Geek Speak: Tanya Annicchiarico, development director at EA Black Box

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      Tanya Annicchiarico works on the Need for Speed video games. She’s a development director for franchise talent at Electronic Arts’ Black Box studio, which will soon leave downtown Vancouver to join the “mother ship”—EA Canada—in Burnaby.

      Born, raised, and still living in North Vancouver, Annicchiarico entered the video-game industry in 2001, when she got a job at EA Worldwide Studios. Since then, she’s worked on Need for Speed: Carbon, Need for Speed: ProStreet, and Def Jam Vendetta.

      Annicchiarico spoke to the Georgia Straight by phone from a boardroom at EA Black Box.

      What does a development director for franchise talent do?

      Basically, what I’m here to do is manage the Need for Speed art team and the art community. I’ve also recently kicked off a similar role for the artists on a new-IP team, which is kind of exciting....

      Let me first explain how the role was born. The role actually came from—a bunch of the voices of the artists were basically saying, “You know, it’d be awesome if we could get sort of career coaching separate from the project coaching that we get from the project DD.” So, often times in the old ways, the project DD was responsible for the talent development as well as maintaining the project schedules and budget and all that. So, what we did was we actually kicked off a pilot role—probably almost, I guess, a year and a half, two years ago—where we separated the two and had project DDs completely dedicated to the project, still obviously working with the artists and whatnot. But the talent DDs, so myself and my counterpart, were responsible for taking care basically of our staff’s, like the art team’s, health and wellbeing in terms of career development....

      So, I have a counterpart that does the same thing as I do, and he manages the engineers on the Need for Speed team.

      What are you working on these days?

      So, the main part of the role is to give all the artists on the team one-on-one career-development time. So, just managing their education, helping ensure that they’re feeling motivated and happy out in the workplace, helping them sort through career decisions that they need to make, and just making sure that they continually grow in their respective crafts and field.

      What led you to work in video games?

      I actually stumbled upon video games. So, a friend of mine suggested—I guess she was in a headhunter agency—and she had heard that there was this role available at Electronic Arts. This was eight years ago; I can’t believe it. So, I wasn’t really sure kind of what I wanted to do. I had a couple of things that were on my mind. So, I said, “Sure.”

      I went in, and I remember walking into the Burnaby studio that day. I will never forget, because I opened the doors—and I came from various corporate backgrounds, like law firms, et cetera—so I walked into this building where there’s high-definition TVs flashing, you know, screens of Madden and screens of NHL. As I walked in, there was a glass window above the foyer—the entranceway—which is quite large, if you’ve ever been to the Burnaby studio. I remember seeing a bunch of cubes and people working, and this guy rode his bike kind of behind the cube chairs across in front of me. I thought, “Oh my goodness.” It was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. There was this energy when I walked in.

      So, I walked in and had my interview with a couple of the Worldwide guys. Then I went back again and was interviewed by Don Mattrick and Paul Lee, and I was there to interview for a role to help Glenn out. So, I started there. I was lucky enough to work with Glenn Entis. Like I said, he is like a visionary and an industry great. So, it was such an awesome introduction for me to the studio and to the industry as a whole. So, I worked with him the first four years of my life at EA, and then branched off into dev.

      How do you think game development is changing?

      I think teams are becoming far more agile. We went from sort of the big-team, big-budget blockbuster to how can we function in a lean, agile way that allows us to create high-quality games but still allows us to also ensure that our cultures are intact and healthy. So, it’s just been a shift in mindset in terms of how the teams function as a whole, and lot more community sharing and knowledge sharing versus the silos, the old way.

      What kinds of games do you like to play?

      I must say that I—so, back in the day, when I was into the Super Mario games of the world—my focus is more on time with my daughter and my family. So, if I do play any games around here, obviously I love playing the Need for Speed title. But I love the puzzle games. They’re always a lot of fun. I get intimidated by all the hard-core gamers that are around me everyday. So, I like to play the fun, not-so-scary games.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at