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September 14, 2006

Things Change

Here's my final Dad's Take column for AOL Games / GameDaily


Things Change.

Don Ameche shared this sage insight with Joe Mantegna, in 1988's movie of the same name. And never were these words truer for me than they are today.

As of Monday, September 18, I will no longer be writing for AOL Games / GameDaily, or teaching video game history at Westwood College. Instead, I'll be working for Electronic Arts as a game developer. EA Chicago is a talented, dedicated, close-knit group, and I'm very excited to be joining them.

As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I aspire to be a producer in the video game industry, and Monday I take a ginormous leap in that direction. However, while it is undoubtedly the biggest step, it isn't the first. That came back in April of 2003, when I herniated two lumbar discs (the same injury I wrote about in my first GameFam post and my first GameDaily column). No, really. Bear with me; I'm going somewhere with this.

That fateful morning, I was getting ready to go to work when it felt like a giant rubber band inside my back snapped. And at that time, work was nowhere near as satisfying as my writing and teaching have been, and as I hope my game development career to be.

What type of work was I doing, you ask?


OK, fine. I was selling boxes. There, I said it.

That's no typo. No mistake.


I'll give you a moment to let that sink in.

I had graduated from business school just as the dot com bubble was bursting, and all the high tech marketing opportunities dried up like so many worthless stock options. So I took a job doing sales and marketing (mostly sales - ugh) for a folding carton company that supplied many major consumer packaged goods companies.

I was not the happiest of campers. I knew that I needed to find something that made me excited to get out of bed and go to work in the morning, and surprise, surprise, boxes didn't provide the joie de vivre (joie de travaille?) I sought. But as a husband and father, I couldn't just toss out a steady paycheck and health coverage, to go tilting at video game windmills.

So off I trudged every morning.
Every morning, that is, until April, 2003.

When my back went boom, I was in a lot of pain, but as it became clear that I had a surgical procedure and a long rehab ahead of me, it dawned on me that I was being presented with a rare opportunity to reinvent myself professionally.

Determined not to squander the painful gift I was given, I set about immersing myself in the world of video games. I played games by myself and with my kids. I played in the day. I played at night. I spent months researching both how to make games today, as well as game industry pioneers - the people who had made the 3-minute masterpieces I loved as a young 'un. When I wasn't sleeping from the painkillers (yes, I had a prescription), it was all games, all the time.

Although I was still in the middle of rehab, I put a video game-focused resume up on Monster, just to see what was out there, and hoping that by the time I found something, I'd be good to go.

About two weeks later, I was invited to interview for a position teaching about the history of the video game industry. I thought it was a joke. Me? Teach a college course? What are you, nuts? Sure, I have a consuming passion for video games, and I know a fair amount about industry history, but teach? In fact, I called my wife over to see the e-mail and share a chuckle with me.

Well, the e-mail wasn't a joke: the program director was dead serious, and, as it turned out, prescient. He saw something in me that I didn't realize was there. When you're passionate about something, it's a lot of fun to share it with other people.

To prepare for the class, I spent hours and hours putting together huge PowerPoint presentations with very little text and lots of pretty pictures, to accompany my lectures and hold my students' attention. And lo and behold, it worked. I enjoyed teaching, and I got a lot of satisfaction from helping out the students who needed the extra boost.


My teaching position allowed me to attend E3 2005, and when my bleeding ears and aching feet had healed, I set about sharing my knowledge of kids' games with other parents, who didn't have as much time to play games with their kids as I did to play with mine. I launched GameFam in mid-June, 2005, and shortly thereafter, I started writing this column for GameDaily.

I've loved every minute of it. As I began to find my voice as a writer, I was given remarkable autonomy to blather on about that which I deemed to be of value, yet when I needed advice or support, my editor always had my back. Thanks, Jill!

And the support I received from GameDaily was not just editorial. From the very beginning of our professional relationship, the GameDaily folks knew that I was looking for an industry job, but they never hesitated when I wanted to attend E3, GDC, and the Game Marketing Conference. Although they understood that I wouldn't be devoting 100% of my time to the website** at these events (what with the networking and all), they not only didn't give me flack, but they actively supported me in my quest, and they went above and beyond the call on numerous occasions. For that, I will always be indebted to the whole GameDaily team, and I leave on the warmest and fuzziest of terms.

Down the road, you may read another column of mine when I feel that I have something to contribute, to raise the level of discourse regarding video games and children. In the meantime, I wish the GameDaily team much success as they embark on this new chapter as part of the AOL Games family.

** By the way, before you get all up in arms about me shirking my responsibilities as a writer, take a gander at my GDC and E3 wrap-up columns, as well as some of my post-E3 game previews. I did plenty of darn fine work, thank you very much.


So Monday begins a new chapter, not just for me, but also for my family.

In the time since my back injury, I've had the blessing of an overflowing bounty of time to spend hanging out with my wife and kids. Clearly, that has come to an end. But whether or not I got a job in the video game industry, that would have ended anyway. Because now that I'm healthy and don't have to work from home, I would have had to go out into the full-time (and more importantly, full paycheck and full benefits) working world anyway. The only question is whether I'd be making games for EA or another video game company, selling cheese for Kraft, or, say, filling out TPS reports at Initech. My point is that all of these jobs are difficult and demanding. But only one provides me with a deep, intrinsic motivation to succeed, as opposed to the extrinsic motivation (i.e. paycheck) alone. Of course I have pride to succeed in anything I do, but I think you can see how it ain't the same.

My wife and I have talked to our kids about my new job, and about how my schedule will be changing. They're most definitely on board, and it gives them something fun to tell their friends at school. I'm sure there will be a few bumps in the road, but we've had bumps before, and we've always driven over them together.

I don't plan to ever stop playing games with my kids. From current kid-friendly favorites like Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and LEGO Star Wars, to the upcoming T-rated frag-fests several years down the road, playing games with my kids will always be one of my favorite things to do. So while the quantity of time spent together will necessarily decrease, our joint gaming sessions will always be the very definition of quality time.

I also don't plan to stop writing about the games we play together. So while I bid a fond farewell to GameDaily for now, I will continue blogging. Especially in such a charged political environment, I believe I'm doing something worthwhile here. I just won't be able to do it as often, and I won't have the time to sit for hours, crafting masterpieces like this one ;). I'll probably do exclusively thumbnail reviews, and I'm looking into podcasting, but whatever form the new GameFam takes, I'll be around.

Now if you'll excuse me, my son will be home from school in a little while, and I promised him we'd play the awesome rhythm-game boss battle vs. Mz. Ruby......... again.

There's his school bus. Gotta go.

You stay classy, San Diego.


  • Congrats, man! I'm really happy that things finally worked out for you, and hope you really enjoy your time at EA.

    By Blogger Nadreck, at 6:03 PM  

  • Thanks a lot, man. It was great talking to you on the bus to GDC. That's really where it all came together.

    By Blogger Dan, at 7:17 PM  

  • Outstanding news to hear!

    Good Luck!

    By Blogger WizarDru, at 7:07 AM  

  • Thanks, WizarDru. Hope you'll still come around to comment on the "new GameFam." It wouldn't be the same without you.

    By Blogger Dan, at 8:16 AM  

  • Just wanted to reiterate my congratulations and thanks for giving me such a valuable hand with GameDaily. You are welcome to guest contribute whenever you want!!!!! Lots of luck tomorrow- I know you'll kick some major ass for EA, and I wish you the best! Let me know how the first days go for you! :)


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:39 PM  

  • Thanks, boss! ;)

    It's been a terrific experience, mainly because it was a pleasure working with you.

    *sniff* Now I'm getting all ferklempt. I promised myself I wouldn't cry.

    By Blogger Dan, at 9:56 PM  

  • Hey Dan, its Nick Zimmerman, one of your students from Westwood. I just wanted to say congrats on the new position at EA Chicago, that is really awesome to hear. I'm sure it'll be lots of fun to work for them.

    I also wanted to say thanks again for all of the help you've provided in the past, I really enjoyed being one of your students. Still is one of the more fun classes that I've taken in college.

    By Anonymous Nick, at 6:34 PM  

  • Hey Nick. Great to hear from you. Thanks a lot for the kind words. It means a lot to me. Sorry you guys can't go to E3 anymore, what with the whole downsizing thing, but I wish you lots of luck as you finish college and start your career.

    By Blogger Dan, at 9:15 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

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