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David Littman's Blog: Going from hockey player to video game producer

David Littman played 10 pro seasons in the IHL, AHL and NHL, including stints with the Lightning and Sabres. (THN Archives)

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David Littman played 10 pro seasons in the IHL, AHL and NHL, including stints with the Lightning and Sabres. (THN Archives)

Hey hockey fans, it’s been a while since my last post. This was due mostly to the fact the game I work on – EA Sports NHL 09 – was released in September. Since the release, things have finally started to slow down. The game has been an incredible success, and many people think it is one of the best hockey video games ever made. I work with an incredibly talented team and in many ways being part of a video game development team is similar to being on a hockey team.

Over my next three blogs I will share with you what it is like to work for EA Sports, how I got here, and how you can get into the industry. That’s right…all of the money you have spent on video games can actually pay off. It did for me (and I remind my parents of that all the time!).

For my first entry, I will talk about how I got started.

Many people ask me how I got into the video game industry. I tell them it was all about combining my passions and figuring out how to make a career out of them. If you do what you love to do, you will never have to work a day in your life. When I was eight years old, I had two passions; hockey and video games. I have been lucky enough to make careers out of both of them.

I finished my hockey career playing for the Orlando Solar Bears in the International League after a knee injury during training camp. I suppose I felt the way many people do right out of college…except I was 33, not 22. Still, I had a degree in communications (TV, film, etc.) and I knew I wanted to stay in the entertainment industry, so I started doing color commentary for the Solar Bears on the Sunshine Network. That was fun, but it just wasn’t fulfilling. I wanted to be out on the ice playing, not talking about what was happening out there.

This is when I really began thinking about my other passion in life. A friend of mine told me Electronic Arts had a studio in Orlando where they made games like Madden, NCAA Football, and NASCAR. I called the GM of the studio at the time, John Schappert, and told him who I was. Luckily he was a fan of the Solar Bears and knew my name. I told him how much I loved playing video games and that I would like to work for EA.

I started playing video games when I was eight years old. One of my fondest childhood memories is of getting the Atari 2600 with a copy of Space Invaders. Since that day, video games have been my second love (after hockey). My favorite series of all-time is the NHL series by EA Sports. During my pro hockey days, my teammates and I were always playing the Sega Genesis versions after every practice and on every road trip.

My father always told me I would have to start over after hockey. That I would have to swallow my pride and start at an entry level position. He was right, on both accounts.

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John told me I would have to start in the quality assurance department, better known as the game-testing department. This is the entry level job in the video game industry where most people start if they want to be a producer. Most testers are between the ages of 18 and 24. They make about $10 an hour. I was 33 and used to making a lot more money than that. But, thanks to my dad, I had expected this and gladly took the job to get my foot in the door.

I tested Madden 2002 on the PS2. We had about 100 guys and a few girls packed into a small room playing the game eight hours a day and finding bugs. It was lots of fun, but after a few months it got monotonous. Still, I worked really hard and became one of the lead testers after four months.

When the game was done, I went to John’s office and asked him what else I could do. John told me there was a job in production opening up on the Madden team, but he had other plans for me. He called phoned Vancouver where EA Sports makes the NHL hockey series and told the producer, Dave Warfield, I would be a great fit as a producer on NHL.

Two weeks later I was on a plane to Vancouver for an interview with EA Canada and NHL. Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I was also very impressed with the EA Canada studio, which is the biggest games studio in the world. I had 10 different interviews over the course of two days. Because of my hockey background and my love of video games, the interviews went very well. I had also done my homework. Before I went to Vancouver I played the game every day for two weeks and came prepared with notes for what I liked about the game and what I thought could be improved.

After flying home, I received an email with a job offer. I negotiated the contract just as I had learned from my years in hockey, except without an agent this time. I signed the deal and moved to Vancouver a month later.

Next week I’ll give you an idea of all the hard work that goes into the making of a video game such as NHL 09.

A native of Flushing, N.Y., David Littman was drafted by the Sabres in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He spent four years at Boston College before turning pro in 1989. Over the next 10 years, Littman would play in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL (with Buffalo and Tampa Bay). The 40-year-old currently works as a producer for the wildly popular EA Sports NHL series of video games. Read his other THN.com blogs HERE.

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