'Amazing honour': Edmonton BioWare founders receive Order of Canada

Two Edmonton men are receiving one of Canada’s top honours, and any fans of video games will likely know their names.

Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk started the video-game software company in 1995

BioWare founders Ray Muzyka (left) and Greg Zeschuk have been appointed to the Order of Canada. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

Two Edmonton men are receiving one of Canada's top honours and any fans of video games will likely know their names.

Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, co-founders of the internationally successful video-game software company BioWare, are among the 103 Canadians appointed this year to the Order of Canada.

The recipients were announced Thursday by the office of Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette.

Zeschuk didn't believe it at first when he got the call.

"It was shocking," he told CBC News. "We just try to do great stuff and try and help people and try and work with great people and build things, and to be recognized for that is really an amazing honour."

These days, Zeschuk owns the Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company and the Biera gastropub in Edmonton's Ritchie neighbourhood. Muzyka mentors entrepreneurs in information technology, health-tech and medical innovation industries through his company ThresholdImpact.

'We did it here in Edmonton'

Back in 1995, the pair were in medical school together at the University of Alberta before they founded BioWare with fellow student Augustine Yip.

The video game company eventually expanded to eight global offices and 1,500 employees. In 2007, BioWare was sold to Electronic Arts, a global interactive entertainment publisher.

Muzyka and Zeschuk believe they were chosen for the Order of Canada because of Bioware's international success, but also because the headquarters remain in Edmonton.

"We did it here in Edmonton," Zeschuk said.  "We didn't start it and go off somewhere else."

Muzyka is proud of how they hired local people but also attracted talent to Alberta.

"As an industry, video games in Alberta wouldn't be here without BioWare as a foundation."

Ray Muzyka now mentors entrepreneurs through his company ThresholdImpact. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

Muzyka gives credit to BioWare employees, whom he described as collaborative and passionate team players.

"They made every day a joy just to come to work," he said.

The former emergency room physician also has an MBA — and a good dose of humility.

"That's always been something I think both of us have felt — surround ourselves with people who are smarter than us and passionate and bright, just sparks that you can learn from and grow with.

"We always tried to treat everybody we worked with with great respect."

In a news release, the Governor General's office said Muzyka is receiving the order "for his revolutionary contributions to the video game industry as a developer and co-founder of an internationally renowned studio."

The same description was provided for Zeschuk, but the now-brewery owner believes he and his former partner are also being recognized for their contributions to the community.

"It's not just what we did at BioWare, it's what we continue to do to try to make everything around us better," he said.

"I think that's a key part of it, how we do it and how our philosophy around making a business and building businesses and working with people, building people up."

Zeschuk holds charity events at his Blind Enthusiasm brew pub and is involved in fundraising efforts. He's also on a number of private, public and not-for-profit boards.

Greg Zeschuk, owner of Blind Enthusiasm and Biera in Ritchie, pours one of his craft beers. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

Muzyka is a founding chair of the University of Alberta's Venture Mentoring Service and chair of the Alberta Research and Innovation Advisory Committee.

The two met during their undergraduate studies at University of Alberta and during their final years of medical school began developing software. They created two stand-alone products in 1991-92 for medical study: an acid-base physiology simulator and gastroenterology patient simulator, a springboard for what was to come.

The Order of Canada was created in 1967 to recognize Canadians who make innovative and compassionate contributions to society.

This year's 103 recognitions include two companions, 15 officers and 86 members. Muzyka and Zeschuk are members.

Beckie Scott from Calgary, a three-time Olympian who retired in 2006 as Canada's most decorated cross-country ski racer, is also receiving the Order of Canada this year.