Dragon Age: Origins is out. Mass Effect 2 is out in January. Star Wars: The Old Republic is out… well, we don't know when, and there are even "unannounced projects" on the go. Canadian developer BioWare is busy. But not so busy that co-founder and CEO Dr. Ray Muzyka couldn't take the time to do a massive, no-holds barred interview with VideoGamer.com. Here, in the first part, Ray dissects Dragon Age, talking reviews, sex and graphics.
VideoGamer.com: Congratulations on Dragon Age: Origins.
Ray Muzyka: Thanks.
VideoGamer.com: It's a game I reviewed and very much enjoyed. EA UK boss Keith Ramsdale said that the future of the single-player experience is over. It struck me as an odd thing to say in the week Dragon Age: Origins, a hugely in-depth single-player RPG, is released. What do you think of that comment?
RM: There is more than one way to achieve multiplayer or online features. We're embracing a lot of those in our BioWare games, whether they're multiplayer or not. You can achieve an online enabled experience in a single-player game. You can have a massively single-player game in one sense. What we're doing in Dragon Age is an example of that, with the social.bioware.com site, and with the post-release downloadable content plan and user-generated content tools we're releasing. All of those together are enabling more online connectivity post-release. It's almost like Dragon Age is a platform. It's a launch point for a lot of DLC, user-generated content, or surfacing heroic achievements onto the social.bioware.com site so you can view other players' character's progressions through the game and understand the impact of their choices, the consequences of their choices, they made in the game and see how they compare with yours. That's one way to approach making a single-player experience online enabled. The other obvious way is to make it multiplayer. Some of our games will be multiplayer in the future. Others will be single-player. But all of them will have a lot of online connectivity features that are value-adds for the players post release. This is something fans enjoy, being able to communicate and connect online as part of the experience.
VideoGamer.com: Is there something to be said, however, for playing a single-player game that's your game and your game only?
RM: Yeah, but that's part of what I was saying. It's almost optional. You don't have to do DLC or user-generated content or sharing your heroes' journey with other players. But if you do, it can enrich the experience for some of our fans. That's an exciting opportunity.
VideoGamer.com: Do you keep abreast of review scores?
VideoGamer.com: Are you bothered by them?
VideoGamer.com: Congratulations on the positive review scores for Dragon Age.
RM: Thanks. It's a mixed bag of different opinions. Everybody has their own opinions on games but the overall has been outstanding. It's been 90 plus pretty much across the board for all the platforms, so it's good.
VideoGamer.com: Were you expecting that kind of reception? Were you confident of it or did you think there was a danger it might not be as high?
RM: We always strive for that. We always strive for it. But we never know. We're always trying to innovate in some sense. It's not like we're saying, well, we're building just the same we've done before that was 90. We always try to push the envelope and pack a lot of content into our game. You never know what players and press are going to feel about it until it launches.
VideoGamer.com: What's your opinion on the great Metacritic average debate? Is it useful? Is it harmful?
RM: It's an interesting question. It tracks sort of a consensus opinion from journalists. And if individually the journalists' opinions are influential and important to fans well, an aggregate of that opinion is probably still important to fans too. Whether fans look at Metacritic directly I don't know, but I know we do. We look at it to understand what the overall audience of journalists as a whole are feeling about our games. For certain genres it may be a less useful statistic than for others. For certain platforms it may be more relevant than others too.
VideoGamer.com: Are you suggesting it's less useful for Wii games?
RM: Yeah. I would say the Wii's one of them. And DS might be another. Mobile games or social games are others, children's games. There are probably a few examples. For console games and PC games it's a pretty good score indicator of the critical acclaim. But it's finding the right metric to measure critical acclaim. There are other metrics too. Net Promoter scores, which is more of a fan opinion they recommend to their friends, that's a useful metric. You can't track that easily but you can do surveys to find out what the results are. It's useful. It has to be taken in context like all kinds of measurements. There's no perfect measurement for anything. But if understanding what the journalists are feeling about your game is important to you then Metacritic or Game Rankings is a great way to start.
VideoGamer.com: We hear some horror stories about developers who are rewarded based on Metacritic scores. Is that the wrong approach?
RM: That's for their publishing partners to decide, I'd say, and for the developers. If they feel it's the right approach for them, well that's a business deal they would enter. I don't know. I can't judge whether it's a right or wrong approach. It's one measurement among others that indicates one measure of quality. We check it. I'm interested in knowing what the various journalists think about our games. If Metacritic and Game Rankings represent a body of journalistic opinion, then in that sense it's useful. But it's all subjective I guess.