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GameChangers: BioWare’s dedication to role-playing video games key to its worldwide success

WATCH ABOVE: Shaye Ganam profiles the incredible impact of BioWare.

GameChangers is a monthly series by Global Edmonton’s Shaye Ganam about people, projects or businesses that have changed the face of the city. If you have a suggestion for the series, or feedback for Shaye, please email.

EDMONTON — Pick something to be best at.

That’s the approach that took Edmonton’s BioWare from a basement operation to a multi-national corporation making the best role-playing video games in the world.

The studio’s next title, Dragon Age: The Inquisition, will hit stores this holiday season. The third installment of the wildly popular Dragon Age series made a huge splash at this summer’s E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, where it was named role-playing game of the show.

WATCH: Trailer for BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition

It was the ninth time BioWare has picked up the award in the 17 years it’s been offered, says general manager Aaryn Flynn, and proof of the company’s laser-focus on excellence in the role-playing genre.

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“You have to prioritize,” he says. “With creative people, you get interested in new things and you want to go try these things…. But when it comes to ensuring the studio has long-term sustainability, you have to decide who you’re going to make games for, and where you’re going to be the best.”

BioWare was started by three local doctors in a basement 20 years ago.

“It was a little bit of lightning in a bottle,” Flynn says. “Some very passionate people who loved games and loved working on this. They had enormous amounts of energy and support and ideas. Their ambition and courage was off the charts.”

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Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds, producing one hit game after another. In 2007, BioWare was purchased by the video game giant Electronic Arts, but insisted on retaining its own identity. There are now BioWare studios in Montreal and Austin, Texas, but the company’s roots remain here.

“When you look at the level of talent here in Edmonton, the dynamism of the studio here and what they’re able to accomplish, especially now that they’re plugged in to the larger Electronic Arts network, which gives them access to technology, specific resources, and talent, Edmonton’s here to stay, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Bioware general manager Aaryn Flynn.
Bioware general manager Aaryn Flynn. Global News
Employee working on artwork at BioWare's Edmonton office.
Employee working on artwork at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
Employee working on artwork at BioWare's Edmonton office.
Employee working on artwork at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
Employee working at BioWare's Edmonton office.
Employee working at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
Employee working at BioWare's Edmonton office.
Employee working at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
Employee working on audio at BioWare's Edmonton office.
Employee working on audio at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
BioWare's Edmonton office.
BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
Employees at BioWare's Edmonton office.
Employees at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
A break room at BioWare's Edmonton office.
A break room at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
Employees playing games in the break room at BioWare's Edmonton office.
Employees playing games in the break room at BioWare's Edmonton office. Global News
Some of the many awards BioWare has won over the years.
Some of the many awards BioWare has won over the years. Global News
"Best Original Music"  Canadian Videogame Award.
"Best Original Music" Canadian Videogame Award. Global News
Some of the many awards BioWare has won over the years.
Some of the many awards BioWare has won over the years. Global News
Best of E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) awards granted to BioWare.
Best of E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) awards granted to BioWare. Global News

BioWare’s reputation for stellar role-playing games helped the company forge partnerships with giants like Microsoft and the Lucasfilms Star Wars franchise. In turn, that has helped attract top programmers to Edmonton, people from Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, South America and elsewhere.

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“That’s the coolest thing. To think that somebody moved all the way from Brazil to make computer games here in Edmonton — and there’s dozens of people here in the studio — it’s great.”

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Recruiting international talent isn’t the easiest way to staff the studio, and BioWare is committed to developing programmers here at home, teaming up with the University of Alberta’s computer sciences department.

BioWare is involved in “everything from the inception of the course to the writing of the syllabus,” Flynn says. “We send developers to the course almost every second weekend. We participate with the professor to educate the students, and help the students through the course.”

The video-game industry changes with shocking speed, and new frontiers emerge everyday, he adds.

“We’re really interested in virtual reality…. We’re looking at how we can connect those things and just make the best possible experience for players.”