At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Jason Schreier and I sat down with Aaryn Flynn, formerly of BioWare, to talk about his time working under EA on games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Anthem.
Among other things we discussed the cultural shift when EA bought BioWare, leaving a studio after spending most of your career there, and the weather in Edmonton. Listen here:
Download an MP3 here. Below is a lightly edited transcript of a couple parts of our chat.
Jason Schreier: Do you think that, you also have to deal with this cultural clash, I’m sure you guys experienced this: BioWare being this independent studio in Canada, does RPGs, does your own thing, [BioWare founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk] leading the charge, and then suddenly you’re part of this big corporation. What is that shift like?
Aaryn Flynn: Well, I think the shift is in some ways empowering. Because one of the things that I always felt was tough about being at BioWare when we were independent, talking about Edmonton, is that you feel very isolated when you’re up in Edmonton, at least I did. To be part of a community of developers who can all share and relate to you…
Jason: Yeah, it was you guys, Beamdog, and that’s about it, and Beamdog wasn’t around then…
Flynn: Pretty much, and then there’s a few indie guys trying to scrape together a living. And even Trent [Oster] and Beamdog. I flew down [to GDC] with Trent, actually, was catching up with him. There’s such a shared history there that it’s not so much a new perspective as it is nostalgia and reminiscing.
When you join EA, and you get to be part of that, all of a sudden you’re connected with all of these folks who have this perspective that’s similar to you, they kinda grew up doing the same things, they have their own war stories, they have their own all that. But then they can bring perspective you don’t have. And it feels like, wow, I can just get on a flight and I can fly to Stockholm and spend time at this amazing studio there, or I could go to Guilford UK, and spend some time [there], that’s amazing. And it does take some time to get your head around that. You do have to shift your midset to be, we’re all part of one big unit now. And that should be a good thing, right?
So yeah, I think the best part of it is the empowering part of it. And you know, like they said in Dead Poet’s Society, I told you to drink from the marrow of life, not choke on the bone. Certainly it’s fair to say that you have to manage that and still stay true to what you want to do, and stay true to your own culture. Not just see what other studios are doing and say, well, we should do that there! Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t, there should be a more fulsome conversation about that, really get your head around what that means for yourself.
Jason: It seems like EA has been making some misguided decisions recently. I mean, Star Wars Battlefront II was obviously a debacle last year. I think that was the tip of the iceberg for a lot of people, seeing what happened to Mass Effect: Andromeda, seeing a bunch of other stuff that has happened to EA over the years. I like to take the nuanced perspective and be like, hey, EA is a company that treats a lot of people pretty well. It also does some horrible things, and there are a lot of nuanced things here…
Flynn: (laughs) The nuanced perspective: “horrible things.”
Kirk Hamilton: Horrible, horrible, horrible… (laughs)
Jason: Okay, okay, horrible is a relative term.
Kirk: Atrocities, they commit atrocities.
Flynn: (laughing) Yeah, atrocities.
Jason: EA has committed genocide.
Kirk: Some war crimes.
Jason: EA Has Committed Genocide, that’ll be the headline of this.
Kirk: “EA: Atrocities and Horror.”
Jason: No, but [EA] has also done some things, there’s a lot of money at the top of the company that is not going down, there’s definitely some decisions that seem to be made in the interest of pleasing shareholders rather than pleasing fans. As someone who has been in the trenches with those executives there, what kind of perspective do you get that you think people don’t see, that you think people should know about?
Flynn: I guess the biggest one would just be, don’t think that there are these edicts about anything like that. It’s never a case that it comes own, and it’s like, “thou shalt do this.” It’s quite an open company in my experience. I’ve had the privilege of having conversations with folks in very senior positions about the status of things, and things like that. And again, these are conversations we have, you know, it never goes that way of “thou shalt do this” and “thou shalt do that.” It’s never that. It’s always, “Look, what do we think we can do? This is what we’re trying to achieve, can we do this? Do you think we can?” It’s more that than it is anything else. It’s unfortuante [when] things don’t work out, and that’s tough, and everybody should be held accountable to that, and that’s how it works when you’re in business. But it’s not the case that there’s some power-hungry monster at the top. It’s not that.
You can listen to the rest of the conversation in the full episode. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.
We’ll have a bunch more podcasts coming from GDC, so stay tuned.
Update 6:51PM: Added a bit more to the transcript, with Flynn going into further detail about what it was like transitioning to EA.