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    Matthew Jeffery, is the Head of European Talent Acquisition for Electronic Arts. He is based in the UK Office in Guildford, home to titles including ‘Harry Potter,’ the extreme racing game ‘Burnout’ and the destructive shooter, ‘Black’.

    Jeffery oversees all recruitment across the European Studios, (including Dice, Phenomic and partners with Crytek); Mobile phone games in Romania and India; EA Tech, (formerly Renderware, the tech wing of EA); and EA Partners, (who work to sign independent developers games to EA for publishing). Jeffery represents EA at major shows including SIGGRAPH, GDC and Leipzig. CGSociety caught up with him and tackled some controversial areas.


    You are very outspoken that creative talent should make gaming their career destination and not film. Why?



    Absolutely. I am very passionate about this. Just look back a few years when the games industry was seen as the awkward cousin of the film industry, equivalent to the spotty, geeky nerd that everyone avoided in the school playground. Work in film with cutting edge VFX or on a 'blocky graphic' videogame with little story telling or emotional hooks to allow suspension of disbelief? Pretty clear-cut choice. Fast forward to today, how things have changed.
    Returning from SIGGRAPH 2007, where Glenn Entis, EA’s Chief Creative Officer gave the keynote address, you could feel from the buzz in the hall and the bars afterwards that the film industry was visibly impressed with just how far gaming and our CG has come in 25 years. With each generation of hardware technology, gaming continues to leap forward in not only its graphical quality but its ability to entertain and bring fun to peoples lives.

    Also, the predominantly contract based nature of employment in the film industry is not conducive to family stability and security. Film contracts are generally short in nature, often with crunching hours to achieve deliverables. With the workforce maturing, with families prevalent, gaming provides a long-term career rather than a short-term job.

    Games graphics are improving but aren’t comparable with film as yet?


    The visual difference between live action, CG films and video games is getting perceptibly smaller. The 'wow' moments in film visuals are lessening and marginal as people are now used to the wizards and trickery of the effects houses. Moving forward, gaming has the biggest 'wow' moments still to come. Just consider how far the games industry has come, from the visually simple ‘Pac-Man,’ to today's graphical tour de force ‘Crysis.’

    The games industry's advancement is stunning. But interestingly, film CG and VFX are plateauing. We will always love film as it takes us through a controlled linear roller coaster of emotions, as we suspend our disbelief to enjoy the ride that the film director dictates us to see.However, the challenges now lie in gaming for creative talent as they get the chance to work their magic in real time in online worlds, which the audience control what they want to do and what they see, not the film director. That's creative freedom. That’s entertainment.

    You are not saying that gaming will replace film as people’s favourite form of entertainment?


    It’s already happening. People will always love film for its escapism. Whether they will go to the cinema in the future to view the latest blockbuster is a different matter, with people’s desire for home entertainment in HI-Def insatiably increasing. The games industry is driving forward in what it offers as a form of entertainment. It is critically important to recognize that consumers want to be in control of how and what entertains them.

    A sports fan can play as Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in an online game, with players in the USA, China, Canada and Germany in real time. That’s an awesome form of entertainment for a golf fan. Then you have games like ‘FIFA,’ again where you can play as your favourite team online and gain a world ranking.

    What I am illustrating here is that in film, the film director is in total control of everything you see. In games you are in control and that is really immersive. I love films like ‘The Fast & The Furious’ but I want to be in control, so games like the awesome ‘Burnout,’ allows me to control a fast car and race through streets of traffic at breakneck speeds and crash with the car splintering and crumpling on impact, in the safety of my lounge.

    Games like ‘Harry Potter’ give the games player the opportunity to fully explore Hogwarts, seeing every room of the magnificent school at your leisure. Film does not have the time to show Hogwarts in its glory and when we developed the game we had to work from blueprints designed of Hogwarts, of which very few rooms have been seen in the film. That is real immersion and extension of interactive entertainment. Giving people the chance to play a film and immerse into different worlds is utterly compelling.

    So, how is entertainment changing?


    Technology is the driving force impacting the way we are entertained. The internet and broadband is driving video and music adoption and social networking through FaceBook & MySpace is the trend of drawing together a global community of different people and cultures. TV is changing through new distribution models like TiVo, PPV and downloads are increasing. In music, iPod and iTunes create a cost effective ‘soundtrack of one’s life’. In film, home theatre, HD and media PC’s make viewing an improved experience.

    In gaming, Next Gen consoles and new platforms are extending audiences and range. In mobile phones 3G makes phones a portable all-purpose appliance, eg iPhone. So technology is driving the way we want to be entertained. Combined into this, consumers want to be in control. Personalisation and customization are critical for consumers.

    Look at mobile ring-tones, a $3Bn market. Self-expression and user generated content sees sites like YouTube storming ahead with content. Social networking sees over 109 million MySpace users. These are huge consumer trends we have to react to.
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  • Do games encourage violence?


    This boils down to how impressionable someone is. Film has the same challenges. Take ‘SAW III,’ a very violent and graphic film but I can recognize it’s a story at the end of the day. Gaming is the same. Yes there is interactivity with the characters, which some argue make gaming more realistic than film and hence can prey on impressionable minds. There are age limits adhered to by the games industry through the ESRB. If there is a game that is too graphic and violent, then the ESRB won’t classify it, hence effectively banning the game from sale in this territory.

    This recently happened with ‘Manhunt 2.’ If a game gets an 18 rating then shops and more critically parents should adhere to this. Parents must take a closer interest into what their children are playing. Younger minds are more impressionable and can be influenced by a game or a film, and that’s why there is an 18 age rating to protect them. The ‘SIMs’ the biggest selling game of all time. Gaming is not about violence; its about entertainment.

    What other challenges would someone in film considering working in gaming face?


    There are many exciting challenges that gaming brings to film industry professionals. We have mentioned the advance in CG and VFX capabilities. I would add bringing their knowledge and experience to tapping into people's emotions. Can a game make you cry? Not yet but its coming.

    Gaming's big challenge is to create emotionally believable characters, easy in film as the viewer immerses into a linear experience and the director can play with emotions at whim. Gaming in real time in open worlds with the audience in control has more challenges. Game characters need to be emotionally believable but many are becoming increasingly anthropomorphic, leading developers into the barren land of 'Uncanny Valley' – where characters look real, without the matching subtleties of behavior. But photo-realism does not mean believability.

    Gaming mustn't fall into the 'more polygon' trap and create great looking characters but they move like zombies with no intelligence or perception of reality. Motion fidelity has to be better than modeling. UCAP, (Universal Motion Capture), has helped the industry achieve both motion and modeling fidelity but video games now face new problems unique to interactive real time graphics. Video games have to create the illusion of interactive life. To connect with a character, audiences must believe what characters: Do; Think; and Feel. This takes gaming beyond the Uncanny Valley.

    Awareness, Animation plus AI are critical to the suspension of disbelief. The challenge for interactive video games is how characters ingame respond to new unpredictable inputs; for example, if a character in a game stands next to an exploding bomb and does not react realistically, this breaks the suspension of disbelief.

    Gaming also has the challenge of how to relate the audience to the character through how they interact with the games controller. Controllers need to possess a personality.

    Many companies say they are struggling to recruit. Some even say there is a talent crisis, what’s your view?


    No. When the likes of companies like Pixar, Dreamworks and EA recruit talent from Europe for America that highlights the quality of our talent pool. Lets be clear, in the world today, Europe has the finest talent pool to select from. We have three of the finest art/animation schools in the world in Gobelins, Supinfocom and FilmAkademie. Yes there are some real challenges for recruiters but nothing that isn’t easy to overcome with creativity in attracting talent. Why am I so confident? EA’s UK Studio has recruited 350 permanent staff and 400 contractors in the past two years.

    720 of which came from direct recruitment, not through recruitment agencies. But recruitment is not easy for EA, we have our own brand challenges including the perception of churning out sequels, been seen as a large corporate borg of a company and of course, following the ‘EA spouse,’ episode, issues surrounding work/life balance. Yes, the experienced talent pool is shrinking and all companies in entertainment are fighting for talent, including games, film, TV, toys, mobile and IT. With candidates now demanding to work on the best films and games, that means they are happy to relocate their lives and are globally mobile.

    Can gaming produce realistic environments and worlds?


    The first CG worlds, seen in movies such as ‘Star Trek 2’ and ‘Tron,’ were awe-inspiring. Today, gaming successfully creates visually stunning worlds but it is no longer enough for environments just to look stunning – they must behave realistically, and be fully responsive to character and user input.

    Crysis ensures that every part of nature that can respond, does respond. It includes simulated foliage and ricocheting bullets, dynamically generated ocean waves, volume rendered clouds, a dynamic HDR sky, and dozens of additional real-time graphical elements. Gaming is just scratching the surface of interactive film-like effects.

    The challenge for gaming is creating real time dynamic effects in worlds and placing interactive environments at the control of the gamer. Gamers demand natural forces at their control and environments that respond.

    In film, costs are always a concern, how is this reflected in games?


    Costs are a huge concern. Yes. We are faced with a real 'ticking time bomb' in the Entertainment Industry, with wage spiral inflationary pressures building. With the experienced talent pool shrinking, people have learnt their salary bargaining power and now when moving jobs command several offers, which they negotiate to get the best deal.

    The industry has to be mature in the salaries it pays otherwise we won't have learnt the lessons from the dot.com crash. Game team sizes had ballooned in the past but now the key is we maintain smaller game teams, to encourage a cohesive team to be creative together.

    Despite Next Gen demands, replicating the film industry model of a flexible workforce with some contractors and outsourcing some work out to other companies, allows teams to be more creative and dynamic. I remember a couple of years back the headlines were all about the games industry being dominated by two or three super developers.

    Fast forward to today and the return of the cottage industry of bedroom programmers emerges with possibilities of developing small, accessible casual games for XBox Live, Playstation network, online gaming sites, even for mobile phones. Games could be developed in three month cycles with teams of five or less. That's phenomenally exciting for creativity in games and game development costs.

    Is retention of staff a big thing in gaming?


    The biggest challenge facing games companies today is workers are not as loyal as they have been in the past. I remember the day when no one would leave a game team when a project was near completion. That's not the case today. Companies have to work daily to recruit their existing staff to stay with them. Leaders have to ask themselves if their staff are challenged, if they are well remunerated, if they have a good work/life balance, if their staff work on world class games, if they can work towards promotion, if they receive enough training and development and whether their ideas are listened to. If not then they are prey to a head-hunter and will lose their staff.


    ‘Crunch’ and work life balance are huge issues in gaming, is crunch inevitable?


    The ‘EA spouse’ episode was a painful wake up call to not only EA but the games industry. Any industry with a project deadline, be it film, game, IT, even school course work, will face higher working hours at the end of the project. Our job is to ensure that crunch is reduced by an effective preproduction process by locking down game design at the start of development and then ensuring project schedulers can distribute work equitably over a projects. We also have to recognise that games teams are perfectionists and want to add new cool content right up until the last minute. Crunch will always be a challenge for gaming, it is getting better but peaked hours at the end of a project are inevitable.

    Related links:
    Electronic Arts Jobs
    ESRB
    CGJobs
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