BioWare is going through changes, not only with the type of games they create but also internally. One of the legendary talents in the Studio, James Ohlen has announced via Twitter that he has left the company he worked for an impressive 22 years. Ohlen was instrumental in the development of many cult RPG titles like Baldur’s Gate and Mass Effect among many more.
After 22 years I have retired from BioWare. I’ve loved my time with Anthem, Star Wars, Dragon Age and Dungeons and Dragons. But I need to take a break from the industry and work on something a little smaller and more personal.
— James Ohlen (@JamesOhlen) July 12, 2018
BioWare has earned its spot among the elite circle of game developers throughout their illustrious 23 year presence, with genre-defining experience like Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and more. The continued success of the Canadian studio did not only get the attention of gamers however, as big publishers also took a keen interest at the developer. This culminated in the acquisition of BioWare by gaming publisher giant Electronic Arts in 2007 which send shockwaves through RPG fans in particular.
Bigger budgets and accompanying marketing efforts, did lead to a slight change in direction for the projects BioWare took on afterwards. Epic space opera Mass Effect is probably the best example for that. Reaching a huge audience, the action-RPG set in space quickly became a cut title but it came at a cost. No longer were BioWare catering towards a hardcore RPG niche but instead featured game design decisions to streamline the game and added third-person action gameplay, to get a wider appeal among players.
The plan worked as intended but as time went on, it looked like only the beginning of a much more substantial shift for BioWare. Fast forward a couple years, and we see the once premiere franchise left in shambles with an unpolished soft-reboot in Mass Effect: Andromeda. We soon learned that the major focus of the studio went to their new project Anthem, and thus made the lack of polish and inspired game design in Mass Effect: Andromeda more sense.
Anthem was formally announced in 2017 and there was no doubt that BioWare was going to put all their efforts into their ambitious new game. After all, the competitor to the new IP is juggernaut Destiny. While being its own distinct thing, Anthem is reminding us in some key ways of Destiny. A focus on Co-Op & PvP shooting gameplay, deep customization and a gameplay design intended to be played over and over again, supported by a meaningful and continuous post-launch content. This, of course, is the newest trend big publishers are following lately, Games-as-a-Service or GaaS.
A far cry from the origins of BioWare and it looks like the studio is not only loosing its veteran fan base but also its veteran workers. James Ohlen is fundamentally a part of the old school BioWare experience with the designer stating in a recent Tweet, “The most fun I’ve ever had at BioWare was as the lead designer on Baldur’s Gate 1+2 and NWN. I’ve been a D&D fanatic since I was 10 years old and I want to be a part of it again.Please visit http://www.arcanumworlds.com to see what I’m talking about.”
Ohlen wants to go back to his RPG roots it seems and whatever game he ends up working on in the future, fans of the genre will be there undoubtedly.