Dragon Age lead designer Mike Laidlaw leaves BioWare

BioWare veteran Mike Laidlaw has parted ways with that RPG rabble after 14 years. He was co-lead writer on Jade Empire, a lead designer on the first two Dragon Ages and the creative director of Inquisition, and did a little design on Mass Effect. Laidlaw announced his departure last night with a tweeted statement. He doesn’t explain why he’s away but I suppose it’s not our business. What’s next? Well, for starters, a lot of Twitch and Twitter.

As Laidlaw’s statement came as an image, I’ll helpfully reproduce it in text form:

Hey Everyone,
It’s with a mix of emotions that I’m announcing my time with BioWare has ended. After 14 years and a chance to work on Jade Empire, Mass Effect and all things Dragon age it’s time for me to move on.

In my time at BioWare I have been lucky to work with some of the most talented and hardworking people in the industry. It’s been an honor to be a part of the Dragon Age team, and I have every confidence that the world we’ve created together is in good hands and I’m excited for the road ahead.

For the near future, I plan to spend my time reconnecting with all the amazing games and worlds that my peers have created, and I look forward to sharing those experiences with you all on Twitch and Twitter.

To everyone who’s taken the time to share feedback and experiences, your amazing cosplays and artistic creations: thank you. You’ve made my time “in Thedas” amazing. Your passion inspires me and I look forward to our next adventure together.

Ma serannas.

-Mike

His Twitch channel is over here, by the way.

Several veteran BioWarians have left recently-ish. BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn, who had been with the studio for seventeen years, left earlier this year. Dragon Age series lead writer David Gaider left in 2016 after his own seventeen years. I cannot imagine ever working at the same place for seventeen years. Seventeen years!

56 Comments

  1. Person of Interest says:

    Truly, the status of Twitch Streamer is the nirvana that all game designers strive to reach.

    • Fry says:

      Yeah, doesn’t seem like much of a life plan for someone with his employment history. Probably fair to say he was either asked to leave or decided to leave rather suddenly.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        Why? The guy worked at Bioware for 14 years. That’s 14 years of making game content, not necessarily enjoying it. It’s also 14 years of staged communication and disconnection with your audience.

        By streaming he gets to play games and connect with his audience on a more personal level. That sounds like a good life choice.

      • Premium User Badge

        particlese says:

        And regardless of the stuff which is fully his business*, it’s also a great way for an otherwise busy game designer to get a proper, potentially broad feel for what else is out there from other game designers, and maybe to be inspired by it. R&R and/or a sabbatical, perhaps.

        And not a bad way to pass any time claimed by lingering non-competition clauses, at the very least. :)

        *Hats off to Alice for pointing out what no one ever seems to with these things.

    • Menshai2013 says:

      I read that part of his post as “I’m taking some time off (as I have the freedom and resources to do so!)” Isn’t that the nirvana we all strive for?!?

      • Ghostwise says:

        Any time any person leaves any position, a certain kind of people will make all sorts of sordid and petty assumptions about it.

    • Scelous says:

      You say that, but there are Twitch streamers who make more than Laidlaw did. I mean, CohhCarnage probably makes $500,000+ a year. That would be a move up from lead game designer.

      Really though, I didn’t see anywhere that his new career choice was Twitch streamer. He may stream some games he plays, but I don’t automatically assume that that’s his next professional move.

    • LagTheKiller says:

      Id say if somone like Larian or CDP:Red took him and redeem him from Andromeda and Inquisition he would dump Twitch without hestitaion.

  2. Carra says:

    I miss the old Bioware turn based combat. In the last Mass Effect game, it felt like my companions were utterly useless. In the older games each companion had an equal contribution to a fight.

    Ah, I’ll just play some Divinity 2. That game is a much better RPG than Mass Effect Andromeda.

    • ramshackabooba says:

      I’m with you, in the last Mass Effect I called the companions “particle effect generators” as that’s pretty much what they were good for.

    • Fry says:

      You mean real time with pause? Bioware games have never had turn based combat.

    • Asurmen says:

      I found them rather useful in ME2 and 3.

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        Ninja Dodo says:

        They worked really well in ME1-3 (as long you used pause and actively used the positioning and abilities) but it’s true they’re a lot less effective in Andromeda.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Honestly even an average RPG would be better than Andromeda.
      I thought all those haters exaggerate as usual then I bought it, oh boy. Unfinished on every level and boring on top.
      Really a reason to leave this junk traders, professional honor as a game dev to be seen around with the “it’s whom, and your goddamn father – my face is tired” -crowd.

    • mactier says:

      Bioware never had turn-based combat. They invented the magic of the pause button in real-time. Yes, but their more classical battle was excellent (and their attempts to introduce action usually were neither here nor there – the whole Dragon Age series is a pure experiment in this). By the way, Divinity 2 is boring, in the combat even… (X-Com would be a better example.)

  3. Meat Circus says:

    In order to leave Bioware, Bioware would have to exist.

    There’s a shrivelled husk, drained of all vitality, talent and worth by EA that has the name of Bioware.

    But don’t be fooled.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      Don’t be an ass.

      • Meat Circus says:

        Ooh, guys have we got an EA apologist here?

        FETCH MY SHENANIGANS STICK

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          *Eyes roll out of skull.* It must be real difficult for you to process the idea that choosing to not dump on game developers does not mean you agree with everything they or their employers do. Posting hurdur “no talent studio sucks” comments under a news article about a dev leaving a company is a shitty thing a shitty person does.

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          Yeah, we can’t just let these monsters get away with making video games we don’t like. The stakes are too high.

      • Halk says:

        Meat Circus has a point. And you are resorting to name calling (twice) and reading too much into MC’s comment. Maybe cool it yeah?

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          I’m not sure telling someone to not behave poorly constitutes name calling, but I’ll concede the second one. I just happen to be extremely allergic to that particular brand of bullshit.

          • Tigris says:

            If you are allergic to truth maybe keep reading EAs press conferences instead of reading random stuff on the internet?

            “BioWare” or any studio is a sum of its people. The “BioWare” people are no longer part of BioWare.
            This is no sports team, where you don’t care about the people as long as they play under your sport teams name.

            It is quite disrespectful for the original BioWare people (who made it what it was) to still call what is left BioWare.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            I’m allergic to types who call anyone who doesn’t agree with their shitty opinions an ‘apologist’.

            And there’s just as much old Bioware as there is new. People have left and other have stayed, and new people have come in. I personally don’t know or care about Baldur’s Gate era Bioware (so your mileage may vary), but I do care about Mass Effect and plenty of people who worked on ME1 are still there or have since returned (and many new faces have made contributions to the series I very much enjoyed).

            Incidentally, it may be worth considering the possibility that this type of inflammatory “eff Bioware, Bioware is dead!” spiel so many of you are fond of posting may be exactly the reason why many devs have chosen to leave and do something else. I remember one of the doctors giving a rather telling pained “yeah-those-fans” expression when talking about how much they appreciate all the feedback in one of their last GDC appearances.

          • RichUncleSkeleton says:

            Incidentally, it may be worth considering the possibility that this type of inflammatory “eff Bioware, Bioware is dead!” spiel so many of you are fond of posting may be exactly the reason why many devs have chosen to leave and do something else.

            The internet people are getting mean. Time to pack it in and retire to a calm, peaceful existence as a… twitch streamer. Seems legit.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            @RichUncleSkeleton: I said “many devs”, not “this dev in particular”.

        • Menshai2013 says:

          “There’s a shrivelled husk, drained of all vitality, talent and worth”
          Pretty sure that Meat Circus started the name calling and didn’t just direct it at one person, but an entire studio. And the fact that, when challenged on this, Meat Circus immediately went for the ‘must be an EA apologist’ line really says it all. Its a shame that in this era, challenging people to treat others respectively results in being implied to be a shill.
          Ultimately, Meat Circus *doesn’t* have a point – they have an opinion. One that others don’t necessarily share. Nothing wrong with being on either side of that line, so long as you do so respectfully and respect other peoples right to share a different opinion from you, which Meat Circus apparently doesn’t…

          • Nick says:

            I mean, he has a point backed by decades of evidence and fact. Just look into every decent studio EA bought and what became of the quality of their games and then the studio themselves. The absolute bellends even had the nerve to call their steamalike Origin.

      • jellydonut says:

        What he says is objectively true, your name-calling is not going to change that.

        • Menshai2013 says:

          I assume that, given its an objective truth, you have sufficient proof to verify the validity of the statement? A peer reviewed journal paper will do just fine.

          Otherwise, its subjective, pure and simple.

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          I’m as fond of hyperbole as the next person but you have to be pretty off-the-charts arrogant to declare that your *opinion* is objective truth.

          Even if you don’t like the overall end result – and you could certainly make a valid argument the leadership behind some of these games was lacking – there is clearly still a lot of talent involved in making them and anyone with eyes and the slightest understanding of what it takes to make a game would be able to recognize that.

          Even if you say that *as complete works* all recent Bioware games were failures (which I don’t agree with, but that’s an opinion you can have) the amount of craft that has gone into them in visual art, audio and other disciplines is considerable. There are many reasons a game can fail to come together (anything from insurmountable design issues, to lack of time, or yes, poor business decisions) despite consisting of parts that work on their own and that were in fact made by extremely talented individuals doing their best to make something cool.

          Choosing to label them “a shrivelled husk, drained of all vitality, talent and worth” is a shitty thing to do and, when challenged, responding with “ooh an apologist” is shittier still.

          • Tigris says:

            Well Bioware was bought from EA. Most of the original Bioware people are not there anymore.
            So the empty hull and only bioware in name is certainly true.
            The original talent it had, is clearly not there as well, since the people are not there anymore.

            Of course the stuff which is stuffed into this hull (new people) might have some talent as well, but it has pretty much nothing to do with BioWare.

          • Nick says:

            Westwood, Origin, Bullfrog, Maxis, Popcap, DICE (eh, they are the least bad but the shit pushed into their games since aquisition and the trying to be CoD release schedule did no favours to the quality of their titles). It really doesn’t take much more than a simple knowledge of history to see the trend and that Bioware (of which there are no former members left, even the Doctors aren’t part of it as of years ago) was just part of the same shit.

            Look at Dead Space 3 after EA got more involved.

          • Premium User Badge

            Ninja Dodo says:

            @Nick: EA has made many terrible decisions in the past, including as you point out destroying a number of studios that once made great games. Doesn’t mean that trajectory is forever inevitable or that everything EA does must terrible because they’re EA. That whole “EA is the worst company” nonsense *in a world with banks and oil companies* can just fuck off (gamers seriously have no sense of proportion).

            “of which there are no former members left”

            This is factually incorrect, not least because it entirely depends on when you start counting.

            Some examples:

            Casey Hudson, who was the director of Mass Effect 1-3 and KOTOR, plus worked on earlier games in smaller roles… though he left for a while, has returned and is now the leader of Bioware (source: link to rockpapershotgun.com)

            Mac Walters, a writer who worked on Jade Empire and all the Mass Effects, is still there.

            Derek Watts, art director on KOTOR, Jade Empire and Mass Effect is (as far as I can tell) still there.

            You could make a longer list, I’m sure.

            Unless the only thing you care about is Baldur’s Gate (and there are veterans remaining even from those games: link to mobygames.com) there is still plenty of the old guard left at the studio. Even the doctors, though they have now left, were still leading the company when everyone was already crying about Bioware not being Bioware anymore. So at the end of the day it seems your argument just comes down to “they are owned by EA and EA is bad so they must bad”.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        He’s not and why would you defend them anyway as you’re not an employee. Seems pointless to me.

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          The fact that you cannot even imagine someone would defend a studio (or for that matter a publisher) if they are not employed by them illustrates my point perfectly.

  4. Menshai2013 says:

    Whenever I see the words ‘Jade Empire’ in anything, anywhere, there’s just a tiny moment when I pause and hope beyond hope that the number “2” will be the next text to follow.
    Not today…

    • pocketlint60 says:

      Really? Do you REALLY want Jade Empire 2 NOW? Are you prepared to unlock new martial arts from loot crates that you have to pay real money for and wait a month after the launch of your $60 game for it to get patched enough to be playable? Hope you’re excited for the DLC to get cancelled when it sells terribly too.

      • Menshai2013 says:

        I don’t know whats worse: the state of aspects of the Games Industry or the current deep cynicism of the gamers.

        But I guess you’re right. I should probably just throw my desire for a Jade Empire 2 into a deep dark pit from which it and its hope can never return. Maybe I should dive in there myself. Will the hate reach me down there? I hope not…

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          Definitely the cynicism. There are a lot of questionable trends in modern game design and business (though personally I would put achievements and crafting higher than F2P in the top ten worst additions) but even then, in a lot of ways games are better, more varied and more imaginative than they’ve EVER been… I would take this decade of games over past decades any day (and I love me some classic games).

    • Nick says:

      Jade Empire was a neat idea, a neat setting, not a very good game though. It tried something new, which was refreshing at least. It would be nice if there were more RPGs that weren’t trad fantasy or Sci fi.

  5. sonofsanta says:

    BioWare really are BioWare in name only these days, aren’t they? :(

    • Ghostwise says:

      “Classic Bioware” lasted for *TWENTY* years, and that’s assuming that they do not resume doing immersive, characterisation-heavy RPGs at some point in the future.

      So that’s a pretty good run, especially in this business. Though of course nothing’s perfect, I quite enjoyed it.

      • sonofsanta says:

        Oh yes, they managed to do what they did, and improve on it relentlessly, for an astonishingly long time, and they dragged the industry up with them. RPGs are undoubtedly better for their work. And certainly all things must pass, but they’re worth mourning when they do, nonetheless.

  6. Auldman says:

    I’ve enjoyed the Dragon Age series which Mike was heavily involved in. This gives me some cause for doubt on how progress is going on the new game that he is choosing to leave right now. Back to Divinity Original Sin 2, then.

  7. waltC says:

    Re: not being able to imagine working in the same place for 17 years…”A rolling stone gathers no moss”…;)

  8. Ghostwise says:

    Also, I must for once disagree with Alice. My experience with this ogre on max difficulty involves running in circles whilst my companions open up with ranged attacks and I keep the ogre’s attention.

    Which isn’t like editing at all. Though it does resemble community management.

  9. Scelous says:

    I know some people question Bioware’s future, but I actually think this might be a good thing. Mike Laidlaw has always seemed like a nice guy, passionate about what he does, but he also seemed responsible for a lot of the dumbing down in Bioware games. I played Jade Empire when it first came out, and I thought it was OK, but the reduction in number of companions you can have in your party at once and simplification of equipment was something I wasn’t too keen on.

    And then Dragon Age 2, which I happened to like, but the flaws are well-discussed and well-known. And then Dragon Age Inquisition felt like an MMORPG, and it seemed Bioware used that exact same design philosophy for Mass Effect Andromeda.

    I’m sure Mike’s a great guy, but I felt like his game design decisions were a detriment to Bioware.

    • Hoot says:

      You are 100% correct, matey. He was easily more detrimental to the games he worked on than he was beneficial.

  10. Freud says:

    I’m not a fan of where Bioware has been heading the last five years. Games filled with busywork and no soul or heart.

    That said, Dragon Age: Origins was THE game that started the RPG renaissance and we are all richer for it.

    • Captain Yesterday says:

      Personally, I think the Renaissance started with Fallout (the first rpg designed to be played through completion more than once) and Baldur’s Gate (first party-based rpg in which your party members had personalities).

      I tend to think of Origins as being slightly over-rated.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I learned to hate Dragon Age: Origins, because of its grindy combat and other things (music, plot choices/outcomes) that were just lacking. Loved the voice acting and plethora of dialogue choices, but it was a huge letdown in all other areas. Then I played Mass Effect 1 and the KotOR-level fun I was expecting returned.

      It’s debatable how large impact famous names really makes on how games turn out, but I can’t see anything good with him leaving Bioware. They’ve been losing people and reputation for a long time it seems. There are others who do RPG’s better now.

    • mactier says:

      I think The Witcher 1 started the RPG “renaissance”. I regarded it only as a filler to the highly anticipated Dragon Age 1, which by the way no-one gave a damn about until about three months or so before release. I thought The Witcher 1 was going to be the small game, DA the big, complex “epic” that was going to take classical RPGs to the next level. As it turned out, The Witcher 1 was the game with real depth, atmosphere and good quest design, Dragon Age 1 was a mediocre title all-around, a generic 3D translation of the old model, with equally generic story and lame, immersion-breaking writing, diluted gameplay that was neither fully tactical nor satisfying in its “modern” action-aspecty, and a pale reflection of the goals (partly indicated by the ultimately almost meaningless “Origins”-subtitle, which now merely stands for “Part 1” of the series).

      It was in its own way often even uglier than the notorious The Witcher 1, due to a deliberately minimalistic colour-scheme and uninspired environments (still experimtented with in the somehow also ugly DA:I)

  11. parsley says:

    Oh geez, 14 years and 17 years? I can’t imagine. Best wishes for him, though…I’ve only played the Dragon Age series, but I loved it. Ma serannas. And best of luck to Bioware. With all of the changes in personnel, the only guarantee is that their work will be changing dramatically in future.

  12. Xzi says:

    So, basically rip in peace Bioware? I suppose they deserve to move along after so much time. Will be missed, especially when EA props up the corpse for a few more ‘meh’ games.