Today was a real treat for me as I was able to interview Patrick Bellanca, one of the lead producers and designers of EA Sports Madden NFL. I’ve been a fan of the Madden series since I was a little kid, and it was a thrill to get an inside perspective on how the game is created and worked on. Along with a few inside looks at what we can expect from the Madden ’13 game set to his stores in August, Patrick talked about his current position at Electronic Arts, and how he fell in love with sports gaming.
Patrick knew he wanted to be involved in the video game industry at a young age, and took computer-related courses at Rochester Institute of Technology. After that, Patrick began working his way up the latter of EA by having a keen eye for design and the aesthetics people look for in gaming. Along with being a gamer at heart, Patrick is able to play a game both as a fan and as a designer, which is why he has been able to achieve the level of success that he has. As most of us have played a version of Madden at some point in our lives, learning how the game is improved year after year was great to hear first hand.
Patrick gave me a rare and unique look into sports gaming, and this interview will most assuredly provide useful for those who aspire to become game designers.
Patrick Discusses Sports Gaming, Madden NFL and What it Takes to be a Video Game Designer
During the interview, Patrick and I discussed:
- How he was able to rise through the ranks of Electronic Arts and solidify his position in sports gaming
- The new features in Madden ’13 and how they decided to implement them
- How player ratings in Madden are determined
- The path Patrick believes aspiring sports gaming professionals should take
Transcription from Patrick Bellanca Interview
Lucas Biebelberg: Hello everyone. Thanks again for joining us today on sportsnetworker.com. Today is a real treat for us, especially for people like me who have loved Madden since I was a little kid. We’re joined by one of the lead designers and producers of the EA Sports Madden NFL game, Mr. Patrick Bellanca. Patrick, how are you today?
Patrick Bellanca: I’m great! Thanks for having me on!
Lucas Biebelberg: As one of the lead designers and lead producers of the EA Sports Madden video game, what path did you take to reach the position you are currently in?
Patrick Bellanca: It’s a bit of a wild one! I knew I wanted to be apart of the video game industry from a young age. I’ve been a gamer my whole life. So when I went to college, I decided I was going to take computer-related courses. There was nothing in gaming at the time, so I ended up being a part of a curriculum that set up new classes and is now training gaming industry hopefuls at the Rochester Institute of Technology in my hometown of Rochester. After that, I got into EA working a bit with the QA department, and through working my way up and having a sharp eye for design, I was given an opportunity to be a designer on the Wii project, and worked my way onto the big, bad, the real Madden, Gen 3 project.
Lucas Biebelberg: In terms of the upcoming version of Madden, Madden ‘13, which is set to hit stores in August, what are some of the features that you’ve worked to improve the game.
Patrick Bellanca: I had a lot to do with presentation this year. So, we got Jim Nantz and Phil Simms into our game for the first time ever, and they look and sound amazing. I was involved with the presentation in how we get them on the screen. You’re interacting with them, they’re talking to you, with some beautiful lip sync. Everything around pre-game, and halftime, and post-game, and the integration of presentation with connected careers mode, which we’ll get into a bit. Really, I’ve been fully focused with the presentation side of Madden NFL ’13.
Lucas Biebelberg: A question on everyone’s mind, especially mine when I play with my team which is the Jets in Madden, is how do you work to determine the ratings for each individual player? I’m hoping you can describe for us the process that goes in to projecting a player’s rating for each upcoming madden game because in a way, you guys are kind of like scouts.
Patrick Bellanca: We like to think of it that way. We’re attached to the NFL, but from the outside. We’ve got a ratings and roster guy, who goes by the name of Donnie Moore. Donnie Moore, our ratings czar, has basically turned ratings and rosters into an art. It all starts with watching football. We watch every game of every week. We take notes. I’ve watched a lot of games with Donnie, and its pretty amazing how he knows everybody from basically their first college scouting report through combine day, he’s familiar with all these guys. So getting them into the game with their initial ratings is really just a matter of how they perform statistically, what others are saying, what other trusted analysts are saying, but it’s a bit of a guy call. That’s really only a small part of the ratings and rosters. We maintain ratings and rosters every week throughout the season into the post-season, and so those are derived from their performances from the week prior. So it’s not all statistical, there’s a lot of magic, there’s a lot of gut instinct, there’s a lot of comparing this type of guy with this other type of guy. When it’s all said and done, its subjective, its open for discussion. We talk about it, we love it, and we interact with athletes that think their speech should be higher or guys may think we’re dogging them because were fans of the opponents but that’s not the case at all. There’s quite a bit of work that goes into it, and Donnie is really amazing at it.
Lucas Biebelberg: You referenced earlier on that Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have taken over the broadcasting for the new Madden game. What can we expect from them and what went into the decision to choose them as the A-team for the Madden game.
Patrick Bellanca: The decision was easy. They’re CBS’ top crew, they’re the A crew. As we watch a lot of film, we’re seeing these guys week after week. Ravens-Steelers, you’re going to have Nantz and Simms. They are CBS’ go-to crew. And so when we sat and looked at Madden NFL ’12, the commentary was a bit of a low point in that product, and we knew we needed to make a change. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are CBS’ trusted guys, so we started with them. We took a lot from broadcast TV this year, you’ll see in our presentation package television inspired, broadcast inspired, UI, banners, graphical elements, and Nantz and Simms. Selecting them was easy. Getting them in the game the way we wanted them in the game was a bit more work, so we’ve got them in the game, they present the pre-game of every game, they’re right up in your face, perfect lip-sync, and they’re setting up the story of today’s game. So they’re going to be talking to you about what week it is, what’s important, what type of match-up (divisional, first meeting, second meeting, is it a hot rivalry, is it a must win, are we in the playoff chase, is this a holiday week), so Jim Nantz starts with, “Hello Friends,” and Phil Simms has some note about it, and they et up really every game for you with this great lip sync right on camera. Once we got them to record their lines, which they did together which was amazing and something we never got out of a broadcast crew before, so the magic that you hear on Sunday is the magic that you hear in Madden. These guys will laugh and play off of each other. They know each other, they have excellence rapport, and they do this every Sunday. SO when we got them in the booth, we sort of just gave them situations like, “Ben Roethlisberger off of a three-game win streak,” and they just know what to say because they’ve done that before, and so it was really natural that we just set up these situations and didn’t have to script anything. We have an editor, we have a writer, we put stuff together, but they took a look at it and said we know how this goes, and in a lot of cases they curved our attention and use case for a certain line if they weren’t up to the way CBS had them do it. So they would interject and say my producer would have had me do it a different way, do you mind if I do it the way I’m most comfortable? And our answer is, yea! The way you’re most comfortable is the way we’re going to get the most realism.
Lucas Biebelberg: So in a way, it doesn’t just enhance the game play, it enhances the off-the-field play because they have a keen sense of what’s going on in your season.
Patrick Bellanca: Yes, it’s a full football ambiance. Just hearing them in post-play analyze that you went inside instead of going outside, is a real subtle thing that was missing in the game that brings us one step closer to broadcast television.
Lucas Biebelberg: The last question we have for you today, Patrick, is what advice would you give to those aspiring to break into the business of sports (gaming)?
Patrick Bellanca: To be in sports gaming is where I have my experience. I wish I had broken into sports on the other side of the field lines. To get into sports gaming, I would suggest that any industry hopeful plays a lot of games. We all play games and we’re all gamers, but there is a difference between playing a game, and playing a game like you want to make a game. When I realized I wanted to start making games, I played with a different sense and a different eye. I was paying attention to why I was having fun, and being able to communicate the subtleties of what you love about games you love to play will help you in the long run in describing both at your job interview what you love and don’t love, what you’re passionate about, and with those experiences how to make other games that use similar types of things fun. So working on Madden is a lot of fun because we’re pressed with releasing a football game. Every year we’re making a football game. Sometimes people will say we fully explored the football space, but I don’t think that’s true at all. There is tons and tons of room for growth for this product, for ways to make the game for fun, and for ways to market he game feel more and more like an immersive broadcast. So it’s tapping into that creativity and those fun memories of early games and things that drew me in and taught me. I have a fiancé and she’s not very good at games. She falls into pits anytime we have to platform jump, and I am thankful that I played all these games that taught me all the general rules of video games, and she lacks all that. So, in retrospect you have to play it, learn it, analyze it, and communicate it outward and others will feel your passion and want you on their team.
Lucas Biebelberg Patrick, thank you very much for your time today. You gave us some great insight and some sneak peaks into what we can expect in August in the new Madden, and hopefully anyone interested in sports gaming will watch this once or twice to get some good advice from you. For sportsnetworker.com I’m Lucas Biebelberg, thank you very much.
Patrick Bellanca: Cool, check us out August 28th!
What did you think of the interview with Patrick? Would you like to have his job with EA Sports? Let us know in the comments below or send us a tweet @sportsnetworker!
The interview was very interesting. provided me with lots of good and useful information. I would love to read this article of yours.