Electronic Arts is a money-printing machine, and they print their money on the dried-out corpses of every beloved developer that they trick into entering their pulping device disguised as a games studio (or so the rumor goes). Now, the future seems pretty clear: EA is going to ruin Dragon Age 4 and kill BioWare.
Obvious signs of trouble for the studio came when the lead producer of Anthem - BioWare's latest and worst-reviewed game - left BioWare for a different game studio that has not yet been named. Just a few days later, Fernando Melo, the lead producer for Dragon Age 4, also left the company.
Melo said that he wanted to "take some time to disconnect and explore a couple ideas for next chapter in [his] career." The need to disconnect after working at BioWare is hardly surprising, since the atmosphere there has reportedly been a depressing, anxiety-inducing mess.
BioWare has promised to improve conditions at the studio, but they also promised that the ending to Mass Effect 3 would be changed by the choices players made throughout the series, and we all know how that turned out.
You may notice that so far, all these complaints point to bad management at BioWare, rather than EA, and that is true. Bioware has made many missteps that could have been avoided. However, when you take a step back and look at the history of Bioware and EA, it's clear to see one where a formerly-tight and well-organized game studio simply could not keep up with the whims and demands of a larger corporation that has ruined many other studios before.
It's a familiar story, since EA’s tendency to close down beloved game studios in their relentless pursuit of profit is so well-known it has almost reached meme status.
Fans of classic simulator games such as Populus and SimCity know the sting all too well, since both Bullfrog and Maxis, the studios responsible for those classics, were absorbed into EA’s ever-expanding mass, then dissolved after they couldn’t perform well under EA’s banner.
Even Westwood Studios, the developer that almost invented the Real-Time Strategy genre with Dune II, couldn't survive being wrung through the EA money machine. Many of the studio's developers went on to form Petroglyph Games, though they haven't reached anywhere near the success they did with the Command & Conquer series.
DreamWorks Interactive, Pandemic Studios, Visceral Games and many others have fallen under EA's management, and unless things change, it seems likely that BioWare will join them.
At first, BioWare seemed like it was thriving under EA, with a few missteps that could easily be hand-waved away by the fact that no developer is perfect. The first two Mass Effect games blew people's minds, and Dragon Age: Origins flexed the developers' creative muscles by letting players choose from one of six different origin stories (seven, if you include the one in its Awakening expansion), all of which were played out in-game.
Then cracks started to show. Dragon Age 2 took away the extreme customization of its predecessors, leaving fans of the original feeling cold, despite being fairly well-received overall. The game was rushed by EA, and was developed in only 14 to 16 months.
Although Dragon Age: Inquisition seemed like a return to form, but development of the game was a struggle - EA was forcing BioWare to use their in-house Frostbite Engine, which works great of first-person shooters, but lacked many of the key features needed for RPGs - all of these had to be developed in-house, and EA's strict release dates meant the features needed to be developed in a hurry.
Problems with the Frostbite Engine also contributed to a rushed development of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which was famously ridiculed for its numerous bugs upon release. This was further compounded by the fact that EA had made BioWare into three different studios in different locations, meaning that when help was needed, it was difficult to come by.
When the problems surrounding Anthem's development came to light, it's easy to blame the studio, because all of the problems were on the studio level. However, these problems can also be seen as a symptom of a corporate culture that has caused no end of problems for the companies they've bought out over the years.
Not much is known about what's going on behind the scenes of the upcoming Dragon Age 4, but the announcement that it was scrapped in 2017 and then redeveloped from scratch doesn't leave hopeful gamers with a lot of confidence. Maybe BioWare will make something great and continue to live on, but the history of fallen studios that have been left in EA's wake sets a foreboding precedent.