Posted on September 18, 2012, Ross Lincoln With Mass Effect 4 Confirmed, Is BioWare Just A Brand Name?
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It had to happen some time. The end of a once great developer, after years making quality games beloved by fans and critics alike. But alas, those of us who thought there might be a chance to bounce back after recent disappointments should now probably accept the obvious: with today’s announcement from both Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk that they will be leaving the company they co-founded after nearly 20 years, BioWare is, for all intents and purposes, done.
This might sound harsh. The company’s official statement regarding the departure of its cofounders even says “Ray and Greg built BioWare to last. They’ve always known their retirement would come one day, so they developed a team of people who would ensure their standards and culture would endure.” But will it? For the answer to that question, one need only look at the information tucked into that statement. Alongside the soft announcement that future Mass Effect 3 DLC would be called Omega, we also got confirmation that an all new full game set in the Mass Effect Universe is underway. “But the Mass Effect universe is vast,” Flynn also said, “and Casey and our teams have plans for another full game.”
You may or may not love the idea of a Mass Effect sequel. Believe me, if Mass Effect 3 hadn’t failed, I’d be begging for more. But we can agree that iterating what was previously intended to be a closed trilogy is a bad sign for a developer beset recently some serious problems. The fan reaction to the ending of Mass Effect 3 had to come as a shock to a developer that spent so many years cultivating a close relationship with its customers. The controversy was only calmed when Ray Muzyka himself issued a contrite, highly personal statement which seemed to confirm their surprise. Since then, news about the company has been filled with trouble. SWTOR, acknowledged as a sem-flop, was forced to go F2P. Soon after, numerous BioWare Austin (SWTOR’s studio) employees were laid off, and rumors that the studio would soon be renamed ‘EA Austin’ abounded.
None of this bodes well for the continued good health of the company. Sure, BioWare has of course been bleeding old school talent for some time; Even if the founders hadn’t left, it was already a very different company from the one nabbed by EA some 4 years ago. But that they’ve done so late into a very difficult year, and after 2 years of an increasingly difficult relationship between them and their customers, has to be seen as evidence that whatever has been going on behind the scenes, its been settled. Whether this is due to EA’s completely believable claims that it doesn’t with its subsidiaries is unknown.
So what does this mean for BioWare moving forward? Now that the co-founders have left to spend more time with their non-compete clauses1, their former company will continue to make their games of course; including Dragon Age 3 and their upcoming untitled new IP. But judging from the reaction we get on Game Front whenever we post an article about the studio, the bloom is definitely off the rose. Frankly, it’s very unlikely that the positive reputation the company earned over its lifespan can survive the departure of the two men who founded it, especially now, as the official statement indicates, the man angry fans are most unhappy with is in charge of whatever new games the studio develops. We can’t help draw the conclusion that BioWare is now nothing more than a brand name EA will slap on games to give them the veneer of prestige.
In fact, they already have.
1) I kid, I kid. Obviously, there’s no evidence that this sudden, weird announcement after a very public difficult time for the company, during which the growing perception is that the parent entity is running it into the ground, constitutes some kind of early termination, or what other people might call ‘taking this job and shoving it.’ I suppose we’ll find out if the two of them start a new company in 1 to 2 years.