(This is the first in a series of 4 posts this week examining EA and BioWare.)
The primary goal of every publicly-traded corporation is to make a profit for its shareholders. If the corporation happens to make a quality product… Well, isn’t that nice? But, really, the goal is to sell the customer the cheapest product while reaping the maximum profit possible. As any viewer of the NBC Olympics is now painfully aware, quality is not the objective.
So what happens when a company known for producing high-quality products is bought by a publicly-traded corporation?
In October, 2007, Electronic Arts (EA) announced it was acquiring BioWare through the purchase of its holding company, VG Holding Corporation. At the time, BioWare was adored in the gaming community. Yes, adored. One after the other, with rarely a misstep, BioWare was producing high-quality games that gamers loved. Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) are still spoken of with reverence in the gaming community.
At the time of EA’s purchase, BioWare was set to release Mass Effect. Under the watch of their corporate overlords, BioWare has produced Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3, and the MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Dragon Age II was generally seen as a poor follow up to marvelous Dragon Age: Origins; it was an inferior product – especially for BioWare – seemingly rushed out to the gamers to capitalize on the Dragon Age name. Mass Effect 3 also disappointed, shipping with an ending that infuriated the gaming community. BioWare released a better ending in the form of downloadable content about a month after Mass Effect 3‘s release, but the damage was already done.
And, finally, there’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. It was supposed to be EA’s flagship MMO on a par with World of Warcraft (Aren’t they all?). It wasn’t. SWTOR, for many reasons, was a failure. It benefited from many innovations that were clearly the hallmark of BioWare, such as strong storytelling and fully-voiced interactions, but in the end the game suffered from mismanagement and an endgame that borrowed too much from WoW’s tedious gear grind.
SWTOR’s endgame is so traditional, so reminiscent of so many failed MMOs, it’s uncharacteristic of BioWare’s work. At least not the BioWare gamers once adored. But that BioWare is probably gone.
Tomorrow, in part 2, EA merges BioWare and Mythic Entertainment.