BioWare still has "huge autonomy" in what it does, co-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk have promised Eurogamer. To say that EA now calls the shots "is not actually remotely true".
"One thing we commonly see is when fans don't like something we do, they put in the comments, 'Oh those EA guys, they're making BioWare do...' And I always chuckle because we are EA, we're BioWare - we're both, and we still have huge autonomy in terms of what we do," Greg Zeschuk told us.
"We're not being forced to do anything or told to do anything. We make the decisions. We take input.
"It's just funny when people say that, because it's not actually remotely true."
"At the end of the day, we're responsible for the quality of the content and games we release, and we're committed to try and always take feedback really seriously from our fans and be humble about how we take it - use it to make the next games better," Ray Muzyka added.
"You're only as good as your next game, and that's the way we've always felt. That's still very much a philosophy at BioWare; quality in our products and delivering each game and exceeding expectations and always trying to delight and surprise our consumers. That's still what we try and do."
"Not that we're bound to it, but we think a lot more about the commercial elements than we used to."Greg Zeschuk, co-founder, BioWare
EA bought BioWare's parent company VG Holdings (also owner of the late Pandemic Studios) in 2007. Autonomy or not, The BioWare Pair admitted to paying more attention to the commercial prospects of a budding idea today than they used to.
"Not that we're bound to it, but we think a lot more about the commercial elements than we used to," Zeschuk explained. "Way, way back, years ago, we didn't even consider those, we just made stuff. And some of the stuff we made, in retrospect, was kind of crazy, like MDK2 - that's just crazy!"
"We thought about commercial," interjected Muzyka.
"Yeah," chimed Zeschuk, "but not on a..."
"High level," finished Muzyka.
"You have to let go of that to a certain degree otherwise you'll always be a follower," continued Zeschuk. "We're this funny combination where we understand the commercial pieces but we're also willing to take risks that we think are sensible - and we're willing to take risks that may seem kind of crazy. We're still driven to a certain degree by that intuition that we had back in the day.
"The key," declared Muzyka, "is to never lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, we're making entertainment and art. We're tying to make a fun experience for the fans. They're one of our key stake holders and we have to deliver and exceed their expectations.
"EA has a green-light process which we participate in but again, it's like, OK, are you not going to green-light Mass Effect 3? Like, really?Greg Zeschuk
Today, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka - both high flyers within EA, not just BioWare - are removed from the rank and file of day-to-day game development. Muzyka bosses the RPG/MMO label at EA, and Zeschuk is focused on the impending launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic. They typically delegate other duties to their experienced team leaders: Casey Hudson for Mass Effect, and Mike Laidlaw for Dragon Age.
"It's interesting because when we start out to make something, it's almost pre-green-lit," Zeschuk shared. "When Ray and I sat down with Casey [Hudson] to do Mass Effect, we all kind of said, 'Hey let's make a space game.' And Casey said, 'Yeah, well I want to make it a space opera.'
"That was the green light.
"EA has a green-light process which we participate in," Zeschuk added with a smile, "but again, it's like, OK, are you not going to green-light Mass Effect 3? Like, really? You know what I mean."
BioWare games today - Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Star Wars: The Old Republic - merge features from each other and the past. "A lot of the same principles are there," Muzyka explained. "The pillars of gameplay that we followed then, like 15 or 20 years ago, are still very similar now, but we deploy them in different ways."
Your BioWare game has also been "supplemented" by market research (to check you want it); mock reviews at a development milestones (to get an outside critical opinion); and tested by normal people. "They're never wrong," said Muzyka of testers. "It helps you craft tutorials, to refine the flow."
Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka also play the games.
"We still play everything we release, we always have and we always will. We enter a lot of feedback, a lot of bugs," said Muzyka.
"Most of our our games, before we ship them, we finish them several times. The Old Republic, we're probably at that level or higher, in terms of hours.
"That's been running for a while. Actually we do keep track, and I believe it's hundreds of hours," added Zeschuk.
"Both of us," remarked Muzyka. "There's many people in the team that are, too - it's the kind of game you can sink a lot of time into and have a great time throughout."
Muzyka revealed that he played Neverwinter Nights for three years after release. "I tried a lot of fan content," he said, "user-generated modules, made some myself - not very good ones."
Under a fake name?
"Yeah, I think so," recalled Muzyka.
"Muzyka?" quipped Zeschuk. "No one can ever recognise him!"
"Akyzum," riposted Muzyka, laughing. "No, no."