BioWare is mainly known for large, sprawling RPGs with unique characters and worldbuilding. However, it’s also recently garnered a reputation for troubled labor conditions. Anthem, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Mass Effect Andromeda were made under immense amounts of crunch hours. All of that hard work was supposed to be justified by “BioWare magic,” a term that BioWare developers used to describe how their games would find cohesion in the final development hours.
But the former executive producer of Dragon Age, Mark Darrah, wants people to stop using the term. Yesterday, Darrah posted a YouTube video about how the so-called “BioWare magic” really worked. According to Darrah, it referred to a hockey stick graph where most of the progress is nearly unnoticeable. It’s nearly flat, and “if you draw that line out, then your game is shipping in like 30 years.” At a certain point, the developers hit a “pivotal point” when the game would finally shape up and a lot of progress would be made in a short amount of time. According to the developer, that tipping point is what is known as“BioWare magic.”
BioWare magic is shit process. It’s putting a name on saying: Don’t worry. Don’t freak out because we know that at a future date, it’s all gonna get faster. It’s all gonna work out. But the reality is that the ‘working out’ is where the crunch comes from. It’s where delayed games come from.
The hockey stick approach might explain why we haven’t seen any gameplay video from Dragon Age 4 or any specifics on the next Mass Effect game. Darrah specifically called out current BioWare developers to stop invoking BioWare magic. He emphasized that bad development processes weren’t inevitable or necessary.
“If anyone listening to this works for BioWare, don’t use BioWare magic to refer to this,” Darrah said. “Because this isn’t BioWare magic. This is bad process.”
The former Dragon Age lead writer also weighed in on “BioWare magic” on Twitter. According to David Gaider, developers would sound the alarm early about their progress, only to be forced to crunch later. While developers decried the brutal process of heavy crunch at the end of projects, they were forced to adapt “BioWare magic” on future projects because their games were ultimately commercial successes.
Darrah didn’t think that mismanagement was exclusive to BioWare either. He specifically named the Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher studio, CD Projekt Red, for abiding by similar practices. Kotaku was not able to obtain a comment from Darrah at the time of publication.
“It might sound like I’m picking on BioWare right now...because that’s the studio that I have experience with...but the reality is that this is how it works at a lot of studios. This is what CD Projeckt looks like. This is what a ton of games look like. Because they are having difficulty generating completion urgency early on in the process.”
Correction: 1/19/2022, 1:11 p.m. E.T.: This headline was updated to accurately reflect Mark Durrah’s quotes.