Bioware's keynote speech at Develop surprised me. The talk, given by Dr Greg (Dr Ray was supposed to appear, but he's made it to day 5 of the World Poker Tour), focussed on how Bioware don't take any chances with their development culture. For a company that makes games built on dice rolls, it was a bit of a shock.
It was a fairly unspecific talk, but an interesting one to hear. The secrets of Bioware's success aren't really secrets at all: they treat their employees as human beings, and built Bioware to reap the rewards of a decent, communicative working environment.
You don't get to be the size of Bioware, you don't sell over 25 million games, without a plan. The most important element is a consistent culture for their employees: “gather a group of talented individuals engage them in a worthy project, support them achieving collective goals, don't compromise long term for short term gain.”
They essentially designed their company, but it's not been easy: “Culture is elusive, fragile and difficult to manage. Do something inconsistent or wrong is pretty damaging.”
So they listen to their employees, talking to people at different times of employment, people in their 1st year have different pressures and needs than people in their 2nd year. The games and developers are matched (Bioware put Star Wars up on a board, everyone wanted to work on it), and it's all underpinned by a management team who look to support their team.
The results? Baldur's Gate, NeverWinter Nights, Mass Effect and Dragon Age...