Tobold's Blog
Friday, October 12, 2007
Evil Aempire

Another case of my blog writing about the same news as all the other blogs: EA buys Bioware. But in this case I'm not just playing devil's advocate, I really have a different opinion than everybody else. Every single blog I've seen thinks EA is the evil empire of gaming, and will destroy the creativity of Bioware, alternatively firing the employees or turning them into drones. Everybody is afraid that this will kill the unnamed Bioware MMO or turn it into some horrible abomination. Oh come on, stop that paranoia! EA isn't the acronym for Evil Aempire.

EA made a lot of money with not very original games, especially all those sports series where you need to look on the box to see whether you are playing the 2004, 2005, 2006, or 2007 version, each of which sold at full price. But they are well aware of the fact that this doesn't work very well for other forms of gaming. In MMOs they actually overdid it in the other direction, by *not* releasing a sequel to Ultima Online. "UO2" under two different names has the dubious record of being the only MMORPG being cancelled twice.

On the same blogs that today write that EA will totally ruin Bioware and their MMO you just need to scroll down a bit to find raving hype previews of Warhammer Online, which many people think will be the next big thing, greatest game ever, WoW killer, you name it, it's been called it. And WAR is made by EA Mythic. So why shouldn't a EA Bioware be able to make a good Baldur's Gate Online or Neverwinter Nights Online?

As I said, the future of MMORPGs comes when companies realize that they can make profits with MMORPGs costing $50 million to $100 million to develop. You can't play in the same league as WoW if you don't spend the same amount of money as Blizzard does. And with all respect for their creativity, smaller game companies just won't have the financial muscle to do that. We *need* companies like EA as investors. And they don't appear to have damaged the creative spirits at Mythic, so what interest would they have in destroying much of the value of their acquisition by destroying the creative spirit of Bioware?

So I suggest you all cool down a bit and stop acting as if this was the end of the world. The CEO of Electronic Arts wants a great MMORPG as much as you do.
Yeah. I'd tend to agree. I mean, I'm never thrilled when I hear a studio I like has been bought out (because there's always going to be some uncertainty there as to what the future holds), but in this case I think I'll reserve my judgement until I actually see whether the quality of their games is impacted.

Having the financial muscle of EA behind them certainly doesn't hurt.
I have to respectfully disagree. While I have no doubt that in the short term EA will leave Bioware to do what it does best, the history of EA categorically shows that they destroy the independence and originality of the studios they acquire. Maybe not right away, maybe not for a project or two down the line. But sooner or later they will start bringing that studio in line with the rest of the EA stable, and you can bet your ass originality and creativity will suffer. I'm sure EA Bioware will make highly competent, polished and successful games, they just won't be Bioware games after a few years.
Well, didn't see THAT coming. Not the end of the world, but BioWare stroke me as one of the developers that had enough power, prestige and wealth to do what they like with out being dependant on a publisher.
We have yet to see if EA has sucked the life out of Mythic or not – it’s still far too early to call.

Also, I think a great deal of work had already been done on WAR prior to the purchase of Mythic and there is the control GW still has over their IP.

Now I’m not saying that EA is or isn’t evil or will kill Bioware as we know it.

To be honest it almost seems as if the bigger publishers are starting to understand that they need to leave these teams alone and give them the resources they need.

Bioshock is a good example of this, without 2K this game never would have saw the light of day. 2K was also wise enough to let the team run the show.

Also in the Bioware deal I would be amazed if the deal was in EA’s favor. This is not the case of some down and out former great who is over a barrel here. Bioware is in a position to dictate the terms of any agreement (much the way Mythic was).

My only question is will the Bioware MMO team report to EA Mythic now? It would make sense as Mythic is in charge of all EA’s MMO development.
This is from Wiki:

Employment policy

Electronic Arts has been criticized for employees working extraordinarily long hours—up to 80 hours per week— and not just at "crunch" times leading up to the scheduled releases of products. The publication of the EA Spouse blog, with criticisms such as "The current mandatory hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.—seven days a week—with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behaviour (at 6:30 p.m.)".[18] The company has since settled a class action lawsuit brought by game artists to compensate for "unpaid overtime".[19] The class was awarded $15.6 million. As a result, many of the lower-level developers (artists, programmers, producers, and designers) are now working at an hourly rate. A similar suit brought by programmers was settled for $14.9 million.[20]

There are certainly circumstances where having a larger billfold (ea) benefits smaller dev teams when they are creating games. Take for example, EA is now making the orange box product half-life for the ps3... which for a small dev team like valve, they probably could not afford to learn to program for the ps3 whereas EA's has already dealt with the ps3 SPE cell engine.

I think in this case, having more muscle behind bioware could help some of their weaknesses. I doubt in the long run it will keep bioware in its own niche, allowing them to be nimble and creative... fans of bioware games (namely neverwinter nights/baldurs gates) will not see the same quality, but rather more quantity from this type of upgrade.

The biggest disadvantage of going large scale or bigtime, as a studio like bioware they will follow the same suite as EA. EA releases crappy sports game that dont offer much to the customers in each new version. EA is the type of company, which infact buys the rights to the football teams logos and names. When their cash cow doesnt need much upkeep to maintain, they milk it for every ounce.
EA doesn't ruin their developers. Maxis (the Sim games, including Spore) and Infinity Ward (Call of Duty 1, 2 and 4) are examples of developers who have continued to make good and innovative games under EA.

I'm optimistic about the EA purchase. Beyond the money and marketing benefits, Bioware and Pandemic will have an inspirational effect on other EA studios, and EA will coax Bioware and Pandemic out of their comfort zones (encourage them to try new ideas). In a year's time, we'll start seeing new IPs that take advantage of the partnership.
Someone corrected me on my blog. Ininity Ward is owned by Activision. I thought I remembered EA being behind Call of Duty 2, but it was Medal of Honor: Airborne that I was remembering. Still, I'm sure Maxis isn't the only studio that hasn't been watered down by EA.
As for counter examples for the 'EA doesn't ruin developers', try Origin, Westwood (arguably) and Bullfrog.
Although yes, you're right, it's not all one-way traffic :)
Hope your right Tobie, but I must agree with this one.
Have to say imho you're slightly off-kilter here, Tob. What the shareholders and suits in EA want is a cash return above EVERYTHING else.

As gamers, what we hope for is a dev team or studio with a passion and understanding for making a great mmorpg.

While financial backing can definitely be a big help, it'd be naive to think the two are always one in the same.
Believing that you can get one without the other would be naive too. The dev team with a passion needs to eat too, so they need the financial backing. But just the finance alone isn't enough either, you can't make a good game with lots of money and no soul. That is why companies with money and companies with soul need to get together to make great games. We wouldn't want Madden 2010 Online, would we?
I'm happy about this step of EA and Bioware, and yes, it was a step of all of them. It wasn't some evil, unwanted acquisition, it was fully accepted and talked about on all sides.

And EA changed its own organisation, to allow more independant productions, but also allows visibility on numbers/efforts/... That's what made the acquisition of Mythic possible in the first place, and its the same for Bioware and Pandemic (which lived under one roof already anyways).
Anyone that uses Maxis & Spore of an example of EA treating their developers well just doesn't know the history of it. EA was on the verge of closing Maxis along with Origin, not long after Bullfrog.

The Rollercoaster Tycoon was a huge success and wanting a piece of that pie, EA dug through the games in development at Maxis. Previous to that, The Sims was a relatively small project (during my brief look at it at E3 '98, they likened it to Little Computer People) with almost no starting budget, then suddenly it got a development fast-track boost and massive hype.

The point is, that EA has a history of not leaving trust in the hands of their developers and instead are swayed by their market research of the moment. This may bode well for their promotion of BioWare's MMO, but it really is stifling overall for developing companies that they gobble up.

I've visited BioWare more than a few times during visits to Edmonton. I recall how pleased they all were to leave Interplay behind (anyone recall that fiasco, lol). This seems like an ill-fit for them.
I don't have a great impression of EA.

I was a great fan of Battlefield 1942 when it came out, played in a clan and took part in European ladders. All good fun.

Unfortunately, the series went downhill at every single release. Battlefield Vietnam had bugs on release, Battlefield 2 had patches on release (that were bugged), and BF2142 has died a quiet death in terms of multiplayer enjoyment.

The sports games are even worse a showing, rehash upon rehash of the same old thing with a different year stuck on the game cover.

I will wait and see how the new Need for Speed game comes out - it's being VERY heavily marketed on its online features and as far as the preview video clips go, it appears to have a high level of presentation.

But as to your comment that the CEO wants a good game .. I have to disagree. I am of the belief that the CEO of EA is purely focused on profit-making games, and to hell with the quality. Sorry, but that's my view from experience :(
If EA acquired BioWare to make an MMO like "Baldur's Gate Online" as you describe... this will indeed be a terrible, terrible day for CRPG players.
If EA acquired BioWare to make an MMO like "Baldur's Gate Online" as you describe... this will indeed be a terrible, terrible day for CRPG players.

Not EA's idea, that. Bioware had already announced that they are working on a yet unnamed MMORPG long before EA bought them. I can see your concern, who is left to make good single player CRPGs? Every game I see nowadays is a Diablo-clone action CRPG.
Baldur's Gate is a terrible fit for an MMO, it's too narrative driven, and the licence has low levels of awareness outside RPG players, and of those who DO know of it, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who thinks an MMO is the best idea for a franchise, you'll have a lot of in-built hostility towards the idea.

Still, won't stop them trying I imagine. Aren't there rumours doing the rounds that Bioware is working on another Star Wars MMO? I can't imagine LucasArts is happy with Galaxies as its final shot at the MMO market.

Personally, I'd speculate that they're going for their own IP, something in the Mass-Effect or maybe Dragon Age universes?
What my impression of EA is that they find what works, and then they milk it. Whether this is good or bad is left up to the consumer, but it seems that EVERY developer that EA owns is forced to do things they already did; The name of the game is sequels. By keeping the same fan base, they can guarantee revenue, and remain completely profitable.

It's not necessarily destroying the creativity, but SEVERELY limiting it.
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