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Muzyka and Zeschuk Interview

By Garrett Fuller on March 19, 2010 | Interviews | Comments

Muzyka and Zeschuk Interview's Garrett Fuller recently had the opportunity to interview Bioware CEO Ray Muzyka and Bioware VP Greg Zeschuk a little bit about Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age and a lot about the highly anticipated upcoming MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2 have been a huge success this year. What is your plan for downloadable content with both games? Do you have it mapped out over the next few years?

Greg Zeschuk:

We think of the games as a service, but really all the games are. You don't have to be an MMO to be viewed as a service. Really all the games are, when you launch a platform as a starting point and then you continue to build on it. The business model might be different between them whether it is episodic delivery or post release content or sequels or expansions or subscriptions, even micro-transactions or whatever it is across the whole portfolio of different products in the universe. Our philosophy is that all of our games are a service. We have to deliver high quality and sustain that. Our customers have to have that bond of trust with us and we cannot break it. So we have to continually out do ourselves with quality each time. Whether that is an ongoing thing or episodic, any way you look at it we have to have a road map or a plan long term. All of our franchises have that.


Do you see a rise in the downloadable content vs. putting another box on the shelf?

Greg Zeschuk:

Ya it is doing very well. The fans like it and we're selling a lot of it. We have more in development. We are focused on quality and we have separate teams working on it but they are all part of the franchise team so they are sharing things and moving back and forth together. It is an ongoing relationship. I mean delivering a box is great because it is real. But that ongoing stream of content keeps the fans connected and that has been one of the most rewarding things is that people are really jazzed about these games and there is so much more content coming.

Can you talk about the end game ideas you have for Star Wars: The Old Republic? We are seeing end game become more critical in MMO retention, what plans do you have?

Ray Muzyka:

We're trying to do some innovative different things, while also doing some things that are standard expectations for MMO players. We look at the best features for combat, exploration, progression and try to emulate and build on those as well as innovate on those features. We're innovating story, we're also innovating some things around end game with re-playability trying to encourage players to continue to play, all those things.

Greg Zeschuk:

With a strong story and great characters in a game it gives you new options for end game. WoW and other MMOs have taught us that there are very clear things you can do with end game. Obviously we'll have those covered on some level, but then doing something else that is different is also really important to us.

We still want to have, like we added the character story, we want to have another dimension to give players a really good reason to play for a long time. We want players to invest the time and progress to create a lasting legacy. If it is done in the right way, we certainly have all the pillars in place that define an MMO and RPG for that matter, they are very similar pillars. We look at narrative, story, combat, conflict, exploration, progression, customization, all of these have aspects that transcend the main game and have a place in the end game. We have plans for all of these in the end game. Unfortunately, we cannot be more specific than that.

What is nice though is that we will reveal things a little bit over time. We knew it was going to be a long cycle going into development. Plus, MMO players like details so we have tried to be in depth on things. We have a great model in Star Wars to do so many great analogs for what you expect to see in things like progression in the MMO, the end game of the MMO, elements of the movies. The biggest clues are in the time line. Looking at the kinds of characters in the movies and the progression of the characters and what they get to do in the movies. That is our inspiration, so that is what we are trying to bring to life throughout the experience of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I think we're doing it.

How are you working on class and weapon balance in Star Wars: The Old Republic?

Ray Muzyka:

We do a lot of play testing. We do a lot of testing through the year and a large variety of testing. We do a lot of multi-player cooperative play testing. We are testing all of those things in great detail. It's really through iterative game play and testing.

Greg Zeschuk:

Having Mythic as part of the fold now is really helpful. This is ground that they have lived on for almost a decade. So they are a great resource in the sense that there is now a lot of great discussion that is ongoing. That is one of the great things about having a good group. Especially all the folks on the leadership team are always conversing. If there is ever a need for an impression, or idea, or feedback there are a lot of experts around the company and they are actively looking at everything.

Ray Muzyka:

The group is aligned with everything we're working on, which is a variety of things. Star Wars is one of our big focuses. So the Bioware Mythic team is working with and helping Bioware Austin and Bioware Edmonton with active support. It is really focused support in areas where they can add the most value. Plus, everybody is playing and that is a lot of people playing.

What's it like to now have Mythic as a resource?

Greg Zeschuk:

They are very actively participating in the testing. The leadership is spread out across all four studios and is actively involved in the project. There are people from Edmonton, Austin, Montreal and even people from San Francisco who are part of the group. It's a distributed team but you can make it work if you really stress communication and cooperation. We have been doing that for a while now. We have been working through Bioware Edmonton and Bioware Austin for quite a while. We're used to working through a distributed environment. It's a very good team.

What is your overall sense of where online games are headed? Will we see a Facebook Dragon Age soon?

Ray Muzyka:

It could be viewed in a couple ways. You could follow your hero's journey or recreate your hero in a social setting. Show it off to your friends, the other one is to have an asyncronous kind of benefit that augments the game. The other one is to have a brand new game that is totally separate from the main game. You can also think of it as merging social features into the main game. We have Bioware's social site which is kind of modeled after Facebook and it has been very, very successful for us. It is a great means of communication for our community that ties together user created content, the hero's journey, even fan forums and other cool things that bring the fans together. It is all part of the community whether they are on your page or another page or some social network site or even in the game itself.

Greg Zeschuk:

It is kind of this bull's eye that is like in game, just out of the game and waiting to go back to it, on a social page talking about the game. You are still in the game universe and you are interacting with the game content in different ways. It's all good. Overall thought with styles of online games, I do not think any of them are going to dominate, but I also don't think any of them are going to go away. The market will continue to evolve. I think you will see more big AAA MMOs with micro-transactions. You may see Facebook games get more sophisticated. They all seem to cross back and forth all over the place. It is hard to see what is going to dominate. For us as developers it is interesting as it gives us all these options to see how you are going to play.

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