Is EA killing BioWare? Part 4 of 4

by manylaughs on August 17, 2012

BioWare, somebody that you used to know

Imagine you’re  a Wall Street suit who knows next to nothing about gaming. You’ve run other businesses and once headed up a private equity firm, but you don’t know squat about gaming and it’s suspect that you even play games. Do you think you’re qualified to run a gaming company?

Of course you are! Business is business. You don’t actually have to know anything about the company you’re running, right? That’s just silly talk.

Say hello to John Riccitiello, CEO of Electronic Arts. According to Forbes, Mr. Riccitiello has a Bachelor’s of Science in Business from the University of California, Berkeley. He’s served as President and CEO of Wilson Sporting Goods and Sara Lee Corporation, as well as co-founder and Managing Partner of the private equity fund, Elevation Partners. There’s nary a whiff of gaming in his background before taking over as the head of EA.

While Mr. Riccitello appears to be a good businessman, his gaming cred appears a tad lightweight. If you’re looking for a reason why BioWare, its properties and its employees have been treated like little more than assets on a balance sheet, you need look no farther than the man in charge. To John Riccitiello, it doesn’t matter if he’s selling basketballs, cupcakes or MMOs – they’re all just products on his spreadsheet.

They say an organization takes on the personality of those at the top. EA appears to be living this axiom.

From a purely short-sighted, quarterly-profit point-of-view, what’s been done with BioWare probably makes sense. EA’s just trading on BioWare’s name and products, making some quick quarterly bucks, while using their traditional business model to cut expenses – You know, benefits and employees.

EA has slapped BioWare’s name on everything from social media games (e.g. Dragon Age Legends) to video games to MMOs. Yes, plural. All of Mythic’s former properties, such as Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, are now listed as BioWare games. You don’t have to be an industry insider to know the group that brought you Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect doesn’t have squat to do with Warhammer: Age of Reckoning.

Perhaps EA believes there really is magic and the BioWare name is some magical imprimatur granting quality wherever it’s used. Or perhaps EA is just making a cynical business decision to recast some of their failed products under the respected moniker of BioWare, hoping gamers won’t know the difference.

EA’s governance, their employment practices, their casual use of BioWare’s name… These business practices must be anathema to the  BioWare-Canada team who had built their reputation as one of the best video game companies in the world.

It’s hard to say how much dissatisfaction with EA governance there is in the BioWare home offices, but there has been one very prominent departure – on February 15th, Drew Karpyshyn announced he was leaving BioWare. Drew Karpyshyn was a writer on many of BioWare’s most successful titles. He was a writer on Neverwinter Nights and Jade Empire, and he was the lead writer on Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. He said he was going to work on writing novels and golf, but don’t you wonder why he didn’t use his sabbatical?

And now rumors are starting to swirl around BioWare’s founders, Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka. On August 10th, GamersGlobal reported Ray and Greg weren’t showing up for meetings at BioWare Austin where they headed up the SWTOR team. According to GamersGlobal’s source at EA, Ray Muzyka hadn’t been seen in days and Greg Zeschuk had been absent for weeks!

The rumor was they had left the company; as it turned out, they had just fled back to Canada. The management of SWTOR had been turned over to EA executives. According to Massively, the new General Manager in Austin, replacing Ray Muzyka, is Matthew Bromberg. Ray Muzyka said he handpicked Bromberg, but Bromberg resume doesn’t seem up to the job. He’s the former president of Major League Gaming  but he has zero MMO or video game development experience. You can almost see the former Sara Lee business boy, aka John Riccitiello, “suggesting” this one to Mr. Muzyka.

Another company might have realized BioWare’s reputation was a very valuable asset. They might have realized there was a time when gamers lined up to buy all things BioWare. Realizing how valuable that reputation is, another company would’ve protected that asset, allowing BioWare to pretty much keep doing things their way.

EA isn’t that company.

So, yes, EA is killing BioWare. When you look back over the body of evidence it’s undeniable and pretty bloody. In fact, BioWare is pretty much dead.

But perhaps there’s still some breath in the victim. Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk have returned to their Fortress of Solitude in the North. Perhaps, if EA leaves them alone, they’ll still put out some products reminiscent of the old BioWare. Perhaps.

Is EA killing BioWare? Part 1 of 4

Is EA killing BioWare? Part 2 of 4

Is EA killing BioWare? Part 3 of 4

 

 

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