Train2Game interview: Bioware co-founders Dr. Ray Muzyka & Dr. Greg Zeschuk

Train2Game attended the recent Bioware Lecture at BAFTA, presented by the studio founders Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk. Their catalogue includes the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises, and their Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO is released next month.

While at BAFTA’s central London HQ, the Train2Game blog sat down with Dr. Muzyka and Dr. Zeschuk, both of whom were practicing doctors when they founded Bioware. They discussed the subject of their talk, the history of Bioware, and how they found the transition from working in medicine to working in game development. They also provided advice for those looking to get a job in the games industry.

Read the interview here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game Scribd page. Leave your comments here, or on the Train2Game forum.

We’re here at BAFTA for the Bioware Lecture, what is your talk about?

Dr. Ray Muzyka: We’re talking about games as art and we’re trying to illustrate that with some examples from Bioware, EA and other games within the industry and we’re also talking about the definition of art and games are maybe a different kind of art.  Innovative and progressive and fresh and maybe more powerful than other sorts of art. We’re going to touch on that and hopefully it’ll be interesting and provocative.

So where do you stand on the games as art debate?

Dr. Greg Zeschuk: Well it’s definitely a yes for us! What we do is we try and make the case using a definition form Tolstoy’s book ‘What is Art?’ and expand that and show how it applies to video games, looking at some examples and talking about how actually it’s a simple definition. If you convey emotion it’s art basically. So that’s really what we’re talking about, and there’s also some talk about what we do with that at Bioware, like what things do we focus on in that regard as well.

Tell us a bit about how Bioware came to be, how was the studio founded?

Dr. Greg Zeschuk: It’s funny, we’ve probably been doing this nearly 20 years. We were officially incorporated 16 years ago in 1995, but we were actually working on things a good few years before that. Ray and I met in medical school, we both loved video games. The third partner was also a doctor then but left very early in Bioware’s history and went back to medicine… of all things!

We actually practiced as doctors for a brief time back in the 90s, then transitioned into focusing just on games. Over time that’s what happened and Bioware grew and grew and grew to what it is today when it’s one of those things where you could never imagine where it would end up, like being here talking at the British Academy of Television and Arts.

Dr. Ray Muzyka: [Laughs] It’s pretty cool.

Dr. Greg Zeschuk: It’s not something you would’ve expected when we started! So it’s been an interesting and pretty remarkable journey. It’s built a lot on our core values, and the focus on humility and integrity and making sure that we always make great stuff our fans like and our people like making it. So it’s a happy eco-system that we like to drive.

How did you find the transition from medicine into game development?

Dr. Ray Muzyka: It was surprisingly easy, we didn’t stop medicine, we transitioned out of it. I did emergency medicine, I did locums basically, which are temporary replacement positions in small towns. It was exciting and exhilarating, then I went back to work at Bioware for the rest of the week. So you did that for a couple of evenings and then you did video games the rest of the time. Gradually the video games became more and more prevalent and I went back to school and got an MBA then stopped medicine at that time because I didn’t have any time. Greg you were similar weren’t you?

Dr. Greg Zeschuk: Yeah I worked one year less than Ray in medicine. I think it was making Bioware successful and making great games was just too exciting.

Dr. Ray Muzyka: There are principles that are relevant between medicine and games. The idea of having a collaborative team, working with nurses and physios and other doctors, ensuring you’re delivering high quality service experience to your consumer, the patient. There’s a lot of analogues there [between medicine and game development], especially now with the online connected experience. There’s also value in humility in medicine that really translates well to running a business or developing a game, like always trying to make sure you’re not taking anything for granted.

So if you see a bug, don’t assume it’s already known. You enter it and you fix it and try to do your best every step of the way. And if you follow those basic principles – lifelong learning is another one from medicine that’s relevant to business or gaming – never assuming you know what you need to know when entering a new market, new business model, new platform. But spending the time to play the content itself on the new platforms, listening to your fans feedback actively, it all links in some indirect hard to describe way that makes sense somehow!

And finally, what advice would you give to those looking to get into the games industry?

Dr. Greg Zeschuk: I think education is now a key part of it. One of the most important things you need to get into the games business is actually figure out what it is you want to do, whether it’s art, or design or programming and take the courses to do that. So get the training, but also do it yourself. Have fun, have a passion for it and practice outside of the formal training, and if you do those two things you’ll be in a tremendous position.

Thanks both of you for your time.

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