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.


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 kalipekona

Some of you guys are silly. The games EA has been publishing lately are of a very high quality. I for one think this will only mean better games from Bioware since they will have more resources to work with. I am crossing my fingers on a Jade Empire 2. I absolutely loved the first one.

Avatar image for IpodHero176

I hope they won't let EA completely influence them.

Avatar image for lostn

"way to dodge some questions there Docs. AMK_87: I HATE seeing that godddamn EA logo all over my screen...thats why I stopped buying their games." EA Games. Challenge everything.

Avatar image for Izzytheinsane

So...new Jade Empire?

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Avatar image for whitey3221

reggies_world "makes you wonder if "mass effect " will coming to the ps3?" Did you even read the article? Microsoft is still publishing it. I hate some people that don't even read the article and then comment on it...seriously read it.

Avatar image for latavitz

well this sucks bioware will join EA they rush everything and dont take time i would hate to see biowares great rpg's be rushed and suck

Avatar image for F1sTDaCuffS

i like how EA buys everything. then they put out games, and try and force genre. its sicking. there going to get caught with there hand in the cookie jar and implode.

Avatar image for secher_nbiw

way to dodge some questions there Docs. AMK_87: I HATE seeing that godddamn EA logo all over my screen...thats why I stopped buying their games. That and the fact that I was tired of saving my profile every 5 seconds.

Avatar image for reggies_world

makes you wonder if "mass effect " will coming to the ps3?

Avatar image for FyreHeart

This makes me nervous. I love almost everything BioWare produces, and dislike most of the EA games I've played. I hope BioWare influecnes EA, not the other way around.

Avatar image for jrmyecomp

I agree if the games keep that level of quality we expect from bioware then its all good, as long as I dont see a pontiac slogan on an alien planet im fine ahhemm( battlefield ..!)... I hope workers and analysts at these game companies take notice to these intellectual blogs lol ... I agree "The concern is that Bioware's "take your time and make a great game" approach will be overshadowed and eventually dropped for EA's infamous profit/dealine driven approach." jayntampa nice line "huge MegaCorps are the enemy of creativity because creativity requires the possibility of failure, something that business can't stomach." that should be in a book somewhere

Avatar image for Lewos1

EA have really impressed me so far this year...and with Bad Company and Army of Two just around the corner it really seems like they're starting to give a crap about what gamers want to play. As long as Bioware is allowed the freedom to do what it does best (make great games) then I'm happy...

Avatar image for Feniks9174

@JaynTampa - I've heard that before, about the German Tax thing, but I'm not sure how much validity there is to it, or at least how much it really applies. As far as I know, his movies are actually quite successful from a financial standpoint because he makes them on a penny pinching budget and markets them to people who will shell out the cash, regardless of how much the movie actually sucks. According to this GS article: [<< LINK REMOVED >>] . . . House of the Dead made $80 Million worldwide, yet only cost $7 million to make. An %1,100 return on an investment is something most companies would kill for . . . @jakob_187 - The concern is that Bioware's "take your time and make a great game" approach will be overshadowed and eventually dropped for EA's infamous profit/dealine driven approach.

Avatar image for jayntampa

@Feniks9174: Uwe Boll is still making films because they are unsuccessful. German tax laws allow for huge write-offs on films that fail. Investors use the movies as tax shields. The fact is, huge MegaCorps are the enemy of creativity because creativity requires the possibility of failure, something that business can't stomach.

Avatar image for jakob_187

So let me get this straight: BioWare/Pandemic is now getting more money to make their games better. BioWare is still getting to make the games they want, which means EA will finally get some more original IPs. BioWare has yet to make a bad game. Pandemic is improving the quality of their games. And you people are complaining...because?

Avatar image for Feniks9174

@Jrmyecomp - Don't get me wrong. I'm concerned about the quality of Bioware's games as well. I think that simply being concerned for the well being and the reputation of a company we've all come to know and love as an All-Star in the industry is perfectly understandable and legitimate. Personally, I don't want to find out that KOTOR when it comes out, if it's in dvelopment at all, totally sucks. My main point, however, is simply that we don't know how this will all turn out and that screaming like fanboys accomplishes nothing except raising your chance of a heart attack. All we can do is wait and see. Even if the worst happens and Bioware's quality turns to crap, then we simply stop buying their products. There are other developers that make awesome games. @Cheater - True, a lot of people aren't happy with this and Bioware may just lose some fans over it. But with EA's resources and marketing abilities, I doubt that it will put even a small dent in their sales in the future. Criticism is one thing, but the numbers are always the deciding factor. Otherwise, Uwe Boll wouldn't still be making movies.

Avatar image for digitalheadbutt

I don't think Bioware is doomed to mak ecrap games, I think EA is going to make it harder for them to do by curtailing their freedom. That may not happen, I hope it doesn't and I will still pick up their games until they begin to suck. I get the sense that EA is really trying to break old behavior and encourage creativity; the lastest aquisition definately suppot that.

Avatar image for AMK_87

I dont know what to think... - Having such giant as EA covering your back is allways something good. Good marketing/promotion never damaged a game, so its better now. - Its true EA has damaged lots of franchises (MOH anyone?) but lately EA lets the devs do the work and doesnt gets in (Criterion, Crytek, Flagship, etc). - The most probable thing is we are gonna see EA logo dozens of times before actually playing some Bioware game, but its no big deal. - Bioware can become EA Bioware, just like Mythic became EA Mythic. Crytek doesnt apply as its not owned by EA. On the other side, Criterion is already a couple of years under EA hands and no name change... - As long as EA lets our Canadian friend do their job, nothing is going to be wrong. Most, if not all, of Bioware games are 9/10 or better, top notch AAA titles, and I dont see that changing from one day to another. - The only part that actually worries me is the ambitious 300 million dollars/year earnings forecast.... i hope this wont affect the quality of the main PC/360 titles. - Experience also tells us that EA will probably make the 'quick buck' releasing cheap spin-offs, i think mainly on Wii/DS platforms, but as I said, as long as the main franchise titles remain AAA quality, it will be OK.

Avatar image for peeweeshift

does this mean no more kotor exclusisve

Avatar image for bestco

I'm scratching my head and wondering how MS could miss an opportunity to buy Bioware with all the cash they have? Bioware is 10x better than Rare, and games like Mass Effect and the new MMORPG will put Xbox360 on top of the next generation console lead.

Avatar image for cheaterking2

ok feniks i agree with you this is a business and they ARE obligated to thier employes but in the end having half your fan base thinking your doomed to make crap games is gonna draw a lot of criticism

Avatar image for jrmyecomp

Feniks9174 idealogical principles? We are the customers my friend and u said it your self bioware is known for quality first? that is what we are concerned about the degrade in quality which is known to happen to companies ea acquires theres no principles... There is just concern that the goods we purchase do not degrade in quality and Ea does not destroy everything.. but stop and think ..If so many people are angry and dissappointed about EA then does that not mean they have loss their goodwill overtime by "destroying" products. F principles its called concern

Avatar image for us_sword_master

Amen to that, Feniks!

Avatar image for sweener2001

Sony has the largest jRPG following. That type of game is very different from a western developed RPG. The sort of game Bioware puts out is the most popular on PC. That makes The_Tombo's comeback equally as flawed.

Avatar image for Link_Destined_1

As long as BioWare doesn't start making bad games, I'm not worried.

Avatar image for Feniks9174

I think everyone's making far too big a deal out of this. Despite these romatic notions of developers "staying true to their fans" and "caring about quality instead of money", at the end of the day Bioware, EA, Microsoft, Bungie, Square-Enix, Sony . . . they're all businesses. The CEO's and CFO's of these companies are obligated to their employees and their stockholders to make sure that everyone can feed their children that week. They are not, however, obligated to cater to your idealogical principles for the few dozen dollars of profit a year that any one person contributes. True, EA has a reputation for being profit and deadline driven, while Bioware puts quality first. At the most, all I can say is that it will be interesting to see what happens when two companies with very different viewpoints try to mesh. All this doom-saying and claims of "I should just quit gaming right now!" is just a waste of time. I'll continue to play Bioware games until the quality goes downhill, if it happens at all. Then, I'll simply do what I usually do between Bioware releases, play other games by other developers. In the meantime, I have better things to do than whine about EA "destroying everything".

Avatar image for chandlerr_360

I wish that the GS journalist would have just been like, "You DO realize that the majority of your fanbase is unhappy with this decision right?" I would have loved to read that response from these BioWare goons. LOTS of money = brainwashed opinions.

Avatar image for Megawizard

Oh boy, EA gets to ruin another company with its "suggestions".

Avatar image for The_Tombo

@ beprice3 they will sell at least one to me. And besides that you forget that the ps brand as always attracted the largest part of the rpg community. Your argument is flawed!

Avatar image for beprice3

tmacairjordan87 ----------You're right.But people dont read,they see the headline and come up with there own story.And so what if it goes to PS3,they wont sell squat.

Avatar image for Chefjase

I hope that EA will not give notes, Bioware would be better just getting more production money and picking up checks that say EA on them. If bioware wants to stay with 360, they will just have to stand on principle, because EA went to them, not the other way around. They have done remarkably well without Sony so far, and I hope EA realises that. If Bioware does change however.....bring on the Simpsons/KOTOR /Madden MMORPG!!!!

Avatar image for Rizer

As long as they still do what they do to make games as awsome as they've been making them.

Avatar image for VolcanoMan001

Funny how tons of money can make people feel "excited". Give it a couple of years and GZ and RM won't be so "excited" after that.

Avatar image for maztatrev

I love how they really didn't say anything in the interview except how much they don't want to step on EA's (or anybody elses) toes. Gamespot, I think you guys need to be a little bit more in your face with your journalism.

Avatar image for Subterfuge

I don't really care who makes a game, as long as it is a good one it doesn't really matter. But after reading this it' makes one wonder what all these "super secret" titles are going to be. BioWare sure is secretive.....

Avatar image for maulstik

money wanting fa8s

Avatar image for jlh47

ea has actually been releasing some good games of late. i mean black was a good game. army of two looks good battlefield is always good. medal of honor as well. and besides it looks like EA is just paying bioware to put its name on it.

Avatar image for Vyce3

Wow they sure avoided the exclusivity question remarkably

Avatar image for demoralizer

Well the fact is the game was built for 360 I don't think it would be an easy task to port to PS3, with EA deadlines and the difficulty of developing for the PS3. I don't think EA wants BioWare spinning it's wheels wasting resource on a small user base. I'm sure the next titles will have the PS3 in mind though.

Avatar image for MedevilDragon

Mass Effect 1 / BioWare = Will be an awesome game. Mass Effect 2 -3 / made by EA = these games will suck. Why didn't you buy BioWare Microsoft and save Mass Effect from evil EA? This series is now going to suck, they will turn it into a run & gun shooter with a end level boss.

Avatar image for tmacairjordan87

you'd be an absolute fool to pass up on Mass Effect just because of the aquisition. For one, it doesn't even become official until January 8th, so until then Bioware is a seperate company and the game doesn't suffer at all from EA. Second, you dont know for sure EA will do anything at all to bioware, a company that's proven to be one of the elites. If you bought something highly successful for a billion dollars, would you want to tamper with it and risk ruining it? or just kinda piggy back on it and leech some of the profits? Also, since you claim to be a bioware fan, you should have a little more faith in them than to just completely write them off now when nothing new from them since the aquisition has been shown off. They haven't made a crappy game yet and I have the respect for them to at least wait and see what they've got after Mass Effect before pronouncing them dead.

Avatar image for magellan

I hope this doens't turn out bad, like when EA bought (and ruined) Origin back in the day

Avatar image for LeviHarris

I still think it's a horrible idea. I hate EA. All they produce is garbage to turn a profit so they can buy talented studios like Bioware and Pandemic. I can't wait for Mass Effect 20 in 2010.

Avatar image for harhuge

I love how even the GS interviewer had a somewhat negative tone to this acquisition; someone who's job it is to remain impartial and state the facts. It is not a knock at all against the interviewer, but rather a fine example of why this merger is such a slap in the face to all that gaming stands for. Even the press find it absurd and wrong. As ridiculous as it sounds, I may consider passing on Mass Effect simply due to this "acquisition". The sad thing is I've bought every Bioware game since the original Baldur's Gate. Such a sad state of affairs to see stuff like this happen. I miss independent developers. Oh well, atleast now we'll get Jade Empire 200- and Mass Effect 2 and 3 will be multiplatform. If I were Microsoft I would be extremely pissed and VERY hard in my dealings with Bioware EA from here on in.

Avatar image for sascha23

I think Mass Effect will remain as a 360 game for the time being. Porting a game just seems like a waste of BioWare's time. However, with this deal, I wouldn't be surprised if the PS3 pokes its head into the mix for future IPs and deals.

Avatar image for VFA-102

Will Mass Effect 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. Okay, now, how about answering the *%^$@ question.

Avatar image for AdamK47

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

Avatar image for master_blue

absolutely terrible news, bioware is going to be cranking out 4 games a year which shows right there how shallow they'll be. and lets have a reminder: "Westwood Studios, based in Las Vegas, currently has a five to six percent share of the PC game market. The company, and its 150 employees, will remain in Nevada. "We were courted by many companies, but in the end, we knew that EA would provide us with the best infrastructure and support that we need," said Sperry, Westwood's president and CEO"

Avatar image for jmartinez1983

I'm glad Bioware is so optimistic that things won't change and that it will still be good ole Bioware. I think it will be like that for a year tops, but EA won't stand for slipping deadlines and this obsessive attention to detail that Bioware has gotten used to over the years. EA wants their games out, and they want them out now.