should be buying more. but then as I said...its a sh*t sh*t world, so if you don't want people to buy out your companies you have to make your own company and become better than them.... thats my ultimate goal anyway =P I'll buy everything and you will all hate me...you can start now

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Ebisch

@ RojAvon Somehow I doubt EA will be able to ruin anything Bioware or Pandemic does. They are far to good. I doubt even Acclaim could have ruined any games of theirs.

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kozzy1234

Mass Effect is coming, a new Jade Empire and hoepfully a new KOTOR

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4esth

"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 some value to that team, and that organization as a partnership." RM: *slurp slurp* EA: "Ahhhhh"

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PostedOval

Microsoft should just buy EA. They have $40+ billion in cash. Can you imagine if they took all those EA franchises and only had them on the X360? Madden, NBA, Burnout, etc

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neonblueshadow

imagine if someone bought EA.....

Avatar image for RojAvon
RojAvon

A worthless "interview" full of non-answers and rehearsed PR schtick. Everybody is excited, happy and thrilled over the opportunity to ...blah blah blah. No substantive info about any games or development of projects, just all these coy suggestions of all the "secret" stuff they have in the pipe. I tremble to think of the Bioware projects that EA is about to ruin. Hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later, hopefully on a game I don't care about, so the good developers Bioware has can leave and form a new company.

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dryden555

the 2 head guys of BioWare wanted that huge chunk of cash they got from EA. That's all this is about. Really.

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darkchaostitan

Yeah, and all that other BS, aloth of that I just can't believe. They say it as if there is no change whatsoever. Eventhough they are now EA's b*tches. THis is really agrivating and if they don't say anything about their future projects soon. Then the legend that was once etched in stone is etched away, if it has not been already.

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thekey

kev27marquardt "I might as well stop gaming. i really hate EA and what they've turned gaming into. Hopefully Mass Effect Will come out untouched by their greedy hands. They are already talking about whoring Mass Effect out on every sysyem, I HATE YOU EA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I think I might join you this is really sickening! I have never been so angry in all of my life. This is the biggest cheap shot in video game history. I always hated EA(Since the Bulls vs Blazers era, that and when they shafted the Dreamcast I knew they were slippery!) This doesn't suprise me at all, EA would buy New York City if they could, screw them! ATTENTION TO ALL EA HATERS!!! The only way you can stop EA Is to NOT BUY there products. But anyways now that they Have Peter Moore as Marketing director there company will fold! LOL!!!

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DonutTrooper

EA is the 1st reason I quit PC gaming (behind 2nd, the cost of upgrades). Battlefield 3 for OS X better not suck or I'll have their heads...they better hope I'm kidding.

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arc_salvo

Well, let's hope the new CEO for EA (who apparently was the CEO for Bioware for a while) knows enough to leave Bioware (and his friends, the guys who run it) the hell alone and let them do what they do best. Unlike other gaming genres, western style story/choice-driven rpg's NEED time and polish to do things right, or they essentially don't do what they need to do at all.

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AuthenticM

God I hate EA. We should burn their offices to the ground. All simulteneously so the company vanishes from the corporate world.

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Killer_priest03

There goes the exclusivity of Mass Effect

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weiz

Wow Bioware. You've really disappointed me.

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Sam_Lowery

EA is the next ENRON They look good on paper, but in reality, they're rotten to the core.

Avatar image for kev27marquardt
kev27marquardt

I might as well stop gaming. i really hate EA and what they've turned gaming into. Hopefully Mass Effect Will come out untouched by their greedy hands.:( They are already talking about whoring Mass Effect out on every sysyem, I HATE YOU EA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Avatar image for Eclipse_ShinRa
Eclipse_ShinRa

@mastertimx, most the PS3 games I want are muti.. There is only 3 titles I want that isn't muti.. ANd I see one them coming the 360.. Two games isn't worth a system I'll have Wii soon and I will upgrade my PC if Biowares MMO isn't muti and just for the PC.

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Blazer88

I can't remember how many times I have heard this same old line or something very similar to it. " we can achieve more. We've got more opportunities, more resources for the great development " Especially when EA proves that more money doesn't mean better games. It could, but that isn't there way and everyone who follows gaming knows it.. They are the poster child for lets make as much as we can as quick as we can. What amazes me is that companies continue to give in knowing that they will be destoyed in the process. They have to know.

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SMASHED_ASPHALT

The "we'll just have to wait and see" game commences....

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SoralinkGS

If this works like the EA/Valve deal for The Orange Box, then I will ok with it. However, that deal did seem to force Valve to make console versions of the game and they don't seem to like the idea of a PS3 version at all...

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mastertimx

Eclipse_ShinRa you should plan to get a ps3, and a wii, and a 360, not now, but in the future, when all these great games come out for ps3,wii,360, and pc, your gonna miss alot without all 3. 4 if you include pc

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Eclipse_ShinRa

I would rather have Sony bought Bioware.. I don't have a PS3 nor do I plan to get one, but I will know Bioware won't gone down the tubes. All EA is going to ruin Bioware. EA likes games every year. Bioware makes games every 2-3 years. I don't see EA letting that go..

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mastertimx

if bioware makes wii and ps3 games now i will be happy. I like my 360, but i would like the option to buy bioware games on my wii or ps3. and since EA shares i'm sure bioware will send some games to other platforms now, i know they do, but more than just the 360 and ds.

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nocoolnamejim

I feel like I just got a huge bong shoved right up my VIP entrance.

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mace8704

EA = usually equals rushed out products (Look at the BF2 serious and it's expansions) BIoware = Commonly delayed high quality products (KOTOR, Mass Effect) This will be very interesting to see how these two get along now. I really find it hard to look at this as good news for the gamer though because Bioware didn't look like to me it needed any help from EA.

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vadmspartan

Now that I think about it Bioware/Pandemic sounds like some kind of biological weapon.

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frogman666

I hate EA with all the passion now. Why do they insist on turning other companies into their fire hydrant just a shame.

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jdknight21

Nothing sounds more gay than repeatedly saying 'super secret'.

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ztron370

I don't care who owns BIOWARE just hurry the uck up and release MASS EFFECT

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Grende1

Well, when Mass Effect was first announced, it was said that MS had a publishing deal for all three, like they also have with Too Human. However, this interview implies that they don't, since when directly asked Bioware responded 'We can't predict the future.' I don't know the legality of this, but I wouldn't think legal deals become null and void when a company is bought out. Maybe that's so and now MS has to rework a deal with EA. Unfortunately, EA rarely does single platform deals. Multiplatform games are NEVER as good as exclusive games, for any platform, so if Mass Effect goes multiplatform, bye bye quality.

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diablobasher

Wait wait wait... Cash?! Bioware employees are about to leg it to a desert island somewhere with $650 million of EA's cash leaving EA with nothing but a few IP's they could never make good use of. Go Bioware :D If that doesnt happen, then RIP good quality Bioware games, Helloooo unfinished corperate deadline bioware games.

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Death_Masta187

RIP Bioware you will be missed...

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Vladek

Riccitiello having been on the board of Elevation Partners may be interesting, but it's not in any way "ironic." Did Alanis Morrissette write this article? And "the Canadian RPG maker" is not "eponymous" of Bioware. They ARE Bioware. I wonder if Gamespot's writing quality has taken a nosedive with the departure of Kasavin. Learn to write, please.

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Enginwolf04

Well, I will remain patient and see what comes to fruition from this acquisition. As long as Mercs, Mass Effect, Jade Empire, Destroy All Mercenaries, and Saboteur remain innovative and worth $60 each, I'm not going to complain who gets bought out by who. Maybe this acquistion is an attempt by EA to try a new approach to being a house-clearing publisher. We'll see what happens. I'd just better not see any decrease in quality from these stellar titles. At least the unlimited funding has been provided, allowing for some serious high-budget good games... no excuse now... all eyes on BioWare/Pandemic/EA

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kevin73166

This is bad. EA doesn't care about making good games. They are just out to make as many games as they can as fast as they can to make as much money as they can. If I was Microsoft and have a deal with BioWare for Mass Effect to be exclusive to the Xbox 360, I would sue if EA tries to put it on another system. EA could bring the sequels out on other systems unless Microsoft had that covered in the original deal with BioWare.

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deftinwolf

atrimus: "whats the big deal if Mass Effect goes multi-platform? more platforms means that more people get to enjoy it, right (including this PS3 and 360 owner)?" this is true, however think of every game that has come out on both ps3 and 360, there is a gap in quality. As a 360 owner, i would rather see any title released for one system. I dont ever want MGS4 to come to 360, solely because it probably wont be as good on the 360. I'd rather have an amazing game on one system than a decent game that is on all systems, again even if that game is on the PS3 or Wii. Forcing developers to split their manpower trying to code for two different systems lowers their quality. That said, i'd love to see EA have exclusives that are 360 only (ala mass effect) and others that are ps3 only (any original IP).

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chris98092

Wow. I hope EA doesn't cause Bioware to start compromising, as is usually the case when a big public firm (who is all about the money) swallows a great indie firm (who is all about the games.) I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I'm starting to feel pessimistic.

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dbzfreak

As long as EA did what it did with the Orange Box and just publishes the game and doesn't push BioWare, then things may end up okay.

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Recongoddess

@bluedragonarmor ... I doubt Bioware had any say in this.. VG Holding Corp. bought Bioware years ago... and EA made the deal made with Elevation Partners to acquire VG Holding Corp.

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atrimus

whats the big deal if Mass Effect goes multi-platform? more platforms means that more people get to enjoy it, right (including this PS3 and 360 owner)?

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hector1313

I think most gamers should be a bit wary of this... I don't think there are many games that EA has put out in the last few years that I've actually enjoyed enough to play through it several times, unlike some of the Bioware ones. Hopefully EA don't do their usual deadline release and have the Bioware games full of bugs... and I also hope they let the Bioware crew get on with their job, and don't do what they were planning on doing with Sim City...

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Expo_Smacko

Yeah, Before I was pretty PO'ed but after reading this there should not be any problems. I hope.

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AmmonMoley

Xion2k4 while I agree with you that the majority of us want a good product, unfortunately, the old saying is true: The few ruin it for the many. There are so many threads in gaming forums that scream for a title to be released, I see the publishers setting goals to what those few want... timely releases no matter if the title is ready or not. I've seen it many times and it seems to be getting worse. What devs need to do is stick to their guns and stop hyping their games too early. Don't do a 'Scotty' and say it will be ready in 2 months when you really need 4 to get it right. Unfortunately, EA is out there to make money... and with money driving the cogs of development, then you're going to get a product that releases on time, but isn't really ready for the shelf.

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dragonwolfblade

Bioware just sold out for money plain and simple

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jasonharris48

What are you talking about Aerothorn BioWare is the only WRPG company to put out decent or great WRPG's

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dsmayo

I'll admit I was disappointed when I first heard the news. But after reading this it sounds like the Docs are still in control. As long as EA is smart and takes a hands off approach and let's Bioware do their thing, this could work out well. Just have to wait and see...

Avatar image for Aerothorn
Aerothorn

Bioware? Great story arc? Who do they think they're fooling?

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defjam33

Ea - sports games Bioware - RPG the math doesn't compute