GamesIndustry had the chance to conduct an in-depth interview with BioWare's own "doctors", the co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, on subjects such as the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic, how a developer has to be adaptable to not die, how difficult is to take risks with new IPs and more. Here's a fairly generous sampling:
Q: You're limiting sales of Star Wars:The Old Republic on release, which is an unusual move in a time of week one sales figures...
Ray Muzyka: It comes from a desire to have a high quality service for our fans, really stable and scalable and accessible and really fun, and make sure it's performing well. You have to build the infrastructure to support a certain size launch and we're also thinking really long term at Bioware EA for this, there's going to many many consumers coming to the game over time and we're going to be expanding it out. We want to make sure that the service is really high quality, that's the commitment we have to the launch of The Old Republic.
Greg Zeschuk: It's a little bit different to a regular game, like a regular console release, where you're connecting periodically, maybe there's a multiplayer match, but the only way to play SW:TOR is full time connected to the internet, connected to our servers, so we want to just ensure that we've got a nice smooth, reliable game, everyone can get in when they want. It really boils down to, like Ray said, the quality of the service so for the ones that get it it's really slick and really enjoyable. And we'll increase it over time, our anticipation of course is to keep selling after that.
Ray Muzyka: And you know that demand is high too. It's the fastest pre-ordered in EA's history.
Q: Is that decision not to rush and to take your time a company rule?
Ray Muzyka: Yeah, very much. It's one of our core values and in the time we've been at EA we've been very supported in that as well. The great thing is we have a strong culture and a strong vision and values as Bioware and we're part of a larger whole that has that strong vision and culture as well.
Q: An MMO is a very long term commitment, you can't just release it and forget about it.
Ray Muzyka: That's totally right. It's a long term commitment, that's the way we're looking at it. It's definitely not a fire and forget but more of a... we have a really aggressive plan post launch to build content and take the feedback to heart that we're getting from players and what they want for continued expansions, and use that feedback to build new content, so we're releasing regular content drops and regular expansions after launch, and really accommodating what the players are asking for, dependant on what they find most fun in the game.
Q: Does your success with such established IPs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age make it harder to take a risk on new IPs?
Ray Muzyka: You have to take risks in order to survive in an industry that's as dynamic as videogames, it's fusion of art and entertainment and technology, and if you aren't taking risks, like Greg said, then you won't survive. It's a really interesting blend of taking careful calculated risks, and making sure you're listening to market research and your fans and following your team's intuition the whole way, at all times taking smart risks, and being flexible and dynamic. And recognising there's so much dynamic change and entertainment preferences change all the time.
Business models are changing now pretty rapidly and radically too, if you approach it as this is really exciting, and just get ready for the ride and you're dynamic and flexible in how you approach it it can work really well, if you approach it from more of a "we've got infrastructure and things we can't let go of" that doesn't work as well.
Luckily Bioware and EA are changing really rapidly to accommodate the new industry. I mean look at The Sims Social, on track to be the number one social game. Who would've have predicted that a few years ago, that EA, a traditional publisher, would do that?
Greg Zeschuk: Or six months ago! The signs were there but we hadn't done it yet.
Ray Muzyka: I think internally they knew because John Riccitiello has been talking about this transformation for years, ever since we joined EA, he's the reason we joined EA originally, because we worked with him at Bioware/Pandemic. He's an inspirational guy. He's been talking about this culture transformation and others like Frank Gibeau in EA have been really passionate about this new digital IP universe and transforming in to new business models. And currently its been going on for a long time, so now it's really exciting for us to see that hitting the market, and consumers getting excited and play all these new games. And the best is yet to come, there's a lot of stuff they haven't seen yet, from Bioware and EA too.
Greg Zeschuk: Going back one moment to how to use properties properly, I think one thing we can all see is when somebody just milks something to death. I think that's were the really big danger is, especially with publishers that don't have depth of slate. That's the other big thing that's exciting for us, we've still got Jade Empire, we could pull that up sometime, you never know right? And also the other thing, honestly, if we wanted to make something new maybe one of our existing properties takes a holiday. As crazy as that sounds, but there's a benefit to actually giving fans a break, but then the thing with the other platform concept is that it could just take a console break, but it could go really aggressively on another platform.
Ray Muzyka: There's the whole back catalogue too. I mean EA has a tremendous back catalogue of IPs and we have a mix of all kind of new things. We have some new IPs, we have Bioware created IPs that are now in their third and fourth iteration, we have IPs were we've partnered with great licenses like Star Wars, or Warhammer's Wrath Of Heroes, so there's a nice blend of different things.
Greg Zeschuk: It gives us flexibility. You don't feel the pressure like "we've got to pump another one out." I think other competitors are in that mode, you look at their slate and you look at their depth and you're like, wow, if this doesn't work for the fourteenth time, there could be trouble.