As a long-time fan of BioWare games, I have, historically, not been very happy with the direction it took since its 2007 acquisition by Electronic Arts, given that publisher's well-documented history for gobbling up and shutting down game developer studios. Particularly since the 2012 departure of the studios' remaining founders, BioWare has not really been on top of its game anymore, as it had experienced a veritable exodus of the "old guard", resulting in a visible drop of quality in their newest games. Given how personality-driven the geek culture is, I decided to compile a referenced list of the "Classic BioWare" developers who have left since its acquisition by EA.
For the purposes of this (admittedly biased) list, the "old guard" of "Classic BioWare" includes the key creators of the role-playing video game projects produced by BioWare before their buyout by Electronic Arts. This includes following seven games (excluding expansions and DLC):
- Baldur's Gate (BG1)
- Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (BG2)
- Neverwinter Nights (NWN)
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR)
- Jade Empire (JE)
- Mass Effect (ME1)
- Dragon Age: Origins (DAO)
The last two were technically released after the EA buyout, but were long in production by the time it took place, so EA has only had limited impact on their quality (except for the wanton DLC practices in DAO).
The First Exodus
The first exodus of the old guard seems to have taken place without much fanfare after Origins shipped, while the production was gearing up for Mass Effect 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR), now under EA's full supervision. Information about this wave is somewhat scarce a decade later, but here are the few names I managed to find:
- Trent Oster, co-founder of BioWare, designer on NWN. Left in July 2009 to found Beamdog, the closest BioWare has to an official successor in the event of its closure.
- Brent Knowles, key designer on BG2, NWN, JE, and DAO. Left in August 2009, joined Beamdog in September 2015.
- Kevin Martens, key designer on BG2, NWN, JE. Left at some point in 2009 (I couldn't find an exact date) to work for Blizzard.
An honorable mention goes to Christina Norman, programmer and later lead gameplay designer on the Mass Effect trilogy, who left in June 2011 (thus, long after the First Exodus, but before the Second one began) to join Riot Games in July.
The Second Exodus
The second exodus was sparked by the aforementioned departure of the two remaining co-founders, which followed the (controversial, to say the least) release of Mass Effect 3 in 2012. While it started off as a trickle, the rate of departures rose alarmingly, especially after EA dismantled BioWare Montreal in August 2017 and BioWare began pooling all of its resources into the upcoming Anthem.
- Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, co-founders of BioWare. Left simultaneously on September 18, 2012, officially ending the Classic BioWare era.
- Casey Hudson, producer and director of KotOR and the original Mass Effect trilogy. Left in August 2014, but returned in July 2017 to lead the Anthem development and BioWare as a whole, then left again in December 2020.
- David Gaider, designer on BG2, NWN, and KotOR, lead writer of the first three Dragon Age installments. Left in January 2016 to join Beamdog, before co-founding Summerfall Studios in 2019.
- Aaryn Flynn, programmer on BG2, NWN, KotOR, JE, and DAO, studio head during the production of Dragon Age II, Inquisition, and Mass Effect 3. Left in July 2017 to join Improbable in September 2018.
- Mike Laidlaw, lead writer on JE, creative director of the first three Dragon Age games. Left in October 2017 to join Ubisoft Quebec (for the record, this was around the time that Project Joplin, the original iteration of Dragon Age IV, was canceled), but left in January 2020 after his new project was canceled to co-found Yellow Brick Games.
- Steven Gilmour, lead animator on BG1–2, NWN, KotOR, ME1, and DA1–3. Left in October 2017.
- Drew Karpyshyn, designer on BG2 and NWN, lead writer on KotOR, JE, ME1–2, and SWTOR. Left in February 2012, returned in September 2015 to work on Anthem, left again in March 2018.
- James Ohlen, writer/designer on BG1–2, lead designer on NWN, KotOR, JE, and DAO, and game director of SWTOR. Left in July 2018 to design D&D adventures with Karpyshyn and one more BW alumnus, Jesse Sky, and later joined Wizards of the Coast.
- Jacques Lebrun, engine programmer and tech director on the Dragon Age series, left in September 2018 to join Improbable.
- Fernando Melo, technical manager on JE and (online) producer on DA1–4, left in August 2019.
- Mark Darrah, programmer on BG2, NWN, and JE, and executive producer of the Dragon Age series. Left in December 2020.
- Matt Goldman, artist on BG1–2 and NWN, art director on JE and DA1–3, creative director of Dragon Age after Laidlaw's departure. Left in November 2021.
Given this extensive list, we have to ask ourselves whether the current BioWare will ever be able to produce anything like their classic titles again, given that the specific amalgamation of creative talents responsible for those titles has been all but scattered on the winds. Apart from a few stragglers like Preston Watamaniuk (designer on NWN, KotOR, ME1-3, and DA2) and Derek Watts (lead artist on NWN, JE, KotOR, and the Mass Effect trilogy), who is there to really carry Classic BioWare's torch?
- "Mass Effect Retrospective 1: The Ages of BioWare" by Shamus Young
- "The Story Behind Mass Effect: Andromeda's Troubled Five-Year Development" by Jason Schreier
- "How BioWare's Anthem Went Wrong", ibid.
- "The Past And Present Of Dragon Age 4", ibid.