BioWare is a studio worryingly beholden to its audience and their expectations. It’s getting worse according to Dragon Age writer David Gaider.
Gaider took to his blog this week to discuss BioWare’s “increasingly toxic” forums at the BioWare Social Network. The writer used to willingly engage with the studio’s players posting in the forums, but has come to avoid it more and more due to the entitled and hostile attitude of posters.
“Spending too much there starts to make me feel negative—not just about the games we make, but about myself and life in general,” explains Gaider, “You can, in fact, meet and talk to some very keen and intelligent posters… Yet the signal-to-noise ratio does seem to be worsening, and eventually you get the feeling like you’re at one of those parties where all anyone is doing is bitching.”
“The only other option is to simply avoid all online interaction with fans at all of make any such completely benign and PR-oriented, which would be unfortunate—and not, I suspect, when even the angry fan would want.”
It’s true that once an artist releases their work into the world, it’s no longer theirs. The audience, crueler than it’s ever been thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, can and will savage anything they consume. It’s natural. What’s problematic with BioWare’s relationship with its audience is that it’s changing the studio’s creative process. Worse still, BioWare’s controlling publisher is encouraging the change.
Under the stewardship of Electronic Arts, BioWare has become as very different network of studios. What began as a company devoted to creating deeply authorial role-playing games that also reflected the player’s personality through dynamic choices has become a blockbuster machine with a contentious open relationship with its audience. The future of BioWare under its current management is dependent almost entirely on the often-contradictory input of its fans. Mass Effect 3’s new ending content was finished in a hurry and released for free. Star Wars: The Old Republic was completely remodeled as a free-to-play game, and then immediately changed again due to fan grousing. Dragon Age 3: Inquisition, a game still in production, is built almost entirely around fan input.
The dialogue between audience and creator offered by the Internet is not guaranteed to be a positive factor. If BioWare can’t ignore the vocal, immature minority of its audience in the creation of its games, maybe it would be best for creators like Gaider to stop engaging the audience at all.