Video Game Industry Interview with Biowares Ric Williams

 
Interview with RIC WILLIAMS of BIOWARE

THE GAME REVIEWS: So, if you could introduce yourself for our readers and let them know who you are and what you do.

RIC: Sure, I’m Ric Williams, Director of Marketing at BioWare, and I’m part of the BioWare family from the marketing perspective. So, it’s a very exciting time for us at BioWare at the moment.

THE GAME REVIEWS: So how did you get to be where you’re at?

RIC: Okay, so I joined the industry in 2002, working for a publisher in the UK by the name of Eidos. I was brought in as the head of marketing for that company, and their big franchise is Tomb Rader. I came in right about the time Angel of Darkness launched. I think the week before I started, they launched Hitman 2. So Hitman was just hitting the consoles at that stage. Two of my favorite franchises of all time… We’ll get into it a bit later, but you’ve got to be passionate about your products to be in this industry, and if you’re not, then you gotta go home, as a lot of people say. It was a great place to start a career in this industry by working with two such high profile products.

THE GAME REVIEWS: What exactly did you do before you were with Eidos? Did you start off in the gaming industry?

RIC: Yeah, so a brief history of my life. I graduated at a University with a Science Degree. I did chemistry and microbiology of all things. Only because at 17, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and then I went into the manufacturing environment. And after awhile, I just thought bugger this.  I didn’t really like manufacturing all that much, so I took an opportunity to go over as a brand manager for a company by the name of National Foods in Australia, which looked after the Yoplait brand. I worked for those guys for about seven years. Then I headed over to the UK in 1999 with the Yoplait franchise, and I started working for a company in the UK called Yoplait Dairy Crest. And so I worked for those guys for about 18 months. Originally, my trip to England was just going to be you know, 12 months backpacking, and then get out of there, but seven years later I was still there. And, I met an Aussie girl while I was over there. You have to travel 11,000 miles to meet your sweetheart, which is quite funny, since we’re from the same country. Then, I worked for a couple of years for Motorola in the UK, looking after consumer marketing for those guys. I became heavily involved when Motorola rebranded to the Hellomoto stuff. So I was involved with the whole campaign behind Hellomoto, and I was involved with the Americans when we launched with Geoffrey  Frost, who was ex-Nike. He come over to the Motorola and really revamped Motorola. He was a great mentor for marketing, and consumer communications. He has a great background, and he really teaches you from a big company perspective. Don’t ever go in half hearted because if you do, that’s when you fail. And it was interesting.

THE GAME REVIEWS: Good words. What type of advice you would you give for someone looking to break into the industry.

RIC: I think from a career perspective as well, if you are ever given an opportunity, grab it with both hands and run with it. Don’t double think it, because you know if you aim for 100% and get 99%, you still pass with flying colors, but if you aim for 50% and get 49% you fail. And that’s kind of been a mantra for my life I suppose. If you can aim for those types of levels with anything that you do, and okay, you fall 1% short, it’s not too bad, but if you aim for halfway and you fail, you’ve got to repeat another year. So, using the college analogy, I really cut my teeth in  fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) from a marketing perspective. Learned my trade there, which taught me good disciplines, which I think has held me in good stead across all the industries that I have been in. When I came into EIDOS, processes and things like that in marketing were non-existent. So,  I was used to a FMCG company, where you’re getting lots of data, you’re analyzing the data, you’re using strategies, you’re creating strategies behind that data and making sure that you’re making good decisions from a marketing perspective. So that background helped a lot with the transition, and that’s leading into the next question, what do I do on a daily basis? I head up the marketing department within BioWare, and we do all aspects of the marketing mix. So we’ve got community guys who look after the community. We have a web team, who maintains the web sites, as well as programming the underlying technology behind a lot of our community stuff. We’ve actually got our own E-Store at BioWare. We’ve also got product managers and the product managers really run their products hand to hand with the PR guys. And so, Matt heads up the PR department with Erik, and we’re actually looking for people as it so happens. We’re looking for a new publicist to help Matt out, because our line of products for 2008/2009 is increasing, which is great for us and exciting. But gee whiz, we’re going to be busy next year. This year, we will start to ramp up the PR. You know, PR from a studio perspective is very, very important. Traditionally for BioWare, it’s a little bit about getting heard before you actually go and get a publishing deal. Now it’s more about making sure the consumer is excited and the retailers are excited. So, we can afford to be a little bit later in the cycle to get out there and show really, really good stuff.  We don’t have to go out as early as we use to, but the good thing is with that is that the studio is very, very good about talking to the media and talking to the retailers.

So our project directors and Ray (Muzyka) and Greg (Zeschuk) are awesome, and they will lead you through the industry. And Casey Hudson, I think, was #10 in the top 100 developers this year, due to Mass Effect. So you know, Matt’s team has done a lot to actually increase the profile of Casey. And, the product guys look after their brands, and they have a lot more input with the studio and the development directors, who run their projects and have a lot of input on the feature list. We do all the research. We run research groups, or we get agencies to help us out to do that, which has a lot of influence over the development process, as it will hopefully help the guys to develop great games for consumers. We also help them narrow down the messaging; making sure that it’s a pretty single minded message if we can. And we help the guys narrow that down, and we make sure that we are communicating, through Matt’s PR and throughout communication devices such as T.V. and radio and everything else we buy, a fairly singular minded message about the product. So using Mass Effect as an example, we basically got down to the tail end to the program, and we were really talking about what it was. It’s the epic Sci-Fi story of good versus evil. And that’s really what it’s all about. So, now with Commander Shepard, being the tip of the spear of humanity on a galactic stage, and all that type of stuff, but at the end of the day it falls down to the simple message of how it’s a Sci-Fi action thriller of good versus evil. So we try to narrow down that message with the development guys because they’re creative. That’s the great thing about this industry from a marketing perspective. You need to be hand in hand with the creative guys in creating your message because it’s such a creative industry. It’s the most exciting industry I’ve been involved with, for sure.

THE GAME REVIEWS: I mean it’s almost like every individual IP that you have is like its own individual business unit.

RIC: Correct, and that’s the way we’re setting our businesses up. The marketing guy helps and jointly owns the profit and loss statement for the IP. Decentralizing marketing to a certain aspect and having product guys at the studios is so important. When we worked at Eidos, it was always painful when you went to the development studio because you were only there for a couple days a month because you’re flying around to all of them. And, you know, putting it harshly, it uses what I saw when I was in National Foods, as the corporate guys flew into the manufacturing plant, and would s*** all over everyone and then leave. I’m sure the development guys were used to seeing that as well. For example, when I was in the UK traveling to Copenhagen, I’m sure they use to fear the marketing guys coming in and saying well Jesus, and what are they going to do to use and what questions are they going to ask. God they’ve stuffed the advertising up, but we’ve got no influence over it. Whereas sitting at the studio, you actually have daily conversations with the guys. And being involved with the QA guys, the IT guys, and the technical guys makes sure that we actually understand the products, because we’re living there on a daily basis. Playing duels on a daily basis. It’s so important toward actually understanding a product, and when I first joined BioWare, which was January last year, you know spending the first three months just trying to understand what the products are and with them being RPGs, they’re fairly complicated beasts. A product manager needs to be part of that, not necessarily the creative influence, but actually understanding it, so he can nail down the message, and then help Matt and the guys to actually get this strategy together. So, it’s hugely exciting, and in between Eidos and BioWare actually, I left the UK  and went back to Australia for 12 months and tried to get a job in the industry in Australia. It was actually interesting to do some door knocking and people just didn’t understand having marketing in the studios, because there is no big publisher base in Australia. So I had to leave the industry in Australia. So I actually went into slot machines for a year.

THE GAME REVIEWS: Wow, that’s a different type of gaming. What was that like?

RIC: Yeah, absolutely. It’s an unbelievable industry. Like when you think about how regulated it is, and how much lack of control you have over the product that you’re doing, which is good cause it all needs to be random and all that sort of stuff. Right. So I was with Ainsworth in 1992. Len Ainsworth actually created the first slot machine back in the 50’s, and he was basically the grandfather of the industry. He started Aristocrat in the 50’s in Australia, and I worked with those guys for a year, but I just couldn’t get my heart into the product and that’s advice for any kid who’s getting into any industry. Make sure that you’re passionate about the product that you’re in and what you’re doing, because first off, it helps you to pull apart a product and put it back together because you’re a consumer of it. And secondly, it helps your career because if you’re excited about something it spills over into your work, and computer video gaming is a hobby for a lot of the guys in the industry. They get excited and therefore, 24/7 gaming is for them. And Matt talked early about Ray and Greg being very excited about their products, and that’s part of the camaraderie of the industry as well. I think it’s one of those industries where different people that you worked with pop up in different places all the time.

THE GAME REVIEWS: What happens to that passion when you are assigned to something that you don’t like? Like what if you’re assigned to a kid’s game that you didn’t like?

Ric: Well I find it hard not to like anything in the industry. I think if you’re passionate about what you do, and if you’re passionate, particularly from a marketing aspect. I think it’s one of those great industries, and that being here for 14 years has not had this aspect for me, being a marketing person, you could go and sell sand to the Egyptians. With games being what they are which is an interactive entertainment type thing, I’ve struggled to think of a game that I wouldn’t like. Just naturally. Yeah. When at Eidos, being a publisher, you see multiple products come through. I’m sure there were times when we allocated a brand manager to a product that didn’t necessarily get in straight away, but I think as a marketing person, you dive into the product and try to pull it apart and put it back together again because you have to do that to get the message in right. And as you go through that process, you start to understand the consumer more if we actually slide into that mind set, and if we do that, we’ll start to get passionate about it because it is an interactive product…

RIC: I honestly think for anyone in the industry, to reinforce what I said before, needs to take any opportunity they can to get in, grab it by both hands, pull it apart, put it back together again, and go. Because you can make the smallest product in the world seem a lot bigger, and that’s the great thing about marketing. If you’re passionate, if you’ve got the ability to go out and speak to people and get up in a forum and talk about  a game or  on demo days just sit there and play the games and talk to the media about the game and seem passionate, that comes across in the coverage, you get as well. If someone is really, really passionate about the worst game on earth, they still get really good coverage and that’s a great thing about the industry as well, because the development guys, they spend their lives building these things. They spend two, three, four, five years of their lives building it, and they are passionate to the nth degree, and you get swept up in it as a marketing guy, which is another great thing about being in the studio. Some people think that you start drinking the Kool-aid, but it’s not that. You just get caught up in the passion about it. And I think that’s one of the other challenges about being a marketing person. The ability to be able to step back and be the voice of reason within the studio and say this isn’t right, or we need to take this in a different direction. You always need to come from a consumer angle, but try and draw that line between too much passion and the right way to take things.

THE GAME REVIEWS: So what is your favorite game of all time?

RIC: Gyruss. I was a big arcade kid, and I probably pumped hundreds of Australian dollars through arcade machines. My mom had a jean shop. I was born in a little place called Broken Hill, it’s about 700 miles west of Sydney out in the bush and right across the street from moms shop was an arcade. My mom hated me going in there because it stunk like cigarettes and alcohol, and the guys that hung around there weren’t all that friendly. But I use to go around and collect all the bottles around the streets, take them to the store, cash it in and get my 20 cents to put in the machines. I moved to Adelaide as a high school kid, and I just remember walking into this arcade and there this machine was: Gyruss. It was just awesome, like being able to spin around in an almost 3 dimensional environment. This guy and I use to get on to this machine, and you would leave your tag on there for you highscore. The guy that use to beat me all the time was called Ace.  So we had this ongoing competition. Rat and Ace were the two guys, and one day I walked in there and this guy was playing and he’s up to 600,000. He’s going through the second universe, and I looked at him and I said you’re Ace aren’t you? He said you’re Rat aren’t you? And it’s just one of those moments where you just…
Like he bombed himself out and the two of us played, and I think it was three hours or something between the two of us just playing. It was just fantastic.

THE GAME REVIEWS: You know I don’t know what you think, but I think the player that logged the most amount of time in any kind of video game in arcades was probably AAA.

RIC: Yeah, AAA. That was my tag in Galaga. I just could not play it, and it was the tabletop Galaga in the corner store where I tapped in my bottles.

THE GAME REVIEWS: So, okay. Final, last question and that is do you have a favorite console? PC?

RIC: I’m a 360 owner. I bought an Elite just last year and wiped out my Xbox live points. So I had to go back and start again, so I’m only up to 1,400 right now from 1,600. But yeah, I’m a 360 fan at the moment. I was a PS2 guy. I didn’t buy an Xbox, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. Sitting in the industry and not actually owning one of the consoles. I will be buying a PS3 this year for Blu Ray, seeing that they have dominated now, and HD. DVD players are useless. So, at the moment it is 360, but when it comes to this, I’m a little bit of a slut, so I play around. And I played Hitman on PC only because that’s the way it was meant to be played. But Hitman2 was definitely designed for PS2.

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