“It’s in the game.”
Working at EA was my first big job in the industry. I was actually hired as a build engineer, just because that is where the head count was, rather than me actually knowing anything about build engineering.
I was hired onto the Central Online team at a pretty crazy time for them (although I didn’t fully realize it at the time). Most of the team had left earlier in the year, and they now only had one senior person left on the team; after him the next senior person had been there 6 months! Because of the slightly chaotic timing, I don’t think anyone on my team knew that I was actually hired for the build engineer role. This being my first job at a big game company, I had no clue what I was supposed do, so I spent the first few days kind of looking at the few build scripts we had, and fixing a few logged bugs, but I was soon got pulled onto the real work done by Central Online at EA Canada.
Central Online was responsible for building an SDK to make adding online lobby functionality to sports games easier: OSDK. We did mostly frontend programming, pulling in lower level libraries from other teams to handle the server side of things. By making it a central technology, it also meant that we could devote more resources to large features which could then be shared across multiple games. For example, when I started, we were developing on PS2 which basically had no “built in” online features, and so the team created things like Friends Lists, Leaderboards, Voice Chat, and more. All the stuff that is just built into the OS now had to be created from scratch. OSDK was, and to this day still is, used by almost every sports title at EA.
We also did a lot of features that still aren’t replicated on Xbox Live or PSN. One of the first big features I worked on was called Clubs; essentially an online clan system. Clans could assign leaders, invite members, play matches together, even design a custom logo. It was really popular among players.
The largest, and final, feature I worked on was called Online Team Play. This feature allowed players to team up in 5 on 5 matches! This was a first for EA sports, and something fans had been begging for. I left EA before the feature shipped on its inaugural title, FIFA 2008, but apparently it was a great success. The next year Online Team Play grew to support 10 on 10 matches and it seems like it is now a standard feature across most of the EA Sports titles.