Being a BioWare fanboy isn’t always easy, especially since the mainstream opinion of them has been pretty negative, at least as of late. Despite the critical acclaim of their recent titles (read: almost all of them), their popularity isn’t exactly at an all-time high. And this is not the way it should be.
Baldur’s Gate. Kotor. Mass Effect. Dragon Age. Games that we here at Twinfinite and many others have fervently enjoyed. Games that have prompted almost shocking backlash from the “community” over things like Dragon Age 2’s lack of area variety or Mass Effect 3’s ending controversy. Events that, in light of BioWare’s incredible track record, shouldn’t dictate the company’s public image.
And recently, with a Q&A the producers of Dragon Age: Inquisition just conducted, it is clear that anyone should be proud to enjoy BioWare and their games. Setting themselves apart from the other prominent developers today, they have shown themselves now and in the past that they are a company that listens to and cares about its gamers.
This is a company that was founded on the idea of making games that gamers will love to play because the creators themselves loved games. This is a company that has historically and consistently listened to its fans and customers and incorporated that advice into their future product, even as early as the Baldur’s Gate series; BGII’s manual actually contains an introduction explaining how they improved from the first based on fan feedback.
And what do other companies have to offer? Companies like Ubisoft, who typically ignore their fans, who are now receiving a deluge of criticism for their shallow disregard of a female protagonist because of “resource concerns?” Companies like EA Games, whose notoriety is eclipsed only by their ability to annually be ranked as the worst company in the world?
Love for the gamers is what truly endears me to a company, though. It’s what helps me realize that they’re not just some corporate blob sitting in a far-away place with nameless gray people churning out profit-making products.
This is why, I think, Bioware has always been my favorite. Right from the start you have its founders: Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk (Google for some reason lists Casey Hudson as well–very false) who have always professed a love of games. Their sole objective from the beginning was to make games that they and the rest of the gaming population would love.
From the rough start that was Shattered Steel, they immediately put out Baldur’s Gate and boom – a revolution in gameplay and NPC interaction that didn’t come from Japan was born. Then Neverwinter Nights debuted, loved not necessarily for its content but for the incredibly versatile Aurora Engine modding tool included free with the game, spawning hundreds of player-created adventures, some of them on par with and superior to AAA attempts to make something worthwhile.
And then Knights of the Old Republic hit the shelves, unfortunately overshadowing Jade Empire in its glory even years after its release. Not satisfied with such a universally proclaimed Game of the Year, they then released Mass Effect. And Dragon Age. Hit titles that gamers loved, that immediately turned into trilogies spanning years, and that created enormous fan bases.
And then suddenly they weren’t everyone’s best friend anymore. Gamers, in their infinite and completely misplaced entitlement, decided that they weren’t 100% satisfied with BioWare’s products – or at least a loud popularity so proclaimed. With Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2, Bioware faced an incredible amount of backlash from the gamers they so loved. With DA2, it was a lack of customization and variety; with Mass Effect 3, the controversy surrounding the endings actually prompted fans to write their own (and fill the forums with theories and arguments over the supposed validity of BioWare’s artistic choice).
The founders stepped down, abandoning gaming seemingly forever. Though they publicly denounced claims that this was due to the backlash specifically over Mass Effect 3, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Yet BioWare didn’t back down, defending the creators’ decisions while simultaneously releasing free DLC in the form of the Extended Cut, a fleshed-out and detailed expansion of the ME3 endings with much more clarity and exposition. Most, however, were still not convinced.
Bioware’s focus drifted to The Old Republic, a great foray into the MMO genre that was more of a single-played game with too many other players than a WoW contender. The company was no longer the apple of the gamer eye. And yet they continued to remind gamers that their customers, their players were their focus. They reminded gamers continuously that they were listening. Their constant stream of updates concerning the Dragon Age: Inquisition development process was a clear sign, as with seemingly every update was the phrase, “We have heard the fans, and we are taking their ideas into account.”
And lo and behold, the tide has changed once again. Promising to listen to gamers’ wishes with the next installments for the Mass Effect and Dragon Age universes, BioWare’s message was clear, and their actions proved it. During the Q&A session held with Dragon Age: Inquisition executive producer Mark Darrah, lead designer Mike Laidlaw, and producer Cameron Lee answered fan questions and revealed a ton of information about how BioWare was responding to their fans. If you haven’t had a chance to look at all the amazing information revealed, check out Twinfinite’s summary.
The message is clear: BioWare is listening. BioWare never stopped listening. The developers, after all, haven’t changed in their mission. BioWare is still BioWare; they’re the name on Mass Effect and Dragon Age, the franchises that made them the giants they are. They’re the company responsible for one of the largest and greatest gaming communities in the last two decades thanks to Neverwinter Nights. And they are, as always, making games because they love games. And they want to make games that are loved.
Now, as always, it’s a great time to be a Bioware fan. They’re still making games for you and me. They are still listening.