Electronic Arts Los Angeles studio head Neil Young recently announced he'd be leaving EA to embark on a new project - we now know what it is he'll be doing. Young's new endeavor, ng: moco, will focus on publishing games for the iPhone, and Kotaku spoke to Young all about his big plans, and reflected on his 11-year career with EA.
And yes, we also asked him what it's like being named Neil Young - and he's heard all your jokes before.
Young joined EA in 1997, where he ran the Origin studio in Austin, Texas - launchpad of Ultima Online. After that, he created and executive-produced Majestic, groundbreaking as it was one of the first PC games to incorporate ARG elements, calling players on the phone and sending them emails.
In 2002, Young helped overlook the Sims birthplace in Maxis, and has been studio head at EALA since 2004.
"Each of those studios has their own sort of unique culture," Young said. "EA has gone through a lot of changes as a company over those 11 years and... Riccitiello [has taken it] from the place it was at to the place it needs to go to. I think that change is probably the only constant in the world, and EA has been through its fair share of it."
So after riding 11 years of change with EA, what achievement is Young proudest of? "Probably the thing I take the most personal satisfaction out of is helping people grow and develop inside the organization, and sort of step up when I moved on to the next adventure," he said.
"In terms of my personal learning, [I got] a great deal of satisfaction working with Maxis, and getting the opportunity to understand how Will Wright worked, and how Maxis thought about developing software. It was really that sort of period at Maxis that changed a lot of my views on what the future of gaming needed to be," Young said.
Part of that vision for gaming's future, said Young, rests on the iPhone as the next-gen mobile gaming platform. "I am going to create a next-gen mobile games publisher, specifically and initially focused on the iPhone," said Young. That company will be called ng: moco ('Next-Gen Mobile Company).
The iPhone, says Young, provides entirely new opportunities to advance mobile gaming. "My sense is that the mobile games business has kind of been stagnant for a while, on one side because of the limitations of the handsets, and on the other side because of the way in which the business is structured as far as the relationship between the publishers and the carriers," he said.
"One of the great things... iPhone is doing, is changing the relationship between the people making games and the people buying them. It's removing that carrier that limits the potential of the business."
And Young is enthusiastic about where things can go from here. "The device itself is, from a performance standpoint, somewhere between a DS and a PSP, but unlike the PSP, it's got touch, the accelerometer, the camera, the microphone... it's location-aware, and from a usage standpoint it's always on, always with you and always connected to the network," he said.
"My sense is, the types of experiences that we're going to be able to build on that device and the devices that follow... are going to be really interesting and blow the doors off the business."
Young has now transitioned the majority of his responsibilities at EA to some of the folks whose professional development he reflected on as one of the high points in his career. Mike Verdu, general manager at EALA, will take over Young's studio head role, while Spore business head Lucy Bradshaw will continue to handle Maxis, reporting directly to group manager Nick Earl. Young also said he'll continue to function as an advisor for the time being.
"The new business is starting now," he aid. "When there are developers out there who think, 'hey, I have an awesome idea for the iPhone and it can only be done on that device', I want them to know they should be thinking about us."
Of course, we had to ask him - does he get a lot of jokes about his name? "Pretty much every day," said Young.
"It's fine; literally somebody makes a Neil Young reference every day, and it's probably funny... for the posters. I also have to say, I'm not sure where you got the photo you used [for me], but I look really pissed in that photo, and I was reading some of the comments and one guy was like, 'dude, that guy looks really pissed,'" Young said.
"I'm actually completely the opposite; I can be pretty intense, but I like to have fun. It's hard to make fun if you don't have fun, and I try to have as much fun as the next person."