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Goodbye BioWare, Hello Indie

Brook Bakay | 6 Mar 2012 16:00
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Contrast this with Manthorpe's experience as a senior artist in the technology group at BioWare. One day, someone on a different project sent him an email angrily questioning his group's very existence-and cc'd the entire company. Blindsided and feeling unsupported, he found the culture had changed around him. "It was really tough to find out that things weren't going as well as they were in my head."

The culture change at BioWare was palpable, to the point that tough questions were being asked at company meetings.

"There was this huge divider between projects," explains Fedor - a divider he experienced first-hand when he switched from Dragon Age to Mass Effect. At one point, a senior producer took him aside, intent on showing him the ropes, and asked him how long he'd been with the company. "I was at the bottom of the ladder again even though I'd been there for seven years."

The culture change was palpable, to the point that tough questions were being asked at company meetings. Management maintained that they could keep that small company feel alive as they grew, but Manthorpe wasn't buying it. "They were trying to keep people around with money." They weren't bitter; at this size there simply wasn't any other way.

Understanding this, Fedor changed careers, becoming a producer in order to join a small research group. He had hoped to be "a larger cog on a smaller machine," but the project was soon cancelled, landing him on Mass Effect 3 in a role that didn't suit him. "Being a producer for Mass Effect was the reason why I didn't ever want to be a producer in the first place," he explains. "It was being a very tiny cog on a very large machine and generally being told what needed to be done."

EA's restrictive policies prevented him from finding a creative outlet on his own. They claim ownership over any competing product - this includes indie games - done by employees, even on their own time. Making games under the table wasn't an option for Fedor: "The legal implications for one, the stress implications for another. You don't want to end up being a huge success only to find out you're bankrupt from lawyer fees."

Stress became a problem for Fedor: "My jaw was 100 percent clenched all the time. I would bite my tongue in my sleep. I would constantly be gritting my teeth and I didn't notice it anymore." He didn't like the changes he saw in his personality either. "I became a much more curmudgeonly, angry and dismissive person. I would snap at [my girlfriend] just doing dishes." When he left, it felt right at once. "It was cathartic. I immediately felt better telling [my boss] that I was leaving. Now, suddenly, I'm moving forward again."

The decision to go indie was easier than the decision to leave. "In almost every situation I was happy, it was a small team and in every situation I was unhappy, it was big," explains Fedor. "Nothing is smaller than indie." Going to another studio wasn't an option for either developer. Leaving BioWare, ultimately, wasn't really about BioWare. It was about experimentation and autonomy, and in this area no studio can compete with being independent. "That's the best offer I've got. Me paying myself to do whatever the hell I want for the next eighteen months," says Fedor.

Financial independence is, of course, job one for the independent developer. Fedor "ferreted away" money for years to save up that eighteen-month nest egg. Manthorpe took contract work from BioWare. "I didn't really go too far from the nest," he laughs. Fedor explains: "I wouldn't recommend to anyone to plan on doing it for anything less than a year, ideally closer to two years. You need that time to screw up."

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