Greg Zeschuk Interview

GamesIndustry is offering an interview with BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk with a plethora of subjects covered, from his opinions of the console industry, to why he wishes Jade Empire had been an Xbox 360 launch title, to the culture of anonymity on the internet and fans reactions. One thing he makes clear though: he won't go back to the gaming industry, and at most he'll contribute by doing consulting work.

Here's a snip:
Q: You and Ray, and BioWare as a whole, often faced a lot of negativity from gamers on the Internet who didn't like certain things about Dragon Age 2 or the Mass Effect 3 ending, etc. Do you think gamer culture is too prone to driving out the talent it relies upon for entertainment? Is the environment too toxic?

Greg Zeschuk: I have a few comments on that. One, the Internet is the ultimate megaphone, so a small number of people can sound really loud, so that's one caveat to remember. At the end of the day, for every one person complaining there are a whole bunch of other people who actually like it. Also, why were we called out a lot? Because we were taking aggressive choices - we were doing things people weren't willing to do, like the way we were portraying characters. There's all this discussion now about misogyny in the games business and we're now being called someone who actually were on the positive side of that with strong female characters.

I think the problem with gamers is you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. But what it talks to is the power of games as art and the power of games as a medium where people get really, really passionate. I've had moments where I finished a book and I wanted to rave at the author and complain that I didn't like a part, but I just never had the opportunity before. It's not really positive - there are ways to have more constructive discussions. It's just one of those things that you have to deal with. I'm actually happy with the world of beer because those people don't talk like that; you'll either like or dislike a beer, but you won't have the same deconstruction of stuff. I also think the culture of anonymity on the Internet gives an incredible pulpit to people, but at the end of the day, they should be more thoughtful about how they use it.

Q: But how tough was it for you and Ray to deflect that hate and protect your team? Your role, in part, was to act as a buffer and make sure your studio morale wasn't affected, right?

Greg Zeschuk: That's true, but you also can't control the Internet or the people on it. There's a level where you have to accept it. Like anything else, you can be very analytic and methodical about it and you can get pissed off about some of the things folks write, but you tell yourself they're coming from a point of passion and concern, and we have to figure out what we want to do to address it. It's frustrating at the time, but for me it doesn't mean anything anymore. It was par for the course, but those days are gone.

Q: There were even people in the industry giving you flak for caving in to the demands of gamers; some said (why is BioWare giving in and changing the ending for Mass Effect 3?) It's your work of art, so why should you change it and alter your vision afterwards?

Greg Zeschuk: I actually read it more as supportive than critical. I know [Irrational's] Ken [Levine] had made some comments, and I read them as we're the creative, we made this thing, and we should be able to deliver our vision. But games are really interesting in that they're a very powerful medium where people are so engaged in them that they feel they almost own them. We created such passion for the Shepard character that they wanted, perhaps unreasonably so, to dictate the outcome.

That's the tough situation of making games full of choices because you can never really address every single possible outcome that folks might like, and if they don't get the one they want then they're really unhappy. I can understand it from an academic perspective, but I don't think it's necessarily good for the business. It's like one of those things where you're mad at someone and you write them a nasty email but you don't send it, and the next day you think of a more constructive way to address the issue.