Elevation Partners, a huge investment company that counts notables such as Bono among its financiers, bought BioWare and Pandemic Studios two years ago. BioWare Pandemic, as it became known, sold Elevation Partners on the idea that these two independent development houses would be able to take on the publishers and dictate terms like id Software, or to a lesser extent Epic Studios can.
A key figure at Elevation Partners was John Riccitiello, a former Electronic Arts COO who left to co-found the investment giant, and quickly spearheaded the acquisition of the aforementioned BioWare-Pandemic. Earlier this year, John returned to EA as a CEO. What has apparently been brewing since then is his desire to acquire BioWare-Pandemic for the world’s largest game publisher. Today, after weeks or even months of negotiation, the deal was announced.
At 2PM mountain time, the staff of BioWare in Edmonton, Canada, and Austin, Texas, were summoned for a company meeting. The staff, viewing each other on video conference screens, were told that as this meeting was going on an announcement was being made of the sale of BioWare-Pandemic to Electronic Arts. Elevation Partners, which had bought into the vision of a super developer dictating terms to publishers, saw John Riccitiello drive up with a dump truck of money – three quarters of a billion dollars, most of it in cash – right up to their doors. While there was an opportunity for a potentially glorious if uncertain future as owners of a giant independent game studio, Elevation Partners saw the bird in hand and decided to enjoy the almost 100% return on investment over two years, depreciation of the American dollar notwithstanding.
The meeting continued, with most consequences, the reasoning behind the buyout and the positives being spelled out for the BioWare staff as they remained mostly silent and attentive. Employees of independent game developers don’t work at independent game developers because they like conglomerates like Electronic Arts. This is doubly true in the case of BioWare Austin, where at least a third of the staff is ex-EA. The average gamer, if he could sit down with the average game industry employee, would be surprised to see how much similarity of opinion there is about certain game publishers and their practices.
The company line is no doubt something like “BioWare is thrilled at the opportunity to work with the world’s leading game developer. We have been looking forward to blah blah blah”. A dose of reality can be found by hanging out the BioWare offices and overhearing some honest and refreshing opinions. While this precludes me from naming names, I do live in Edmonton and if there’s one thing I know, it’s where the BioWare offices are.