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-   -   BioWare - More Glamor than Game? (https://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4221)

magerette March 29th, 2008 19:49

BioWare - More Glamor than Game?
GamersWithJobs has an opinion piece up that examines the success of Bioware and their position at the top of the RPG tree, speculating on whether their reputation rests on the quality of their games, or their ability to sell them. The author starts with a disclaimer that he isn't tackling Bioware for their popularity, but for what's really behind it:

So, with that disclaimer tendered, let me offer the following: I believe Bioware’s games are vastly over-rated.
Here's some of his reasoning:

Bioware’s greatest accomplishment is not the digitized code that is pressed into millions of DVDs, but its astounding ability to capitalize on opportunities for success. While I am not necessarily beguiled by the company’s library of games, I am positively dumbfounded at the savvy of Bioware’s management to nimbly traverse the gaming business landscape. These are not men to be trifled with, and I would never denigrate their accomplishments by implying that some form of lesser-luck was involved. These guys are good at the art of manipulation, managing to paint themselves, their company and their products as paragons of the gaming landscape even if they don’t necessarily deserve it.
For example, Baldur’s Gate and its sequel are good, but were in many ways eclipsed by the Infinity Engine powered games from Black Isle, Planescape: Torment and the Icewind Dale series. Yet, despite a far more impressive track record, it is not Black Isle that survived the sucking whirlpool of Interplay’s bungling to become the crown jewel of Electronic Arts, but Bioware.
Bioware makes you believe in them, be you consumer, critic or executive. They seem unimpeachable, in the company of places like Blizzard for consistently issuing genius into the gaming landscape, and let’s be completely honest here, they are undeniable hit-makers. This is a company that will move product, that will get people through the door with money in hand, but to me Bioware seems better at making you believe their games are top-tier than actually making top-tier games.
And on their recent games:

I contend that with a lesser brand (and certainly without the Star Wars trappings) Knights of the Old Republic would have been a largely forgettable experience. And, Jade Empire would have been a product praised for making the effort but condemned to a host of average scores instead of being heralded by one IGN reviewer as “one of the greatest action RPG's of all-time” while another IGN reviewer suggested that the first had “underrated” Jade Empire by giving it a 9.9!…
I.. Like Neverwinter Nights before it, Jade Empire seemed to me like a game rife with averageness that was elevated by an admittedly competent story – that’s actually high-praise for gaming narratives – and the boisterous enthusiasm of reviewers who, I assume were playing the same game as I but coming to dramatically different conclusions. Maybe these folks are seeing something I’m not, but every Bioware game since Baldur’s Gate II seems to me like a ghost of an RPG with half-hearted trappings of the genre surrounding worlds of little depth with little choice.
Mass Effect, like KOTOR, Jade Empire and Neverwinter Nights before, wasn’t a bad game by any means. It was an average game that was elevated by a decent narrative and the funding to add real production value.

I don’t believe there is anything nefarious going on here. I believe that reviews of Bioware games are good faith efforts by professional reviewers, but I also believe that there is a well cultivated sentiment among these professionals and their readers that anything from Bioware is naturally brilliant. Bioware does a good job of not dispelling this myth, putting the effort in the right places to sustain this perception, and even cultivate it, but I think more critical analyses of the games show that there are deep flaws which are too often glossed over.
More information.

Zakhary March 29th, 2008 19:49

There are far better examples of over-rated games and gamecompanies.
Half *cough* Life *cough cough*

Ionstormsucks March 29th, 2008 20:18

To a certain extent I agree with the author of that article. I too think that Bioware's games are a bit overrated… then again, so are 99% of all games nowadays. If you just look at the pure game content then maybe such an attitude towards Bioware might be justifiable. But Bioware's main achievements do not really concern content, it's more the way they do things. Look at NWN… a game that Bioware supports up till the present day - that is support. The editor was something absolutely new and breathtaking. Never before could people build their own adventures or even persistant worlds in such a way.
Another important thing that sets Bioware apart from other developers is that they have guts. They do not stick to the safe fantasy setting, but try out other stuff as well. They tried science fiction in Kotor and Mass Effect, and a somewhat unusual asian setting in Jade Empire. As far as I know their next project will be an Alien rpg. That's exactely what the gaming industry needs. I'm extremly tired of companies that have a big hit with a fantasy rpg and then will throw out seven sequels in the same setting over the next few years, just because the first game was successful.

alceleniel March 29th, 2008 21:06


Originally Posted by Ionstormsucks (Post 73884)
As far as I know their next project will be an Alien rpg.

No, that's Obsidian. But Bioware is working on a Sonic RPG for the DS.

aries100 March 29th, 2008 21:37

I think the autor of this rather lengthy rant should go read Bioware's mission statement which says that *bioware's mission is to deliver the best story-driven games in the world*. And so they do. It all started with Bioware's Infinity Engine who were used to make BG1 and BG2 as well as licensed to Black Isle (Interplay) for the IWD-series and PS: Torment. Then, a lawsuit between Bioware and Black Isle made Black Isle go away. (or at least in part this made it so).

It is not Bioware's fault that IGN chooses to give Jade Empire or Mass Effect a 9.9 score. Bioware just makes the best story-driven games in the world in which the world revolves around you, your character in the game, and how the world and you interact with each other. So, the whole point of a Bioware game is have a decent narrative structure (or a story, if you will) and then the gameplay comes after this, supporting the story, not the other way around.

Let us also not forget that Bioware could have milked the BG Franchise and just continued to make games within the D&D universe. Instead Bioware chose to make a KOTOR game, a sci-fi, game, then they chose to make a game set in an Asian setting, and then they made a sci-fi game themselves e.g. Mass Effect. In Jade Empire you can have a threeway sexual encounter. This is really gutsy, I think, of Bioware to make a game that has this in it, especially considering the constant game-bashing from certain groups and individuals, mainly located in the US, it seems.

I first found my way to Bioware 10 years aho with the release of BG1, recommended to me by a (former) co-worker. And I liked what I saw. And so did a lot of other gamers that spread the word of mouth - the best PR-machine, you'll ever get is word of mouth. And I have to say that Bioware hasn't failed me yet.
They always deliver a good story, strong narrative content or at least a story which has, as the author says 'a decent narrative'.

I don't think Bioware ever set out to make you believe that their games are top-tier, the reviewers art varius sites do. Even Patrick Weekes and yes, David Gaider, too, has said that , of course, there's always more content, always more polishing, you can do. Again, Bioware does not make people believe that their games is top-tier, the reviewers do.

And so do the reviewers nowadayd for every hyped game: Bioshock and the Halo 3 game seem to be examples of this. Bioshock got 9.9 ratings, too, the same was true for the Halo 3 game. And many posts on the 2K forums dealt with Bioshock's over-rating by the reviewers.

I agree with 'ionstormsucks', too. Bioware has always been a pillar of strength when it comes to supporting their games, even all the wau back from the first BG1 game. And I do think that supporting a game (nwn1) made in 2002 with a patch that's about to be released, is unheard of - in this day and age.

I don't think everything that Bioware does is brilliant. It is just that when I listen to the good doctors (ray & greg) they seem like cool, down to earth guys that just sit and tells us gamers what they're up to - and they come across as honest people.
(unless some other pr-guys who shall rename nameless for now…)

If the author wants a comptetent rpg, might I suggest trying a game like NWN2 or some other games (like Oblivion) that put their emphasis on gameplay, nor story.

Ionstormsucks March 29th, 2008 22:38


Originally Posted by alceleniel (Post 73886)
No, that's Obsidian. But Bioware is working on a Sonic RPG for the DS.

My bad… but I guess the Sonic RPG proves my point as well. Certainly a Sonic RPG is not something that everyone might like, but it something different, something that most companies that had big successes like NWN would not dare to touch.

NFLed March 29th, 2008 23:58

What is enjoyable is of course a matter of opinion. The story's author is of course entitled to an opinion but in my view it's complete rubbish. Bioware makes *by far* the best games and anyone who strongly disagrees that Bioware makes very good games is not someone whose opinion I care much about.

What is unfortunate is that other than Bioware there are very few companies or people making RPG's I enjoy at all. Obsidian is making a go at it and doing a decent job but other than that it's a very hit-or-miss proposition with mostly misses. There isn't a single game Bioware has made (since before Baldur's Gate I) that I haven't enjoyed and no company comes even close to that high success rate for me.

Dhruin March 30th, 2008 00:21

Half Life is genre-defining brilliance, Zhakary. ;)

I understand where Elysium is coming from and I also think he is being a little misunderstood. He isn't saying BioWare games are bad (and they aren't) - he's as much talking about the press handing out 9.9/10's to Jade Empire and obviously ignoring any flaws in BioWare's games.

aries100 makes a good point with their mission - it also helps to understand that the doctors are driven businessman.

One of BioWare's great strengths in understanding what will play with the average gamer. Their characters are built around strong stereotypes (I have often accused them of recycling the same characters) and they lean toward simplifying elements to aid accessibility. For someone like me who would like things more complex rather than less, that's a negative. I find Kreia and Bao-Dur much more interesting than Bastila and Carth. I like the darker tones and writing that Obsidian often uses.

All of which means, yeah, everything since BG has been "downhill". That said, I don't have a problem understanding that BioWare pursues a more commercially successful model than appeasing a niche fan like myself and best of luck to them. I'll always play their (PC) games, and enjoy them while wishing Obsidian or Troika had made them.

V7 March 30th, 2008 01:27

Gotta agree with the general thrust of the article, they're not bad games, some of them are even great but Bioware isn't infalable either and they're not all masterpieces.

Melvil March 30th, 2008 01:33

He compared the quality of the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series and found the Icewind games better, I stopped reading

Remus March 30th, 2008 01:46

Yup, Baldur's Gate is a better role-playing game.

V7 March 30th, 2008 03:15


Originally Posted by Remus (Post 73932)
Yup, Baldur's Gate is a better role-playing game.

Agreed, but was Jade Empire a better RPG than Torment if its scoring 9.9's it better be.

Unregistered March 30th, 2008 03:33

"So, with that disclaimer tendered, let me offer the following: I believe Bioware’s games are vastly over-rated."


zakhal March 30th, 2008 03:41


Originally Posted by Melvil (Post 73931)
He compared the quality of the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series and found the Icewind games better, I stopped reading

Yeah I chuckled at that too. Not so sure about torment though (havent played it yet).

Dhruin March 30th, 2008 04:32

You guys should re-read it. He doesn't say "Icewind Dale is better than BG". He says BG was "in many ways eclipsed by the Infinity Engine powered games from Black Isle, Planescape: Torment and the Icewind Dale series".

Note that he lists PS:T first. I'd argue the writing in PS:T was better than BG and I'd argue the art and music in IWD are superb. If you said to me you have to chose either PS:T + IWD or BG + BG2, I'd choose the former.

V7 March 30th, 2008 05:48

The IWD series was also a more linier story that the BG series, much fewer side areas to explore. That may or may not be your thing - but then thats the way Bioware went with thier games from there on.

Dhruin March 30th, 2008 06:18

Sure but a point-by-point comparison of every element isn't my argument. I'd still choose the Black Isle pair over the BioWare pair. I'd understand if plenty of people disagree (fair enough) but for someone to say they'd stop reading at that point seems odd to me.

Sir Markus March 30th, 2008 06:37


Originally Posted by Dhruin (Post 73938)
If you said to me you have to chose either PS:T + IWD or BG + BG2, I'd choose the former.

I agree. Personally, I liked those games better as well.

JonNik March 30th, 2008 09:39

Hmm, what bothers me most about Bio games is (besides the recycling of the
same archetypes as Dhruin has pointed out) their somewhat simplistic approach
to their themes and particularly to morality and the portrayal of Good vs Evil.
Its too "black and white" for my tastes and generally veers toward a certain
teen mentality (Evil = irascible bullies vs Good = soappy boyscouts). I for once
would like to see something more oriented towards an adult audience.

Let me add that I have not played Mass Effect (dont own a console), but what I
hear about it me lets me think that they added a different kind of "adult" into the
mixture while keeping the same bland approach to their themes… kinda ironic
remembering all the hollering The Witcher got in example for said elements, while
doing a valiant effort to add the level of complexity I was talking about and
present its world and characters in uncertain shades of grey. (I'll reserve my final
judgement ofcourse on how gratuitous the adult element are in ME when it
finally comes around on PC and I get to play it).

All that said though, and while agreeing that their games are indeed somewhat
overrated, they do tend to crank out consistently solid games of high production
values and as long as they do I will continue to buy and enjoy their games for
what they are (and not for what the gaming press makes them out to be)…

cuthbert March 30th, 2008 10:42

I think what the piece was trying to convey is a bias (or fanboyism) when it comes to reviews toward certain developers, which is a big problem when people expect honesty when being recommended a game. I've come to expect reviews of bioware games (specifically their ports) to have lower scores and more honest review when they finally hit the pc. It's as though enough time has passed from initial release to be more critical and the reviewer to say "good but not without it's flaws" and the number reflects that and sadly I expect the same from mass effect. It's come to the point I don't trust reviews until a few months have passed (when the hype has faded) and I have to determine if the game still holds up when the frenzy of the initial release (when everyone done throwing around 10's and 9's) is over.

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