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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Avatar image for MrShenmue
MrShenmue

They pretty much left Mass Effect open for a possible PS3 release. Just saying 360 is a "good partner" not that it will remain exclusive.

Avatar image for AngelsongCA
AngelsongCA

I must know what this MMORPG is, I must. And, Dragon Age. And, all of the freaking secret games. Something put EA in a frenzy to buy the company, they saw something with amazingly great potential and I want to know what that something is. NOW!

Avatar image for ppau08223
ppau08223

nothing much out that interview. what a waste of my time. yeah let me just add the compulsory EA sucks line: EA sucks!!

Avatar image for FalconerX
FalconerX

Mass Effect is still exclusive as Ms have the license for it where as EA have the IP. And if EA chose to make it mult-platform Ms would just take them down really. People forget MS are the biggest company in the world. The deal with EA looks more then anything to bring mass effect to PC, itl never go to sony as bioware pretty much hate them. If it goes to PC&360 ms wouldnt care as they will make loads of money as will EA. Thats why MS let it happened as it knows itl get more money this way and still keep console exclusive.

Avatar image for TheCamGrdnr
TheCamGrdnr

Yet another chapter in EA eventual conquest of the industry, and the collapse in quality that will come with it...... This is a sad day. I just hope EA doesnt F' up Mass Effect before it comes out.

Avatar image for MangyForestCat
MangyForestCat

MONEY MONEY MONEY! MOAR MONEY! RESISTANCE IS FUTILE! PREPARE TO BE ASSIMILATED! RESISTANCE IS FUTILE! PREPARE TO SPAM ENDLESS SEQUELS!

Avatar image for jobe13
jobe13

I hate corporate BS talk. If you can't give a straight answer just say "no comment". Instead we're given such jargon as, "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." The guy simply asked if ME was still a 360 exclusive. Good-bye, Bioware. We thought we knew ye...

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JocktheMotie

This was an encouraging interview. I garnered that they would retain most of their independence, and Mass Effect stays 360 exclusive. And Jade Empire MMO.

Avatar image for IndoAssassin
IndoAssassin

So if Microsoft will publish future iterations of Mass Effect it will stay exclusive. However with them saying that EA is taking over some of the existing projects, it looks like Mass Effect sequels will be multiplatform and half-assed games because of deadlines EA will place on BioWare. Mark my words Mass Effect 2 and 3 will never be as good as the first!!!!

Avatar image for Darkkarobka
Darkkarobka

This is the worst gaming news ever. These interviews are useless. Of course they are only going to sing the praise of their new owner, they aren't dumb enough to burn any bridges and speak their mind about EA. The true test is who starts leaving once the contracts EA made them sign (to stay on board through the takeover) expire. What crap! EA I curse your name and you'll never get my money you big fat pig.

Avatar image for futurehobo300
futurehobo300

hornycorny69 "mass effect is exclusive." they said the same thing about Devil May Cry 4

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redfox66

Everyone has a price, lets hope bioware's soul stays intact and isn't tainted by their new demon masters.

Avatar image for Kaldo
Kaldo

Well, this sucks. And it's obvious the MMO isn't wholly owned- hence why they couldn't mention it. Probably a D&D franchise or such... Just a shame they had to sell out for the quick $$$. Everyone knows they'll keep making great games, the money would come eventually. Now EA will prioritise what it wants, try to push them out when they want, and badge brand the hell out of everything. If I hear one "Bioware.. IT'S IN THE GAME!" or "EA Bioware... BIG.", I'm switching the damn console off.

Avatar image for hornycorny69
hornycorny69

agni_1, mass effect is exclusive.

Avatar image for xion2k4
xion2k4

as long as EA just throws money and resources at bioware i'll be happy! but if they start rushing stuff they can say good bye to my money EA are jackasses anyway

Avatar image for PurpleLightning
PurpleLightning

god bless us all

Avatar image for Big_T-Mac
Big_T-Mac

F it. Microsoft should just buy them for a billion, before ea turns 'mass effect' in 'harry potter and the lotr's space quest'

Avatar image for Janpieterzun
Janpieterzun

One thing he did say at the beginning of this travesty "As you said, EA is the largest, and I think, the best publisher in the world," biggest yes but it aint best, i think the best read something like Blizzard, Bioware...oh wait.. scratch that last one....

Avatar image for Pete5506
Pete5506

This is so not good

Avatar image for futurehobo300
futurehobo300

well, since they dont mention anywhere that Mass Effect is and exclusive, im guessing its not gonna be exclusive. I mean if it was, then why wouldn't they give a straight answer?

Avatar image for HK-47-M4
HK-47-M4

I hope they decide to do Kotor 3 for Lucasarts.

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TweetyLeaf

Worst thing happened to gaming industry ever.

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craig305

In the End no matter how much they spin it comes down to hard cold cash....

Avatar image for bam11bam
bam11bam

thats true.....why do all EA games framerates suck????

Avatar image for sephiroth_4
sephiroth_4

EA's upcoming E.A.E.S. for the world. Simultaneous release. $805 for the bare system, controller $50, games $75, license to play the game $20 for 2 months, framerate still sucks, but u can't complain because there's no competition. Ah, I can see it now.

Avatar image for bam11bam
bam11bam

Jade Empire duece! Mass Effect has to be exclusive...im sure there was some kind of deal Microsoft has with Bioware and Mass Effect. Same with Halo and Microsoft....only Microsoft can allow Halo to go into an other platform I dont know,but if they Delay Mass Effect again to make it Multiplatform im gonna be pissed!!!..at least have it be timed if any

Avatar image for DickDarlington
DickDarlington

Ahhh, the things we say for monies!!!!!!!

Avatar image for xboxrulze
xboxrulze

I stopped reading when he said EA was one of the best publishers in the world.

Avatar image for makryu
makryu

NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Avatar image for Warlypwnage
Warlypwnage

Interesting article. Looks like EA now owns a bunch of big time developers, the NFL rights, Crysis and more. Geez EA, save something for rest of the world. Why dont they make their own gaming system already lol.

Avatar image for dragonwarlock77
dragonwarlock77

Oh yeah, this is going to end well, similar thing happened to my father, his computer forensics company got bought out by this huge corporation, several months later, everyone's getting laid off and things are going straight to hell. I see the same thing happening here. How could you, BW?

Avatar image for agni_1
agni_1

so is mass effect an exclusive or not?

Avatar image for QIsForDrTran
QIsForDrTran

I hope EA sticks with the old motto "It it isn't broke, don't fix it." BioWare is great because their games are great, not because the name BioWare is great. If EA compromises that quality, then all the money they spent on the name and the company will mean nothing.

Avatar image for vass86
vass86

oh well as long as bioware keep making great games. i hope they don't change their name to EA bioware or whatever. just seems wrong

Avatar image for scotty15
scotty15

Well, This sucks. But i was happy to hear this "And we see Microsoft as a long-term partner on Mass Effect."

Avatar image for rykh
rykh

Traiters

Avatar image for crusader8463
crusader8463

as long as ea just sits back and gives bioware money to do as they like it will be ok. if they try to mess with bioware productions tho its gonna go to hell. sad tho, that we couldnt get them to tell us how they relay feel about the merger. but then again if some one gave me $`10+ million i would say good things about them too lol

Avatar image for mwa
mwa

lol yeah Tor didn't sound too happy. fortunately, it looks as the MS has mass effect locked up in a long-term deal, so that'll probably remain a 360 exclusive

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kazuyasongoku

I only care that Mass Effect is safe and all three installments will be developed.

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demoralizer

EA destroys everything.

Avatar image for veitari
veitari

I love Bioware. I love Mass Effect, I cannot wait for their MMO and/or Dragon Age. I just hope this EA move isn't a bad thing in the long run.

Avatar image for mastercortana
mastercortana

abdu4 you can hope they continue to make great games all you want. It's just not likely to happen anymore.

Avatar image for B0Knows
B0Knows

hmm interesting....

Avatar image for tony2077ca
tony2077ca

i hope we will still see great things come from bioware

Avatar image for Bill900
Bill900

If Mass Effect comes to PC than this was a good move in my opinion

Avatar image for MjolnirMaster51
MjolnirMaster51

Now that Bungie has separated from MS, I hope EA doesn't go after them next, or else we're all doomed.

Avatar image for x-2tha-z
x-2tha-z

BioWare have been brainwashed by EA. They actually think this is a good move!

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shock_88

lol you could tell that even Tor is pissed off about this whole buyout situation :P

Avatar image for abdu4
abdu4

cant wait to see the future of this company BioWare. hope that they continue to make great games