The Meaningful Play conference began with a great keynote by Richard Hilleman, the Chief Creative Officer of EA. There were several take-aways for those of us who don’t have to turn a profit but do have significant challenges in staffing and development, moving educational content from experts to interactive experiences for learners, and for general investments in R&D in terms of people and products.

Selling is the hardest part of game development. Hilleman’s advice: Begin by figuing out how to sell what you’re making. Be clever! The better the narrative (about what you’re making) and the more provacative the content, the easier it is to sell. For those of us providing fee-based development services, this is useful advice…

Developing creative leaders is essential to success. At EA they have developed internal education programs designed to prepare employees to take on greater leadership roles — if they show the aptitude.  Programs are selective, and people can fail. But overall, they have proven to be a resounding success to the company. Here are some of the first programs Hilleman developed:

  1. The Gong Show – a 2-day rapid-prototyping program where the team composes a game, the financial model, marketing strategy, and pitch. It not only brings to light new ideas and solidifies team collaboration, but also gives team members the confidence that game development doesn’t have to take years…
  2. Seeing is Believing – a workshop focused on managing Art Directors. Too often Executive Producers instruct the Art Director (i.e., “use this image and turn it blue”) rather than giving Art Directors the creative freedom and support they need to make the game successful.
  3. Roaring Silence – a workshop focused on game audio and audio design
  4. Listening Out Loud – Listening to audiences and opinion leaders
  5. It’s All Nuts & Bolts – Game design skills workshop targeted to non-programmers. In these sessions, teams use Lego Mindstorms robots to complete challenging tasks

What qualities does EA look for in candidates? For Designers, they look for people who like people. Empathy and respect for the player is key. For Producers, they look for selflessness; the ability to amplify the efforts of others.

Parting comment: Flash is the most ubiquitous game platform. As of the end of September 2008, there were over 1 BILLION Flash installations. Yowza.