Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka live from Brighton.

The doctors are in the building for the opening keynote of the 2010 Develop Conference in Brighton, and Neon will be kicking back in a deck chair doing his best to report on everything the BioWare co-founders say whilst fighting off flocks of giant seagulls.

The keynote is titled, "Creative Game Development: How we do it at BioWare," but we're hoping for some juicy details about projects currently in development.

Join us from 9:30am BST.

The following live report has now ended.
09:23:51

Hello hello, and welcome to not-so-sunny Brighton!

09:26:27

I'm currently in a large, rather glittery hall, awaiting the arrival of Dr Greg Zeschuk and Dr Ray Muzyka - our keynote speakers for this morning.

09:28:56

Scratch that - it's just going to be Dr Greg speaking this morning; I did know that, but had slipped my mind. Apologies - a groggy morning in Brighton will do that to you. Dr Greg's topic for the morn? "Creative Game Development: How we do it at BioWare"

09:32:19

While we wait for the good doctor, I can reveal that I attended the GamesAid Develop poker tournament at the Grosvenor Casino last night, and contributed a magnificent loss in the name of VideoGamer.com

09:33:56

I eventually went all-in with Ace King unsuited - a hand known colloquially as Anna Kournikova. It looks good, but doesn't win as often as you'd expect...

09:34:42

Anyway, never mind that now. Dr Greg should be taking the stand momentarily, so let's see what he has to say.

09:38:41

Here we go!

09:39:15

Ray has apparently made it better to Day 5 of the World Series of poker, and that's whyt he's not here. Clearly he's a better player than me.

09:39:39

This talk will be about ways to make the making of games easier.

09:40:41

Bioware's secret is establishing a good culture within the company, say Dr G.

09:41:36

He's going to talk about key decisions the company made, and how they relate to the studio's culture. First, a brief history lesson.

09:42:44

BioWare started in 1995 in Edmonton, Canada. The studio has sold 25 million games over 15 years, and they've all been "moderate hits".

09:43:57

BioWare was bought byy a provate equity group in 2005 and then by EA in 2007.

09:45:13

A big on-sceen graph shows off the steady growth of the firm. A weird MetaCritic slide shows the review performance of their releases. Bioware is "obsessed" with its review scores, says Dr G. "a never ending mission for quality".

09:46:23

The company is trying to transition to an online service-orientateed business.

09:47:17

"don't compromise the long term for short-term gain" says Greg. he's talking about the company's business culture now.

09:48:59

BioWare has always been open about its values, becuause it's not really a secret. It's common sense, says Greg. Develop a strong culture and find people who fit into it. Everytime new people come to BW, they're sat down and introduce them to the company culture.

09:51:26

We're now looking at a presentation that was shown to new employees in 2004. It's all very shiny business school type stuff. A flow chart from "values" to "goals", leading to a triangle: Structures, Systems (policies) and People. The culture is the bit in the middle of the triangle, apparently.

09:53:24

Any move you make affecting the structure of your company will affect the culture, and that changes people. If, for example, you have the Mass Effect and Dragon Age teams as two separate entities, with little communication between the two , that'll be hugely different to a studio where the teams have cross-over.

09:54:46

Sometimes you'll have people leave if they don;t like the rules and structures you have in place, but that's okay - the important thing is to find people who fit into the culture you establish. (This is all quite business school-ish, innit?)

09:55:54

BioWare wanted to develop strong core values to guide the way they make games: Quality in the workplace; quality in their products; entrepreneuirship.

09:56:59

Get good people in, an establish a good quality of work/life balance. Keep people happy, and keep them in roles that suit them. The studio focuses more on teams, rather than individuals.

09:58:22

Aim to deliver the best story-driven games in the world, and strive to make the sequels better than their predecessors. ME2 could have just been a re-tread of the first game, says Greg, but they didn't want to do that. BW also works to make "event games" - the equivalent of a summer blockbuster.

09:59:30

Talking investment now. "We want to be seen as a studio where if you put a dollar in, you'll get dollar out".

10:00:56

Finally.... all of this has to be "a context of humility and integrity." This is effectively realsing that "you're only as good as your next game". Press and fan feedback give you the blueprints, and you have to take criticism without letting it rile you.

10:01:57

OO-er, another business diagram on screen now. This one looks like a big blue see-saw. Quality and Scope on one side; Resources and Time on the other.

10:02:34

You have to realise when the scope of what you're trying to do is exceeding what you can actually pull off...

10:03:03

Getting the balance right keeps fans, publishers and investors happy.

10:04:37

Greg's talking about the company Matrix now - and no, not that kind of Matrix. There's another complicated drawing on screen, but i'm buggered if i'm going to explain it. He's chatting about how the core values fit into the nuts-and-bolts running of the studio.

10:06:56

Everything changes your culture, says Greg, and you have to remain vigilant. "joining ea was interesting", says Dr G. "when confornted with the giant behemoth of ea, we were able to find the interface points between our companies". It took about a year to learn how to interact with EA. Now in their third year of working together, they've got it figured out. "If you'd asked me 10 years ago if we'd ever be part of EA, i'd have said 'no, impossible!'"

10:08:56

Forming a studio in Austin was also a challenge, due to the distance. If the guys in Canada got T-shirts for a game and the guys in Austin didn't, the Texans would ask where their t-shirts were! So now they get T-shirts too. (seriously, that made a lot more sense when Greg said it; he means you've got to keep people involved.)

10:09:54

Five tips for establishing your culture. 1) Take an inventory of your culture. Understand who you are, and be honest.

10:11:01

2) Decide where you want to go, and start changing the structure. 3)Think about your structures and processes, and ask whether they're consistent with your cultural goals.

10:12:30

4) start adjusting processes. "it's a bit like writing code, you have to be able to roll stuff back". A note on screen adds: "Be aware that you many (may) also need different people" SO ITS OKAY TO FIRE THEM!!!! lolol.

10:13:11

5) Be vigilant and check what you're doing. Talk to people, ask what they're up to.

10:14:35

"Happy and engaged people make better games" says Greg. "Happy teams do better work." But there's no "best culture" - it's about finding something that fits the your studio. COnsistency is important; employees stick with a culture (and company) they like.

10:16:06

Although BW is team-focused in many ways, you do need to balance that with the way individuals are treated. Dr G's (and Dr R's) medical background have helped with this; you always want to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be affected by your decision.

10:17:29

He's talking about "scrum" not, but I have no idea what that means. Maybe they all play rugby in the office. Yes, i'll bet that's it. YOU HERD IT HERE FURRST!

10:17:55

He's talking about "scrum" not, but I have no idea what that means. Maybe they all play rugby in the office. Yes, i'll bet that's it. YOU HERD IT HERE FURRST!

10:19:51

Star Wars KOTOR was made with an open team, involved in the process. The whole team was threw up ideas on a board, and when the idea of doing a SW game came up, they all went nuts. People were excited to be working on that idea, and that helps to get people onboard.

10:22:14

The triple A market should be a goal-setting exercise, says Dr G. But it can be a pretty bad thing to chase, because the opportunites are getting narrower and narrower. Risk-taking is down, and innovation is being squeezed out of the market, to an extent. Greg likes the fact that he's seen older, veteran devleopers taking a step back and moving to smaller teams that aren;t so focused on the AAA sector.

10:24:48

BW has explored lots of different kinds of games. The company learned the hard way about iPhone. He admits that the Mass Effect iphone wasn;t the best thing they've done, but it was their first foray into that kind of thing. Sometimes the first thing you do isn't that good, but then you get better with the second, third, fourth.

10:26:59

And that's pretty much it from Dr Greg Zeschuk. He's going to answer some questions now. "what do you have in place to manage internal communication?" asks the man next to me. Meetings every six weeks, video conferencing. A lot of show and tell, people playing each others games. "we're very over-communicative"

10:29:09

"how did you roll out scrum across such a large company?" Still no idea what "scrum" is, but i'm guessing it's some kind of software ting. They started using it for Dragon Age then it "infected the whole company". Sounds unpleasant; I hope they managed to get some anti-biotics. Or should that be "anti-biowarotics"?

10:30:10

Now someone's talking about Crunch problems. I'm guessing they mean Credit Crunch, not the yummy-but-hard-to-find Nestle choc bar.

10:31:44

You have to place limitations on how long you work on things, says Greg, and strive to make sure you're working on something worthy. Trust the responsibility of the people, he adds. But the last year has actually been pretty good, though BioWare has had its crunch problems, like everyone else.

10:33:33

Last question: internal competition? Dragon Age vs Mass Effect? There is a bit of a competition, who's better, who's worked harder. But it's pretty friendly, and people do move back and forth between teams. "It's a well-meaning competition", concludes Greg.

10:36:36

That's it from Greg. Hope you all found that interesting. I now expect you ALL to go out and start your own games studios.

Comments

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User Comments

Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32

I, I don't get it. I mean, like I don't understand why this confrence took place. We didn't really learn anything new.
Posted 11:15 on 14 July 2010
Clockpunk's Avatar

Clockpunk

Or ho about if there'll be nudity in DA2 given the ir own critique of it last year, or will it avoid such clumsy... advances... altogether? It was just comical seeing them flonuce round in underwear. 'Love' does seem a key theme in their stories, though...
Posted 11:12 on 14 July 2010
IndoorHeroes's Avatar

IndoorHeroes

Can you ask if they'll be trying more iPhone/iPad games going forward? KTHXBAI!
Posted 10:28 on 14 July 2010
Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32

Mass Effect 2 was a 'moderate hit'?
Posted 09:46 on 14 July 2010
Woffls's Avatar

Woffls

Oh I forgot it was Develop time, had no idea the Doctors were in town either :D
Posted 09:08 on 14 July 2010
Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32

Sweet.

Same, had no idea this was going down
Posted 07:52 on 14 July 2010
SexyJams's Avatar

SexyJams

Cool!
Didn't even know about this :)
Posted 07:14 on 14 July 2010

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