Why Designers Are Going Social, Casual

Why Designers Are Going Social, Casual

I am not sitting in business class on this flight.

Heading home from my first business trip for my new job, I’m struck by a key difference between traveling for my current employer, ngmoco:), and traveling for my former employer, Electronic Arts.

It’s not just that I’m sitting back in coach that has got me thinking. It’s more about how I’ve spent my time on the flight. Sure, I had my favorite airplane cocktail (vodka cranberry, if you must know), but other than that, it’s been night and day from the miles and miles I traveled for EA.

Back in the day, I rarely worked on business trip flights. I thought of flying time as the break between working, doing press tours, and flying to other EA offices for meetings about this or that technology or process. But this flight has been a mix of learning about new game mechanics by playing a few competitors’ games on my iPad and leaning over the seat to give another ngmofo advice about the presentation he is working on for a new game idea. Soon, I’ll need to get back to writing up my notes from the trip so I can hit the ground running tomorrow. If there’s one thing I know about my current job, it’s that if don’t hit the ground running every day, I’m screwed.

I left EA looking for a challenge. And a challenge is what I’ve found. For me, EA was comfortable and after seven years in the same studio (and the majority of that time on one game) it felt, well, almost safe. And I only say almost because it’s hard to feel completely safe in a company that has layoffs with the regularity that EA is known for.

Since I switched companies, at least 100 people have asked me how I’m liking the new job. Turns out that answering that question is just not that simple.

Here’s a broad generalization: People who make games for a living like a good challenge.

Some find them in creating innovative technologies from scratch (as my team at Maxis did with Spore), while others find challenge in creating a new and fresh experience with each iteration of an established franchise.

The challenge I was looking for when I left EA was a different kind. I wanted to face the unknown and create experiences that would bring accessible games to new audiences in new markets. I wanted to try things and fail and learn. I wanted things to move faster.

In the five months that I’ve been at ngmoco:), we’ve shipped 3 new games, at least half a dozen updates to those games and dozens of weekly content releases. That’s a far cry from the five years I worked on one game at Maxis.

The games I’m managing now as the Live Producer reach scores of people for tens of millions of minutes of gameplay every day. That’s some incredible reach. Since our games are online and tied to an analytics system, we can change stuff quickly and get almost instant feedback. The world is my focus group.

Sure, we got feedback from Spore players after that game shipped, both positive and negative, but it was almost all anecdotal rather than analytical and our ability to respond was limited. Success was measured by Metacritic and bottom line revenue (very few box products have a very long tail), and opportunities to alter those metrics once the game was released was severely restricted by the distribution method.

A big focus of my current role is to apply daily learnings to try and move the line on the graph (preferably up and to the right). When I do it right, I can directly contribute to the success of the business. That is a ridiculously satisfying experience for me.

But does this equal me “liking” my job? Well, not exactly.

A few years ago, after hitting a milestone birthday that had me thinking about age and mortality and that fun stuff, I hiked up Half Dome with some friends. Physically, I was in sorta OK, but definitely not great shape. I certainly hadn’t done an activity that required that much physical energy in years. It was hot and difficult and annoying and beautiful. And at the end of the day, after successfully reaching my goal, I would not have said I liked that experience.

I appreciated it. I learned more about what I was capable of. It was what I was looking for. And that is what I’ve gotten out of leaving EA to join ngmoco:). Certainly worth giving up  a seat in Business Class.

About Caryl Shaw
Caryl Shaw likes unicorns, long walks on the beach and building websites, online applications and video games. Since starting her tech career she’s worked on everything from HotWired back in the day to Spore to her current role as the Live Producer for ngmoco:). Her favorite bourbon is Woodford Reserve.

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