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Former BioWare Developer Talks EA, Microtransactions, and Open-World Games

Mass Effect: Annihilation

A former designer at Bioware Montreal has opened up about Electronic Arts’s policies about single-player games and monetisation following the announcement of Visceral Games’s closure.

Gameplay designer Manveer Heir recently spoke to Waypoint about his experiences working on Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Most of Heir’s comments revolved around EA’s recent closure of Visceral Games, the “pivot” in direction of the Star Wars game that had been in development there, and the recent controversy around Star Wars: Battlefront 2’s loot crates.

Regarding the closure of Visceral Games, EA executive vice president Patrick Soderlund wrote, “it has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design. We are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency.”

This declaration seems to imply that EA will move away from traditional single-player games towards open-world or multiplayer games, which is a shift that Heir saw happening firsthand during his time with the publisher.

“It’s definitely a thing inside of EA,” he said, “they are generally pushing for more open-world games. And the reason is you can monetise them better. … It’s the same reason we added card packs to Mass Effect 3: how do you get people to keep coming back to a thing instead of ‘just’ playing for 60 to 100 hours?”

“The problem is that we’ve scaled up our budgets to $100 million+ and we haven’t actually made a space for good linear single-player games that are under that… The reason is that EA and those big publishers in general only care about the highest return on investment. They don’t actually care about what the players want, they care about what the players will pay for… I’ve seen people literally spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards.”

According to Heir, this philosophy appears to be a central factor in the design process for Anthem, Bioware’s new shared-world shooter IP, which is also a signpost for EA’s approach to single-player games:  “If that’s what you’re seeing from a place like BioWare, owned by EA, a place where I worked for seven years; if that’s what you’re seeing from Visceral now closing and going to this other Vancouver studio; what it means is that the linear single-player triple-A game at EA is dead for the time being.”

In the full hour-and-a-half podcast Heir talks in more depth about cultural disagreements during the development of Mass Effect: Andromeda, and that project’s origins as a prequel called Mass Effect: Contact..

Heir is currently setting up a new indie studio and seeking to raise funds for a project tackling both the war on drugs and the destruction of minority  communities.

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