Predicting the Mass Effect of Bioware Founders Retiring
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
It seemed almost too good to be true. Fresh-faced medical school graduates Ray Muzyka, Greg Zeschuk, and Augustine Yip had pooled together their money for a proof-of-concept demo in Shattered Steel, a game that shares characteristics with those of the Mech Warrior series. The game got picked up by Interplay Entertainment, was released, and the trio of doctors were smitten with video game success.
Fast-forward three years to the release of Baldur’s Gate, one of the biggest games of the ‘90s and also the one that saw Yip bow out of making games, leaving only Muzyka and Zeschuk to further their dream. On September 18, 2012, those two themselves bowed out (announced in separate posts), leaving one of the most established and well-respected studios in the world to continue what they started without its fathers.
And they’re not just bowing out from Bioware. They’re bowing out from video games entirely.
It’s possible the writing has been on the wall for the two to take their leave at some point. After all, they both wanted to be doctors; otherwise they wouldn’t have gone to medical school and became, you know, doctors. In the post-Bioware world, Muzyka wants to focus on charity work and Zeschuk wants to do microbrews and The Beer Diaries, a show spotlighting up-and-coming brewers. Maybe their twenty year plans never had them still making video games at this point. Who knows (other than those two)?
Bioware fans obviously wish them nothing but the best and thank them for their contributions to the gaming world at large. There’s likely more to their departure than meets the eye (there always is), but the larger question though is what does this mean for Bioware going forward? And is it fair to say the EA acquisition might have hastened their departure?
From 1995 to 2007, Bioware produced eight games: Shattered Steel, Baldur’s Gate, MDK2, Baldur’s Gate II, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. Most (if not all) of those games are classics in both RPG and video game circles. Mass Effect can be named as the crowning achievement for the studio to that point. That point when EA bought them.
Since the EA purchase (2007-present), Bioware has also produced eight games: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, Mass Effect Galaxy, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age II, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age III: Inquisition (in development). Notice something there?
In half that time, Bioware has been tasked with making the same number of games. In the pre-EA era, there were six original IPs. In the post-EA era, there was one original IP. Even Dragon Age: Origins isn’t a “true” original IP (it’s been touted as a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate). It’s hard not to see that the most likely reason for their retirement is burnout.
It’s possible that EA did what big corporations do: came in, saw what was profitable and then kept running it into the ground. The two founders cite the main reason for retiring as being they don’t have quite the same passion for making games they once did. And maybe that passion fell alongside their freedom of creativity.
Does that mean that Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age: II or Star Wars: The Old Republic are bad games? Of course not. They’ve yet to reach the level of fatigue that a series like Call of Duty has reached, courtesy of Activision. But they’re extensions of already existent universes, leaving little time for creating new ones. That lack of creativity has to have a profound effect on minds like Muzyka’s and Zeschuk’s.
There was also the Mass Effect 3 ending kerfuffle from earlier this year. Gamers were seriously upset about the lack of closure they expected from the game, despite the fact that the ending was most likely envisioned by Muzyka and Zeschuk for a long time. It’s very plausible that, while they weren’t involved in the day-to-day development of the game necessarily, Muzyka and Zeschuk had some say in how the trilogy ended. That gamers were upset with the ending might have been a slap in the face to the two founders.
What does this mean for the future of Bioware? Well, Mass Effect was intended as a trilogy and is done. So was Gears of Wars, though, and that hasn’t stopped Epic from releasing Gears of War: Judgment. Dragon Age Origins III: Inquisition is slated for release in 2013. The game will sell like gangbusters regardless and people will be happy (hopefully).
After that, though, there’s nothing (announced at least) in the pipeline for Bioware. Where else can they go? It almost seems like the company will have to come up with an original IP, but can they do that without their two founders at the helm?
This isn’t a knock on the talent currently at Bioware. Clearly, they’ve been around the block a few times and can hold their own when it comes to games. But you have to wonder… If the two founders of the company are retiring from both BIoware and games in general, has the EA acquisition done more harm than good?
Here’s hoping that Bioware has a real-life EDI advising them on what to do next. When she’s not canoodling with Joker of course.