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Bioware's Zeschuk: On leaving games and the "EA bear hug"

Dr Greg talks losing the fire and keeping in touch with Muzyka

Bioware co-founder Dr Greg Zeschuk has explained why he left behind his successful development company for pints of ale, and what made Bioware able to thrive in the grip of mega-publisher EA.

"I just felt like my passion was waning," he told Polygon.

"It's one of those things that's always really funny because, if you're really grumpy, you know you go, 'Ah, I'm just going to leave,' and then you're, 'No, no, no.' And then finally there's this point where you know you go, 'Hey, you know, I think it's time to go."

He added that a mix of pressure, stress and a need for change were all contributing factors for him and that the simultaneous departure of his co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka was more coincidence than design.

"You know, it's one of those weird things. We didn't both hatch our plots and then reveal them to each another. I think that there was just ongoing conversation that was kind of we both felt it was the right time to move on."

Bioware was founded in February 1995, and after finding success with Balder's Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Jade Empire, before being acquired by EA in 2007.

"I think one of the reasons that we survived and succeeded within EA was that our company was mature enough and there was enough good people throughout to handle the EA bear hug - something that is well meaning but vigorous," explained Zeschuk.

"We needed to be strong to survive that and I think we did and you evolve from that as well."

He's also kept in touch with Muzyka, who is now concentrating on his new company Threshold Impact.

"We're very close. We always joke with our wives that arguably we've spent more time with each other than our wives for that fifteen to twenty year period."

Zeschuk's latest project is The Beer Diaries, which helps artisan beer makers learn their trade and spread the word.

"One of the few things I find kind of funny is the responses of the fans, because they sort of respond that they are kind of mad at us for leaving because they think we owe them more games. You know it's sad I wish I could deliver on that, but I don't think I would be as good as I was in that space historically. Like I said, the fire wasn't there."

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Latest comments (8)

Been there, got the T shirt, time to move on for now. maybe with time, and if the right idea/opportunity comes alng they coudl do a revival like Cris Roberts!

Here is hoping to that future return of the Kings of RPG!
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Jack Nilssen Independent Game Developer, Dark Acre8 years ago
Old game developers don't die, they go off and make beer apps.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam8 years ago
"Balder's Gate"?
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Show all comments (8)
Al Nelson Producer, Tripwire Interactive8 years ago
I totally read those quotes in Greg's voice.
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James Prendergast Process Specialist 8 years ago
@ John Bye

You know, that one with Rowan Atkinson in it!
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Kevin Danaher Associate Producer, EA Mobile8 years ago
I have enormous respect for these two, their studio created some of the best games of the 90's and 00's... then it got bought by EA. The quality never waned, the narrative, the visuals, audio, direction, they still are gold standard, setting benchmarks that other studios wish they could reach. The amount of 'game' in their games since EA took over is sadly lacking though.

If Bioware's plan was always to move towards more casual gameplay and less depth then so be it, that's fair enough, although its a big departure from their original successes. I find it hard not to believe that EA had a lot to do with that though. Mass Effect 3 somewhat pulled back from this pattern though, actually introducing a few of the myriad RPG style elements that had otherwise been torn from Bioware's franchises. I hope that trend continues. Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 2 I will always know fondly as Gears Of Dragon Age and Gears Of Mass Effect and as much I do like EA, I can't help thinking a lot of that was down to their "bear hug".
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Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts8 years ago
@Kevin - let me start by saying that this is my opinion, and my experience of working at EA, and is not the "official" company position, but for the most part the prevailing attitude at EA since JR came back with regard to subsidiary studios is actually a hands off approach. I do a lot of work with EA studios all over the world and very rarely have I seen a situation where EA has tried to interfere with the internal workings of a subsidiary studio, unless things start to go wrong. Even with EAP it's more a case of let people do pretty much what they want until that is clearly shown to not be working and putting the project at risk.

As far as I see it, and admittedly I'm a little fish in a very big pond, EA studios make their own games and their own decisions, and where possible they're left to their own devices when it comes to the actual content of the games.

I know this may all sound a bit fanboy, but EA as a company really has tried over the last few years to correct the mistakes of the past, and to be honest I wish our senior management would speak out a bit more in public about how things are done, because there are still some massive misconceptions about how things are done within the company.
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David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers8 years ago
There is always the possibility that the direction of BioWare was the studios doing on its own, that they wanted to reach that mythical "Call of Duty" audience and pursued a path less aligned with hardcore RPG enthusiasts. They didn't quite hit that bar, so I think the studio is doing some regrouping right now - it will be interesting to see what they pursue going forward.
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