Retrospective on the Fall of BIOWARE

This story from 2014 still bothers me and I felt like reposting it.

The Doctors of Bioware announced their ‘retirement’ from Bioware, and Bioware’s first response was to blame ‘criticism’ by gamers. Yeah, I get it, people on the Internet suck, they are mean, vicious, petty, cruel, uncaring, unforgiving, blah…blah…blah.

But honestly, is that really the problem? I mean people on the Internet sucked just as much when people thought Bioware could walk on water, remember Mass Effect 1? Dragon Age 1? Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 1? All the praise heaped on to the Doctors and their vision of the future of Gaming?  The Internet was as big of a cesspool back then as it is now.

Where did it go all wrong?

Greed? Poor Game Design? Sequel-ities? Fickle Gamers?

The truth is probably all of the above. But let’s take each of Bioware’s lastest ‘flops’: Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Starting with Mass Effect, I will be honest I could never really get into the series. It should be one of those games that I love and adore, heck I even read the first book and liked it ok. But Mass Effect didn’t gel with me, because I wasn’t in a place where I needed a Mass Effect, I was RPG’ed out. It happens. But that doesn’t mean it was bad game, but rather, a game that just didn’t grabbed me. All that being said, I followed the series and bought the first two on Steam on sale, just waiting for the third to be on Steam…going to be a long wait. (Editor’s Note: Never give up Hope!)

Anyways, back to the point, Mass Effect 3’s ending suffers from the same thing that plagues a lot of multi-volume series. It is damn hard to end an epic. If you look back at Mass Effect as a whole, gamers who have invested 60 plus hours into the series and are looking for an ending that isn’t clichéd, contrived, simplistic, nuanced, hard to follow, plausible, Deus Ex Machina, insert which ever word you like.  This is a difficult task, it is a near impossible task and no matter how you end the series you are going to have issues. People will be upset if you killed Shepherd, they will be upset if you let Shepherd live, they will love you if you end the Universe, they will hate you if you end the Universe. Someone is always going to be upset. That is just the nature of art. This is fine, this is something the Doctors should understand, this is as they say the price of doing business.

All that being said, from what I can tell, they picked a relatively poor way to end it. I imagine this came from hour long meetings, where hundreds of ideas were thrown out and what you ended up with is a Camel. (A horse designed by a committee.) But hey, these things happen. But what really got to people was the feeling that the ending was designed to keep the series alive. As a way to make more money, people don’t like to feel this way. They give their hard earned money to see your vision and when your vision is compromised by business reasons, people rightfully feel upset. So, all and all, if Mass Effect 3’s ending was truly Bioware’s ‘Artistic Vision,’ then so be it. But I have a feeling that the ending was the result of a business decision. Either way, this shouldn’t bother the Doctors as the reaction by fans should have been predictable.  Plus didn’t Bioware make money on this game?

Now Dragon Age 2. I LOVED Dragon Age 1. I HATED Dragon Age 2. Look, let’s not beat around the bush and be coy with each other. Dragon Age 1 took 5ish years to develop and Dragon Age 2 took 18 months. Bioware took shortcuts to capitalize on the success of Dragon Age 1. It makes business sense. It maximizes profits. I get it. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

From my business side rational mind, I get it and I probably would do the same thing. 95% of people in business would do the same thing. However, the fanboy in me is livid!

They took the robust story and game play and crammed it into cookie cutter dungeons, grind, and a story, which, while interesting, came off as forced in order to handle the limitations of the development cycle. After the sprawling epic of Dragon Age 1, confining the player to a smaller, less interesting area, is a tough, tough, tough sell. In all honesty, the fact that it almost works, that it is almost a great game is a testament to the talent at Bioware. But in the end, it just misses. The fact that fans are upset should be obvious. Even though people are sheep, people hate to feel like sheep. People hate to feel used. Just look at Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Rage should be expected. Ok, I’ll be fair, Dragon Age 2 is much more like Star Wars Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith. It is almost a good move and some people can/should/will like it more than the Star Wars: Episode 6: Return of the Jedi. I don’t, but that doesn’t mean others can’t. So Fanboy rage here should have been predicted and understood. You knew you gambled with making a sequel in such a short amount of time, so backlash was inevitable. Plus didn’t Bioware make money on this game?

Now Star Wars: The Old Republic. Bioware you got. I swore, I wouldn’t get it. I held out all the way until the launch day, when I caved and got the Collector’s Edition. Yes, I was weak, and I only blame myself. In my defense, Guild Wars 2 looked to be a year away, and I need something to tie me over.

All that being said, I kinda of liked Star Wars: The Old Republic, I didn’t love it. I knew it was flawed, but I kinda of liked it. We at the Emporium played it like a 2-player CO-OP game (as Siths) and we enjoyed each other’s story and had fun for about a month. But you wanted people to play for years, and here is why they don’t.

The crafting system almost worked, and the combat was almost fun, the Story was solid and parts of it were gold (remember this is Star Wars), but other parts of the story just felt out of place and missed.  *IF* I didn’t have to pay a monthly fee, then I would still play through the other stories. *IF* this was a standalone game with a bunch of expansions, I would have loved it. I think others would have too. *IF* there was an end game. *IF* it was easier to match up and play the ‘elite content.’ If, if, if. There is too much ‘if’ in this game for it to be considered good. And unfortunately for you, average is a failure for Bioware. People expect greatness, the price of success.

Look, Bioware, we know what happened and we get it. You got too excited, you spent too much money on the project, your ideas outstripped your ability to implement, MMO design is difficult, balancing classes is difficult, making a story make sense across species and genders is difficult, being true to lore and unique at the same time is difficult, making a game is just plan hard and making an MMO is harder, and worst of all, the Real World Economy collapsed around you. All this added up to a mistake, a bad product. These things happen to everyone, see Apple in the 90s, Microsoft after Windows 8, IBM after OS/2 Warp, Ford Pinto, Nintendo VR, Sega after the Genesis, and every single company that ever made something. They all make mistakes. Sometimes in life you try and you fail. Star Wars: The Old Republic is just one of those times.

On the business side, Star Wars’ fans couldn’t be the ATM you thought they would be. They demanded something approaching fun after the initial three month high wore off. I am willing to bet if you had it to do all over again, things would be different. If all things were equal, I bet your next MMO would be better, would fix these problems. Yeah, you probably lost money on this deal and that hurts. Nothing like thinking you are going to land that big client, that big contract, that big sale, and having it yanked from underneath you. This is something everyone understands. Business is rough that way.

Look, I’ll agree that people were too harsh and revealed a little too much in Star Wars: The Old Republic’s failure, if you’ll admit y’all made mistakes and if you would things different next go round.

But instead of sucking it up, acknowledge the failures and successes above, Bioware’s Doctors are blaming gamers, and taking their toys and going home. Look, guys, you have done your bit for King and Country, you have advanced gaming and some of your games will always be remembered fondly. I get why you are burned out, gamers get why you are burned out. Y’all deserve a vacation, Y’all deserve to go and do something else, if that is what you want to do.

Do what you want but please don’t blame us. We didn’t make the choices above, we didn’t put business in front of game play. We are not your enemies. We are you customers, your patrons, and your allies.

Sorry it ended this ways, guys. It was a hell of a run.

The real tragedy here is that instead of coming closer, gamers and game developers are growing farther and farther apart.

Also, never trust EA.