Sunday, March 14, 2010

Self-Evaluation

It's "self-evaluation" time again at Electronic Arts, a formal process undertaken by all employees, no matter where you fall on the org chart, in which you must go over your responsibilities, goals, and effort of the past 12 months, and judge how well you feel you did. You also must solicit the opinion of a number of your peers as well, who will fill out a separate form and submit that as well. Eventually, I guess, the managers do something with all that information--and in the edge cases probably determine raises/promotions....and firings.

So I'm doing mine now--on the last day they're due, of course--and it's an odd one for me. Because in the past 12 months, the first 8 of those were still with The Sims group; only the last 4 have been as editor-in-chief of EA.com. The oddness comes from the fact that it seems like a lot longer than that. Two-thirds of the year in which I'm self-evaluating come from a job I'm no longer at, doing something I no longer do, and am quite likely never to do again. And because this form only really is only for my current manager, those 8 months aren't all that relevant to him either (and that's not just my speculation about the matter--he told me as much.) But, then, if I really only have to consider the previous 4 months....well...that's not a lot to go on. And I'm not sure how thrilled I am with my performance. Yet.

One thing I can say: It's been a tough transition for me out of the press and into this side of the biz. On the whole, I have learned a *ton*, and for that alone this has been an amazing life experience. And I've met all sorts of great people, both in The Sims group and in my new job, that have helped make me feel "at home" in what for me is a totally different world than the one I spent my 20s and 30s (and, heck, over half of my 40s) in. Even though I decided that it wasn't quite working for me with The Sims group, I did have moments of great creative challenge and satisfaction: working on the initial design of SimAnimals Africa, writing up sample puzzles, writing dialog and text for MySims Agents, collaborating with artists and engineers on gameplay features.

All of this and more was fascinating and rewarding in and of itself--it was just that in the grand scheme of things, I felt it was just going to take far, far too long for me to "prove" myself with this group, and to have the self-confidence on my own, to get the kind of responsibility I was hoping for in my head, before I took the job. It was no one's fault, and there are no hard feelings, which is why I'm still pals with the folks in that group. It's just probably something I should have thought of doing 20 years ago. As it was, it wasn't really benefiting anyone--not me, not the Sims group, not EA, not gamers--that I was essentially discarding 17 years of journalism experience to become a junior apprentice designer/producer (and one with no technical training, besides).

I've written about my transition to EA.com before, so there's no real need to rehash it here, other than to say: I pitched this job. It was born of my desire to apply the skills, experience, and talent I had from my days at CGW/GFW/1up to something new at EA, something that made sense for all of us. As soon as it crossed my mind that I could do this stuff for EA--host a podcast, write articles, dream up other content around EA games that the community might dig to read, watch, and listen to--I knew it was the right move, and I was thrilled to make the transition.

I still am. The thing is, it's just hard. Making this transition, and doing this job for the past four months, has turned out not to be the great deus ex machina for me, or The Answer To Everything...but simply another beginning. Doing this self-evaluation now, I realize I have a long, long way to go before I will feel like I've accomplished what I envisioned in my mind. I've put a couple pieces into play now--the EA Podcast, the Mailbag, a "voice" on blogs and Twitter and elsewhere--but this is so just the tip of the iceberg that it's both personally frustrating and disappointing to me that this is all I've done. I know, it's only four months. In the grand scheme of things, that's not a long time. It's just that I can see in my head where I want it to be, and it's just not remotely close yet. (I should be clear, here, I suppose, that I'm not looking for either validation or pity. I'm just putting my feelings into this blog post as a way of coming around to this dang evaluation form I gotta turn in soon. You are drive-by witnesses to my self-reflection.) I'd like to write a sterling evaluation of myself, but all I can see is what I haven't done yet. On the other hand, I *do* know what I *want* to do, and feel confident in my ability to do it. So I'm going to let that count for something.

Honestly, I'm enjoying the challenge of kinda "forging new ground," both for myself and EA, but it's certainly weird ground, too. At the Game Developer's Conference this week, I realized just kind of how in my own No Man's Land I really am. I weaseled my way into getting a press pass, but, that's the thing--I had to weasel my way into getting one. I'm not press anymore. But I'm not a "game maker" anymore, either. Nor am I in PR or marketing, though I suppose those are closer to what I'm doing. But not actually being part of those departments means I'm not part of *that* community either. I have an awesome partner in managing editor and podcast cohost Samantha LaPerre--thank god, or I'd be going insane by now--but it still feels a little like we're in a rowboat, in the middle of the ocean, with nothing but a Bic lighter to help illuminate the way ahead.

But: Forge ahead we shall! I just hope in the year ahead that I can make EA.com, and my job there, somehow equal to the ideas in my head, and worthy of folks' (and EA's) time and attention.

Angstily yours,
Jeff

32 comments:

Gary A. Lucero said...

I hate to say this Jeff, and this is tough love here because I'm someone who paid for CGW turned GFW for decades, and listened to the GFW podcast, and tried to listen to the EA podcast.

But you know what: It's boring. Sorry, but it's true.

Mike said...

I would have agreed with Gary. Far too many of the interviews came off as "samey" - with the same questions, same basic answers. I was about to take the podcast off my iTunes feed when the Mass Effect 2 interviews hit. It's been awhile since I listened to it, but I remember being riveted. I seem to recall there just being more discussion about Bioware's design philosophy that other interviewees just didn't present.

Phil said...

Meh, I like the podcast. Maybe it would make your evaluation look better if you put some nice things listeners had to say. You can use this if you like:

'Kudos on a very entertaining podcast, and I look forward to my next long drive, which will give me a chance to listen to the two most recent podcasts.'

p.s. If I self-evaluate you 10/10, would that help bring your Metascore up?
p.p.s. Where the hell is Out of the Game?

M. Steighner said...

Been reading and following you for years, Jeff, and it seems to me that, despite your angst and uncertainty, you have "the best of all possible worlds" (to quote Candide).

You are involved in an industry you love, doing a job that challenges you creatively, where the issues are not irrelevancy, boredom, or superficiality, but finding ways of making your vision manifest and having more ideas than time. I'm normally a glass-half-empty kind of thinker, but man, it sounds like a sweet gig.

Jeff Green said...

I'd consider the podcast a "work in progress" like everything else I'm self-evaluating. If you're not into it so far, I understand. It's a company podcast. It's *never* gonna be as loose as GFW Radio or Out of the Game. It's just a different beast entirely, and I can't pretend otherwise. My goal is to make it entertaining for what it is. Not being defensive here, because I definitely appreciate the honest feedback!

Jeff Green said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Primosis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Primosis said...

Whoops. Anyway, I can definitely see where you guys are coming from with the podcast criticism, but the episode with Mike and Jerry was amazing. I think it worked better having conversation than properly 'interviewing' them. I guess it partially comes down to getting the right interviews for that sort of podcast. I guess Major Nelson's podcast is really the best example of something like that, so maybe something can be taken from that.

Rob Zacny said...

Since it's open-evaluation night here at Greenspeak, here's mine as a long-time fan and loyal listener.

First, on the podcast and with most of the things you've written about your work at EA, you seem tentative and unsure of yourself or where you stand. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it seems like there are times when your internal censor is going off. You seem inhibited.

And so do a lot of your guests. For an in-house podcast, it certainly seems like there are a lot of moments when guests seem worried about what they can and can't reveal. You can get a lot of interesting guests from around EA, but it seems like you are operating under too many restrictions to have interesting conversations.

My view is that your abilities are still being under-utilized, and I don't know whose fault that is. EA.com doesn't look like it has a Jeff Green stamp on it, and your writing doesn't have that "our man at EA" vibe. You and EA have a ways to go before you start getting the most out of each other. I hope you get there soon. The possibilities are really exciting.

Jason said...

When I was working at my old job, the one thing I hated more than anything else was the self-evaluations we did as a part of our performance review. I understood the necessity of it and why it was a good thing, but that didn't change the fact that I hated talking about the things I did because it always felt overly boastful ("Hey! I just made an Excel database that made 100+ manual hours unnecessary!"); and I always felt like the work I had done the previous year was still in that "work in progress" phase, or it was no longer relevant (as some projects I supported ended just at the start of a new evaluation cycle). After 4 years, it got a bit easier to do, but never better. I don't know if this helps at all, but my former manager told me 5 things about doing a self-evaluation that helped me (though, I'm sure you've heard these before).

1) Make the irrelevant relevant by tying it in with what you do now and how it's helped you approach new challenges, situations, etc.
2) Be honest, but be positive; especially with those things you see as being "work in progress". If something's not where you'd like it to be, turn it from "we're not here yet" to "this is where we are and this is what I'm doing to take it to here".
3) If it makes you self-conscious to write in the first person, write in the third and then change it later.
4) Don't be afraid to highlight frustrations or shortcomings, where appropriate, but be sure to include solutions. Never bring up problems for someone else to answer.
5) If all else fails, I have a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head that I can show you (he was a manager with a good sense of humor)

Hope that helps, or at least lightens the mood. :)

Jeff Green said...

Rob,
Pretty astute analysis, yeah. There's definitely still a hesitancy on the podcast, and that's one of my issues with it. The problem isn't necessarily the guests themselves, but more like their "handlers"--who always have them be "on message". My whole agenda with the podcast is to get folks OFF MESSAGE, but that's going to be a longer battle at EA, and one of the things I'm really interested in pursuing. Because I firmly believe that it can happen, and that things would be so much more interesting, all around, if there was just more (to use the buzzword) transparency at EA. It's my biggest mission. The reason the Penny Arcade conversation was so open was, of course, because they're not from EA! So they had nothing to "protect." One of the solutions, or at least workarounds, is to get more people in like that. Or even folks from EA who won't be limited by what they can talk about--maybe from other areas of the company, I dunno.

As far as my writing not having the "our man at EA vibe"--that's what I'm talking about when I say I'm not part of PR/marketing. I'm an outsider, so I don't have the kind of symbiosis with them that might lead to that kind of vibe.

Thanks to everyone for the continued feedback. This stuff is good. I appreciate it.

Gary A. Lucero said...

I don't expect for the EA podcast to be like the GFW one. I don't expect or even need tons of f-bombs or gross out stories.

But I also don't need another Major Nelson podcast. Let me qualify by saying I listen to Major Nelson's podcast every week simply because he does have some great guests and some good info.

But with Major Nelson you also get to hear about the privileged lives of four Micro-softies (or is that X-boxies?) which I personally find pretty nauseating.

And sometimes when I hear the EA podcast, with the banter between Jeff and the other permanent crew, I hear the same sort of stuff as Major Nelson's.

And to be honest, I don't need to know about the ice cream machine at EA or any of the other inconsequential stuff. I don't find it interesting.

I didn't hear the Mass Effect 2 interviews, which is too bad, but considering I heard more than five similar interviews on other podcasts, I'm not too worried about it.

But the several EA podcasts I did hear weren't interesting enough to make it worth adding it to my already long list of podcasts.

Martin King said...

Jeff, I want you to think back to the old days of 1up Yours and Garnett's method of interviewing developers. More specifically, one episode featuring Mitch Gitelman and another with Bill Roper. After I listened to both these shows, and both these guys' games were massive flops and their studios were shut down, I realized that having a developer on your podcast to talk about their game is possibly the worst thing ever. Garnett's extreme approach tuned me on to the fact that amount of bullshit one can expect to get from a game maker is directly proportional to the aggressiveness of one's questions. You can throw the underhand pitches and get a regular dosage, or you can choose to bump up the skepticism a just a notch and receive a ten-fold amount. In the best case scenario the show is boring and useless to the listener; in the worst case it's embarrassing and pathetic for all parties involved.

I want to hear the cool stories behind the games. I want to know what developers know about gamers that gamers don't know about themselves. Let's just assume the game is the greatest thing ever, this way you never give the developer the opportunity to feed us hot air. If the handlers only want to stay on message, then you should point them to the rest of the Internet.

In other words Jeff, don't be an outsider. That is how the EA podcast can be useful and entertaining to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't actually have anything to say, but there were 13 comments in the comments section, which is obviously unlucky, so I decided to post.

The Goose.

Michael said...

I really like the EA podcast. Some episodes have been weaker than others but so is life. It doesn't bother me that it promote EA products. I still think it's the best commercial money can buy. I don't watch TV commercials, I skip commercials in magazines, I use an ad-block or mentally ignore banners on the web. But I listen to every minute of the podcast because they are mostly interesting. It doesn't convince me to buy an EA game but it might make me find out more about a game I might otherwise have skipped altogether. And that Jeff, is thanks to you.

My favorite episode is the one with Visceral Games about Dead Space. It was sort of a postmortem on the game but also an interesting story about the studio.

Paul Jones said...

Hey Jeff - I've been a longtime fan of your stuff online and just today taking a long train back to Amsterdam (during which I got fined for having an incorrect ticket) an old episode of GFW Radio kept me from saying screaming 'Fuck this country' at the top of my voice, in the hopes of being arrested or deported.

I honestly do see some of the things, although a little more heavily veiled, in the EA podcast that I loved about what you did at 1up - and really it was the peppering of game talk over off-topic stuff that eventually got interested in games I would never have tried. What I'm trying to say is that I kept listening hoping you wouldn't talk too much about games and I still do. I'm interested in the EA cafe and what the devs you interview do to relax (or, God help us, how they blow off steam in second life). Maybe I'm the anomaly here but I wanted to speak up for the people who like you appropriating your reach for your own personal amusement; because it amuses me and keeps me listening. I don't need to tell you this, I'm sure, but hopefully it's a small sliver of encouragement during a miserable interlude of self assessment.

Felix said...

Jeff,
If you want an idea for a podcast with current EA employees, get Scott Evans on the show to talk about his days at Three-Sixty Pacific. He should have some very good stories. That was definitely an interesting time in our lives and after the company folded, made me vow to never work in the computer game business again.

Jeff Green said...

Continued thanks, guys. And, oooh, that's a great idea about Scott Evans. If I can just get him to NOT talk about The Sims! :)

But maybe that's a good idea for the show: Get some of the "older" guys to talk about their pre-EA game design days....

Francis said...

Been a long-tem CGW and GFW listener so I thought I'd add my 2 cents about the podcast as well. I tend not to like developer interviews for the same reason I don't like watching politicians interviewed: they never really say anything of substance.

I skipped the ME2 interview because that guy had already been on about 3 other gaming podcasts that I listen.

The only reason I listened to the Tom French cast was because the description mentioned he was going to address the decision to put gratuitous nudity in the game, and I thought that would be interesting, but his answer was kind of a let down.

Surprisingly, the dev interview I've enjoyed the most was for a game I really dislike: the two Sims guys on the 10th anniversary. I liked their "in the trenches" stories about the development and societal impact, rather than a canned interview about game features.

I'd love to hear from other EA devs who have good "insider" stories to tell about their days at other studios, or better yet, defunct studios so they can be more free with their stories.

I'd also like to hear more stuff about the early days at CGW. Some of the best moments on John Davidson's old What they Play cast was when he told insider stories about EGM.

The Bungie Studios recent podcast had a sound guy interviewed and it was great. He wasn't talking about any games specifically, but had a ton of cool information about how they obtained and mixed sounds, funny stories about how he obtained some sounds (recording the sound of his vespa engine driving one handed), and explained how one gunshot had about 6 sounds mixed and where they all came from.

Interesting story about how games are made are better than a dev talking about features in a specific game.

If it's fau pax to talk about what you're currently playing, because it might be critical about other companies or your own company, maybe you guys can start doing some retrospectives about old (5+ years?) games (EA games?) that people may have missed and get a dev or two in to give a post mortem.

Maybe it's even worth experimenting with Sean Elliot's awesome "NPR" take on the Irrational Podcast.

I'm keeping the feed, I know you'll make it great Jeff!

Nelson said...

Jeff,
As a former reader of CGW and GFW and a former listener of the GFW podcast I have complete confidence in your abilities as a writer, editor, producer, and most importantly, leader. For many of us when we start a new venture there is a serious case of nerves and there is usually doubt about our ability to perform up to our own standards and those of others.

This isn't an indication of weakness or an indication that we will not be able to reach our goals, eventually, all it means is that we are human.

Confidence takes time and it takes repetition, but it does come to us eventually and once we acquire confidence in our abilities at a new job or task it is virtually impossible to lose that confidence that we have earned.

We use it as a solid foundation for growth.

Maybe things are not perfect now, but things will get better and better as time progresses.

You will look back at this first 4 months and laugh and mark it as the beginning of one of the most productive and memorable times of your career.

I don't need to wish you good luck, because I know that you don't need it, I know that you already have the skills within to accomplish everything that you wish to accomplish.

I will be here to witness your future success and celebrate it along with your past triumphs.

Larry said...

Jeff,

I think your natural self-deprecating humor (which I love) could really backfire in a self-assessment. Don't take this document lightly. In the corporate world, it is a big deal and will likely remain in your file for the rest of your career.

Show confidence and highlight your strengths and successes. You are incredibly talented, but EA is not necessarily going to recognize that unless you tell them yourself.

Just two cents from a fan.

Jeff Green said...

Thanks, all, and Larry, yeah--my wife warned me of the same thing. :) So I kept it all confident and optimistic. Thanks for lookin' out for me! :)

月月 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jin said...

i have to be totally honest i only go to EA everyother day to read your stuff. i've kinda lost interest in games since going to uni so i really just read your stuff as nostalgia and kinda semi-nerd-gasm my nerd boner.

Steven said...

Even with you at the helm, I have to admit I was skeptical that EA.com would become a place I would want to visit regularly. I've been pleasantly surprised at how much of your down-to-earth personality you've been able to inject into the site so far, though, and I look forward to seeing a community grow around it.

Tristessa said...

I like how things have been going with the podcast so far. Sure, I can't wait to see where you'll take it - but the first few months haven't been bad.

One thing I'm really eager to see it you can do eventually is interview some folks about those EA games of the past. Not sure how easy it'll be to track them down if they're no longer working in the business.

The website is coming along well enough but honestly, I haven't checked in lately. No fault of what's happening here, just been busy with work, games & books recently. My own blog has only been seeing updates once a week.

Keep up the great work - I'll be out here somewhere watching it evolve.

theditor said...

podcast idea: walk around the EA campus and ambush interview random people about their job at the company.

there's the possibility of getting some good material but better yet it will keep away all the handlers.

Chris A said...

You're basically an ombudsman for the community now, right? If you're looking for an industry position on which to peg yourself, I'd say Community Manager, especially since it's one of those "every studio does it differently" sort of positions.

Stephen said...

I hope the folk who are responsible for EA's DLC and patch update methods & implementation state on their self-evaluations: 'We suck'.

Seriously, it is the most unintuitive and cumbersome system for PC users. Sims 3 and Dragon Age have been dreadful. It makes me wary of buying EA games in the future.

But you, Jeff, rock. However I agree your podcast needs to get punchier. More on the lines of the GFW heyday.

David said...

Good idea for Self-Evaluation:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv1I4q6lOpo

You can pretty much plagiarize that for ??? profit.

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