The first day I started work at Bioware Austin, they told me I wasn’t supposed to talk about my work at Bioware on the internet. Which was reasonable. But last month I stopped working for Bioware to work for Microsoft. And even though I don’t have anything important to say about my experience, I feel compelled to say something, now that I can.

And so here is a list of the most unexpected things I’ve learned about the game industry from my time at Bioware.

1. The majority of developers are not the audience of the games they themselves are making. There are so many different kinds of games, and most people have very narrow tastes (people with kids especially only playing a few games each year.) The result is this weird world of vegetarian butchers or gluten-intolerant bakers. I myself am a perfect example, because I don’t find MMORPGs fun even though that’s the only type of game I have ever made. This is very typical.

2. Upper management has to justify its decisions to upper-er management. This results in a “Shooting of an Elephant“ type effect, where we stick to whatever position we would be most expected to make. It’s sort of like this: Say you meet a guy that doesn’t understand the lottery. He’ll give you hundreds of millions of dollars to play the same numbers as the last winner, thinking that’s the best strategy for success. If you try to explain to him why that’s stupid, he’ll take his money down the road to the next guy. So you smile and nod and take the hundreds of millions of dollars, hoping to work out the rest later.

3. You can’t really say games are top-down driven or bottom up driven They’re really a random mix of the two. The two aspects of any game most meddled with by executives are the female characters and the user interface. If you don’t want random millionaires emailing you all kinds of contradictory notes, don’t be the UI artist or modeler of the female character’s bodies. 

4. Concept artists often make variations of concepts just for the sake of making variations. Everyone will feel nervous if the concept artist draws the one true character design and calls it a day. But if they then put that design on a sheet with like 10 other designs, then everyone can feel good about “picking” that design. This process drives me nuts but it’s so universal in the industry, that if a concept artist and art director didn’t practice it, they would probably be fired by their studio head.

5. A shockingly high number of game artists are secretly color blind.

6. There are embarrassingly few female developers. It is more gender balanced when it comes to Production, HR, Marketing, ect. But art/design/programming are wildly male centric. It’s not that these departments are full of sexists or anything. Rather, there just aren’t a lot of female applicants. Most of the ones we try to hire, in the art department anyway, get weirded out by the prospect of being such a gender minority and abandon us for the film industry. Which sucks because it perpetuates the cycle. Interestingly, the outsourcer studios do not have this problem.

7. Outsourcing has a huge effect on the industry. We outsourced to China, Russia, Estonia, and Mexico, and our game’s art would not be possible without all the outsourcing. Some outsourcers were significantly worse than in-house artists: the Chinese especially were incapable of autonomous decision making to an extent that was like parody. But even still, they could crank out art if you held their hand, and they only cost one twelfth of what an American costs. And you don’t even have to pay all the taxes and stuff on them on top of that. The Mexican outsourcers were more expensive but they were straight up as-good as the Americans, even to the point of speaking fluent conversational English. If I was starting a game company tomorrow, it would be built to utilize outsourced labor from the ground up.

8. People blame “executive meddling” on a lot more than they should. So often we make decisions that the audience isn’t going to like, and then the audience says “Oh it must have been evil EA that forced poor innocent bioware to do that thing we didn’t want them to do.” EA didn’t force us to do shit we didn’t want to do. I have no special love for EA, but so much of the shit EA developers do comes from the teams and then gets shifted onto the oblivious and apathetic corporate overlords. It’s really quite unfair. 

Alright that’s enough of that. I’m going to bed.