What is going on at BioWare? Ever since their merger with EA, the acclaimed developer has not really been the same. Hmm, I may have just answered my own question…..Either way, the change in tone from the BioWare founders over the past few years has been jarring. It seemed like yesterday when Greg Zeschuck and Ray Muzyka were on top of the gaming world, collecting awards and churning out hit after hit. I remember thinking back then, “Wow, they have the greatest job ever.”
Well, times have changed…and rapidly. After the release of Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: TOR, things just seemed different. Yes, the lukewarm response to the hugely expensive MMO and the ME3 fan backlash obviously played a role in this, but it was still monumentally surprising last year to hear that Greg and Ray were departing from the company they had started.
Some light was shed on why Greg, in particular, decided to pursue other interests. In a recent interview with Polygon, Greg was asked why he left, and he responded, “Everything’s a factor. There’s nothing that’s not a factor, but there’s no single one thing.” Somewhat cryptic, yes, but a pretty standard response from someone who is burned-out and unhappy with their situation.
This is the point at which Beer enters the equation. While heading up the development of SW:TOR in Austin, Texas, Ray Zeschuk had become “really obsessed” with craft beer. An obsession that could have very easily diverted his attention from a less that savory work situation. His interest in this hobby has now turned into a full-blown venture with The Beer Diaries, a weekly web series dedicated to “independent” beer brewing.
It is somewhat telling that, after just a few years under the EA umbrella, Greg started to get extremely focused with an industry (craft brewing) that is known for being highly independent. Having lived in Austin, I am well aware of the anti-corporate culture that is prevalent, along with the fact that creativity and independent thought are cherished there above all else. Was he missing the independence and autonomy that BioWare once had?
Although never outright admitting so, it is very likely that Greg did not like the direction the company was going in and got out when the fun was lost to pursue something he knew he would enjoy. Or he may just really love beer! But I think that the atmosphere at EA/BioWare was pushing him away as much as craft brewing was pulling him in.
When the only industry survivors are those who can deal with the rigidity of a corporate, profit-driven atmosphere, the scope of innovation will drop big time. This seems to be what happened.
The loss of Greg and Ray is a big one, but the lessons learned from this will hopefully allow publishers and developers to remember that games (and the development of those games) need to be focused on passion, fun and creativity. I hope BioWare can return to form and continue its impressive tradition of great games.
And I also hope that Greg is just going through a “phase” and will be back in games sometime soon. Actually, come to think of it, if he makes beer as well as he made games, I might have to reconsider that last statement!
What are your thoughts on the state of BioWare? Without its founders, can the company continue to develop great games? Let us know!