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Goodbye BioWare, Hello Indie

Brook Bakay | 6 Mar 2012 12:00
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The value of the seasoned game industry professional has never been higher. While universities continue to churn out an inexhaustible stream of wide-eyed rookies willing to work endlessly for nothing, veterans are increasingly hard to come by. In this highly skilled, high-budget industry, a well-developed mechanic's intuition can save a studio millions of dollars. Experience is so valuable now that companies employ lawyers to prevent it from going to the competition.

As BioWare got bigger, so did the budgets and, importantly, the teams.

It's interesting, then, that many industry veterans are leaving the big studios - and the big salaries -- to go indie. I talked to two such veterans, with almost twenty years of experience between them, who decided to leave one of the biggest studios of all -- BioWare.

Leaving couldn't have been an easy decision. BioWare has a stellar reputation in the industry both for the games it makes and as a place to work. Not to mention they were fans before they got hired. "It was my dream job," says Tobyn Manthorpe, who joined the company to work as an artist on Baldur's Gate. "I was psyched," agrees Dan Fedor. A technical artist, he gave up a job with a prominent Manhattan media company, an office overlooking Times Square and half his salary to go to BioWare.

The job turned out to be everything they'd hoped. Fedor remembers: "I was elated for at least a year or two. It didn't matter what I was doing or who I was doing it for." Manthorpe found himself shut in a room with three other guys inventing the game that would become Neverwinter Nights. Both were quick to tell me that they would be happy to work there again.

Yet they made the decision to leave. They each have their reasons, but there are some common themes.

Chief among them is the problem of growth. Veterans like these remember a different game industry, one in which a team of less than fifty could make a high-profile game. They lived through BioWare's growing pains, as it became a multinational corporation and was ultimately acquired by EA. As the company got bigger, so did the budgets and, importantly, the teams. These developers lament the lost esprit de corps that followed.

Fedor describes the good times: "I loved working with certain people, and it didn't matter what we were doing. We could be in the deepest shit, trudging through Vietnam, and the fact that I had people who had my back-that could carry me pretty far." Remembering his time on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer (itself a small team), he adds, "The core group of us was under fire constantly and it was nice to be able to turn away from the computer and chuckle to each other and say, 'You know what, this is crazy but we're going back in there.'"

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