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Veteran Member - Level 11
[Ridiculously Sarcastic Title Alert...]
Apparently, BioWare is dying. Or dead already, depending on who you ask. Or if we're going to get technical about it, maybe the company simply sold its soul and now exists as some sort of rotting husk dancing on marionette strings manipulated by that quintessential conglomerate of Evil we know as EA.
Like I said, it depends on who you ask. I realize these are not new sentiments, either; people have been saying similar things ever since EA acquired BioWare five years ago. But this seemingly popular opinion flared up once again last week, in the wake of two very dissimilar announcements.
First came the announcement of Dragon Age III: Inquisition, the existence of which had been rumored for some time. The very next day, BioWare announced the retirement of Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, two of the company's co-founders.
Judging by much of the fans' reactions—to both of these disparate pieces of news—they might as well have sent out BioWare's obituary. Well, at least this seemed to be the general reaction to the departure of Muzyka and Zeschuk. As for the Dragon Age III announcement, many of the responses just felt decidedly apathetic. To these fans, BioWare is either dead or dying—my question is, why do so many BioWare fans feel this way?
I am an unabashed BioWare fanboy, through and through. I created my very first customizable character in a video game fourteen years ago in Baldur's Gate, BioWare's first RPG and the game that put the company on the map. Just this year, I followed Commander Shepard through to the end of his journey in Mass Effect 3. And aside from a single embarrassing oversight—which I will not name—I have played everything in between. I generally don't pick favorites, but if it came right down to it, and I was forced to choose my single favorite developer, it would almost certainly be BioWare.
This is why the recent overwhelming negativity from some gamers regarding the company and its future is so perplexing—and frankly, so irritating—to me. I know that I am a naturally positive-minded person, and I accept that many people simply are not. But from what I can tell, this rampant negativity basically all boils down to three things: A) Dragon Age II; B) the Mass Effect 3 ending; and C) overwhelming hatred for EA and what it has "done" to BioWare.
By and large, gamers can be a hard bunch to please. This goes double where it concerns franchises that they like. For many RPG fans (and BioWare fans), the triumph that was Dragon Age: Origins heralded a new age of medieval fantasy RPGs. In many ways, Origins represented a return to BioWare's fantasy roots, supplemented and made stronger by various interactive innovations the developer had introduced in Mass Effect. The result was both a popular and critical success, and with such a strong debut, the bar was set high indeed for Dragon Age's next installment—perhaps too high.
Personally, I enjoyed Dragon Age II. And while I agree with the popular consensus that it isn't as good as Origins, I know some who think it is actually better. Whatever your opinion, however, I think it is absurd to call it a "bad game" simply because it wasn't as good as Origins. Of course, this too is just an opinion, but in truth, this is all mostly beside the point anyway.
The point is that many gamers now view Dragon Age II as an unsightly blemish on BioWare's record. Furthermore, some view it as not only a blemish, but a sign of something bigger: the beginning of a trend toward mediocrity. In the minds of these people, Dragon Age II marked the start of the company's downward spiral, and the controversy over the Mass Effect 3 endings only served as further evidence to them that BioWare is falling apart.
These people see BioWare as a developer in desperate need of redemption, teetering on the brink of total failure—and in their minds, Dragon Age III will either save the company or doom it for all eternity. That, or they simply don't care, even the ones who are (or were) admitted BioWare fans. These are the ones who have already drawn a line; BioWare is already dead to them, and apparently nothing will change that.
And if you think I'm being overly dramatic, just go back and look at some of those comments, especially on the article about the retirement of Zeschuk and Muzyka. I think I'm stating their viewpoint quite fairly.
Throughout its history, BioWare has had a record of stellar releases matched by few within the gaming industry. Virtually since its inception, the company has produced one fantastic game after another, revolutionizing the modern RPG in the process. And over the years, BioWare has developed a fervent fanbase. But even though a devoted fanbase can benefit a developer—by drumming up hype and spreading the word, for instance—it can also be a double-edged sword.
Many of BioWare's most dedicated fans have placed the company's past successes on a pedestal, and this pedestal has grown taller and taller with each superb BioWare game that has come out. By the time Dragon Age II was released, BioWare had become so glorified, so revered—so untouchable—that it was all but inevitable that any misstep, however slight, was destined to be blown astronomically out of proportion. So many fans had come to expect perfection from BioWare every single time, that in their minds, anything less would be a complete failure. Thus, Dragon Age II.
Am I saying we shouldn't hold BioWare, or any other developer for that matter, to a high standard? Of course not. But there's an important difference between expecting a good game and expecting a perfect game. Thing is, developers make mistakes. At its heart, every development company is a collection of human beings, and human beings are not perfect. It is important to hold game companies to a high standard, but it is not reasonable to expect them to be perfect all the time.
Of course, some may argue that all of this is moot, that the independent BioWare of years past is not even the same company as the EA-controlled "pseudo-BioWare" that exists today. I can't deny that BioWare has undergone some major changes since being acquired by EA, and undoubtedly EA's oversight has impacted the games that BioWare has made. Exactly to what extent EA has affected the way BioWare makes games is open for debate. But in my mind, the true impact of EA on BioWare is unknowable, for one reason: we simply cannot know what BioWare would have done over the last five years had they opted to remain independent. Sure, they might have been better off, but saying such is nothing more than an empty, hypothetical conjecture. The truth is, we will never know what might have been—heck, as unfathomable as it might seem, Dragon Age II may well have turned out worse had it not been for EA. The point is, we cannot know.
Nowadays, it's cool to hate on EA. Big publishers make easy scapegoats, but the reality behind these issues is much more complicated than simply saying that "EA ruined BioWare," because EA's oversight is merely one variable among the many that influence BioWare's development processes. But I would argue that EA is not even the real issue here. To me, the issue is not that fans think EA "killed" BioWare, but that fans consider BioWare to be dead at all.
First off, I suppose we must determine what it even means to say that BioWare is "dead" or "dying." Does it mean that the company isn't releasing good games anymore? Because I don't know about you, but I thought Mass Effect 3 was phenomenal. And guess what? It was made with EA at the helm. Maybe you liked ME 2 better; well, EA was there for that one too. And let's toss in Dragon Age: Origins while we're at it; that too was created while BioWare was under EA's supervision.
So, maybe you don't much care for any of these games. Maybe when you say BioWare is dead, you mean it in a more "spiritual" sense. Maybe you're a "hardcore" BioWare fan, and nothing they've done with EA has lived up to the masterpieces of BioWare's independent past.
Hey, I was there too. I played Baldur's Gate when it was new. I bought Baldur's Gate II on day one, and did the same with Neverwinter Nights. These were and still are some of my favorite games of all time, but you know what? I still love Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I am proud to say that my love for BioWare's recent games in no way diminishes the love I have for Baldur's Gate, and Neverwinter Nights, and Knights of the Old Republic. Instead of glorifying the past and denouncing the present as inferior, I choose to love all of it. But to those of you who insist on living in the past, I say this: nostalgia is a powerful force, but it too can be a double-edged sword.
The fact is, developers—and game companies in general—are dynamic entities. Not a single one of them creates games the exact same way every time, and this change only becomes more pronounced the longer they've been around. You may have a strong idea about what a particular developer means to you, and even what the so-called "spirit" of their games entails—but these grandiose notions are not only very subjective in nature; they are by no means set in stone, either. People join the company, people leave the company—even the founders, sometimes—and they take and bring their own ideals and goals along with them. New technologies become available, opening the doors to new possibilities, and old technologies and mechanics are phased out. As developers evolve, their philosophies adapt to new potentials, and their games evolve likewise.
Maybe you hate EA; if so, that's your opinion, and I have no problem with that. But if you enjoyed Mass Effect, and you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, then why on Earth should your hatred of EA mean that you can't still love BioWare? The way I see it, if you really do love BioWare, then you will accept their occasional mistakes, such as Dragon Age II and the original Mass Effect 3 endings, as well as their successes—especially when said successes vastly outweigh the company's very few missteps.
I guess in a broader sense what I am advocating here is tolerance. Just so we're clear, I am not advocating complacency. But there is a difference between holding developers accountable for their mistakes and reviling developers simply for making them in the first place. It's the difference between "Let's hope you do better next time" and "You are now irrevocably dead to me." It's easy to become emotionally invested in the games that we love, and it's equally easy to become outraged when they fail to meet our expectations. But we need to realize that developers will inevitably make mistakes, and when they do so, we should not take them personally. Seriously, it's not the end of the world.
I have high hopes for Dragon Age III. In fact, I've had high hopes for every single BioWare game since Baldur's Gate. Does that mean I've wanted them to make all of their games like Baldur's Gate? Of course not. I want them to innovate, I want them to try new things, to push the boundaries of what games can do, what games can be. If some of these experiments fail from time to time, so be it. It's a small price to pay for innovation, and not only will I not hate them for their mistakes; I will love them all the more for being willing to make them.
We have to learn to change our expectations to fit the evolution of our favorite developers, not cling stubbornly to archaic, nostalgia-tinted molds that will only constrain them. Just as our developers evolve, we have to evolve alongside them, or our expectations will never line up with reality, and we will constantly see only failure in spite of the good.
I love BioWare because BioWare makes good games. Period. I don't love them because they make perfect games, or because they remain "true" to some vague, lofty ideal I concocted for them. And as long as they continue to push boundaries, to create original experiences and tell memorable stories, I will always love them.
Yes, BioWare has made mistakes. Every developer has, no matter how stellar their record might be. My suggestion? Forgive them. After all, that's what you do when you love something. And if you're thinking that my adoration for BioWare has blinded me, well, maybe you're right. But I for one would rather look to the future than live in the past, dwelling on a few measly missteps amid a sea of memorable, innovative successes.
Forgive and forget, I say. Seriously, it's not the end of the world.