Grantsville resident Kelly Mondragon has a job that, on paper, may not appear especially out of the ordinary. His responsibilities sound much like those of any other business manager.
On an average day, he might meet with other professionals to collaborate new projects, supervise production to keep things on schedule and on budget, assess the product to ensure it meets industry standards, and so on.
Of course, he might also hire video game testers, manage the scope and content of new releases, and pitch ideas to Electronic Arts executives. But it’s all in a day’s work, if you’re a video game producer at the third largest games company in the world.
Mondragon came to the games industry in 2007, when EA hired him as an associate producer. Previously, he had worked in the healthcare industry, but his position as a project manager gave him the management skills EA was looking for at the time. It was a lucky, though relatively unusual, break into an industry Mondragon had hoped he might one day become part of. But it also represented a leap of faith into the new, and often turbulent, business of game development.
“It was terrifying leaving the healthcare industry,” Mondragon said.
However, the change treated Mondragon well. After hiring him on as an associate producer, EA later promoted Mondragon to a Producer I position. Generally speaking, Mondragon is responsible for ensuring all the artists, animators and programmers working on a new game create bits and pieces that fit together well. But the details of his job can have him working public relations at a trade show one day, and testing game features the next.
“The best part about being a producer — I get to deal with all the disciplines that go into a game,” Mondragon said.
His position also gives Mondragon some ability to shape new games as they are created. His team’s primary project is currently developing new expansion packs, including the recently announced “Island Paradise” expansion and another unnamed, future-themed expansion, for the ever-popular Sims franchise. Mondragon oversees the entire process, from start to finish, and regularly checks in to make sure the game is coming along as planned.
“The games we’re building we play every day, so it does help that I enjoy the Sims,” Mondragon said. “But there are days when playing the Sims games over and over can get tedious.”
For the most part, Mondragon said, the Sims is a fantastic project to work on. The base game and concept — essentially a video game dollhouse where the player controls every aspect of his Sims’ lives — is deceptively simple, especially after the game’s nine released expansion packs and various other add-ons are taken into account.
“It really is a massive game, and it’s really challenging to design so that it all works together,” Mondragon said. “But that’s what I love about it.”
Challenging design and daily video gaming aren’t the only perks of his position. Mondragon also gets to test-drive the newest, most innovative gaming technology available to developers, allowing him to imagine how a new console concept might be applied to his game development projects.
“We’re pretty excited for the next generation of consoles,” Mondragon said. “It’s fun to see the latest and greatest in technology.”
Mondragon isn’t authorized to share what the next generation of console might look like, but he said contrary to some speculation based on industry reports, he doesn’t believe the console is going away.
“Consoles are more accessible than PC gaming for families, and I don’t think that’s going to change,” Mondragon said.
Where PC gaming can require constant upgrades and attention to the requirements of each new release, consoles have the advantage of being ready to go and relatively stable, Mondragon said. That makes them less time consuming and more family-oriented.
“I can sit down and throw in a game and play with my family,” he said.
Some of his favorite games, Mondragon said, are popular Wii titles such as “Just Dance,” which he enjoys playing with the rest of his family. That family bonding time, he said, is one of the good sides to video gaming, which he believes can be beneficial to families and individuals, so long as the games that are played are age-appropriate and the amount of time dedicated to them monitored.
On the other hand, his favorite games to play individually are typically more story-oriented, single-player games like the “Uncharted” series. Improved game narratives and graphics are only making the genre more exciting, he said.
“Movies and games — the line is starting to blur,” Mondragon said.
Living in Utah has put Mondragon at the center of much of the innovation currently taking place in the U.S. video game industry, he said. In addition to EA Salt Lake, the state is home to a number of video game developers who are looking to push the limits, as well as influential game design and animation programs at local universities.
The road from gamer to developer can be long and full of twists and turns, according to Mondragon, but for those looking to break into the industry, Utah is the place to make dreams reality.
“It’s hard to get into the industry,” he said. “But Utah is one of the better places to be.”