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The Interesting Timing of BioWare Founders Departure

A major event within the games industry this week is the sudden retirement of BioWare founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka. Greg and Ray announced their retirements via blogs posts on BioWare’s website Tuesday, September 18th. Both of these men were behind massively popular games, most notably the Mass Effect franchise, Dragon Age franchise, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. As a fan of BioWare games, this was a sad announcement to hear – even after BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Montreal general manager Aaryn Flynn assured customers that the studio will continue successfully.

This announcement is intriguing in so many ways, but what strikes me the most about it is the timing. It is a common practice within the business and public relations world to attempt offset bad news with good news: BioWare is really putting this into practice this week. Monday, prior to the retirement announcement, BioWare confirmed the upcoming title Dragon Age 3: Inquisition. In my opinion Inquisition was released that date as a preemptive PR strike against the upcoming retirement news. Later on Tuesday (the day of the retirement announcement), Flynn confirmed that new Mass Effect 3 downloadable content called “Omega” will be available this Fall. In addition to these two confirmed releases, Flynn also talked on Tuesday about future titles set within the Mass Effect universe, saying:

Both Dragon Age and Mass Effect started as single games but grew into vast universes. But we aren’t stopping there. While [Executive Producer] Casey[Hudson] continues to oversee the development of our new Mass Effect project, he and his leads are putting together their vision for an all new game set in a fictional universe, built from the bottom-up with all new gaming technology.

This sandwich of additional discussion starting topics should divert attention away from Ray and Greg’s departure and attempt to focus people on the future of BioWare. This plays into the one question regarding the retirement announcement that concerns me the most: how active were Ray and Greg within the company during the past weeks and months? Flynn mentions many times in his post that BioWare is “built to last,” but if Ray and Greg were both still heavily invested in company projects up to the day they left, who is going to step in and fill that role? My inclination is to say that Ray and Greg were planning their retirement before they even told BioWare about it, and obviously way before their announcement yesterday. Flynn acknowledges that there are many trained staff members who are ready to step in, but anyone can come in a write code – who is going to be there with creative ideas to build upon? BioWare is not a small studio and probably has employees who are eager at the opportunity to pitch their creative ideas and assume a leadership role, but no one has the solidified past like Ray and Greg. Those two had a recipe that worked and were excellent at creating immersive worlds for players to explore.

BioWare cushioned this jolting retirement news as well as they could have. New and potential games were announced before, during, and after the retirement in an effort to divert attention; and to some degree it absolutely worked. I firmly believe that the next major title released (not DLC) from BioWare will be the telling sign of how the studio will progress in the future. Can the studio produce hit games without their fearless founders, or will they fizzle out from here forward? Hopefully, it is the former of those two options, but time will tell.

Lucas has evolved in his video game preferences. With a foundation in predominantly sports game, action adventure games are now his favorite to play. He is a competitive swimmer and likes to play volleyball, basketball, and golf.

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