Box Score is a weekly column that offers a look at sports games and the athletic side of the industry from the perspective of veteran reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.
There’s a palpable feeling when you walk the halls of Tiburon Studios these days. As the designers of this year’s crop of NCAA and Madden gridiron games walked me through the various improvements large and small coming down the pike, one emotion was abundantly clear behind their collectively tired eyes – unbridled enthusiasm.
April is an incredibly busy time at the studio responsible for EA’s flagship sports titles. NCAA Football is in full-on development crunchtime, which translates into 16+ hour days, 6 to 7 days a week for much of the team; meanwhile, the Madden unit is in virtually the same mode while gearing up for the massively popular cover athlete reveal on ESPN next week.
You’d think, then, that the task of delivering all of their presentations to a lone writer showing up a full day after they’d already gone through the same process for a large media group would be a recipe for disaster. Instead, in between the standard demonstrations of new features and functions, I sensed a theme developing based on random – and unsolicited - comments.
“I can honestly say, across the board, I’ve been told ‘Yes’ more than I ever have working at this company.”
“The leadership team is all about ‘How can we help get this done for you? How can we invest in the right places? Where do we put the right people in the right seats?”
“I’ll be here seven years in July and this has been the best year that I’ve been at EA.”
“This leadership does have a lot of trust in what I do; as a result, I think we’ve created something that will resonate very, very well with the fans.”
The new leadership team being universally cited as the main reason for the good feelings around the building these days is headed by Cam Weber, the general manager of American Football for EA Sports. It’s been a wild ride in the 12 months since he took over responsibility – more on that next week – and he took the quotes the team had for management in stride.
“I would say that maybe I’ve been a catalyst for some of that but it certainly has been a group effort,” he said after I rattled them off. “I think anytime you have a major leadership change and reorganization like we had last spring, you kind of have this opportunity to step back from everything you’re doing. It’s amazing what you’ll find out when you take the time to sit down and talk to people on your team.”
One of the key things he must have heard people tell him was a need for additional resources. Clearly, he listened.
“We’ve added over 65 new positions within our football business unit from last year to this year,” Weber continued. “A lot of those are new skill sets and new areas that we maybe didn’t have in our arsenal before.”
“There’s definitely an influx of new blood,” agrees Mike Young, the longtime series vet who took over last year as Creative Director of the Madden franchise. “People who are very skilled but it’s also their passion to work on Madden. They’ve come from across the country, and they were already in a good job, they had a great house, but this was their dream job – and they’re also very talented in their role. It’s energized the people who have been here for a long time, too.”