Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Where are they now? - Don Mattrick

Don Mattrick was the designer behind 1990 stunt racing game "Stunts" aka "4D Sports Driving"

For this week's "Where are they now?" I want to talk about a chap that to me is responsible for developing many memorable racing games of the late 80s and early 90s and oversaw the start of some best-selling franchises. In recent years, he has been behind some controversial business decisions but we'll get to that in a bit. Let us learn more about Don Mattrick.

Don Mattrick was born in 1964 and there's not too much information about his early years, although he did start a game development company at the very young age of 17. In 1982 Mattrick and Jeff Sember established Distinctive Software in British Columbia, Canada. Mattrick would design and program 1987's critically acclaimed Test Drive which was praised for its excellent graphics and sound and would be the first of many Test Drive games over the next few decades, including Test Drive Unlimited 2 which we have reviewed. Mattrick would only directly work on one more game in the Test Drive series and that was the sequel Test Drive II released in 1989 which he also designed and programmed.

Mattrick would also be responsible for designing one of my favourite games of all time: 1990's Stunts aka 4D Sports Driving. This game wasn't only a racing game but one where, as the name suggests, you can do stunts like driving around in a corkscrew, driving upside down in a loop or even jumping over bridges. You also got a whole bunch of cars and opponents to race. The best part of all though was the ability to design your own stunt tracks which meant hours upon hours of replay value.

In 1991 Distinctive was purchased by EA for $11 million (which seems like chump change nowadays) and became known as EA Canada. It's also EA's largest and oldest studio (if you count the original formation date of Distinctive) and has developed many games, mainly under the EA Sports brand. Mattrick is credited as being the executive producer of two games that would become huge franchises for EA: 1993's FIFA International Soccer and 1994's The Need for Speed. The FIFA series is now the best-selling sports video game franchise in the world and the Need for Speed series is also very popular having sold over 140 million copies.

Mattrick worked his way up the corporate ladder to become President of Worldwide Studios at EA before resigning in 2006 to eventually work at Microsoft as an advisor to the Entertainment and Devices Division. He oversaw the Xbox 360 and PC gaming businesses, and is credited for bringing the Kinect to the Xbox 360. In 2010 he was promoted to Head of Interactive Entertainment Business.

In 2013, Mattrick unveiled the Xbox One and copped quite a bit of flak for his controversial response to the Xbox One's original lack of an offline mode:

"We have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity; it's called Xbox 360"

Microsoft and indeed Mattrick backpedalled and shortly after stated players could choose to play offline Xbox One games if they wished but dropping the online-only requirement also resulted in the axing of several other features.

Shortly before the launch of Xbox One, Mattrick left Microsoft to work at the (in)famous Facebook game company, Zynga as CEO. Shares in Zynga skyrocketed at the announcement and Mattrick took some pretty harsh measures in order to bring the company back into the black including layoffs of over 300 staff. However despite cost-cutting measures and investments into new technologies such as the procedural animation technology used by British software company, NaturalMotion, it wasn't enough to save Zynga's continual losses and Mattrick recently resigned from Zynga just last month.

So what exactly is he up to these days? Beats me but something tells me Mattrick's story isn't quite over yet. He's apparently pretty wealthy though so he'd probably live a comfortable retirement if that's what is in store for him but wouldn't it be choice if he could develop a successor for Stunts? Although I suspect Trackmania may have filled in that niche... would be nice to see him return to his racing game development roots though :)!

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: Don Mattrick ]
[ VentureBeat: Why CEO Don Mattrick is Done at Zynga (08 Apr 15) ]
[ MobyGames: Don A. Mattrick]

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