BioWare Interested In Creating Another New IP
In our third installment of Consulting the Doctors, BioWare heads Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk discuss the Activision/Infinity Ward fallout, launching two games simultaneously, and their plans for creating new IP.
One of the more industry-shaking events that happened before GDC was the Infinity Ward/Activision fallout. You two are in a unique role because you wear both of those hats now as a developer and publisher. What was your take on the Call of Duty shakeup?
Ray: It’s a mess.
Greg: It’s a shame that whatever disagreement they had came to that.
Ray: It can’t be good for the industry. It’s just an unfortunate situation. Any way you look at it, it’s not good. I don’t think it’s good for that kind of litigation to occur with people who add that much value to a company. It’s just a mess. We know the guys moderately well, and we know a lot of the people at Activision moderately well, so it’s sobering.
Greg: Yeah, and I think it was a real shocking event because it happened right when the celebration should have been the biggest. Suddenly it’s this giant twist of fate.
Right on the day Bad Company 2 comes out as well.
Greg: At first a lot of people thought it was just a gag, and when it became real everyone disbelieved it. I think it really has repercussions. When you really think about it, though, it reflects more accurately traditional big business interactions. It’s probably as big or bigger in the movie space, historically. So it almost, in a sense, represents perhaps a maturing of the industry. You go “wow, we are like a big business now, and this is what sometimes happens.”
Ray: It certainly puts Bobby Kotick’s presentation at DICE into a very different light.
Greg: Yeah, it’s an interesting perspective in retrospect.
Ray: This stuff takes longer than a few weeks to build up – you know litigation takes a long time to plan out and build.
Greg: This wasn’t a sudden decision.
Ray: I was watching [Infinity Ward], they were just a few rows down from where we were sitting. I was looking back and forth as Bobby was talking, and I detected – maybe it was poker intuition or something – I thought “something’s not aligned here.” But then a week later – there you go.
I think back to Ken Levine trying to make a zombie game and having the businessmen pushing back – I mean he clearly had a history of finding his vision and delivering – and Infinity Ward getting blowback from marketing about making a modern combat game. Do you feel like people don’t trust the creative minds as much as they should in this industry?
Ray: In some places that’s true, but in other places there are exceptions to that, like the guys at Naughty Dog pursuing a very ambitious vision and obviously getting a lot of support from their partners at Sony. They were very successful, and they are going to do well. I think we’re doing OK, and we’re pursuing a very innovative approach. It’s not like there’s always an immediate agreement or alignment within our larger company on some of the directions we pursue, but we get supported in them. We make an argument for them and we get supported. I feel very supported in the EA framework. EA is a very different company than it was five years ago, and I think companies can change. Successful companies do change. There are a couple examples there where it doesn’t have to be that way. I think ultimately the better business results occur when you don’t have a misalignment of creative and business interests and you actually make them the same.
Greg: The best outcome comes when all those groups align. A little bit of tension is good in that it leads to good discussion, but I think when you have this disagreement of who’s really responsible for the success or who’s right or wrong – I think in fairness you often don’t know. You have to look at the situation collectively. If a game is super successful, you have to imagine that a number of different things clicked. The creative is probably right, the execution is probably right, the marketing and distribution are probably right – they all have to happen. But when that seesaw starts getting pushed in the wrong direction, from a development side you need passion. I think the passion comes from that unbridled creativity, that feeling that you can build something. If you have the ability to unlock the passion of the developers, that’s the winning situation. A great way to not do that is to provide them with a list of products you’re delivering on which platforms. And not to say that in this case that’s what happened – who knows? Companies get to that point and that’s actually the beginning of a downward spiral because it just doesn’t work unless people feel they have some level of autonomy and some degree of control over their creative destiny. That’s when you win. That’s one of the interesting things about being at EA. The creative destiny part is absolutely crystal clear for us. There’s never any question about that.
Speaking of good games – correct me if I'm wrong – but thinking back I can't come up with another circumstance where a company released two games in which they invested so heavily as you did with Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 within a span of a couple of months. What did you learn from releasing two big projects so closely together, and would you do it again?
Greg: We've learned not to do it again. [Laughs]
Ray: Well, it went well. It came from the hard efforts of a lot of people.
Greg: Well yeah, I think because we do have distinct teams in the sense that there's a whole Mass Effect franchise team and a whole Dragon Age franchise team. There's certainly crossover with some of the folks that do voiceover stuff and the testing and that, but they were far enough apart that they were separated. What's interesting, though, is that Mass Effect 2 was actually done before Christmas because we had to submit it, so really it was a two-month period between the actual completion of one and the other so it was very, very tight. I think we learned that we could do it. This was always one of those interesting challenges that we have as a company. Even though we were always a multi-project company, everyone always said we shouldn't even put games even in the same year as one another. It's an interesting benefit in the sense that it shows the diversity of what we can do because they are very different games. They push on different things, and it worked. It takes the effort of a whole bunch of people at BioWare, EA, and elsewhere. And it all fell into place, which is really cool. Not to say it wasn't scary.
BioWare are the masters of fantasy and the masters of sci-fi. Are there any other genres you'd love to tackle?
Greg: Dancing. [Laughs]
Looking at Just Dance, apparently the sales numbers are there.
Greg: [Laughs] I know. I shouldn’t joke about that.
Ray: Our portfolio includes a lot of different things short term and long term, different business models, different levels of risk, different IPs, different technologies. Different settings I think we are very interested in. We would love to build some new IPs and settings that are different than the ones we’ve currently got while continuing to build within the frameworks of the franchises we’ve got, too. We’re going to have a mix of all those things going forward.
Click here to read the first part of our interview, which discusses BioWare's transition from independent developer to Electronic Arts employees.
Click here to read part two of our chat with the BioWare heads, where we discuss their view of where story stands in the gaming industry and what games they've recently played.