The Bioware Retirement Conspiracy

I know I’m a little late on this one, but I had been sitting on this post in case something more interesting came up. However, October’s been a pretty slow month for hard gaming news, so now it’s time to go buck wild with conspiracy theories. I usually don’t buy into this sort of crap, but I’m willing to play devil’s advocate in this case because it’s such an unusual circumstance.

The past few years have seen Bioware turn from one of the community’s most beloved developers to one of its most hated, mostly due to the perceived interference from their corporate masters at EA. Following two very public gaffes this year in the failure of Star Wars: The Old Republic and the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco, the Bioware docs felt it was time to leave the company they founded. My own feelings are mixed; it’s difficult to tell exactly how much involvement Zeschuk and Muzyka (impossible names, both) had in game development in recent years. Much of the blame for Mass Effect 3 has fallen on the stubborn shoulders of Project Director Casey Hudson, while the two top guys at Bioware Austin (the studio responsible for SWTOR) have both left the company. If anything, it’s these actual developers that are responsible for Bioware’s recent string of troubles, not the doctors themselves, so I doubt having them retire is going to improve the quality of Bioware’s future output.

So how much of this decision is due to community outrage, upper management pressure, and personal desire, respectively? About a week after the retirement announcement, an interview with former Bioware staffer Trent Oster surfaced, in which he shed some light on the situation. Oster stated that Zeschuk and Muzyka were indeed irritated by the fan fallout surrounding Bioware this year, and suggested that the creation of fan petitions against their life’s work had them burnt out on the video game industry. However, even more interesting is Oster’s suggestion that Muzyka had intended to climb the corporate ladder at EA, possibly as high as becoming the next CEO after John Riccitiello (who was rumored to be on thin ice earlier this summer). That certainly puts EA’s acquisition of Bioware into perspective; it’s possible Muzyka intended to eventually work his way to the top of one of gaming’s largest publishers from within. But reportedly, the failure of SWTOR hurt Muzyka’s standing with EA’s upper management, and perhaps upon realizing that he had blown his chance, Muzyka decided to hang up his skates.

The in-thing for former studio heads right now seems to be starting a new indie studio, so it’s possible that despite their “retirement,” we’ll see Muzyka and Zeschuk return to games at some point. But, man, these guys could do pretty much anything they want (being, y’know, MDs as well as former CEOs), so why would they continue to break their backs in an industry that demonized their company in the span of a few short years? Why would they return to a difficult, thankless profession like medicine when they no longer need the money? Why wouldn’t they just drink tons and tons of beer, as Zeschuk plans to do?