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September 3rd, 2011, 07:54
I forgot to post this yesterday - the latest Irrational Podcast features Ken Levine interviewing Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, which might make it more interesting than the typical Biodoc interview. From the description:
As a fellow entrepreneur, Irrational creative director Ken Levine chats with the doctors about the challenges and perks of running a video game company–all three have seen their studios grow from small PC-exclusive teams to modern, triple-A, multiplatform dev studios. They also share the experience of starting out in fields not particularly related to games, Ken in screenwriting and Ray and Greg in medicine.
“We were having lunch one day after having made some medical education software,” recalls Ray, “then we realized what we’re really passionate about is video games. Why don’t we just make some video games? Take everything we own, and everything we make as doctors on weekends, to fund the company. …That was the extent of the conversation.”
It seems to have worked out.
More information.
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September 3rd, 2011, 07:55
nice podcast! any indie devs should listen to it.. these guys have a good approach for games alot of indies should learn from(i mean the ones who are trying to get commercial).
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September 3rd, 2011, 12:00
Yes any indie or new studio can learn from them but dont make the same games they do. There is already to many of there so called new rpgs coming out.

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September 3rd, 2011, 18:34
Hm. They started off with the best intentions but fell to the Dark Side …imho. When you become too big, its all about 'da munney'. Sad, but such is life - hopefully more people like CDP will arrive to replace those who've 'gone corporate'.
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September 3rd, 2011, 20:00
They are obviously business-oriented people (with some appreciation of creative processes). After EA aquired Bioware probably more so (and less so). Their points about listening to player feedback was interesting. Positive feedback get absorbed right away. Negative feedback? Well, it's probably easier to surround yourself with yes men. They are stuck with three large titles in the rpg genre, basically competing against themself. That is probably EAs main motivation to sever most of Bioware's ties with rpgs, to realign the franchises for the Halo and Call of Duty market. SW:TOR is the only one that will stay for reasons quite obvious.
Last edited by hishadow; September 3rd, 2011 at 21:01. Reason: dont repeat myself
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September 3rd, 2011, 20:26
Originally Posted by booboo View Post
Hm. They started off with the best intentions but fell to the Dark Side …imho. When you become too big, its all about 'da munney'. Sad, but such is life - hopefully more people like CDP will arrive to replace those who've 'gone corporate'.
They'll probably eventually go the same route.

It's nearly inevitable. When you have 300 empoyees you have to find work for 300 employees and operate in markets big enough to earn a living for 300 employees - plus some ROI.
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September 3rd, 2011, 22:31
Originally Posted by booboo View Post
Hm. They started off with the best intentions but fell to the Dark Side …imho. When you become too big, its all about 'da munney'. Sad, but such is life - hopefully more people like CDP will arrive to replace those who've 'gone corporate'.
The have been about the money from day 1. Their first game was Shattered Steel, an action game. Then they made a rts game called Battleground Infinity and showed it to Black Isle/Interplay. Fearqus(sp?) Urquhart (sp?) told them to go and make an rpg because it was there the money was - at that time way back in 1996-2000, and so they did. And the rest is history - Bioware made Baldur's Gate and Tales of the Sword Coast. And became big and strong and grew and grew. Along the way Ray & Greg took an MBA, and learned something. They probably also learned that they needed to grow and get money in their cash till to pay their devs. Or risk ending up like Troika, Iron Lore Studios, (the developer behind Titan Quest?)White Birds (Sokal's studio), or Black Isle/Interplay (although a certian lawsuit may also have done some damage here). As well as some other now long gone studios; the motivation not to fail because one does not have enough money or do not know where the money for the next project is coming from can be a very strongly motivating force - to go make crpgs more accessible to new players.

Also, each year Bioware gets voted among the 25th, 50th or 100th best companies to owrk for in either Edmonton, Alberta or Canada. This means they must do something right, right?

And I know CDP is seen as a small company here, but CDP is a very big company, publishing games in Eastern Europe, and also handling localization of say Bioware games. And even CDP and CDP Red seems to have bowed to the god of Mammon, by making Wicther 2 for consoles.

However, I don't think you can compare Witcher games with Bioware games. Witcher games are in their essence basically build around a main protagonist while Bioware games are party based games. It's comparing oranges to apples to peaches.

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September 3rd, 2011, 23:23
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
… They probably also learned that they needed to grow and get money in their cash till to pay their devs. Or risk ending up like Troika, Iron Lore Studios, (the developer behind Titan Quest?)White Birds (Sokal's studio), or Black Isle/Interplay (although a certian lawsuit may also have done some damage here). As well as some other now long gone studios; the motivation not to fail because one does not have enough money or do not know where the money for the next project is coming from can be a very strongly motivating force - to go make crpgs more accessible to new players ….
I've seen this excuse a few times, and it's one that I disagree with. Bioware's RPGs have always sold more copies than the now defunct companies mentioned above, dating back to the Baldur's Gate era…how convenient that they "forget" that they were very financially successful long before the recent push to make a mega-epic-blockbuster that appeals to CoD fans because RPGs are "irrelevant" now…

Also, if they truly needed to make their games more "accessible" to the mainstream audience in order to survive, then why on earth did DA:O sell so well? It may not have been as "hardcore" as the Dn'D games in the eyes of old-school enthusiasts, but it was also very far from being "dumbed down," and it also didn't make a concerted effort to be "accessible" to non-RPG (or casual RPG) players.

So I don't buy the "we need to appeal to a larger audience in order to survive" argument - there is way too much evidence to the contrary to believe such a ridiculous thing.
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September 4th, 2011, 00:38
dragon age origins probably also took at least twice as much resources if not far more to make than dragon age 2. i imagine only because bioware has had so much success were they able pitch dragon age origins on the guarentee that it would make a cash cow franchise. this is the catch 22 that many devs create when they make the more hardcore, deep, or innovate new ips which they usually end up somewhat betraying. i guess we can hope they improve some but my guess is bioware's next great game will be a new ip.

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September 4th, 2011, 01:18
Last I saw, BioWare had 800+ employees. At the ridiculously conservative salary of $50k each, that's $40M / year in salaries alone and the real figure might easily be double that. They cannot take significant risks with those liabilities.

Aries is also right - they have always been about growth and building a business (see their many, many interviews) and making RPGs was an accident of association with Interplay. Put those together and I never understand why some people expect them to make hardcore games they were never about in the first place.

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September 4th, 2011, 02:59
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
Last I saw, BioWare had 800+ employees. At the ridiculously conservative salary of $50k each, that's $40M / year in salaries alone and the real figure might easily be double that. They cannot take significant risks with those liabilities.

Aries is also right - they have always been about growth and building a business (see their many, many interviews) and making RPGs was an accident of association with Interplay. Put those together and I never understand why some people expect them to make hardcore games they were never about in the first place.
Certainly fair points from both you and Aries. However, if making relatively hardcore RPGs was an "accidental" convenience, they sure did a pretty good job of making high quality ones, making it a little doubtful that money was always their only objective; in my opinion, it's not possible to make an involving RPG without knowledge of the genre and a certain level of passion for the craft. Also, RPGs have never been the top money-makers on the market, so why would they have kept making relatively deep RPGs for so long? Or at all, for that matter?

But let's say I'm completely wrong on this, which is certainly a possibility. If one was to justify their changing direction as par for the course that they have always been on, it would seem odd that they have made some business related blunders in the past few years. By expanding way too quickly and becoming way too large, they seem to have accidentally moved out of their comfortable, profit-making AAA niche. If everything Bioware does can be defended as "purely a business-related decision," then wouldn't it have made more sense to have stayed in a niche that they were dominating (from a business standpoint)? After all, their isn't exactly a lot of competition for story-driven, relatively complex AAA RPGs. On the other hand, 3rd-person shooters and action games - the genres that Bioware seems to be moving towards - have a lot of competition, making it harder to create a demand for new products in those genres.

So putting whether or not Bioware was ever about making "hardcore" RPGs aside, it would seem to me that making a story-driven RPG with relatively deep mechanics and AAA level polish/production values would make them stand out a lot more than simply blending the genres or diluting the RP mechanics even further. And I'm not sure how much validity is in the argument that DA:O took 5+ years to make at 2 times the budget of DA2 - we don't have proof of either of those things, and the first 2-3 years of DA:O's development time weren't spent in full-time production.

Perhaps I'm analyzing this too much from a role-player's bias, but in my opinion, further expansion doesn't ensure higher returns, and losing what makes a company unique - what separates it from the rest of the market and creates a demand - results in stagnation, not growth. Perhaps that's why DA2 and ME2 have not gone on to become the mega-blockbusters that Bioware wanted them to be; they are practically clones of other games already on the market, which isn't a statement one could easily make about the games that preceded them.
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September 4th, 2011, 07:26
Originally Posted by Nerevarine View Post
Certainly fair points from both you and Aries. However, if making relatively hardcore RPGs was an "accidental" convenience, they sure did a pretty good job of making high quality ones, making it a little doubtful that money was always their only objective; in my opinion, it's not possible to make an involving RPG without knowledge of the genre and a certain level of passion for the craft. Also, RPGs have never been the top money-makers on the market, so why would they have kept making relatively deep RPGs for so long? Or at all, for that matter?
Yes, they did do a good job. No, it's not only about money (in fact, I think I said "building a business", not "money"). Clearly, they had a passion for video games or they would never have left medicine to start a game company. I'm saying having a passion for games insn't the same as having a passion for hardcore RPGs.

If I had the opportunity to make games, I would only make an RPG. I wouldn't even consider a different genre. If you said to me, "start with a Bejeweled clone because RPGs are hard", that would sound like good advice but I would have no interest in making a Bejeweled clone for any reason. I'd rather not bother than make anything else.

Their first game was a mech action game. Second pitch was an RTS. Not seeing the passion for RPGs there. Of course, they may well love mech games and RTS and RPGs - I can only judge by what I can read.

I would suggest their success comes from an excellent publisher (in terms of understanding RPGs), the D&D license and the people they hired…and the doctors are clearly very intelligent men. For me, their great work was with Interplay - BG, BG2, NWN (yes, NWN was published by Atari but the hard work was all done with Interplay). Then they left and made Jade Empire and Mass Effect. See a pattern? I do.

By expanding way too quickly and becoming way too large, they seem to have accidentally moved out of their comfortable, profit-making AAA niche. If everything Bioware does can be defended as "purely a business-related decision," then wouldn't it have made more sense to have stayed in a niche that they were dominating (from a business standpoint)? After all, their isn't exactly a lot of competition for story-driven, relatively complex AAA RPGs. On the other hand, 3rd-person shooters and action games - the genres that Bioware seems to be moving towards - have a lot of competition, making it harder to create a demand for new products in those genres.
I don't know if they "grew too fast" - Elevation Partners and then EA spent a ridiculous amount of money on them so their strategy worked for where I am sitting. You ask why move out of a profitable niche? Because it's a niche! If it was all about hardcore RPGs, you'd be right. If a big part of the appeal is growing a substantial business it makes perfetc sense to move out of niche RPGs. If anything, I think your point proves they wanted to grow the business above other considerations. No?

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September 4th, 2011, 09:37
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
Yes, they did do a good job. No, it's not only about money (in fact, I think I said "building a business", not "money").
Yes, I understood - I just shortened "building a business" down to "money" for the sake of simplicity. My mistake

Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
… I would suggest their success comes from an excellent publisher (in terms of understanding RPGs), the D&D license and the people they hired…and the doctors are clearly very intelligent men. For me, their great work was with Interplay - BG, BG2, NWN (yes, NWN was published by Atari but the hard work was all done with Interplay). Then they left and made Jade Empire and Mass Effect. See a pattern? I do …
I think I understand your point. The "Biodocs" themselves had… let's call it an "interest" … in making games, but they mainly wanted to build their own successful business using video games as a means to achieve that goal. In that case, it wasn't the owners of the business that had a passion for RPGs, but the people that were hired to design their games that loved RPGs. Fair enough, I think that's a completely valid point given the info available over the years, so I agree with you on that front.

Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
I don't know if they "grew too fast" - Elevation Partners and then EA spent a ridiculous amount of money on them so their strategy worked for where I am sitting.
True, but that was only a short-term success (a very profitable short-term success, of course). What I'm saying though is that if their long-term goal was to build a sustainable business that makes a healthy profit each year, then perhaps they did grow too fast. You already mentioned a low-ball estimate on what they might potentially pay each year in salaries alone. From my point of view, that size seems to be too large to sustain the business given what a triple-A studio (from any genre) can reasonably expect to achieve in terms of profit each year. In short, the massive and rapid growth after the Elevation Partners and EA deals is too much to sustain itself considering they grew before they had a means to cover their new losses each year. (Although I suppose TOR might prove me wrong on that when it gets released…)

Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
You ask why move out of a profitable niche? Because it's a niche! If it was all about hardcore RPGs, you'd be right. If a big part of the appeal is growing a substantial business it makes perfetc sense to move out of niche RPGs. If anything, I think your point proves they wanted to grow the business above other considerations. No?
Certainly another very good point. However, my point that you quoted there was actually operating under the assumption: "Yes, Bioware's main goal is to build a sustainable and substantial business." If that is indeed the case, then why not simply grow the profitable niche? Calling Bioware a "niche" pre "market shift" is a bit of a stretch anyway, considering the level of visibility that their games all the way from BG 2 and Kotor through DA:O received. So my point is that Bioware's products were once very unique, being created as story-driven, moderately complex RPGs with AAA polish/production values. Having a product separate itself from the crowd is obviously a huge advantage in any business, and after the early success of the company, it would make sense to grow that uniqueness even further. As reasonably solid as Bioware's RPGs were, they still had so much untapped potential; potential that might have grown their "niche" into something very unique and massively successful.

Besides, their recent efforts to finally completely cross over fully into the mainstream (the early steps towards this had already been done in years past, but it was previously a careful, more subtle balance in my opinion) hasn't brought them any growth, and in the case of DA2, actually lost sales compared to the "niche" title that preceded it. ME2 didn't blow away its predecessor in terms of sales either. So can you really say - purely from a business perspective, not through the eyes of an RPG player - that DA2, ME2, and future games in a similar model are good business-growing decisions? Granted, it is just two games that have attempted to be mainstream blockbusters, so time may prove me wrong as Bioware gains more experience in their new approach, but I think they might have been better off staying in (and growing) their comfortable, AAA "niche."
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September 4th, 2011, 16:29
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
They have been about the money from day 1.
Are there some great non-profit game developers out there that I don't know about?

I imagine any business that is not primarily about generating money for its owners is probably not going to last very long.
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September 4th, 2011, 16:46
Originally Posted by Nerevarine View Post
Having a product separate itself from the crowd is obviously a huge advantage in any business, and after the early success of the company, it would make sense to grow that uniqueness even further. As reasonably solid as Bioware's RPGs were, they still had so much untapped potential; potential that might have grown their "niche" into something very unique and massively successful.
That is because EA views the the rpg niche as too small. They're about the big bucks, so in their mind they have a talented studio wasting their time and resources on 1-5m sales, when they instead should delivering 10m+ sales. It was mentioned in some a financial statement earlier if I remember correctly.

The doctors then go on to disinform their rpg audience that the genres are blending because Bioware is moving out of the rpg business. Then they boloney about wanting to care for both their core fans and new fans. The truth of the matter is that their new fans wasn't as numerous as they had expected, so they are at the moment stuck in some rpg swampland, trying hard to escape but cannot, because there is obviously money to be made there.

Their salvation is obviously SW:TOR, with dreams of entering Blizzard's financial dreamland, which ironically leave them even more entrenched in the rpg genre.
Last edited by hishadow; September 4th, 2011 at 17:10.
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