“Breaking Into the Industry” is a weekly interview series that speaks with video game professionals from all across EA. We hope that by sharing how some of the industry's biggest (and smallest) players got their start, you too can learn how to get your foot in the door of the video game industry. Join us today as we speak with Michael Lewis about his work on the Origin Client, his hopes for the future of Origin, and why he thinks you should get a Computer Science degree.
What is your name and job title?
My name is Michael Lewis and I'm a producer here at EA. I'm responsible for the Origin desktop application, our server side features, and for our SDK – that's what games use to take advantage of Origin's features.
What exactly does a producer do? Where in the process of adding a feature do you become involved?
Producers are responsible for figuring out what you build, when you build it, and why you're building it. We do all of this from the perspective of an end user.
We're responsible for setting the roadmap for the development team, and we work with development directors to define releases and make sure stuff fits.
We also work with design and development to figure out how stuff should work, what it should look like, etc.
With so much input from different people and places, how do you prioritize what goes out when?
Basically you start with an ideal vision of what you want stuff to look like and when you want to get there – either a prototype or a mission statement – and then you work back from there and see what fits. So it could be something like, “We want to deliver an awesome experience from when you see a game to when you can play it.”
Then you spend some time thinking about what that really means. “Okay, it means we need a store, an awesome game details pages, a really clean download experience...”
And you define that with visual design documents, and technically with specifications. Your development team estimates what that takes to build, when it's done, how many engineers... That gives you a rough plan. You then take that to execs to get sign-off, and build it.
Along the way you redesign features, move stuff out that's not going to fit, or pull new features in as you get new requests.
You were involved in the very early stages of Origin right? Can you talk a little about how it all started and where things might be going in the future?
Sure. I've been on the project for a while now. We started out as EA Download Manager, which was a really utilitarian application. It worked, but it was staffed with a skeleton team and didn't really do a whole lot – it would really never be a significant player in the space.
We had a change in leadership a few years ago, and Andrew Wilson took over to run our division. We had a chance to present to him and our senior leaders, and they really got behind the service in a very big way. We figured out what to focus on and built it out over the last year and a half.
If you follow what John Riccitiello says, you'll get a pretty good sense for where we're going. Driving digital, direct-to-consumer revenue is critical for EA, and Origin is the tip of the spear.
We're really the glue that makes cross-platform connected gameplay and commerce possible.
Switching gears a little, how did you get to become a Producer for Origin? What were you doing before Origin?
I was a producer on Rupture before Origin. Before that I was a QA lead over at Harmonix, and prior to that I started a company that made really big tournaments for video games. Had kind of a weird path into video games and into production.
But you always wanted to be in the game industry?
Since I was a kid! Hell yeah!
My mom used to always tell me I shouldn't play games because I was wasting my time and it wouldn't get me anywhere.
What games do you play?
I try to play lots of different games. I'm really into big RPG’s like Dragon Age and Elder Scrolls. I'm super excited for Skyrim and for Mass Effect 3.
Right now I've been playing a lot of LA Noire, and I'm completely and utterly addicted to LoL (League of Legends). I just got Catherine and I’ve spent the week playing that. My favorite series of all time is Battlefield though.
Some people say that when you work in the game industry, you don't get to play games as much? Are you that way?
I think you just run out of time at certain points in the cycle. And you get super sick of the game you're working on. I couldn't play any Rock Band when I was working on it, hearing it for 70 hours a week. But outside of that I've maintained playing a lot.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a Producer for something like Origin?
Well I guess that all depends on what they're doing right now. If you're young and in high school or college: study, study, study. Start pounding the pavement and seeing how you can break into the industry.
Go to meetups in your city, like Boston area Post Mortem, get a really good resume together, and start submitting it to game publishers and developers and get your foot in the door.
When you're in college, work your ass off – study, study, study. Learn computer science, business, and marketing. What you major in doesn’t really matter, but if you can I’d highly recommend learning computer science because it’ll give you a great foundation for games – and it’s much more solid to fall back on an engineering degree.
And when you get a job, work even harder. You need to distinguish yourself and catch someone’s eye, and you'll get a shot at being a producer.
And be prepared to work your way up for years. It's not a job for the faint of heart – you're going to be working a lot of 60 to 70 hour weeks and you probably won't start off earning the big bucks, but entry-level employee compensation is comparable to most other hot industries.
But it's worth it to you?
Definitely. I can't imagine doing anything else. I love the project I'm working on and I really love the team, and I'm incredibly excited to come in to work every day.
I'm really lucky to get to work on such an awesome project with such an incredible group.
What school did you go to by the way? And what did you major in?
I went to Tufts University and studied History and Entrepreneurial Leadership.
That doesn't sound like Computer Science. But I suppose you would get the Marketing and Business part. Is Computer Science a hobby for you perhaps?
I studied it a bit during school but just did most of my coding as a hobby. It's not really what I'm best at, but it's a lot easier to get into production or into games if you come from a technical background.
Switching topics a little, what's a typical day like for you as a Producer?
I get in to the office around 10:00 a.m. and go to meetings until 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. Then, I actually start work. I spend most of my time presenting, in meetings, or working on documenting features.
Alright, last two questions. Is there a particular feature on Origin you're proud of, or that you can point to and say, "That was my idea"?
I'm working on a big one that I'm really proud of that will be launching soon! I can't say what though.
Okay, but how soon is soon?
Alright, I have to wrap this up now, but do you have any final words for people who want to get in the industry?
Work hard and keep at it and you'll break in.
Thanks for doing this Mike!
Thanks For Reading
If you enjoyed reading this, you might want to check out the last Breaking into the Gaming Industry with James Root, Global Online Marketing Manager, EA Games Label. As always, be sure to let me know what you think in the comments. And if there is a specific role you'd like highlighted, mention that too. -Lucian Tucker