Former Civilization and Spore designer discloses reasons for leaving

EA’s Soren Johnson departs for Zynga

Soren Johnson, a veteran designer for EA has chosen to leave the big-name publisher for Zynga.

The developer spent most of his career at Firaxis, and was lead designer for Civilization IV, before moving to EA to work on Will Wright’s Spore.

In September, he joined a growing number of industry veterans leaving EA for the social media Goliath.

Speaking to Games Industry International, Johnson pointed to a decline in the number of big-budget titles and the rising tide of social and mobile development as reasons for seeking fairer climes.

It began when Johnson began talking to Tim Train and Brian Reynolds, old colleagues from his days at Firaxis.

The two co-founded Big Huge games, but have since taken to the social gaming scene. Train is now general manager for Zynga East, and Reynolds has become Zynga’s new chief game designer.

"I’ll have to admit that before talking to Tim and Brian I had not considered working at Zynga or at any of the other companies focused solely on social gaming," said Johnson.

"I have a huge amount of respect for the work Tim and Brian have done together – from Microprose (Colonization, Civ3) to Firaxis (Alpha Centauri) to Big Huge Games (Rise of Nations, Rise of Legends). Brian is among just a handful of people who has both designed and programmed a version of Civilization, so I knew we would speak the same language. Having a high level of trust in my co-workers is very important to me, so that connection helped me take the leap of faith to join Zynga."

It wasn’t an easy sell, however.

"Social gaming has provoked a lot of criticism in the industry," says Johnson.

"I was concerned about the role game designers played in the development process as I believe games rise or fall based on the vision of the people driving the design."

"Many designers are openly worried about whether social game design is being led by metrics towards decisions which maximize revenue over fun. Tim and Brian, however, convinced me that Zynga is shifting its primary focus to game design."

But Johnson says it was the promise of fulfilling was his own vision that prompted the move.

"Ultimately, I told Tim and Brian what type of game I wanted to make, and Zynga is now giving me the chance to make it," he said.

"The greatest opportunities today are for games that connect players and avoid the traditional retail model of gaming. Zynga suddenly made sense for me when it became clear that they wanted to experiment with new types of games in this space."

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