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Bungie & BioWare discuss franchise maintenance at GDC


As part of the GamesBeat "fireside chat" series during GDC 2010, Bungie's Joseph Staten and BioWare's Ray Muzyka discussed some of the challenges with maintaining big, huge franchises with Spike TV's Geoff Keighley. Staten noted that Bungie originally "had absolutely no 10-year plan" for the Halo franchise. Now, for Bungie's next project -- the one that isn't part of the Halo franchise -- Staten said that "the responsible thing to do" is to "create something with legs," adding that it's easier to secure funding with a project that has long term potential for investors. Muzyka added that it's important to create a product that keeps players emotionally engaged, so that they anticipate the next installment.

When asked about how consumer feedback affects the development of a franchise, Muzyka pointed to the many changes that BioWare made to the various game mechanics and systems of Mass Effect when creating Mass Effect 2. "You've got to listen to fans," said Muzyka, "really, the changes you saw in the second game came from the feedback" from the first Mass Effect.

Keighley then asked how the two approached innovating within a franchise while still keeping fans pleased. According to Staten, it's much more effective to build a franchise around a world rather than a single character. "I think Halo from the beginning was an intellectual property -- and I hate describing it that way. It was a place where you could tell any story you wanted." He noted that "from the very, very beginning" the Halo universe was home to ancillary projects like novels and comic books that fed "a really hungry community."

Muzyka agreed with Staten, saying, "You can expand what a game means to consumers, but that's really hard." If however, developers stay within the "defined space" of the world, it's possible to do almost anything within a franchise so long as "you have a really good understanding of what your fans think it means." He concluded that "it has to be consistent."

"As long as we get the place right," said Saten, "as long as we get the world and the boundaries right, anything is possible, and I think when franchises don't succeed, I think it's perhaps because the focus is too narrow from the outset."

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