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James Ohlen: Anthem failure won't mean the end of BioWare

Long-serving designer also disputes "conspiracy theories" that EA is driving studio away from story-driven RPGs

Fears that Electronic Arts could close BioWare if Anthem doesn't live up to expectations are not something shared by one of the studio's longest-running games designers.

James Ohlen spent 22 years working at the acclaimed studio, most recently on Anthem, but retired last month to focus on other projects. In an interview with Game Informer, he addressed concerns that the shared world shooter could end up being the swansong for the Mass Effect developer.

"I think EA is looking for BioWare to be a long-term part of the company," he said. "I think EA really respects what BioWare brings to it. BioWare is a lot different than all the other aspects of its business, so even if Anthem doesn't do as well - and I think it's going to be great - but if it doesn't do gangbusters I don't think that's the end of BioWare. I think it will simply be a chance for BioWare to learn some lessons and apply it to the next game that comes out."

He also stressed that Anthem is a project "driven by BioWare itself", disputing "the conspiracy theories that EA is the one behind it", adding: "That's never been the case. BioWare's always had a lot of control over the kind of games it makes."

The concern for BioWare stems from both the underwhelming performance of Mass Effect Andromeda and last year's shock closure of Visceral, which suggests Electronic Arts is not particularly tolerant of underperforming studios at the moment.

It doesn't help that Anthem has been a little more divisive than you would a new BioWare title might be. While those who have tried the game themselves report the gameplay is solid, some of the studio's long-running fans are dismayed that the team is heading more in the direction of Destiny and away from the lengthy, story-driven, player-defined adventures it is known for.

Ohlen assures that Anthem is not indicative of BioWare abandoning its previous format, but merely trying to do something different.

He also revealed that his departure has actually been planned since April, but he waited until after E3 to announce it. When asked about the steady loss of senior talent at BioWare over the past few years, Ohlen suggested that most were looking for a change after 10 to 15 years at the studio, rather than it being a sign of ill health for the company.

In terms of his own departure, he said his decision was motivated by the "change to get involved in some of the creative stuff again". While he was a narrative director on Anthem for six months, he stresses that his role was "not a huge one" before he handed the leadership to Cathleen Rootsaert.

"It was a hard decision," he said of his retirement. "I'd grown up with BioWare, and I'd been with BioWare since the very beginning. A lot of people who I love working with are at BioWare, and a lot of the leadership at BioWare are still people that I've worked with for a long time - Casey Hudson, Mark Darrah, Chad Robertson. Saying goodbye to those guys was a little bittersweet, but I don't regret it."

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James Batchelor


James Batchelor is Editor-in-Chief at GamesIndustry.biz. He has been a B2B journalist since 2006, and an author since he knew what one was