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SMAC Interview With Jeff Morris

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  • SMAC Interview With Jeff Morris

    LDespot: How did you get started in the game industry?

    Jeff Morris: I guess it started when I got a part time job at the downtown San Francisco Software Etc. Computer games had been my all consuming passion for about a decade at that point, and I figured this was a good way to get my hands on more product (oh, and make money...). It was a terrible job, but it exposed me to the powerful role that retail outlets play in what computer games are available. It was the first time I really thought about the business of making PC games.

    About a year later, my girlfriend at the time gave a lecture at the Computer Game Developers Conference on 2D animation (she worked on Broderbund's Living Books brand). She had little interest in the convention as a whole, so I got her speaker pass for the rest of the day. I ended up at the Origin hospitality suite, since they were hands down my favorite company. I shmoozed a little and was given the impression that I might be "Origin material". I flew myself down there a few weeks later and applied to the Product Support department.



    LDespot: How did you end up at Origin? How long had you been there and how did you get involved with SMG's QA?

    Jeff Morris: I was at OSI for about three years. It was by far the most rewarding working experience I'd had up to that time and I learned a ton. Origin (and Austin) has a culture that is hard to beat for a guy in his 20s. Satisfying work, unreal parties, and good wages.

    When I heard that Firaxis was signing with EA, I set my sights on working with them. That was approximately a year prior to SMG coming into test. Product Support was a very political department and you had to do a fair share of plotting. I lobbied very heavily for the QA Project Leader position for 10 months and eventually got it.


    LDespot: What led you to leave Origin and join Sid and Co. at Firaxis?

    Jeff Morris: Towards the end of SMG's testing, I flew to Hunt Valley to be on site to wrap everything up. They appreciated the job I did and we started talking about where I could fit in. While I loved Origin and Austin, my interests began to focus on strategy games, a genre OSI wasn't known for (well, since 1990...). I figured it was a great opportunity to not only learn from established masters of trade, but to get primary experience in crafting the style of games that I adore.

    LDespot: What exactly do you do now at Firaxis besides answer question on the Firaxis forums?

    Jeff Morris: Primary I'm the network administrator and will direct internal and external QA efforts, but I also do anything that needs doing. The title I have is Development Assistant, which pretty accurately describes what my day to day duties are. They can range from programming to ordering lunch.

    LDespot: How involved are you with SMAC and what do you do on the project?

    Jeff Morris: The major role I'll play is organizing and running the QA effort. I also tackle miscellaneous programming tasks, including the install program. Once the game hits the shelves, I'll be coordinating with the CS department at Origin to identify problems and get the resolved.

    LDespot: What advice would you give to somebody trying to get in the industry?

    Jeff Morris: This is harder to answer, but these points seem solid.
    • Quality Assurance and Marketing departments. QA is the "mailroom" of the modern software company and Marketing can teach you a lot about the industry. Both get you face to face with developers.
    • Don't get discouraged and continue to try. Learn from your mistakes and take steps to improve your interview/resume/demo. You WILL be turned down numerous times, just stick with it.
    • Don't bullshit. Don't overstate your skills. Don't lie on your resume. PC gaming may seems like a huge industry, but it's surprisingly small and tightly knit.
    • Go to trade shows, either by hook or by crook. While they aren't necessarily the best place to do "official" business, you'll have the opportunity to socialize and network.
    • Socialize and network. Many positions aren't advertised or publicly announced. By meeting people and making friends, you'll "know" when slots are open, who to contact, and how to apply.
    • Move to San Francisco or Austin. While there are booming locales elsewhere, these areas have a staggering amount of game companies.
    • Put together Quake levels. The tools are hard to use, it's a creative exercise, and you have a demo that anyone can sit down and immediately play.
    • Understand that development groups are teams and as teams it's of paramount importance that any new members don't disrupt their operation. That's why the social aspect of this industry is so important. They need to know the person prior to inviting them to join your project, and in my opinion interviews are rarely a good forum.
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