Greg Zeschuk: From running BioWare to drinking beer

Jan. 31, 2013 | 2:21 p.m.
'Mass Effect 3' was one of the many hot games released while Greg Zeschuk was at BioWare. (BioWare / Electronic Arts).

“Mass Effect 3″ was one of the many hot games released while Greg Zeschuk was at BioWare. (BioWare / Electronic Arts)

Greg Zeschuk is concerned about the future of consoles. The cofounder of BioWare, the company behind the wildly successful “Mass Effect” series,  just doesn’t think “the world needs another console.”

He said this before Nintendo revealed sales figures for its Wii U, which the company indicated have been slower than the game manufacturer hoped. His concerns, however, are of the more artistic variety.

“Console stuff has become really boring,” he says, adding that it’s indie publishers these days who are doing the “progressive stuff.” “The big guys,” he says, “are doing these really boring same ol’, same ol’ games,” he says, referring, broadly, to action titles and games of the “Call of Duty” ilk.

As far as games he finds “inspiring,” Zeschuk mentions “Spaceteam,” created by former BioWare employee Henry Smith. It’s a mobile game, designed for iOS, and it requires at least two players.

Players must be in the same room, as they’ll need to shout instructions at each other as they try to prolong the inevitable explosion of a ship. It’s fast, simple and not at all similar to the massively complex heavily layered games of BioWare, be it the “Mass Effect” series or its online multiplayer game “Star Wars: The Old Republic.”

Yet when announcing in the fall that he was leaving the company he cofounded in the mid-’90s with Ray Muzyka, Zeschuk wrote that he was losing his passion for games. Zeschuk was in Los Angeles last week to answer some questions. Did his inspiration wane after selling BioWare to Electronic Arts in 2007? Could he have been happy in a more entrepreneurial role with a smaller company?

“I could have simplified,” he says. “Maybe that would have helped. I just felt like I didn’t have any mojo. It’s hard to explain. It had been 20 years, and it had been 20 years of continually striving and struggling. Not in a bad way, but I was tired. I wanted a break.”

And a drink.

Greg Zeschuk at Austin's Jester King Brewery for "The Beer Diaries." (Courtesy of "The Beer Diaries.).

Greg Zeschuk at Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas, for an episode of “The Beer Diaries.” (Andrew Lintz)

Zeschuk has now launched his new project, “The Beer Diaries.” The short-term goal is to use the site to interview those in the craft beer industry and help them to explain their works via short documentaries. Long term, Zeschuk has far loftier ambitions. Think of “The Beer Diaries” as the craft beer equivalent of a casual game, as Zeschuk wants to bridge the gap between everyday beer fans and craft beer fiends.

“The beer sites themselves are kind of daunting for a non-beer person,” he says. “If you show up, ratings are in your face. It’s not about finding a beer you like in your city. I wanted to take it back one level. I looked at things like Wine Spectator, and looked at how well the wine space is represented with content. It’s real. The beer space is way underserved.”

“The Beer Diaries” is the latest in a line of unlikely careers for Zeschuk. The Edmonton, Canada-based beer czar went to the University of Alberta to study medicine, only to end up years later as the head of a 500-person video game company. In 2007, Electronic Arts purchased BioWare, along with another developer, Pandemic, for $860 million.

Zeschuk readily admits that leaving the game industry is easier when you have the resources to do pretty much anything — or nothing — all day, if he so desires.

“That’s unhealthy, right?” he says jokingly. “I would just be drinking beer all day without a purpose.”

So far, Zeschuk has filmed about 20 episodes of “The Beer Diaries” around Austin, Texas, and plans to focus on Colorado next. He says he wants the site to be “scrappy,” but also dreams of having correspondents in other cities reporting on beer news. If his thoughts get ahead of him, it’s partly because he’s used to the scrutiny, attention and breathless fan anticipation that followed his every move running BioWare.

“With BioWare,” he says, “I could burp, and I would get coverage on 10 websites. If I wrote a post on a forum for ‘Star Wars’ — just a state of the game — if 100,000 people didn’t read it that day, it was pretty slow. “

Compare that to when he posted an early clip of “The Beer Diaries.” “I had maybe 200 people,” he says. “Womp-womp.”

For now, however, he’s just enjoying the freedom of being on his own, regardless of who’s noticing.

“This is fun,” he says. “I don’t work for anyone. Me and the team do what we want to do to get our job done. There’s no higher authority messing with it. Sometimes a higher authority can be helpful and can bring greater knowledge. Sometimes it’s just a giant pain in the butt because it generates work.”

– Todd Martens

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