BioWare Co-Founder: RPGs Are Becoming "Less Relevant"

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BioWare Co-Founder: RPGs Are Becoming "Less Relevant"

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BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk says RPGs are becoming "less relevant" as a genre to the current state of videogaming.

When you think about RPG studios, one of the first and foremost to spring to mind is very likely BioWare. This is the company that made its bones by bringing back the moribund RPG genre with the 1998 classic Baldur's Gate, after all, and then blew things wide open with follow-ups like Baldur's Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights and, more recently, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. But the times, they are a-changin', and according to Dr. Zeschuk, the nature of the RPG and its relevance to gamers is changing too.

"RPGs are and always have been our bread and butter, our heart is there, but at the same time I think - well, we had the RPG panel breakfast at GDC yesterday - and what was interesting about that was that we had the conversation about 'what is an RPG,' and it's a blend," he told VG247. "The genres are blending right now, you're getting lots and lots of progression and RPG elements in shooters - online persistence and so on."

"It's funny because the RPG in the context of the current world is - well, it's not specifically irrelevant, but it's becoming less relevant in and of itself," he continued. "It's more a function of, 'Hey, this game has a great story.' For us, [it's] having that emotion but also having other great features like combat and persistence of character progression and stuff."

It's not hard to see BioWare's changing attitude reflected in its more recent games, particularly Mass Effect, which is not so much an RPG as it is a conversational shooter. "We're just about great games," Zeschuk added, and RPG or not, the Mass Effect series has most definitely been hot stuff. Mass Effect 3 is currently scheduled for release on March 6 for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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Strange, I would think that the fact that so many games are taking on RPG elements, like leveling, 'character sheet' development, loot, would make RPGs more relevant than ever before.

Well good Bioware, maybe now you can finally send Mass Effect in a consistent direction instead of tugging back and forth between deteriorating (from ME1 to ME2) RPG elements and a third person shooter.

BioWare has gotten so wrapped up in how to appeal to mass audiences that they forgot what makes RPGs good.

There was a time when developers made games that appealed to themselves and anyone else who'd like it. And anyone who didn't like it just wasn't part of the audience. They made games more for themselves.

Now it is just "How to we appeal to <these groups of people>"

It's less about games and more about marketing.

He might have a point. RPG as it stands now is not a very good descriptor, being that the descriptor is incredibly vague. It basically means that "this game has a good story" now, since nearly every game is getting RPG elements, and when every game is an RPG, no game is. I think he might be right. I might even agree with him a little

EDIT: And of course, people are misinterpreting his words to mean something completely different and threatening. *sigh*

I kind of agree with him.
The 'pure' genres just aren't as compelling as they once were.
I wouldn't go so far to say they are becoming 'irrelevant', but those mainstays are actually becoming niche, and the hybrids are becoming the norm. I can't say I'm too sad about that, to be honest. I've still got all my awesome, classic RPGs kicking around, and they are just as fun as ever. But games like Mass Effect come along and give me just enough of a change to keep me riveted.

Not pure RPG, but enough of it to let me know what I'm playing.

I'l willing to bet the 'pure-genres' will come back in a few years, and remind everyone that while these mix-ups can create some truly awesome games, you can deliver just an equally awesome game while keeping your genre focused.

Oh, here we go. The flames cometh.

For the record, I agree with the guy. I would like to see games incorporating the good aspects of any genre they can get their hands on. If it's going to have shooting, then use stuff that works in shooters. If it's going to have RPG elements, use stuff that works in RPGs. If it's going to vehicle section... you get the idea.

You hear a lot of people saying stuff along the lines of, "Game X shouldn't have feature Y because Y is associated with shooters and X is a RPG, not a shooter." That strikes me as a silly position.

Although, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever heard a shooter fan saying, "Oh no! The developers are putting all these horrible RPG elements in my FPS to appeal to the D&D nerds!"

EverythingIncredible:
BioWare has gotten so wrapped up in how to appeal to mass audiences that they forgot what makes RPGs good.

There was a time when developers made games that appealed to themselves and anyone else who'd like it. And anyone who didn't like it just wasn't part of the audience. They made games more for themselves.

Now it is just "How to we appeal to <these groups of people>"

It's less about games and more about marketing.

Hit the nail on the head I think. Don't get me wrong I love Bioware and the original Mass Effect is my favorite game, but it really does seem like in trying to branch out and reach the general audience they've had to make some sacrifices to the traditional RPG format.

It's good for them to be critical and commercial mainstream successes, but it'd be nice to see a return to form for the classic RPGs of yore.
There's a reason Baldur's Gate is still such a fondly remembered series, because it still holds up to this day. So there's definitely a market for RPGs, just not quite as large.

I'd hate to see the genre disappear completely, or be morphed into something beyond recognition.

As a huge fan of J/W RPGs, I can agree that they are becoming less relevent to the majority of gamers but there will always be a niche audience of gamers like me who will thrive on RPGs like mushrooms in a dark room. I love RPGs and it's mainly because the story is the main focus during production as well as strategy in battle. This is why I really like the JRPG genre, even with all the stereotype stock characters they keep using.

You know what the developers need in times like these? A good dose of egoism.
Give the developers the freedom to make whatever THEY want to, not the audience.

It is my belief that a game that is loved by its developer is much more enjoyable than a game solely made to appeal to as many as possible at once.

Sorry Mr Zeschuk, what was that? I could not hear you what with EAs hand up your ass working you like a fucking puppet.

Its okay, Dragon Age was never that good anyway so I do not mind you screwing that up and I lost most my hope for Mass Effect after you stripped out most the story and focused on turning it into a 3rd rate Gears of War.
So yes, I will play ME3 just to finish the trilogy and then you can fade into obscurity where you belong making generic 3rd person shooters and poorly done hack n slash games.

IS that why they're trying so hard to stamp out the RPG parts of Mass Effect?

minus the long-winded cut scenes, of course, because...Well, I don't know why.

mwnrnc:
Strange, I would think that the fact that so many games are taking on RPG elements, like leveling, 'character sheet' development, loot, would make RPGs more relevant than ever before.

They actually talked about RPG elements in other genres. The argument seems to be that the concept of the RPG itself is becoming less substantial.

*Huge Facepalm*

I get what he's saying. I really do. I even agree ... but he really should have worded that statement a bit better.

It's true more and more games are using 'RPG elements' these days, and its true that 'RPG' is beginning to lose is distinction as a completely stand-alone genre these days - but saying that they're becoming less and less relevant is only going to piss people off.

Really what he should have said is that genre distinctions based strictly on gameplay and game mechanics are beginning to blur, and because of that what can and can't be called an RPG these days is becoming increasingly blurry.

Instead he said exactly what everyone whose been hating on BioWare lately need to throw more fuel into the fire.

I'm finding it hard to understand how after Dragon Age: Origins was their best selling game to date, their response is to farm out the exact opposite camp of what made Origins good. Of course old school RPG mechanics have basically become a bit obsolete, but the RPG has never been MORE relevant. If interactivity is the pinnacle of gaming, then role playing is the core genre.

Since the vast majority of my gaming has RPG elements, if not a full blown RPG, then God I hope he is wrong! The main reason I even play (and love) Bioware games is because they're he closest thing to more old-school RPGing. If I'm in the mood for something less old-school, I play Bethesda, which I still consider very much RPGish.

And then there's Diablo... another story for another time.

I see his point, and I agree. "RPG" is such a varied genre, I think in the future there probably won't be genres of video games. There will be stuff like movie, television, or book genres, like Science fiction game, or fantasy game. RPGs are just the first genre to blend into the mix, adding gameplay depth where there once was none is making games a lot more enjoyable.

"Dear customers, please ignore games like Skyrim, Oblivion and World of Warcraft, which make tremendous amounts of money with a classic RPG-Template, we, Bioware just now have summoned the courage that we are all out of ideas for RPGs.

So instead of releasing the same game over and over again, with the same personalities for our "character-driven" games, we will finally do what we wanted to do, ever since Mass Effect one was sooooo boring! We will make FPS! Because that is where the big cash is. They are easier to make too."

Bullshit - RPGs are more relevant than ever! More and more RPGs are being produced and released, and they're hitting No. 1 positions in both all-format and individual format charts.

Sorry Dr Zeschuk, but you don't know what you're talking about.

Honestly... when I think of RPG studios, the first thing that pops up fro me is Square Soft... then I remember a lot of my favorites are from them and not Square-Enix...

But there is room for the new ideas of RPGs, and the conventional sort we grew up with. There is still plenty of room in the industry for games of all types, the only indicator of success is if you take the time to make sure its a GOOD game, and do what you can to get the word about it around.

BreakfastMan:

EDIT: And of course, people are misinterpreting his words to mean something completely different and threatening. *sigh*

You sound surprised. It's become pretty obvious for awhile now that most commenters on the first few pages just read the title of the article then reply.

He's completely right. "RPG" as a genre or a way of describing a game means almost nothing anymore because so many games use various "RPG" elements.

I predict a calm and rational discussion.

Anyway, this is a shame. He certainly has a point, at least when it comes to the rocket fuel popularization of RPG elements and blurring of genre distinctions. What would suck would be if this means BioWare intends to go even further away from the classic RPG model. Are there any tactical party-based WRPG devs left?

It isn't that RPGs are becoming less relevant, it is that every other genre is incorporating traditional RPG elements. Character customization and progression, discreet power sets (classes), quests for reward, epic storyline, multiple choice mission hubs, progression based sequencing, etc etc etc are all par for the course now. Games that DON'T incorporate these elements are considered primitive and boring.

Yahtzee's article was really good at describing the problem the RPG definition. If you look at it EVERY game is a [i]role[i] playing game because the player is executing the role of the game protagonist.

There needs to be checklist of RPG features but that is awkward to talk about.

  1. continuous character progression
    • attacks do more damage later in the game than earlier
  2. character customization affects gameplay
    • I can upgrade my sword to swing 20% faster or hit 2 enemies every swing but not both
  3. player chooses order of missions and exploration
    • I can go to cutsman's level or elecman's level
  4. classes with discreet power sets
    • rogues stealth, wizards shoot fireballs, warriors wear heavy armor
  5. quests with rewards including story progression
    • I clear the rats out of the insane computer and he will tell me which vault my father was looking for
  6. player choices affect story
    • if a player kills the dragon he can make magic armor from its scales, if he spares the dragon it will protect the town from the bandits while the player is away
  7. previously locked areas of the game are available after progression
    • samus can't explore door behind the high ledge until she gets the high jump boots

All of these are "RPG" elements and they all exist in various forms in different games since the beginning.

I don't see much discussion value about the actual statement here. Unless we're going to derail this slightly into a ME3 based thread?

Or am i missing a so glaringly obvious point that must be discussed? The "RPG's Are Less Relevent Lament Thread" perhaps?

To be honest, i find this kinda backwards. Theyre more important then ever.
Especially TEH L00TZ! I think a good inventory management and lots of special drops can only make a game better.
While it can be tedious to shuffle through hundreds of items you pick up, completely removing this like they did in ME2 just kinda removes some of the fun from the game. Its why i thought Borderlands was so good!

"THIS GUN IS F*CKING BEAST!" *10x zoom on a shotgun that holds 1 shell, spreads like a hooker on a date will bill gates, and kicks like a mule that got into a bottle of steroids*

While yes, all the useless loot gets in the way, it makes finding that amazing drop all the better. And nothing says RPG like good loot drops and managing your weaponry.

I agree, but man that was badly worded.

To me, RPG means slow gameplay, lots of text and an inventory you need a GPS to navigate. That is becoming less relevant. Bioware are doing great things by trying to merge the best parts of RPGs - great characters, choice and customisation, with other genres like 3rd person shooters and hack 'n' slashes. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not but I'd rather they kept trying than pumping out the same game every year...

They should split from EA and focus on pushing the boundaries of the medium, not pushing their sales figures to satisfy a company so evil it makes the Reapers look like kittens.

EverythingIncredible:
BioWare has gotten so wrapped up in how to appeal to mass audiences that they forgot what makes RPGs good.

There was a time when developers made games that appealed to themselves and anyone else who'd like it. And anyone who didn't like it just wasn't part of the audience. They made games more for themselves.

Now it is just "How to we appeal to <these groups of people>"

It's less about games and more about marketing.

That's the trajectory of most successful corporate life cycles. Eventually they have to abandon certain of their values and original goals to focus more on increasing shareholder value, especially at the large, rapidly growing ones, or ones that, like Bioware, have recently been purchased by larger companies.

That said, this Greg Zeschuk is not a good PR guy at all, and should be kept from speaking to the gaming press or the fans. Many people already suspected this was Bioware's attitude, so it didn't even need to be said. And it should have been said with more tact. Personally, I don't care, and I actually believe that he should be able to say that without worrying about negative reactions from the fans, but I've been on the internet long enough to know that in the current climate, his statement is PR poison.

Andy Chalk:

"It's funny because the RPG in the context of the current world is - well, it's not specifically irrelevant, but it's becoming less relevant in and of itself," he continued.

It's equally funny how Bioware are becoming less relevant since being ...what's the word?... assimilated by Electronic Arts.

Ah well, let's see how 'action oriented' they make ME3. The race to make Femshep into Samus 2 has already tainted it well.

Dragon Age: Origins was a throwback to their classic RPGs, smashed their own sales expectations, and I'm pretty sure faired better than DA2 (and if it didn't it fucking should have).

So, yeah. This was only 2 years ago, not exactly a long time ago.

They seem to be becoming so obsessed with replicating the success of Mass Effect 1 and 2 (and I compeltely agree with the direction Mass Effect 2 took, because it was right for that particular series) as well as trying to apply to every single person, that they're just losing why people liked them so much in the first place.

Personally I think (and hope) that DA2 was just a slip-up, but this is worrying coming from the studio head.

I am getting really bored of developers thinking they should make their games for everyone. Make the game, and those who do like it will play it, those who don't like it won't.

And don't make games where they're simplified with the sole purpose of gaining a wider audience. I'm no good at Total War (even though I'd like to play them more), so I don't fucking play them. I don't expect the developers to suddenly target me.

If I really had that much desire to play I'd fucking get up and put the onus on myself to learn, and not the expense of existing fans.

Read as "RPGs don't make as much money."

McMullen:

EverythingIncredible:
BioWare has gotten so wrapped up in how to appeal to mass audiences that they forgot what makes RPGs good.

There was a time when developers made games that appealed to themselves and anyone else who'd like it. And anyone who didn't like it just wasn't part of the audience. They made games more for themselves.

Now it is just "How to we appeal to <these groups of people>"

It's less about games and more about marketing.

That's the trajectory of most successful corporate life cycles. Eventually they have to abandon certain of their values and original goals to focus more on increasing shareholder value, especially at the large, rapidly growing ones, or ones that, like Bioware, have recently been purchased by larger companies.

That said, this Greg Zeschuk is not a good PR guy at all, and should be kept from speaking to the gaming press or the fans. Many people already suspected this was Bioware's attitude, so it didn't even need to be said. And it should have been said with more tact. Personally, I don't care, and I actually believe that he should be able to say that without worrying about negative reactions from the fans, but I've been on the internet long enough to know that in the current climate, his statement is PR poison.

But this is the attitude that leaves great niche games in the dust.

Odlus:

BreakfastMan:

EDIT: And of course, people are misinterpreting his words to mean something completely different and threatening. *sigh*

You sound surprised. It's become pretty obvious for awhile now that most commenters on the first few pages just read the title of the article then reply.

I know, I know. I had just hoped that we could approach this calm and rationally, for once. It looks like I was probably wrong.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am getting the smeg out of here before I sucked, kicking and screaming, into the fast approaching flame war.

Is this his way of telling us that the next Dragon Age is going to be an FPS?

I agree with many here, I see what he is saying. Many games are including RPG elements. Granted that does not mean that the story is well thought out or makes sense. Which is very annoying when you are a story based person. My D&D group continued a campaign after a 2 year break because the story line was so intense and engaging.

I look at the term "less relevant" as a Freudian slip. A very bad Freudian slip that may come back and bite him in the rear. We shall see.

Wow, I'm sure nobody is going to hijack this sensible and even-handed comment for the sake of their unthinking backlash...

It really feels as if he is saying "we like making shooters now, they are easier, so, every one must like shooters"

Honestly RPGs are not just about the story. Certainly it is a defining part of them, but the defining part is the char development (be it in story or out) and combat strategy of which Bioware has seemingly forgotten about.

I think if anything its not that RPGs are becoming irrelevant nearly as much as they are becoming so much more of an undertaking to make and as such developers dont want to take the time and effort to build a true RPG, so they interchange easier hybrid elements and call it a day. In essence they are becoming extinct

The funny thing is, people lambaste FFXIII for basically being more interactive film than actual game, when Mass effect is just as bad but in a different way. However, thankfully there are still some developers willing to put forth the effort to make an RPG Not the least of which is CDprojekt.

TL;DR Its more to the effect that true RPGs are not being made because they are too much for developers to make and the market has desired RPGs that its getting content with RPG elements rather than a true RPG as they almost not made any more.

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