Thursday, January 28, 2010

ASTD Keynote: “People Lie” Richard Hilleman Electronic Arts #tk10

This are my liveblogged notes from Thursday, January 28 Keynote at ASTD TechKnowledge 2010 in Las Vegas, NV.

Richard Hilleman, the man behind the EA sports brand (Madden football) -- currently focused on EA’s internal university.

People Lie…

…but their actions don’t.

This is the most important trend in video game design.

(When people lie, they make his job harder).

Who is Richard Hilleman?

Worked for EA for 25 years.  Since 1983.  In the business of making video games.  producer, designer, production manager, has run studios, has been a teacher.  Now Chief Creative Director.  A guy with a high school education.  Doesn’t have a traditional background.  Embraces change.  And stirs things up.

At EA - people make games and they like to play games.

Cartels and Cutthroats – an economic simulation game – at their company retreat they had a tournament.

EA University Knowledge Changes Everything

Producers and designers – at EA – the business is so unique.  Have spent a lot of time to invest in those capabilities.

Creative Directors Accelerator

creative director is like the director of a movie – they only have about 20 creative directors at EA.  Needed to invest in most senior designers.  Year long program.  Meet once a quarter.  Run through a specific curriculum.  Specific report cards.  Training built out of training in a really structured way.

Built an exercise around Lego Mindstorms

  • objectives
  • metrics
  • rules

In his classes – need to learn about leadership and teamwork.  So create games that use computers in one component, but most of game built on human interaction.

Rapid iteration cycle

Lego Mindstorms – The Game:

In one day create a simulation of a 4 year product/platform lifecycle (game platforms change every 4 years – e.g., playstation 3 1/2.)

  • Everyone plays “out of position” – engineers plays producers, producers play programmers, etc.
  • Each team attends a developer’s conference to learn technology
  • (Espionage encouraged)
  • Producer from each team gets access to a close room at the top of the hour (The Market)
  • That Market contains a number of 9x9” plexiglass squares with Play Money.  (turned the floor into the 2D plane of the market analysis)
  • During the market cycle – robot has to drive through the room and stop on a moneyed square. 
  • Markets get more difficult – squares moved, money amounts changed, obstacles added
  • At end of 10 minutes, get the money under the square.


  • The market you see in the focus group isn’t exactly what you get
  • More than one team can win a square and robots don’t play nice.
  • Wheels don’t always have to stay attached (nuances of design encourage creativity)


  • Create change – how they work with each other – dynamic of market and dynamic of team.
  • Winners always have combo of appropriate risk and high iteration cycle.
  • In those 45 minutes between rounds – their iteration cycle looks like 5-10x the number of market cycles (which is what they want).

Some other games:

  • The “gong” show – rapid prototyping – dynamic thinking on feet, creative direction
  • The Pieces Game – looks like a game design exercise, but a the end it’s about listening.
  • The Roaring silence – to teach audio direction.  Audio is 50% of experience = George Lucas.  Audio costs are %10 of cost of game!

How we used to make games – really smart kids working on games until they think they are done…that doesn’t work anymore!

Now have bigger teams – so higher costs – lower margins.

Can’t say “I’ll know when it’s done” anymore…

Have changed leadership strategies –Why was it failing? Because they are guessing about what people are telling them.

The problem is…PEOPLE LIE. (They don’t mean to.) But their actions don’t.

Every online game played in John Madden for the past year phones home…it reports button presses, the timing, lots of detailed information. 

The data showed that madden 10 had a kicking problem – their telemetry showed it.  A playing mechanic for kicking that didn’t work.  Took data from those reports, showed video tape of person playing…

This kind of process (telemetry based analysis) – changes everything you do as a designer.

Google – semantic analysis – take text that you have typed and try to make sense of it.  Problem with that…people lie.

Amazon - -thinks about what you do.  Mining your previous choices and correlating that to other customers (based on actions – not what you say).

Stop guess, start measuring!

  • Identify your markers of progress that matter (objective measurements – subject measurements fall into the people lie category).
  • Turn scoreboards on so all can see.
  • Pay attention to the results
  • iterate for effect
  • Demonstrate and callibrate progress through metrics
  • Pursue new markers and correlations for the insight they provide

Example of using technology in a more traditional education environment (teaching kids how to spell better, improve vocabulary).

  • Have all class do composition in Google Docs. (use python scripts to process web data).  Every day, mine that class directory for data. 
  • Updates metrics on your scoring spreadsheet.  students scores are updated daily.
  • Outcomes: best practices are telemetrically reinforced.  Instruction time is spent editing and correcting for quality, clarity and meaning (and not mechanics)
  • more face time, less grading

Telemetry based Developement Programs

  • Diff between clients and customers: customers are looking for a measurable ROI; clients looking for personal progress
  • Avoid diff scoreboards for diff audiences
  • measured progress metrics ensure all parties’ development outcome = business outcomes

People lie – don’t trust, don’t guess.  Their actions don’t.

Find metrics to measure.  align metrics of personl progress with indicators of enterprise success (OUTCOMES)

Communicate progress and value through scoreboards of those metrics – when the metric matters to people they obsess on it and it improves their performance.

(Prius is first video game car – it comes with a high score!)

Bottom line – people lie – so need to measure on objective metrics.


Sim City source code is now open source!  Can be used for educational

Why games become social – we love playing with human beings – more challenging and interesting than playing against a computer

What tools can corporates use to incorporate gaming (“I know a lot of tools, but it’ll take you 3 years to figure out how to use them!”)

Sims – 25% of game market and primarily women.  This year women took over the video game business!

Products like Instant Action (simplified game engine, Seashark – need to be a programmer ), Flash!  We still haven’t figured out how to make this easy.

Tools like Google Analytics can be used to measure your Flash…

(Q&A session still going…I’m off to the Expo – booth babe duty!)

1 comment:

usablelearning said...

Thanks for posting these!