Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk started Bioware in 1995, which in the years since has proven itself to be one of the industry’s most consistent developers of high quality games. Titles such as MDK2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, and Jade Empire are just a few of the games under their belt, and the highly-anticipated Mass Effect looks to continue their quest to create engaging, interactive, narrative experiences.
RAM â?? Dr. Ray Muzyka â?? CEO, BioWare Corp. and Corporate VP, BioWare/Pandemic Studios
GZ â?? Dr. Greg Zeschuk â?? President, BioWare Corp. and Corporate VP, BioWare/Pandemic Studios
What did your mother want you to do as a career? Surely, it couldn’t have been to make professional video games!?
GZ â?? I think our mothers wanted us to be doctors, and in fact we were â?? both of us graduated from medical school in 1992 and we practiced medicine for a number of years before BioWare! Of course the lure of the videogame business was too strong and we ended up being game developers.
What would you say to my mother, to get her off my back and let me make professional video games as a career?
RAM â?? Videogame development has become a viable career; itâ??s very rewarding creating one of the most prevalent forms of entertainment in the world, and you can make a good living at it!
Tell us about your start in the industry. What was your life like when you were younger and hungrier?
GZ â?? Both of us worked our â??day jobsâ? as doctors for the first few years of BioWareâ??s development concurrent with our work at the company; we would work nights and weekends and then funnel most of the money back into BioWare to spend it on the demos we were working on. It was pretty tough for about four years until things started picking up momentum and we were able to retire from medicine. Since then thereâ??s been no looking back.
It’s pretty tough (almost damn impossible) to get hired without industry experience on a resume. Should I lie? It’s the standard Catch-22, need a job to get experience, need experience to get a job. Imagine you are me, caught in the 22 — what the heck would you do?
RAM â?? There are a few ways to stand out as an applicant without industry experience â?? one way is to make your own experience by working on your own demos, mods or projects that you can use to demonstrate your passion and abilities. Mod groups in particular are starting to really catch the attention of professional game developers and are often courted to work with the people that developed the original game.
Also, a number of companies are starting to hire new industry entrants right out of school, with people being hired very commonly right out of new, game-oriented programs as well as from more traditional technical and art routes. At BioWare we certainly hire a number of new grads in all disciplines each year and help them quickly build up their skills so they can contribute to our teams as quickly as possible. However, getting into the industry without experience, demonstrable skills (e.g. a demo) or education is really tough – youâ??ll need at least one of the three at minimum.
People that never went to college in the video games business swear blind that colleges aren’t needed to get a job. Are they for real? Should I burn my books now?
GZ â?? There are a lot of brilliant people in the videogame industry that donâ??t have any formal education or training; weâ??ve got a number of people like that at BioWare but the vast majority of them entered the industry a number of years back. Itâ??s getting harder and harder to get in without education, though if you can clearly demonstrate great skills it is still feasible.
How did you get your big break? did you claw your way out of the testers’ pit? Did you sleep your way to the top? Did you sleep at all?
RAM â?? We just committed ourselves, were lucky to find some great people to work with and we started making games! After starting our own company it was certainly tough going for a number of years but we persevered, were lucky to have great people working with us at BioWare and things worked out. We were very fortunate to have a number of world-class people working with us right from the beginning (interestingly for our first two products, Shattered Steel and Baldurâ??s Gate, none of them had prior experience making games â?? we didnâ??t hire anyone who had ever worked on another game at BioWare until we had been in business for a number of years).
Tell us about the first time you felt star-struck when meeting a leading game developer (and no, we won’t tell Mr. Miyamoto your real name). Do you even realize that some people will get butterflies in their stomach when first meeting you?
GZ â?? Years ago at our first E3 (back when it was in Atlanta) we were major keeners and lined up to get in as early as possible. Shortly after entering we saw the Origin booth and quickly made our way over there. We couldnâ??t believe our eyes when we saw Richard Garriott putting the final touches on the Ultima Online display so we struck up a conversation. We talked for a few minutes (he was very gracious) and we gave him an early vintage BioWare t-shirt (we wonder if heâ??s still got it).
We are huge fans of Ultima so it was a tremendous honor for us. I think we remember that moment (and a few others, such as Ray bowing before Warren Spector, who worked on several of our favorite games such as System Shock and Ultima Underworld) when we talk to the various youngsters we meet at GDC and other events. We use the word â??youngstersâ? appropriately here as weâ??ve now been playing videogames longer than some of the folks at BioWare have been alive. Scary stuff!
Without using terms like “indentured servant” or “voluntary servitude,” please describe your ideal protÃ©gÃ©.
GZ â?? Itâ??s a rare question where we get the opportunity to use the phrase, â??Jones, I like the cut of your jib.â? More seriously, anyone that is a good team player, strong communicator, passionate about making games (particularly good ones), tenacious when trying to solve a problem and talented should be a valued member of any team.
Let’s say I was interviewing with you tomorrow. Short of showing up drunk and naked, what could I say or do to completely ruin my shot? And what could I do to totally win your heart?
RAM â?? A person that shows up with a big ego is someone weâ??d rather not work with. We have two core values at BioWare: quality in our products and quality in our workplace. These two values coexist in a context of humility and integrity â?? humility is a really important attribute as it allows us to continue to advance as a company, making better games and continually improving our workplace. Winning a job at BioWare is pretty simple: be honest, be humble, demonstrate your passion and intelligence, describe the games you play and have clear goals (preferably involving making great games at BioWare!)
Let’s look several years into the future for a moment. Should I even bother learning today’s skills? Surely they’ll have completely changed by the time I get out of college? What kinds of jobs are absolutely ‘rock-solid’, and will undoubtedly still be around 5-10 years from now? And what new jobs do you think might exist that nobody has quite pinned down just yet?
GZ â?? While the exact skills to make a game have changed a lot in the last few years (and they will continue to change) the only way to succeed in the industry on a long-term basis is to continually learn new things. Learn everything you can right now, and get ready to continue learning for your entire career. If you donâ??t, you will become obsolete. This is true for any job in the industry. New jobs are emerging all of the time as we apply new and exciting technologies to building our games. For example at BioWare one of our newer positions is cinematic designer (someone that uses the game design tools and assets to create in-game cinematics). Speculating on new jobs brings up roles such as â??physics designerâ? that is an expert in physics simulation and world interactions. Thereâ??s probably going to be a lot more.
How much stock do you put in the emerging game design programs at universities? Does it matter more to you that an interviewee knows the history of and theory behind The Third-Person Action MMO/Puzzle Platformer Hybrid, or is all about the demo he/she shows up with?
RAM â?? Ideally weâ??d like everyone to have both the theoretical training and the experience as both are really important. The new emerging education programs are already valuable, and seem to be getting better all the time. Weâ??ve hired folks from a number of different game design programs and always been happy with the results.
OK, just imagine three companies make me an offer (a guy has gotta dream!). They’re all kinda low-end jobs, and I need to move 3,000 miles to take any of them. How do I pick the right team? What would you look for?
GZ â?? Weâ??d recommend looking at two things when making your choice on a set of different jobs: based on your interview of the companies, which one seemed like the best fit, and which of the games youâ??d be working on would you be most passionate about? When youâ??re interviewing for a job you really should be â??interviewingâ? the company to understand what theyâ??ll be like to work for; you can also find out all kinds of different things about them on the internet â?? do your research! With regard to the issue of passion, being passionate about what youâ??re working on improves the quality of your work â?? you need to care to really do a great job.
Finally, there are a TON of game development colleges around the world now. Imagine you had to start again, and have all the choices I have — how would you pick? And how would you convince your mother to get out her checkbook
RAM â?? In terms of the first question, Iâ??d suggest looking at the curriculum carefully, and talking to past graduates to find out if they thought the programs were valuable. For the second question, take your mom to the local electronics store and show her the videogame section, or take her to the video store and show her the size of the rental section. Weâ??d even recommend taking her to E3 (if E3 were continuing in the past format), but that might be a bit much. Explaining that games arenâ??t just a small cottage industry is likely critical to winning the argument. The videogame business is big, and is getting bigger, and as we said above, itâ??s incredibly rewarding and you can make a good living doing it!