Former BioWare Studio Head Talks About Life Under EA

At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Jason Schreier and I sat down with Aaryn Flynn, formerly of BioWare, to talk about his time working under EA on games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Anthem.

Among other things we discussed the cultural shift when EA bought BioWare, leaving a studio after spending most of your career there, and the weather in Edmonton. Listen here:

Download an MP3 here. Below is a lightly edited transcript of part of our chat, during which Jason asked Flynn to name a common misconception about how EA operates.

Jason Schreier: It seems like EA has been making some misguided decisions recently. I mean, Star Wars Battlefront II was obviously a debacle last year. I think that was the tip of the iceberg for a lot of people, seeing what happened to Mass Effect: Andromeda, seeing a bunch of other stuff that has happened to EA over the years. I like to take the nuanced perspective and be like, hey, EA is a company that treats a lot of people pretty well. It also does some horrible things, and there are a lot of nuanced things here…

Aaryn Flynn: (laughs) The nuanced perspective: "horrible things."

Kirk Hamilton: Horrible, horrible, horrible… (laughs)

Jason: OK, ok, horrible is a relative term.

Kirk: Atrocities, they commit atrocities.

Flynn: (laughing) Yeah, atrocities.

Jason: EA has committed genocide.

Kirk: Some war crimes.

Jason: EA Has Committed Genocide, that will be the headline of this.

Kirk: "EA: Atrocities and Horror."

Jason: No, but [EA] has also done some things, there's a lot of money at the top of the company that is not going down, there's definitely some decisions that seem to be made in the interest of pleasing shareholders rather than pleasing fans. As someone who has been in the trenches with those executives there, what kind of perspective do you get that you think people don't see, that you think people should know about?

Flynn: I guess the biggest one would just be, don't think that there are these edicts about anything like that. It's never a case that it comes own, and it's like, "thou shalt do this." It's quite an open company in my experience. I've had the privilege of having conversations with folks in very senior positions about the status of things, and things like that. And again, these are conversations we have, you know, it never goes that way of "thou shalt do this" and "thou shalt do that." It's never that. It's always, "Look, what do we think we can do? This is what we're trying to achieve, can we do this? Do you think we can?" It's more that than it is anything else. It's unfortuante [when] things don't work out, and that's tough, and everybody should be held accountable to that, and that's how it works when you're in business. But it's not the case that there's some power-hungry monster at the top. It's not that.


You can listen to the rest of the conversation in the full episode. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.

We'll have a bunch more podcasts coming from GDC, so stay tuned.


Comments

    What a cop-out. There's fuck-all difference between, "Hey guys, you know your new game? Lootboxes. It's happening. Gimme the brief on Friday," and, "So we're looking at our 'recurrent investment' profile and we're really trying to see how we can boost that profile in your game. How do you think you'd do that to maximize player involvement?" when it's coming from the Powers That Be who write all the fucking checks.

      "Oh, so you guys weren't planning on doing microtransactions? Gee, well, I dunno, have you been following the memos about our strategic direction, and how recurring player investment is a key performance indicator? You guys want to be team players, right? I mean, it's not just that there are expectations about how much all our teams really contribute towards the values we hold, ehre... Have you spoken to Steve about this whole 'no microtransactions' thing? I just hate to think we're missing out on an opportunity here out of some misconception about the value this direction adds for us, and for the player experience... Speaking of Player Experience, have you seen what the focus testing is telling us about post-launch player engagement? You know what? I'm going to tee up a meeting with Mark, Mark's got some figures I think you'll find really eye-opening."

      Hey man. That's really well written, but it's still just conjecture. I'm not sure how valuable it is to visualise it in such detail when we don't know any of these facts.

      But man, EA suck!

        Nah, that's exactly how it is.

          Maybe. But unless someone has some kind of proof, then it's just imagination.

    I'm straight up opting out of games with lootboxes and MTX now (unless it's free, like Warframe / Fortnite).

    The are plenty of games which don't include that trash. To be honest, it's probably the best way to solve people backlog problems.

    I've lost faith in 90% of triple A gaming.

      I share your sentiment, Nothing but buyer's remorse in the triple A scene.

    EA is a hot poop dispenser that charges you extra for the relish that almost, but not quite, covers up the poop taste temporarily. If you leave it too long though, you're eating cold poop. Better top up on extra relish. Get that credit card out.

    Call me kooky, but I'm not a big poop fan and I'm not all that rich.

    Listened to the entire thing and all i can think is that Aaryn is playing politics. He knows not to bite the hand that feeds him, that if he says a single bad thing about EA he will be blacklisted.
    He chose to play politics than tell the truth and its so evident in his wording and uncertainty.

    EA destroy developers; its what they do.
    How could Bioware go from Mass Effect 2 to Mass Effect 3 then subsequently Andromeda in such a short time? EA are toxic, and anyone who works with/under them dies a death by 1000 cuts.

    Aaryn, you are a shill.

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