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BioWare docs explain how to stay true to your roots while expanding massively


With eight (eight!) studios around the globe as of the end of 2011, BioWare label heads Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk have kind of a lot going on at any given time. When I spoke with them earlier this week at Times Square's NASDAQ building, though, they were remarkably calm after ringing the financial institution's opening bell (surrounded by and emblazoned in Star Wars accoutrement), and launching the six-years-in-development Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Beyond the aforementioned accomplishments, the doctors' division of EA has been rapidly expanding -- over just the last six months, BioWare has added a Sacramento office, a San Francisco office, and an Ireland office, to say nothing of "BioWare Victory," the studio heading up Command & Conquer: Generals 2. That's a whole lot of people (501 - 1000, approximately, according to LinkedIn)! How do two guys that started out with eight people in a studio apartment manage that kind of expansion without diluting the original values they began with?

BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka offered an explanation by way of example:
"You're seeing how we're doing that in The Old Republic. We're merging story in in a really seamless way. It doesn't feel tacked on or added, it's actually there from the ground floor. It's actually adding to the experience and increasing that emotional engagement, which, you go back to our vision, that's what it's all about. Building that emotional engagement."
The concept of "emotional engagement" was one that both Muzyka and his long-time business partner Dr. Greg Zeschuk touched on repeatedly during the interview. Muzyka called it a "pillar" of the label's vision, but also emphasized that story -- BioWare's traditional method for engaging players on an emotional level -- isn't the only way to evoke an emotional response from players.

"BioWare games have a lot of different elements: exploration, progression, customization, and epic, cinematic combat, social interaction in the online games and play-for-free titles. So the emotion comes from all those things," he said. In terms of story, he put the Edmonton, Montreal, and Austin teams into that group. "But in the other units," he said, "we'll have story, but we'll have story that's appropriate for the kind of genre that we're looking at ... for us, we're excited about the idea of bringing BioWare's vision to new genres."

Muzyka isn't above admitting it could turn out, at least in some cases, not exactly as planned. But he's betting on his company being flexible enough to make it work. "We're gonna do it with careful attention - listening every step of the way to our fans - and, you know, sometimes we make mistakes, but we're gonna listen to our fans, and our investors, and our employees, and we're gonna address those issues and make it better," he told me. "Every game better than the last is our goal."

Whether the duo's ambitious plans will work out remains to be seen, but with a long history of making (mostly) great products, they've earned the benefit of a doubt -- until they release a microtransaction-based iOS chibi kart racer iteration of Mass Effect crossed with Dragon Age, at least. Then we should worry.

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