VideoGamer is offering up a fascinating three-page read that not only chronicles BioWare's founding in 1995 to their 2008 acquisition by Electronic Arts, but also provides commentary from some of the studio's (former) veteran employees who were there when EA took over the show. Since the topic of BioWare's current state of affairs comes up often around here, I can't help but do some generous quoting:
Dan Fedor worked at BioWare for seven years and was one of the 300 or so employed during the EA buyout. "Day-to-day work proceeded pretty much as it always had," Fedor recalls he was a lead technical artist on Dragon Age: Origins at the time. I wish they had talked with more ex-employees, but I suspect not many would want to go on record like this. Many of these people are still in the video game industry - they're not exactly going to talk about any behind-the-scenes drama that could burn bridges. We'll likely hear those types of stories years down the road.
"I'd say the most obvious changes I can recall were actually positive ones: improved compensation for employees, and improved infrastructure. EA made it a point to standardise compensation across its studios, and for BioWare that actually meant bringing many developers' compensation packages up. And EA's vast size meant we had its many resources at our disposal, including localization, QA, and several technology initiatives for improving workflows."
There was, inevitably, tension.
"I can't deny that many employees were fearful at the announcement of the merger. Many of us expected EA would drastically change the culture at BioWare. As time passed, though, it became clear that what EA wanted was for BioWare to keep being BioWare. Despite popular bombast, no storm troopers breached our airlocks and started imposing martial law."
When Fedor joined BioWare the studio was working on Jade Empire and Dragon Age, and slightly later, Mass Effect. Dragon Age would prove to be more in line with BioWare's headline titles of yesteryear, but Jade Empire and Mass Effect presented considerable diversions from the dense fantasy RPG formula.
"BioWare's philosophy on game design has always been in a state of evolution. If you look back over the pre-EA catalogue of BioWare games it's already quite diverse," Fedor points out.
"BioWare's first game was actually a mech simulator [Shattered Steel], and its third game was a third-person shooter [MDK2]. Sonic Chronicles on DS also started pre-EA. And both Jade Empire and Mass Effect have some significant differences from their predecessors."
"I think it's terribly hard for a studio to maintain its identity when forced to adapt to huge amounts of transition. Indeed, BioWare has had to adapt in many ways, not the least of which is due to its own growth," Fedor agrees.
"BioWare was at just around 150 employees when I first interviewed there in 2004. I think they were at 300 and 2 studios around the time of the EA buyout. These days, they're up around 800, spread across 6 studios. Growth like that would strain any studio culture, and the fragmentation across locations and franchises only compounds things."
"Taking a step back," Fedor says, "I think the sense of betrayal stems more from confusion about the meaning of the BioWare brand. People expect BioWare games to be different things, depending on which game introduced them to the brand. For some, it was Baldur's Gate, and the hardcore D&D RPG. Others fell in love with Knights of the Old Republic and the third-person action RPG in the Star Wars universe.
"Still others were first introduced to BioWare through Dragon Age and Mass Effect. There are even some Jade Empire fans out there still waiting for some requited loving. For each of these groups, BioWare means a different thing, with accordingly different expectations. And what BioWare makes next may not be a duplicate experience to any of the above."