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Interview: Muzyka On EA's New BioWare/Mythic RPG Team-Up

Interview: Muzyka On EA's New BioWare/Mythic RPG Team-Up Exclusive

June 29, 2009 | By Chris Remo

BioWare has been a quickly-rising star within Electronic Arts' stable of studios, recently opening up its third location, making headlines with upcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, and launching major single-player titles Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age in the fall.

Earlier this week, it was announced that BioWare co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk will head up EA's new RPG/MMO Group. Along with BioWare, it includes EA's other big MMO developer, Mythic Entertainment, which maintains Warhammer Online, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online.

Speaking to Gamasutra today, Muzyka said the reorganization isn't about putting one of the studios above the other, but rather about putting studios with similar core competencies in closer proximity. This is the first time EA Games has established a division specific to a game genre.

We sat down with Muzyka to discuss his new role as well as the potential of future co-development, why Muzyka and BioWare "didn't join the old EA," and even what he thinks about the just-announced acquisition of id Software by Bethesda Softworks parent ZeniMax Media.

The actual announcement was a bit vague -- what are the practical ramifications of the BioWare and Mythic reorganization?

Ray Muzyka: Structurally, each of the organizations remains intact. They're working on the same projects they were working on before, I just have another studio that reports into me. It's not that BioWare or Mythic is changing; they're retaining their brands, their unique cultural identities, their projects they are working on. I'm really excited about what we're doing; we have great people at each location.

Rather, a new group is being formed that is more of a reporting structure of Rob Denton, the GM of Mythic; Richard [Vogel] and Gordon [Walton], who already report to me from [BioWare] Austin; Yannick [Roy], our studio director at BioWare Montreal, who already reports into me; and then BioWare Edmonton, and I already manage that studio myself.

It's a collaboration opportunity. Each of the groups continues to make the same thing in their [own locations]. But it's fuelling and enabling more communication, collaboration, best practice sharing, encouraging each other to play each others' games -- but no formal change per se in what anybody's doing. It's a recognition that there's a lot of synergy between them already. I'm going to make sure everyone at each location knows who the others are, and their comparable roles, and to make sure they talk.

So it's not so much about actual tech sharing or co-development?

RM: Not to start with, but we're already looking at it. A variety of studios across EA tech share, for example. We're all part of the same company at the end of the day. We're studios within the same organization, which is a group now within the EA Games label.

But in the future there could be co-development. There's nothing actively planned there right now, but I know the guys at Mythic, and in Edmonton, Austin, and Montreal are all really excited about this. They get along already, they've already made a bunch of trips back and forth before this thing was planned. We sent a gift to Mythic when they launched Warhammer. We love those guys. They're great people.

Speaking of Mythic, it looks like you and Greg [Zeschuk] are taking the banner roles in this group, and of course Star Wars: The Old Republic is the big centerpiece MMO EA is trying to push. Is Mythic being overshadowed?

RM: I look at it as, I have a new role now that's additive to the past and current role. My new role is the group general manager of the RPG/MMO Group, and that's the name I wanted to have for it. It's not called BioWare, it's not called Mythic; it's called the RPG/MMO Group.

The outward brands that are still very much the consumer-facing identities, the cultural identities, are Mythic and BioWare, and I'm really proud of those two brands. They're storied brands, they're award-winning studios. Very much they're going to be partner studios. There are three BioWare studios already -- Edmonton, Austin, and Montreal -- and one Mythic studio, but Mythic is very much a strong identity and voice and brand and group. I'm really happy with that. That's the way I want it, that's the way they want it.

When you were setting this up with the larger EA, did you look at EA's history with studio acquisitions? It seems like under the current leadership there's more attention paid in some cases to allowing studios to retain their own culture and identity -- where even the overall reporting group is genre-specific -- whereas I would say EA in the late 90s and some of the 2000s had a reputation for not being sensitive to that.

RM: Yeah. This is the first example within the games label of a genre-focused group being formed, which I think is awesome. I think it creates a lot of collaboration opportunities.

The short answer is that I joined EA with BioWare knowing that, with John Riccitiello at the helm, there was a new orientation to the city-state concept, to studios with strong brands and identities -- consumer-facing brands that mean something, that represent quality to the fans. That's valuable.

I didn't join the old EA. I joined the EA that had that orientation right from the start. So my experience with EA has always been that.

I'm curious about your thoughts on id Software selling to ZeniMax and Bethesda.

RM: Yeah. I don't know much about the details behind that, but it's very intriguing. They're very different groups, but I guess that's part of why they're doing it. I would guess that they like the idea of diversifying their gameplay a little.

I think it was John Carmack who said the nice thing is that they are very complimentary to one another. They do different kinds of gameplay.

And that's cool. I'm happy for them. I like the guys at Bethesda. Fallout [3] was one of my favorite games last year. I played it to death. It was great. And, obviously, id games are always high-quality too, so I think [when] you get good groups working together, that leads to good things.

You can be really successful as part of a larger org. BioWare's doing really well as part of EA. We're getting a lot of support, and it's great to have partners -- partners that are sometimes really close, like Mythic, or partners that are a little more spread out, like some of the other studios at EA. We still talk to them, we still get support from them too. It's great to be part of a larger team.

That was something we learned when we joined up with Pandemic. It was fun to have not just friends in the industry, but people who are your partners, [to whom] you can actually say, "Hey, come on inside. This is the issue we can't talk about publicly that we're struggling to get through. Can you help us with this?" And you know they're on your team.

At EA, there are a lot of studios that I really respect, and it's just great to have partners if you can share those things to make your games better long-term. If id and Bethesda can do that, the fans are going to be rewarded for it.

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