Noted game designer and programmer Soren Johnson, who has worked on titles like Spore
and the Civilization
series, has left Electronic Arts to join rival company Zynga.
Johnson cited shifts in the game industry away from big-budget retail games with long development periods, and toward relatively low-cost mobile/social titles that can be regularly updated, as one of his primary reasons for joining Zynga.
He joined Zynga last September after he was courted by the heads of FrontierVille
developer Zynga East, studio general manager Tim Train and chief game designer Brian Reynolds, both veterans from Firaxis and Big Huge Games.
"Many designers are openly worried about whether social game design is being led by metrics towards decisions which maximize revenue over fun," said Johnson in an interview
with GamesIndustry.biz. "Tim and Brian, however, convinced me that Zynga is shifting its primary focus to game design.
"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. 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."
He is now working on a strategy title at Zynga East as design director. The multiplayer-focused HTML5 project is meant to be a departure from Zynga's usual output, in that it actually has an ending, with winners and losers.
When Gamasutra published an early report of Johnson jumping ship to Zynga last year
, insiders indicated that he was heading development of a game that would compete with Civ World
, Firaxis' social game adaptation of beloved strategy series Civilization
Johnson got his start in the industry at EA as an intern more than a decade ago. He eventually joined Firaxis and worked there for seven years before returning to EA in 2007. Most recently, he was a lead designer at the EA2D team, where he worked on Dragon Age: Legends
EA has previously acknowledged that it's far behind Zynga
in the social space, though it's attempting to catch up. But Zynga hasn't made it easy for EA, as it's poached key executives
from the competitor in recent years, such as former COO John Schappert and EA Interactive head Barry Cottle.