Major Changes at BioWare (Dragon Age 3, Mass Effect 4, and Co-Founder Leaving)

Lots and lots of news for you this afternoon.  To begin, let’s start with the news that BioWare co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuck have officially retired from the company.  Both men had a lot to say on the subjec on the official BioWare blog.

Greg Zeschuck wrote the following:

Writing a note like this is something one imagines doing once in a lifetime, if at all. The experience of following a dream, achieving it and along the way working with the most talented, passionate and engaging people imaginable isn’t something I’m likely going to repeat again. Building BioWare over the years with Ray and the many other people involved was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’ll cherish it always.

After nearly twenty years working at BioWare I’ve decided it’s time to move on and pursue something new. This decision isn’t without significant pain and regret, but it’s also something I know I need to do, for myself and my family. I’ve reached an unexpected point in my life where I no longer have the passion that I once did for the company, for the games, and for the challenge of creation. For the people I have had the privilege of working with, however, my passion burns as brightly as it did the day we started. The people I work with now, and that I have worked with in the past, have inspired me and really made all of the challenges we’ve collectively faced over the years worthwhile. We have been blessed with tremendous success over the years at BioWare, and the reason is simply down to a large number of great people doing great work. Successful people or companies have to admit luck also plays a part in their success, and it certainly did for us; a few times over the years we made the right game at the right time and success flowed as a result. When we got it right, it was like a hole in one or a home run; it was a magical feeling and incomparable in positive impact for everyone involved.

At BioWare we’ve always valued the effort of the team, as well as the herculean efforts of passionate individuals. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best people in the games business; some of them are well known, and some are not. What every single one of them does is commit himself or herself fully to the act of doing great work, whatever it is, and then stubbornly pursues the goal until it is achieved. The amazing thing about working at BioWare is that everyone does this; it is part of the culture we helped foster and grow. BioWare’s foundation in its Core Values, passion and professionalism remains in the very fiber of the company. One thing I’m confident of is that we’ve built a great team that will continue to succeed long after I’m gone. The thing I’m most proud of is the success of people that we’ve help grow over the years; I hope all of them exceed anything I’ve ever done and eclipse our achievements. I have full confidence in the current leadership team guiding BioWare to continued future success.

I also want to specially call out Ray and thank him for his amazing passion, focus and leadership in building BioWare over the years. I certainly could never have done it alone, and he was the most amazing business partner I could ever ask for; he did more than most people will ever know to drive BioWare’s success over the years. It was a great ride, and having the opportunity to share it with him was incredible.

I’d also like to thank the fans that have supported us across so many games over the decades we’ve been plying our craft. One of my favorite experiences is hearing from people about how much they’ve enjoyed a recent release or BioWare classic; it seems to happen all the time so clearly we’ve had an impact. Sure we’ve had our disagreements with the fans (and them with us), but frankly I understand how that’s driven by passion and love of the games. It’s exhilarating to consider how many lives we’ve touched with the entertainment we’ve created over the last 20 years.

I’d also like to thank EA for the amazing support we’ve received in recent years. Working with John Riccitiello, Frank Gibeau, Peter Moore and the rest of the EA team was a great experience and their support was essential in us being able to achieve our creative goals with Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Thanks to the team at Electronic Arts we had an amazing run. I’ve had the great fortune of making a number of lifelong friends within EA that I’ll always cherish; happily I leave this experience with great people to remember it by.

Over the years we’ve also had the opportunity to work with other great companies on some amazing properties. When we started BioWare if we were told we were destined to work on Star Wars with Lucas Arts, Dungeons and Dragons with Interplay/TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Black Isle/Atari and Hasbro, Sonic with SEGA, and Warhammer with Games Workshop we never would have believed it. We also made some of our own properties with partners like Microsoft. As serious gamers and RPG fans our entire career has been a dream come true.

Some of you will be curious what I’ll be doing next, and I can state that I’m not going to be working in games for a while, and there’s a strong possibility that I won’t be back. After my departure I’m going to be spending significant time with family and friends, as well as pursuing some personal passion-driven projects related to craft beer. The main project I will be working on is a web-based interview show called The Beer Diaries where I interview notable brewers and showcase their beers. If things go well, I’ll work on other beer-related shows, apps and projects. If not, I’ll have drunk a lot of tasty beers and may be back in games or even something else completely different. Ultimately time will tell.

And… that’s it. Normally at this point, if I was still working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’d finish with something pithy like: “May the Force be With You,” but that doesn’t really apply any more. All I can think of is to say thanks… for everything.

Meanwhile Ray Muzyka wrote the following:

After nearly two decades in videogames, I’ve decided to move on to pursue an entirely different set of challenges. This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make; after thinking about it for many months, I made the decision to retire from videogames back in early April 2012 – at that time I provided six months’ notice to EA, to help enable a solid transition for my teams at BioWare.

The decision to leave the videogame industry is hard to explain, but essentially I feel similar now to how I felt in the early days of BioWare over the decade post-medical school, while I was still practicing as an ER physician, back when I first realized that the world of video games was my next career ‘chapter’. Two wonderful decades working at BioWare and later EA was the result of that decision. It’s not often that you can truly say you were able to pursue and achieve your dream job; I know how lucky I am to be able to say that now, in my early 40s.

I feel the need now to move on to a new chapter in my career. With the growth of BioWare to multiple locations as part of a public company, following two decades of multiple successful product launches across many platforms and business models, I’ve largely personally achieved what I wanted in videogames; I now desire to take on a brand new entrepreneurial challenge. I believe strongly in the power of free enterprise to enable sustainable change, so my next ‘chapter’ will likely focus on an entirely new industry, something exciting, different and frankly downright scary – investing in and mentoring new entrepreneurs, and more specifically, the field of social/impact investing. There’s a good description of the goals of this form of entrepreneurship here. Impact investment, or social entrepreneurship, can range from simply thinking about social goals along with the usual business profit goals, all the way to a dedicated focus on a social entrepreneurship portfolio with the social impact defined as the primary goal. For me, getting involved in social impact investment stems from the simple hope of helping the world to be a better place. To that end, I’ll also be spending time getting involved with more charities in education, health care, and animal rights, areas where my wife and I’ve typically focused our charitable donations in the past. I am also spending more time learning about the work being done to defend human rights and civil liberty across the world. Net, I am passionate about both entrepreneurship and social liberty, and I want to find a way to pursue both of them.

I remain passionate about video games – they’ll definitely remain one of my favorite hobbies. I see tremendous opportunity ahead for BioWare and its parent company Electronic Arts. I’ve been thrilled to see many exciting products in early development the past few months in the universes of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, as well as new content and business models for SWTOR, new play for free titles like Command and Conquer, Ultima Forever and social games on PC, tablets and mobile, and much more across BioWare and the wider EA team. It is a dynamic and truly exciting time in videogames, and it is reassuring to know that BioWare and its teams as a division of EA will continue to play a vibrant and important role in this industry. Frankly, I’m quite excited by the thought of being able to play the next generation of BioWare games purely as a fan!

The past five+ years at EA have been very good for me personally. I’ve learned a lot about navigating successfully within a larger publicly traded company, working with – and continually being inspired by – a large, passionate team across many locations. My teams and I have benefited tremendously from the mentorship, wisdom and continuous strong support of EA’s leadership team in EA’s President Frank Gibeau, COO Peter Moore and CEO John Riccitiello, among many others; the company and its management team have been consistently supportive of BioWare’s culture and commitment to quality and creativity.

I leave BioWare and EA and the video game industry with tremendously positive memories from both the early days at BioWare – Baldur’s Gate I and II, Shattered Steel, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Sonic Chronicles, Mass Effect all come to mind, to name a few – and also more recently with BioWare as a division and most recently a Label within EA – during this period, we released Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins and DAII, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Warhammer: Wrath of Heroes, Mass Effect 3, and more. From what I’ve seen over the past few months, I can attest that the best is yet to come; my teams at all of BioWare’s studios have many more fantastic products on the horizon for our great community of fans.

I know there is so much potential for the video game industry right now – from the opportunity to bring fans more into the dialog of what’s being created, to really innovating with all the technology and art available, to creating genuine, emotionally engaging experiences which inspire and unite the world through play. The videogame industry continues to mature, striving to find new ways to lead to sustainable outcomes for all stakeholders – employees, customers and investors – where decisions can be made for the long term success of teams and products. The opportunity ahead is about finding new ways to keep the passion, creativity and inspiration for the hardworking teams who craft, market and service video games for the fan community.

I want to thank a few groups. First of all, thanks to all my teams over the years – I respect and love you all, and I’ve been honored to work with you. I am proud of you, and I will miss you all very much. Remember the BioWare Core Values you exemplify, remain passionate about your art and craft, and always remember it’s your fans who keep you in business. I have great confidence in you, the leadership and teams of tomorrow; I’m humbled by what we accomplished together, and I am certain you will go on to scale new heights in artistry, innovation, and quality. Remember always that successful entrepreneurship involves a lot of luck, and unrelenting persistence in the face of adversity. Never forget the importance of integrity with your fellow employees, as well as your investors, press and fans, and strive to embrace the power of humility in being able to admit mistakes and truly learn from them.

I’d especially like to thank my good friend, BioWare co-founder and business partner Dr. Greg Zeschuk, who is also retiring from BioWare at this time. I could not imagine navigating the past two decades successfully without your wisdom and counsel, your keen insights and your ability to see problems from a completely different perspective; I am incredibly privileged to have been able to work with you and all the folks on the BioWare senior leadership team. There are so many more people I want to call out by name across all of BioWare – frankly, I could go on and on individually thanking all the amazing people I’ve worked with – but I’d never end this blog if I did that…so I will end by simply saying that my entire team is amazing, and I will miss working with you all very much.

Thanks to all our fans – for your passion and your loyalty, and for enabling the teams at BioWare to create great products for you in the past and the future. The teams recognize and appreciate your feedback, both positive and critical, and they know it springs from deep passion – that is always infectious and inspiring.

Thanks also to our business partners over the years: all the publishers like Interplay/Black Isle, Atari, LucasArts, Sega, Microsoft – who all helped BioWare get going and to thrive; the entertainment, technology and games press who carried news to our fans about BioWare and our products; the private equity team of our first investor Elevation Partners; first party hardware manufacturers who supported us like Microsoft, Sony, Sega, Nintendo and Apple; all our amazing technology and engine partners including Epic and DICE; and our licensing partners like LucasFilm, Atari/Hasbro/WOTC, Games Workshop and Sega, who allowed us the privilege of working and playing in your truly magical universes. Thanks again especially to everyone at BioWare’s parent company Electronic Arts, for years of continual strong support in helping the teams at BioWare to build and grow, and pursue the art and craft of videogames.

I’m humbled by the thought that I helped played a role, however small, in the successful evolution of the videogame industry which I still love so much. I will definitely miss this industry and my teams, but I also look forward to and am incredibly excited by the new challenges in the next chapter of my career. I’ll strive to keep you up to date on my ideas and progress – and also just-for-fun/interesting stuff too! – on Twitter @RayMuzyka, if you want to follow me there. Please stay in touch!

There has been lots of speculation on the “real reasons” why the two decided to announce their departure today, stemming from the lackluster post-launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the poor reception the ending of Mass Effect 3 received and more.  Whatever the truth may be, I wish the two all the success in the world.

Now for some good news, the company also announced a sequel for the Dragon Age series, Dragon Age 3: Inquisition.  We don’t have very much information to go on right now, but here’s what we know.  Aaryn Flynn, General Manager of BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Montreal had the following to say about the game:

“The Dragon Age team has been working on Dragon Age 3: Inquisition for almost two years now.  We’ve been poring over player feedback from past games and connecting directly with our fans. They haven’t held back, so we’re not either. With Dragon Age 3: Inquisition, we want to give fans what they’re asking for – a great story with choices that matter, a massive world to explore, deep customization and combat that is both tactical and visceral.  At the same time, we know we need new technology to truly make this vision become fully realized. And we’ve been working with DICE to make Frostbite 2 the foundation for the engine that is going to power Dragon Age 3.”

Sort of limited isn’t it?  Good to know the Frostbite 2 engine is going to be used so I’m sure that will excite longtime Dragon Age fans.  Dragon Age 3: Inquisition is scheduled for release in late 2013.

Finally there’s news out that BioWare has enough new content and original ideas for the Mass Effect universe to move forward with a brand new game.  For those that thought Mass Effect 3 was the end of the journey, think again.  Looks like Shepard and company will be making a return sooner than we thought.  At this point that’s all we have to go on, but mark my words EA is going to want to keep both series alive for a very long time.

So what do you all think of these late-breaking stories?

9 thoughts on “Major Changes at BioWare (Dragon Age 3, Mass Effect 4, and Co-Founder Leaving)”

  1. The news immediately reminded me of the Stamper Brothers leaving Rare after being bought out by Microsoft. It’s been inevitable for BioWare to go through the same motions. The only difference is that BioWare’s founders made some very genuine goodbyes, steering away from the politics behind their departure. I’m sure the company won’t be the same, but it won’t turn into another Rare anytime soon as the core staff is still there and as creative as ever.

  2. Do we know what happened to the Stamper brothers Ahmed? Did they form a new studio, or left the industry as a whole? These guys were instrumental in Rare’s success and now the studio is simply a shadow of its formal self :(. I haven’t been excited about a new Rare project in ages man :(

  3. Wow, I did some research and Tim and Chris Stamper are now into engineering and land development projects so they no longer work in the gaming industry whatsoever. That really sucks. These guys were awesome. Such a shame that so many old-school gaming legends up and left. Now the main publisher rule the industry, but I’m hoping we get a renaissance thanks to the likes of Kickstarter and Steam.

    Talking about Rare itself, the studio is now officially a Kinect-only studio with no plans to work on traditional console games moving forward. I didn’t know that, but they restructured the company in 2010, and have completely dissolved all console development. THey’re also working on the hardware/software side of the next Xbox, and have reduced staffing significantly. Their assets are now being moved to other developers outside of Rare, which means we might see another Perfect Dark or Killer Instinct one day, but odds are it won’t even be made by Rare.

    From everything I can gather, Rare is officially shut down as it was before. This should be proof enough that the studio really is finished. That’s a crying shame.

  4. Yeah I’ve known that Rare was not the same earlier this year. Read a great editorial about it. The gist is that they had to transform to stay alive as the industry around them changed. They’re basically assisting Microsoft with hardware and Avatars now. Everybody that was there for game development and franchises are now gone. There are rumors that Microsoft wants to sell the rights to Rare characters and Nintendo is interested. Kind of hoping this transaction happens because it’s the only way to see Rare’s properties back in full force and Nintendo are the best people to develop them.

    I didn’t know about the Stampers current situation though so that’s an interesting find.

  5. Yeah I can really see that happening, as it’s the only way to keep these franchises relevant. Microsoft tried, and even though the games got solid reviews, people simply showed little to no interest. Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo, Viva Pinata, etc. all failed to really go anywhere in terms of sales. Here’s a quick list of how well some of their last games sold.

    Star Fox Adventures: 1.9 million
    Perfect Dark Zero: 700,000
    Kameo: 300,000
    Viva Pinata: 1.6 million
    Viva Pinata Trouble in Paradise: 400,000
    Banjo-Kazooie Nuts and Bolts: 700,000

    Needless to say, that’s really bad for a company as famous as Rare. I hope Microsoft either sells their IP, or gives them to another developer they have so that these franchises can live on.

  6. Those are worldwide sales? I remember reading that Kameo and PDZ crossed a million. And Banjo selling 700000? Or do you mean 70000? I know that Banjo did terribly.

    Either way, these sales are nothing compared to their glory days with Nintendo. Even Star Fox Adventures did really well like you’ve shown and it was Rare’s sole title for the GameCube.

  7. Yeah these are worldwide number as per Microsoft’s sales date, rounded of course. I thought for certain PD0 sold over a million as well, but it says “as of Jan 1 2012” on the site so it’s weird.

  8. Ok so I did some more digging Ahmed and turns out that PD0 did indeed sell “well over a million copies” and that’s according to Peter Moore when he was still working at Microsoft. So obviously their press site leaves a lot to be desired. When Rare hit 100 million pieces of software sold, they stated PD0 sold 1.5 million, and that Kameo and Viva Pinata were approaching the 1 million mark. As for Banjo, we know it became a Platinum Hit, which means it sold at least 400,000 units worldwide.

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