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Peter Moore gives BioWare vote of confidence after tumultuous 18 months

"They're doing great. Mass Effect has been enormous for us."

EA COO Peter Moore has given BioWare a vote of confidence after perhaps the most tumultuous year in the developer's history.

The last 18 months has seen BioWare's star dulled, first by the release of the disappointing Dragon Age 2, then with lower than expected players of MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, and finally, this year, with the furore around the ending of Mass Effect 3.

BioWare has called on player feedback as it creates Dragon Age 3, released free downloadable content to add context to the divisive Mass Effect 3 ending, and announced a free-to-play option to SWTOR as subscriber numbers plummeted.

So, it's been a difficult period months for BioWare, once a developer that could do no wrong in gamers' eyes. Is EA losing faith? Not so, Moore told Eurogamer. "They're doing great."

"You say the last 12-18 months, I think of three things: I think of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I think of what Mass Effect 3 has done and all of the offshoots we've done of that, and then a little bit further back Dragon Age. So from that perspective I think the studio has done great," he said.

Mass Effect 3 launched in March 2012, and during that month in the US the game shifted 1.3 million units across PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This was considered low, but digital sales, including those made through EA's Origin platform, were not included in the figures, and EA openly questioned the value of US stat tracker NPD. In May EA announced Mass Effect 3 had generated $200 million in sales.

"Mass Effect has been enormous for us. It's done great," Moore said. "The public numbers bear that out."

The game's troubles were not at the till, but online. Soon after launch fans came together to complain about the ending of the game. Following an online outcry BioWare announced it would launch free downloadable content that would add more information to the ending, called Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut.

At the time a debate raged about "entitled gamers" and whether BioWare was right to add to the ending, but Moore backed the decision and praised gamers for sparking it.

"It's been interesting with the whole ending thing," he said. "It's a fascinating debate. More power to gamers. They have the outlets now. I always say, people are passionate about movies, people really like music, people are into their TV shows. Nobody in entertainment has more passion and a bigger megaphone than gamers. And to their credit they put their hands up. A lot of them said, we're not sure about this ending in Mass Effect 3.

"So the team at BioWare, again, to their credit, said, all right, we're going to stop a few things right now, the team's going to go back and provide some DLC, no charge, to provide more context around what went on there. We delivered that recently."

Perhaps the biggest disappointment when it comes to BioWare's recent output is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which EA is rumoured to have spent hundreds of millions developing and marketing. EA has seen its share price fall following its December 2011 launch, and many analysts have pointed the finger at the MMO.

Now, a year after launching with a subscription model, EA will add a free-to-play option to SWTOR. This following layoffs at developer BioWare Austin and the departure of BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk from the team.

Moore was frank in his assessment of the performance of the game, saying when EA began development subscription MMOs were big business. Now, they are not.

"It sold well," Moore insisted. "Our challenge is we had got a lot of players who played it and got to a point where we started to see churn."

So, what went wrong? "What has happened is, when we embarked on this massive project, which is to bring the huge world of Star Wars and that universe and those characters to the world of MMO, the world of gaming was in a different place," Moore replied. "That was a world we felt good about there, that the business model was focused around subscription.

"Fast forward to where we are today and it's very clear the world has moved on and as such we need to move on. So rather than crying about spilt milk, the team said, we're going to evolve this into a hybrid model. You can still pay your $15 a month and have all you can eat, everything you want about Star Wars."

Moore revealed that EA exit interviews showed that 40 per cent of people who quit the game did so because they didn't want to pay the subscription fee.

"We do exit interviews. When people say I'm churning out, I'm going to step away for a while, we ask them why. 40 per cent of people said, I just don't want to pay $15 a month. I love the game, but I'm just not into the subscription business.

"The reaction to that is, okay, let's retool this game later this year into one you can both play on a subscription basis and not worry about it and have everything you need, or one you can play for free and as you manoeuvre on you can choose to continue to play for free and there are micro-transactions that help you accelerate in the game. We're just reacting to consumer feedback by doing that."

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