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Joe Ybarra is currently the Vice President of Product Development at Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment, the company attempting to bring the Stargate franchise to an MMOG near you. His resume boasts an astonishing array of credits and stints with companies such as Apple, Activision, Broderbund, Sierra On-Line, Microsoft Game Studios and Ubisoft. He's also one of the co-founders of industry giant Electronic Arts.
I first met Joe at last year's Austin Game Conference, where he and various other Cheyenne employees (most veterans of other studios) were busy drumming up attention for their fledgling game, Stargate Worlds, set in the Stargate universe somewhere along the timeline of the television series.
Stargate Worlds is eagerly anticipated by both fans of the television show and devotees of sci-fi MMOGs (of which there are very few), but after speaking with Joe and his team for an hour or so in Austin, it became clear that the real story behind Stargate Worlds was its developer, Cheyenne Mountain, and beyond that, Joe Ybarra.
As we talked about Stargate, his plans for the franchise and Cheyenne's operating philosophy, a picture emerged of Joe Ybarra; a portrait of a true veteran developer, a man who's weathered the storms of a juvenile industry and has emerged, if not always victorious, determined to wave the twin flags of common sense and attention to detail in the face of an industry which has grown far too comfortable with throwing the dice and occasionally getting lucky.
Joe was kind enough to sit down recently with The Escapist for a follow-up interview.
The Escapist: Tell me a little bit about how you started in the industry.
Joe Ybarra: How did I start in the industry? I had to wait for the industry to be created before I could start in it. I've been a gamer all of my life, and it really wasn't until I went to work for Apple Computer in my late 20s before - you know, this is right at the peak of the Atari 2600 revolution, if you could call it that - and it was pretty interesting, because I knew I wanted to be in electronic games, it's just there was no business.
At any rate, what [working for Apple] does is it leads me to the opportunity of getting a chance to work in the same company that Trip Hawkins is working in.
I actually never met Trip until he left Apple, and then I went to work for him at EA, but essentially our reputations intersected with each other, even though we ourselves never intersected. And so ... he called me up and said, "Hey, I'm interested in starting a computer game company, and are you interested in being involved in that?" And I said yes, absolutely. So that's how I became one of the founders of EA, and the rest is history from there.
EA for me is very much of a start-up type of experience, because the first couple of years that I worked in EA we didn't have more than 40 people working in the entire company, so we all knew each other very well; we worked very closely together. The [idea of a 100-hour work week] easily started in that time period, so I saw more of my co-workers than any other human being, wife and children included. So they were very close experiences. ... There were no producers there; we had no methodology for doing things, we had no money either, and so it was very much a "if we don't get this done we may not survive" kind of an existence for several years while I was there.