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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dukerav

I am still very skeptical about all of this, and the majority of the time I steer clear of most EA games, but unfortunately now I cant.

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xion2k4

AmmonMoley im sorry but i think u missed the mark yes us video game players do demand when said game should be realsed but thats only a minorty the majorty of said gamers whould rather have a quality title rather than a rushed cash in

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GIJames248

EA as a publisher is a very decent publisher. EA as a developer is universally hated but I have little problems with them. I just steer clear of their repeat franchises and play the good games they put out. Also it seems that EA is working on branching out with titles like Deep Space and Army of Two which is a good thing and hopefully an attempt to avoid the yearly MoH games they put out.

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football_legend

I think Mass Effect is a Microsoft partly owned franchise, so 2 and 3 should stick with 360.

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hiphops_savior

Right now, it seems that KOTOR 3 could be on hold, which is bad news if your unsatisfied with the ending on the KOTOR 2. I just hope that EA agrees to allow Bioware to publish certain games with another publisher.

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markharris31

We should wait and see. When I read the headline I was sick to my stomach. However, Bioware is known for integrity and creativity in developing extremely top-notch games. Perhaps with developers like Bioware/Pandemic on board we will see the quality of EA titles increase.

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casshern

If Bioware where made to create incomplete, bug filled games the two Doctors would definitely leave. I say just wait and see how good or bad this news is. So far I still am enjoying the Burnout series and can*t wait for Paradise. I still believe in you Bioware.

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Savvy30039

Maxor127 "I'm assuming Neverwinter NIghts and Knights of the Old Republic are NOT wholly owned by EA." They were never owned by Bioware in the first place. Neverwinter Nights is owned by Atari and Knights of the Old Republic is owned by Lucasarts. Licensed titles almost always end up as the property of the publisher, and they're free to kick the development team off of their own project if they so wish. The majority of Bioware games have been D&D franchises, which is why they wanted to expand their property library by creating new and wholly owned IPs by becoming a self publishing super developer. The good Drs. seem positive about the buyout, suggesting they may have well gotten a good deal in terms of development leeway, but still... I doubt any deal EA serves up could be anywhere near as good as the complete creative freedom Bioware previously enjoyed.

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jknight5422

I like the way they dodge that question about keeping it exclusive & whether they'll remain with Microsoft as a partner. I'd venture out to say that a big, fat NO is the answer to both questions. They're talking around the question like Ahmedinejad talks about his nuclear weapons program on 60 Minutes.

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Zerosumgame

EA will come down for sure, I will give the company 3 years to do that.

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AmmonMoley

Look, folks. Let's face it. The main reason why games (mainly from EA) come out shoddy is because WE, the gamers, demand the games to arrive NOW. So, the publisher makes a deadline and demands the developers to keep it. EA is strict at keeping to the deadline. Why? Because of all these forum threads that ask, "When will it be out?" Does EA make money? Of course they do. Do they spend a lot of developers time making patches for said release? Actually, they do. Does that cost money? If it didn't, then there are a lot of programmers and testers out there that work for free... which I doubt. Now, I've played a number of EA titles and they've done ok. Yes, they are slow on the patches, but if people would stop demanding games to be published ASAP, then perhaps we wouldn't get so many games that require a patch on the day of release!?! I'm going to hold judgement on this acquisition until they start releasing titles under the new management. Though, I have to admit, it is going to suck that I can't hit the Esc key to get through the darn EA logo and get to the game... There, I admit it, I'm impatient too :P

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Terami

Great Q&A... So basically, they're working on a bunch of games they can't tell us about. *shrugs and yawns*

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bcfish

EA ruined football for everyone, Madden is so stagnant it's depressing and that stupid exclusive contract with the NFL stifled creativity. That's one big reason people hate EA, myself among them. Now with this news it's not a question whether EA will make Bioware better, it's whether it keeps itself from screwing up Bioware. I hope I'm wrong but I don't think so.

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rock_solid

stop buying games developed by EA or by a developer EA has bought.

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Chakkan

I'm still super mad about this, but I will keep playing their games if they remain good. But I won't be paying for a single one of them. Bittorrent here I come.

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einexile

EA buys company to eliminate them and bury their properties. Anyone who expects otherwise has had his head up his rear end for the past 15 years.

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d_agra

screw this!!I am boycotting EA Games..even if it means not playing crysis!!This is such a low blow for the gaming industry

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mismajor99

YES! Dragon Age lives! That will most likely be the last great Bioware game to come. Mass Effect looks like it's the hot new multiplatform title, as their answers were very dodgy... EA owns the IP now, doesn't matter if MS was the publisher, it's all about the IP ownership.

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MrSickVisionz

"So basically, they're gonna force both devs to release a total of 10 different games together, within the next few YEARS? That's godawful." STFU!!!! Bio-Ware stated that they were woking on like 4 games BEFORE the merger. Had the merger not happened would you still be saying, "4 games in 3 years, thats godawful. BioWare is doomed."

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Maxor127

I'm assuming Neverwinter NIghts and Knights of the Old Republic are NOT wholly owned by EA. Anyone who doesn't understand why Bioware getting bought by EA of all people is a bad thing will hopefully understand when they're older. It's a completely different situation than Crysis.

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wwonka666

In 10 years, no one will even remember Bioware. They will be absolved into the corporate game pit that is the devil of all devils EA. Where are they located? They will become EA (insert the name of where they end up stationing Bioware) and never be heard from again. But, by that time, all the creative people (cause in videogame design, that's what you should be buying, people not the company) will have left what was once Bioware for another smaller independent house and then we will have some new Bioware that the people who leave the old Bioware start and the cycle will begin again.

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wedgeski

What a horrible interview. Props to GS for asking all the right questions, but the answers were so evasive they might as well not have bothered. Even keeping things in perspective, I have a slightly bitter taste in my mouth after this acquisition.

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Yakuz-A

"expect[s] to bring 10 franchises to market in the next few years; six of which are wholly owned." So basically, they're gonna force both devs to release a total of 10 different games together, within the next few YEARS? That's godawful.

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Generic_Dude

They keep comparing this to Bungie when it's the complete opposite. Bungie's going indie and, in the process, may regain some of the integrity that naturally gets compromised when gobbled up by an enormous entertainment and productivity corporation. Bioware's going the other route and will probably start churning out half-assed sequels and minigame collections and such.

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SavoyPrime

I'm all for another Jade Empire game. Make it happen Bioware! :D

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the_one500

anyone who knows anything about the current state of play and some history with games will know that unless EA have suddenly thrown out their pin-striped suits and PDA's, this is a BAD move in terms of original and creative game design!!! we can prob expect cross format releases of Mass effect (prob in a diff guise a la Op Flashpoint / ARMA:Armed assault!), then we'll see the endless sequels at £40 a pop but adding little extra content. NWN 4 anyone? now with extra beards!!!! R.I.P. Original Gaming :o(

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Faephoenix_Eyes

Even if EA buys em, doesnt mean the games are gonna be bad. Ive never understood why so many hate EA. I like em, theyve got Crysis :)

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somberfox

Oh god no, it had to be EA. Well, there goes another great PC RPG developer. The only one left is Obsidian. I think it's pretty safe to say that PC RPGs are pretty much dead now.

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Matt7895

I bet the Doctors are putting up a brave face but behind the scenes they're probably planning on setting up a new company.

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zanmato666

With EA involved you're most likely going to see Mass Effect come to the PS3 and PC. They didn't spend $860 million dollars to make no profit from this acquisition. We all know how much EA loves $$$, down to every penny!

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Max_Settings

This is something special!

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brunoleao

Damn you EA. Damn you to the fiery bowels of Hell.

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drangel_jam

Enough with the teasing! Next time ask question he can/ wants to actually answer.

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freshmilk13

Well, on the bright side they will be getting more resources for games, which could improve quality (although games from BW are top notch now). On the down side, EA's corporate business model might limit BW's creativity, which just plain sucks. Regarding Mass Effect: It won't remain a 360 exclusive. A few months after it's release, M$ will announce a Vista exclusive of Mass Effect. Of course, to boost Vista sales among gamers.

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batosaims

mass effect wil def stay exclusive to the 360 and maybe go to the pc since ms owns the publishing rights its all in ink and if ea tried something microsoft would take them down so fast

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orcbuster

They're making a Mass Effect F'ing Trilogy?

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Dreski83

well... it seems that these dudes are all about following a fellow comrad into the lion's den for gold and riches :| No doubt, you make top tier goodies for the masses you want to get paid for yer efforts. But to join with EA, especially when you don't come off as excited as you are hooking up with a old buddy, a lot stuff feels wrong about this merge... I'm sure EA just wants a piece of other companies pies, not to absorb and destroy their ip's. But when you allow someone into yer house for a certain fee, don't be surprised when they start wrecking shop... its a thought :roll:

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SirMonotone

This doesn't sound like such good news to me. I hope EA don't completely buy them out and take all the credit for the future games being made by Bioware. And I hope Mass Effect will stay exclusive to 360. Please EA don't ruin things for us. :(

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ddt88

Who knows?? Mass Effect could go anywhere with EA involved. Most likely PS3, most probably PC.

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yazmanian-devil

So is mass effect still microsoft exclusive??? or is it goin' somewhere else.

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Kaldoran

Wow, never saw that coming. With every second game you buy nowadays, you have to sit through the EA logo startup.

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ddt88

Man..These guys sound like total EA stooges already. They can't say enough about EA now that they've handed over $680 million in cash. Way to go with the 'Let's avoid the multi platform conversation altogether' response with Mass Effect. I hope this doesn't affect the quality of their games from now on with rushed deadlines. This stinks of corporate sell out. Now you can see why Ubisoft was fighting so hard to stay away from EA. Thanks EA for wrecking another top independent developer.... You guys blow!

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bigmit37

It sounds like he's trying to sell or promote something in each answer..."Best MMO ever" , "We couldn't stop playing Dragon Age", "You should go out and play Mass Effect"...Odd.

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spOOoOOn

For slim-jim: Wasn't C&C3 worked on by the old westwood guys which EA also bought? Not sure though.

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Faelas

EA ruins every good game...

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Amasandus

Completely disgusting. I'm devastated by this. My favourite developer being eaten by my most hated publisher. This is an awful day! What's the point in being a gamer if everything good about the industry is constantly over-powered by all that's cr*p about it. Having said that, I'm sure BioWare's games will still be amazing, which is great at the end of the day because it should still be about the games and as long as they're good, I personally have no cause for complaint but speaking more in the long term, this move hurts the gaming industry and it confirms a frightening trend, with similarities to Hollywood and it's decline into the cesspool that we know and love today. And the bare facts are that EA have a deadly serious corporate business model and practices which, although it can have it's benefits (more money for the games), will certainly have more disadvantages (many more restrictions and "safe" targets to reach), weakening BioWare's once untouchable reputation with gamers. The reason I love their games so much, is precisely because they're not safe, they took risks. But I guess we've all heard this tune before, I'm not sure why I'm bothering, it's bound to fall on deaf ears anyway (gaming forums may get developers to add in easter eggs in their games but they've yet to change the world as far as I can see). Anyway, enough bile and polemic. The proof will always be in the pudding I say, so despite my grumpy mood, if BioWare keep doing what they're doing, that's good enough I guess. And "good enough" is unfortunately all this bloody industry seems to care about anymore (oops, that was kind of more "bile and polemic", wasn't it?).

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Jenova_Flare

Baldurs Gate Online lol...You heard it here first folks.

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d_agra

You all know this is going to happen! Bioware > EA Bioware> EA RPG. Look what happened to Bullfrog and Westwood studios!!God i feel sick!

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PhantomNemesis

Sounds like EA is trying to monopolise here, which really sucks since we need the competition. If Mass Effect or the rest of the trilogy is messed around with by EA in any way I think a lot of fans will lose it. EA had taken on too many studios as part of itself and a lot of them are now churning out crappy games. They have no one to compete with so they're sitting back and turning out tripe.

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ShotGunBunny

Hmm, I might even start believing that they're working on a Star Wars MMOG here.