At the beginning, BioWare was a fountain of RPG mastery. Then after they got famous they started to focus more on what's popular versus what they actually wanted to make. Ex-BioWare writer Drew Karpyshyn gives a brief but illuminating look at how BioWare has changed over the years.
BioWare isn't what it used to be. The studio used to be known for great RPGs like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins, all games that made you feel and had an impact. But something happened after BioWare got big: The studio started chasing money instead of chasing its passions (likely at the behest of its owner, EA).
BioWare shifted its focus to action games and massively watered down its RPG elements, casualizing everything and betraying its key skills. We've seen this with Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem, both of which are heavily action-based and embrace live services. And this erosion of BioWare's RPG talents may not stop here, but only continue with its new projects like Dragon Age 4 and the new Mass Effect--both of which could have live service ecosystems.
This shift, along with a terrible work environment that's endemic with anxiety, mental breakdowns, and miscommunication, led many key BioWare vets to leave.
The list includes Aaryn Flynn, who spent 17 years with BioWare, and Baldur's Gate dev James Ohlen, who spent 22 years with BioWare. Devs who had been with the company for decades didn't want to hang around and work on something they didn't love. Now ex-Mass Effect writer Drew Karpyshyn reveals what it was like from inside BioWare, and why he left.
"I've been in the video game industry for twenty years now. When I started at BioWare, everything was fresh and exciting. It was a dream job - talented people working together to create epic games like Baldur's Gate, KOTOR, Mass Effect and Dragon Age.
"But as we grew and became more successful, things changed. We became more corporate. We were less able to make what we loved, and the teams were pushed to create games based on market research rather than our creative instincts and passions. My dream job became just a job, and I lost the enthusiasm and excitement I once had."
But there's still hope. A number of ex-BioWare vets have joined forces under a new studio called Archetype, and they're developing a new RPG for Wizards of the Coast. The idea is to keep the old soul of BioWare alive with a new RPG that hearkens back to those glory days.
"With Archetype, my passion has been rekindled. The feel in the studio reminds me of my early days at BioWare; I can feel the magic in the air. And even though I can't get too deep into the specifics of what we're working on yet,we're already generating plenty of excitement in the industry."
Below is a current list of key developers who have left BioWare over the years. Following Flynn's departure in 2017, the same year Mass Effect: Andromeda release and Anthem was going through its intense growing pains, Casey Hudson stepped in as general manager.
- Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer on Mass Effect and Anthem, left in 2012, and then again in 2018
- David Gaider, lead writer of Dragon Age series, left in 2016
- Chris Schlerf, writer on Mass Effect: Andromeda, left in 2016
- Ian Frazier, Lead Designer of Mass Effect: Andromeda, shifted from BioWare to EA Motive in 2017
- Aaryn Flynn, ex-General Manager, left in July 2017, shortly after Mass Effect: Andromeda's launch and after 17 years with BioWare (replaced by Casey Hudson, who previously had left in 2014)
- Mike Laidlaw, ex-Dragon Age creative director, left in October 2017 after 14 years with BioWare
- James Ohlen, lead designer on Baldur's Gate, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age: Origins, leaves BioWare in July 2018 after 22 years
- Ben Irving, lead producer on Anthem, left August 2019 after 8 years with the company
- Fernando Melo, producer on Mass Effect Andromeda, Dragon Age Origins, Dragon Age 2, senior producer on Dragon Age 4, left August 2019 after 12 years with company
- Chad Robertson, live services lead on Anthem, left November 2019 after 14 years with BioWare