Mass Effect Developer Shares What It Was Really Like Working Under EA

"It’s not the case that there’s some power-hungry monster at the top," says Aaryn Flynn, former general manager of BioWare.

Aaryn Flynn, former studio general manager and vice president of BioWare, recently spoke with Kotaku regarding what it was like to work under Electronic Arts. 

I think the shift is in some ways empowering,” said Flynn of EA’s acquisition of BioWare. “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…”

Flynn explained that being purchased by Electronic Arts opened up a whole community for BioWare.

“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…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.”

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Naturally, Kotaku wanted to get an inside perspective regarding some of the missteps that EA has made as a company in recent years and whether those missteps affected the design decisions and direction of BioWare on a creative level. So far as that goes, Flynn admits that he doesn’t really see EA as an overwhelming overlord of creative decisions. 

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It’s never a case that it comes [down], and it’s like, ‘thou shalt do this.’ It’s quite an open company in my experience,” said Flynn. “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 unfortunate [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.”

While there will no doubt be people who will dismiss these claims as PR rhetoric, this isn’t the first time that top-level employees in EA companies have stated that the publisher doesn’t really have as much direct influence as people tend to think. The extent of that claim is up for debate, but it feels like there is more going on here than just the presence of an “evil empire.”