To Yalies who are better versed in Halo and Madden than in their schoolwork, William “Bing” Gordon ’72 has what might seem like an ideal career.
Gordon, chief creative officer for video game maker Electronic Arts, spoke about his career path and the video game industry at a Branford College Master’s Tea on Wednesday. A pioneer in the field, Gordon joined EA — currently the world’s number-one video game publisher — in 1982. He shared his knowledge about both the creative and business sides of gaming in a question-and-answer session.
Gordon said he was excited to talk to Yale students because he sees the future of gaming in the visions of young people around the world, especially as interactivity and complexity in gaming increase.
“In general new media, people 25 and younger, who have grown up with the Internet and open-sourcing, have immense creativity,” Gordon said. “EA was created by high-potential kids bored of lecture classes.”
EA hires about 400 graduates from universities each year, Gordon said, and he encouraged those interested in working the business to play games, take one computer science class, and learn the tools that designers and animators use to create the games.
Gordon, who at one point during the talk got up from his chair and demonstrated a touchdown celebration from the game Madden 2007, also offered business advice. He emphasized the idea of following gut instincts and offered the example of the popular Madden football series of video games as an example.
“When it first came out, we had success with Madden and we decided we wanted to do it again the next year,” Gordon said. “The retailers, people at EA, everyone, told us it wouldn’t work. But one other guy and I decided to go with it and now here we are.”
The Madden series is one of the best-selling video games every year.
Gordon said it is also important to understand specific markets and cater to their needs. EA is currently designing games that should be more appealing to the Asian market, he said, where details such as the disproportional size of characters’ heads are more important to users.
EA’s largest undertaking is currently a game called SPORE, which Gordon presented in a video at the beginning of the tea. He said the game — in which players guide the evolution of single-celled organisms into advanced civilizations — will meld elements of the popular video game The Sims, the social networking site facebook.com and the online video phenomenon YouTube. SPORE features the concept of pollination, the idea that players save creatures, buildings and spaceships they have created, and other players are later able to view those conceptions.
The game is scheduled for release in about a year, Gordon said.
Students said they were excited by the prospect of the innovative nature of SPORE.
“The concept is great,” Aki Nikolaidis ’09 said. “It looks like it still needs some work, but I’m sure some of the little quirks will be really fun.”
Audience members said they were inspired by Gordon’s insistence that young people can easily get involved in the industry.
“We’re young, and this is a new field that is not fully developed,” Ahmet Aktay ’10 said. “The beauty of it is that age doesn’t make any difference.”
A self-described California goofball, Gordon said his life has been a “random walk.” After graduating from Yale, he worked as an off-Broadway actor in New York and later as a commercial fisherman in the Bay Area before ultimately receiving a degree from the Stanford Business School and joining EA. He currently resides in California with his wife and two daughters.