Swimming with the Sharks at EA Tiburon

My Journey from Osaka to Orlando

By Jean Pierre Kellams

 

One day, while visiting family in Florida, my Dad jokingly asked me, “Why don’t you make real video games, like FIFA or Madden.” He is a big gamer, and we have always shared our love for EA SPORTS titles together. While his comment was a joke at the time, it is my new reality.

Over the past 12 years in the video game industry, I’ve worn a number of hats, but I’m proud to don a new one as Development Director responsible for Madden’s Competitive Gaming team and Continuous Development feature delivery.

What is a Development Director? I have the amazing opportunity to lead an incredibly experienced, driven, and talented team who are all focused on making Madden a platform for you to shine as a player. I spend my days making sure that the members of my team can achieve everything they set out to do, and then some. I help set goals for what we want to make, form the plan on how to make it, and then help the team execute that plan to the best of their ability. However, the credit for their successes belong to them. They are the star running backs, I just try to set the right blocks so every play is potentially a touchdown. Basically, I let these amazing devs make me look good.

I have the amazing opportunity to lead an incredibly experienced, driven, and talented team who are all focused on making Madden a platform for you to shine as a player.

My path to games, and EA, isn’t your typical story, but it was a common dream. When I was in high school, making video games was everyone’s dream job. After spending many years wanting to be a programmer, I realized that I wasn’t a very good one and made the difficult decision to switch my major to Japanese. My parents thought I was nuts, but I told them that I had a plan -- to make games in Japan. After some lucky breaks, and through the help of my mentor (and first boss) Ben Judd, I spent 12 years working in the Japanese games industry with a world-famous team focused on original action games. I was privileged to work with some of my gaming heroes, people who I read about in magazines and dreamed that I would one day work with. Now I am privileged to call them my friends.

Working with the team in Japan was an amazing honor, but I realized that I had spent my entire career in one home, focused on one thing. To truly round out my skillset, I needed to experience a different way of making games, in a different environment. A few years back, University of Central Florida’s Interactive Entertainment Academy invited me to give a lecture to their students. One of those students kept in touch after taking a job at EA Tiburon in Orlando, FL. When I decided that it was time to do something new, a chance Facebook discussion led to some Skype calls and the formal interview/hiring process.

The opportunity to join the Madden Ultimate Team/Competitive Gaming space is a way of branching out and trying new things.

In production, we often talk about an iron triangle that rules all projects – quality, budget, and schedule. The joke is that you can only focus on pick two, and sometimes only one. After years focused on nothing but one of those points, I wanted to experience an environment where I could make games in a way that was focused on two (or maybe even three!) points of the triangle. The opportunity to join the Madden Ultimate Team/Competitive Gaming space is a way of branching out and trying new things. The pressure of knowing that we have millions of fans who buy Madden year-in-year-out, who expect us to be better with every version, every patch, and every piece of content, is exhilarating because I get to help deliver the best Madden to them every single day.

EA has always created experiences that touch a huge variety of players. Games that dads can play with sons, games that moms can pass down to daughters, games that brothers and sisters fight each other for the controller to play. Being a part of that, and being able to help deliver that, was a huge attraction. It also helps that EA takes wonderful care of you, especially during something complicated like an international relocation.

For those of you wanting to break into games, some words of advice: While a few of those high school dreamers work in games now, many were unable to pursue that career. When I think about what set some of them apart – it was drive. Simply put, no one owes you anything, and for everything you think you are good at, there are 10 people who are better. The people who break into the industry and really succeed are the people who will never accept that there are 10 people better, but also realize that no one will believe you when you say you are one of the 10. You have to prove it. When I changed my major from Engineering to Japanese, it was to work in games in Japan, and I told lots of people who didn’t believe in me. One professor even told me that I would “end up in the English teaching ghetto.” Thrive on proving it.

I can’t wait to prove myself here at EA Tiburon. Every. Single. Day.

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