Every year, over 250 EA developers descend on EA headquarters in Redwood Shores for EA DevCon, an annual gathering of our developers from all over the world. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend this event.
EA DevCon provides unique opportunities for a Madden NFL developer to ask questions of the Dragon Age team, or for a designer from SimCity BuildIt to learn from Need for Speed. Each year, participants leave the conference with lessons that help them build more robust experiences, more specific feature sets and games that are more fun.
You learn a lot being surrounded by so many bright people from so many different fields. Here are some of the lessons learned at this year’s EA DevCon
Value Comes From All Roles
Innovation can unlock great things for a company, and to truly be innovative, it’s important to reach out to those working in a wide variety of roles. Those with the best ideas don’t always come from the positions you might think.
Ask the Right Questions
One speaker noted that Albert Einstein, given an hour to solve a problem, would spend 55 minutes thinking of the way to frame the question, and the answer would come to him in the last five. Rather than chase answers, focus on refining the specific question, so that you’re clear on what’s being asked of you. Whether you develop games or not, this is a way to make communicating more efficient.
Innovation is Messy
The only way to truly innovate is to experiment, measure, analyze and repeat. There’s no way to “innovate cleanly” – you need to take bold steps to reshape yourself, your company or your industry.
Ideas Happen Outside of Work
It was estimated in one session that 75% of all breakthroughs happen outside of work hours. There’s a reason you’re inspired in the shower, before bed, or in the morning with a cup of coffee. Allow yourself the time to relax and you’ll be in a better, more creative place after work.
Learn to Pitch Creatively
Being creative at work doesn’t start and end with content, or engineering, or marketing. Everyone’s different, and some respond better to straight-forward elevator pitches, while others need to come around slowly. Learn how to say the same thing seven different ways and you’ll be more effective at convincing others to work with you on a project.
Collaboration is Everything
It’s easy to think you have the answers for your specific problems. Always be open to collaborating with others at work to find solutions you didn’t know existed.
Don’t be Afraid of a New Approach
Whether you’re designing games or making decisions, it’s vital you’re comfortable going in a new direction if you feel that’s what’s best. You’ll spend more time, energy and effort stressing about a tough call than you will actually making that decision and dealing with fallout afterwards. Don’t back away from a new approach because of fear – embrace the unknown and make a tough call when you need to.
Nothing Limits Creativity
It’s tempting to say that resources, or time, or budget can limit creativity. But in reality, nothing limits your creativity unless you let it. Do your best to think freely, and in big terms, and then work within the structure you’re given.
Use Data Wisely
At a panel about creativity, one speaker who worked on Battlefield Hardline’s UX explained that data will only tell you what happened, not what to do about it. And the speaker was right. You find trends from data, and you can get insights that may help frame up your ideas – but ultimately, data won’t make decisions. People do.
Context is Crucial
In terms of data, or career development, or even just in how you interact with co-workers, context is important. Ask questions about the “why” that surrounds an idea in order to move yourself and your team forward.
Be Open to Feedback
User testing and player feedback has always been critical to the development of EA games, but hearing tough feedback isn’t always fun. Understand where opinions are coming from so that you’re more open to them, and then you can put them into action.
Always Consider the Player
It takes years to develop games, and throughout that time it’s important to stop and make sure we are considering the player perspective. EA developers regularly ask themselves: “If I was a player, what would I want?” Things like meaningful choices, long-term goals or specific features are always viewed through that lens. We’re all players, and it’s important to keep that mindset during development.
In all, this was one of the best experience to meet other developers working at EA to interact and connect with them. Hopefully I get to go next time as well.