Jade Raymond has been making games since she was 14, and she’s just getting started. While other veteran game developers are settling into their routines, Raymond is changing just about everything she can with her life and career.
Last year, she left Ubisoft after playing key roles in the creation of video games such as Assassin’s Creed, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, and Watch Dogs. She had built Ubisoft’s Toronto game studio from scratch, but felt like she wanted a chance to create something new. When she couldn’t do that at Ubisoft, she left to go out on her own.
After a nine-month period of soul-searching, she took a job as the new head of a brand new Montreal studio at Electronic Arts. Patrick Soderlund, her new boss, convinced Raymond she could play a big role in one of entertainment’s most iconic franchises — and get a chance to create an original intellectual property. He hired her without even knowing what particular game she would make for EA at her new Motive studio.
She’ll spend her time creating Motive, the new studio, from scratch. But she’ll also manage Visceral Games, the Redwood City, Calif., studio that is making a new Star Wars game under the creative direction of game veteran Amy Henig.
I caught up with Raymond and Soderlund at EA’s headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., last week.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I wanted to hear about your journey to get here. Could you start with the closing days at Ubisoft? What were you running, and what was your thinking about a year ago?
Jade Raymond: It was an amazing opportunity, starting the studio at Ubisoft, growing a studio so quickly, being able to hand-pick everyone. I feel like when you’ve been at a company that long, it’s great, because you get to know everyone, and you can do things like that. You get to know how the company works. I’d had a lot of great opportunities at Ubisoft, but I felt like it was time to challenge myself and find the next big thing.
I had some discussions with Ubisoft. There were some interesting opportunities, but I had already been able to do a lot of these things, like creating new IP. I’d been in a situation where they wanted me to continue growing that studio. I felt like it was time for new challenges, to have a bigger focus on creating the next big IP.
GamesBeat: Did you feel like you wanted to be more hands-on with your projects, to be able to start something new yourself?
Raymond: I didn’t have a clear, set objective as far as what context. But I’m passionate about the game industry. I’ve wanted to be in the game industry since I was 14. What really excites me is the fact that our medium has changed so much, that there’s so much potential to define what’s coming next. The most exciting thing I’ve been able to do is be part of creating the new IP I’ve been lucky enough to work with — working on Assassin’s Creed and growing that franchise, doing the same thing at the beginning of Watch Dogs. When you get to work with a team and figure out how to push the medium forward and do new and exciting things that are relevant to players, that’s the most exciting thing.
Right now I get to work on Star Wars with Amy Hennig, which is sort of a dream come true. The goal is there. That’s a new type of game, a game with a ton of potential to do something exciting and move the action-adventure genre.
GamesBeat: What about the in-between time you had? It was about nine months.
Raymond: Patrick and I started talking at a point in that time. I also explored doing some startups. We talked about some of that. I met with a few different publishers, different investors. I was working with indie developers who needed some help and advice on how to grow their business and get funding. I was just exploring different opportunities.
Ultimately I’m not the kind of person who wants to be driving everything, necessarily. I get the most satisfaction out of working on a team and succeeding as a team. What made it clear that I wanted to be at EA — I’m not going to get satisfaction out of building a new studio and selling it for a lot of money. I’m going to get satisfaction out of working with a great team and making amazing games.
When I looked at different opportunities and talked to Patrick, where EA is at with Frostbite, with the solid financial situation, with all the great talent around the world, with the new focus that Patrick and Andrew have been taking for the company, with the new product direction in general, with the desire to develop more games in the action-adventure space, it was clearly the best opportunity. I want to be able to work with great teams and have the means to put out great games. This was the best place to do that.
GamesBeat: You tweeted about helping some indies along the way during that time off. Did you pick up a perspective on the indie life at the time, learn something about what your life would be like if you went down that road?
Raymond: I did. It was a good way to help people and see what that was like, what the challenges were. In some cases there’s a lot of creative freedom, which is great. The risk is that you potentially spend a lot more time talking to investors and focusing on the financial side of things and worrying about how to pay salaries rather than worrying about making a cool game. That’s a big factor I saw, speaking to a lot of people who had done startups. They were very concerned about paying the rent, when’s the next funding coming, stuff like that.
GamesBeat: From talking to investors, it seems like they’re not interested in console games. They’re maybe interested in mobile. But they’re really excited about VR. That’s all you’d be able to do. You couldn’t go and start a new company to do triple-A console games.
Raymond: There are very few places you can make the big blockbuster games and have the means that you need to make a new IP, to make that big game that is going to have a cultural impact on a broad level. That’s what’s exciting to me personally.
GamesBeat: Patrick, you found the Unravel crew. That’s an interesting opposite case. How do you go about finding something like that?
Patrick Soderlund: We have a department called EAP, which deals with external partners. They handle the relationships with Respawn and others. We have a good sourcing crew. I got an email with a link to a video of a game in development, and I watched it and said, “Oh, wow.” I called them up and said, “I want to see this developer.” They happened to be in the north of Sweden, and we’d worked with them in the past. They built the PC version of Bad Company 2 for us. They had this game in development that we literally — four or five days after I saw the video they came down and showed it to me, and a week later we signed the deal. It was almost just coincidence.
When you see something that you like, something that you believe in, if you have the means to — historically it would have been a different process to get that signed. But there’s a lot of trust in me and my team from the rest of EA. We can make a decision, sign it, and then there it is. It’s been a great story for us. We’ll see how the game turns out. It’s fun to play.