The move for me to EASL wasn't as strange as it might as first seem, as my family has been living in Utah since we came to the States in 1999; I was doing a 'super-commute' during my days at Midway and Tiburon, getting back as many weekends as we could afford the airfare, family coming to visit with me on school breaks. Like anything in life, you can do anything if you're prepared to make the effort, and our family decided that this arrangement was about quality of life; sure we might not see each other every day but when we were together, we all made time to enjoy it. I knew the folks at EASL fairly well, and when the head of studio, Headgate founder, Vance Cook, announced he was to retire, EA asked me how I would feel about working in Utah, I joked "I'll need to check with the family - they might not like having me around all the time!"
It transpired that Vance's announcement had been planned for sometime, but in early 2008 it became problematic for a couple of reasons - one, he had a long planned expedition to the summit of Everest coming up, and two - the first batch of Hasbro titles at EASL were struggling to realize vision or timeline; both EA and Hasbro were frustrated as a lot of money and the future of this new relationship hung in the balance. For me, this kind of troubleshooting is exactly the kind of challenge that I relish! During spring of 2008 I worked at both Tiburon and EASL, and began to redirect the Hasbro titles. Thanks to a lot of hard work by the EASL team, which by now also included a few of my team from Tiburon and some patience at Hasbro, we delivered on time and the first couple of games - Littlest Pet Shop and NERF N-Strike - became holiday best sellers. The Hasbro business changed divisions (labels) within EA a few times over the next few years, and with it direction and priorities, which was hard on EASL as we saw multiple project cancellations. I negotiated a split for the studio, with more than half the team moving into the Sims division, while the rest of us joined the EA Mobile division, to help pioneer the company's move into freemium gaming. I was promoted to Vice-President, and also General Manager of both EASL and North Carolina mobile studios; being hands-on is important to me so I continued to be an Executive Producer on the titles I was responsible for. The learning about mobile freemium was incredible and fascinating, it meant a new way of designing games and thinking about the development process, not least when you have a live service to plan for, launch and manage. Great challenges which resulted in a couple of great mobile freemium games, including Monopoly Hotels and Tetris Blitz.
Tap on an image below to see studio life at EASL!
For a short while I was General Manager of a new group that was being established called Fission; the idea being that the group would serve EA SPORTS and other divisions within EA in building special versions of hit games for handheld and more casual play devices. 3 super-talented people had been hired prior to my arrival to kickstart the Fission team - Daryl Holt, Peter Arisman and Paul Kashuk - all in the art field, no engineering headcount which was surprising to me. We became known as the Fab Four, each one of us a Beatle!
The surprises continued; about 4 weeks after my start date my boss, studio GM Steve Chiang informed me that EA had decided not to proceed with Fission after all. I was to be an Executive Producer (EP) on multiple projects until it was decided what next to do with me, and my team would work with me on whatever I worked on. So it transpired that "JDGroup" (me, Daryl, Paul, Peter plus around 100 other headcount that got re-assigned to me) got to work on a mish-mash of projects - versions of mainline franchises that were to be built by 3rd party developers; internal skus for new platforms such as Sony PSP; the NASCAR franchise as it's EP (Chris Gray) was moving to head up the infamous "Superman Returns" project, and the Tiger Woods franchise that I was asked to move from its beloved home at company HQ in Redwood Shores, CA, to become a Tiburon fixture (a process that was politically very unpopular not least in Redwood Shores).
(iOS, Android, Windows Phone) (EA)
(iOS, Android) (EA/Hasbro)
(Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, PSN, Facebook) (EA/Hasbro)
(PS3, X360, PS2, Wii)
(PS3, X360, PS2, NDS, PC, Wii, Mac )
(PS2, PSP) ( EA Sports )
(PS3, X360, PS2) ( EA Sports )
(PS3, X360, PS2) ( EA Sports )
This was our first attempt at a "next-gen" racing game. We tried to both improve the realism, as well as make it more forgiving for novice racers. We assembled one of the best teams on this project, including Art Director Paul Kashuk and Asst AD Jerry Phaneuf.
(PS2, XBox, PSP) ( EA Sports )
(PC, NDS, MAC) (EA Sports)
(PC, NDS, GBA) (EA Sports)
(PSP, PC, NDS, GBA) (EA Sports)
(PS2) ( EA Sports )