Developer Pop Quiz is a weekly interview series in which we ask developers from around the industry the same 10 questions and post their responses.
Executive Producer of "The Sims 3," Sam Player, may be working on one of the biggest game franchises, but his career in games production started because he was in the right place at the right time, and happened to play a bit of baseball. Player's offers up some interesting insights into the games industry, how to best work with his team, and a very ominous prediction about the future in this week's Developer Pop Quiz.
Name: Sam Player
Title: Executive Producer
Company: Electronic Arts
Job Description: Team leader for "The Sims 3" on console and handheld
First title worked on: "3D Baseball"/Crystal Dynamics for PSOne and Sega Saturn
Most recent title worked on: "The Sims 3" on console and handheld
What game has most influenced you, and why?
Probably "Madden" for the Sega Genesis in 1990. I was at college and had gotten away from video gaming for a few years. One of my buddies had a Genesis in his dorm room and was playing "Madden" constantly. I was so impressed with how much more detailed the games had gotten since the last time I was a serious gamer, and it sucked me back in.
What are you playing right now?
I'm a bit hooked on "Bejeweled Blitz." My scores suck, though. I'm convinced all those people getting 400,000 points and higher are cheating like mad. And, of course I play a lot of "The Sims 3."
What was your first break in the games industry?
In 1994, I was recruited by Crystal Dynamics for a marketing job on sports titles. When the recruiter saw my resume, he saw that I played baseball in college and it just so happened that Crystal had a baseball game in development that needed a lead designer. He asked if I was interested in giving game design a try, and the rest was history. I've been on the development side ever since.
What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
"Always make yourself available." As a producer, you learn pretty quickly that you can't do much on your game without the work of your very talented team members, and if you're not responsive to them or think that anything you happen to be working on is more important than theirs, you're done in this business.
Where do you look for inspiration?
The nice thing about working on "The Sims" franchise is we're dealing with real life. Granted, we try to highlight the ridiculous parts of life, but it's reality all the same. Therefore, all I have to do is look around for inspiration. Friends, family, crazy neighbors, pop culture... it's all out in front of us and it's our job to harness it and make fun out of it for people.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned about game development?
Iterate, iterate, iterate. Screw up a lot. You learn more from trying something and failing. Fun doesn't just happen. You have to try lots to get it to click. And don't believe your own eyes. Get others to try it early to validate or disprove your assumptions.
Who do you think will come out on top this console generation?
Honestly, it's better for publishers like us if none of them "win". Or they all "win". More consoles out there mean more people playing games in many different ways, and that's good for everyone. So I guess "all of the above" is my answer.
What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
A few years ago, as console technology was accelerating at incredible rates, I would've said that too many games tried to do "everything totally awesome," and you end up with a game that's far too complex and doesn't really do anything all that well. So nothing is memorable to the player. Nothing stands out. But with the advent of gaming on mobile devices, which maybe don't afford the developers all the bells and whistles and memory and processing power of the consoles, we've seen a return to simple game mechanics that are just plain fun to play.
What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
And there you go. A perfect segue. "The Sims" turning ten and really defining the simulation gaming space was very in bringing in players that aren't traditional gamers. Additionally, I think that smartphones have created easy access to gaming for people who we in the industry wouldn't even have considered as "gamers" 10 years ago. These folks opt into a game they've maybe heard about from a Facebook friend, and the price point is low enough that they're willing to give it a shot. And suddenly they're hooked and are trying other gaming apps and they're now a gamer. Plus I like that these new gaming platforms make it feel like the old days, when you could make a great game with a very small group of friends and still have it be a success.
Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
5 years ago I predicted the ColecoVision would be making a comeback, so no future predictions from me. How about, I believe we'll all be Sims in 5 years, and games will be playing us?