Nicole Willick transitioned from television production to video game production more than 10 years ago. As a senior producer with Activision Publishing, Inc., Nicole manages all aspects of game production, from multimillion dollar budgets to developer tracking and management. to interacting with all internal departments to get the game out the door on time, on budget and hitting all quality targets. When she’s not hard at work at the Santa Monica-based company, game producer Nicole Willick is at home spending quality time with her 8-year-old daughter.
How did you end up at Activision as a video game producer? How long have you been there?
I was in television production for 4 years prior to Activision. I wasn’t happy at my current workplace, so someone I knew at Activision clued me into an open Associate Producer position. My multitasking skills transferred well as I dove into the video game world. I have now been at Activision for 10 years.
Have you always worked on kid-friendly titles? Why?
My first video game projects were on the Tony Hawk series (Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1-3). After working on a Disney licensed title, I then segued onto the DreamWorks properties and most recently Fox’s Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. There was no “choice” involved in my project selection; I work where I am needed most. I am open to any genre and don’t wish to limit myself to any one type of game.
How old are your children?
I have one daughter who will be starting 3rd grade in the fall. She is almost 8 years old.
What is most important to you when producing a children’s video game?
The fun factor! Can a kid pick up and play the game quickly without reading instructions? Is the game or the mini-games within the game fun for the parents to play with their child? The overall experience should be engaging and rewarding for the whole family.
You are definitely a busy, full time working mom. What kinds of things do you tell yourself to get over the mommy guilt?
The bottom line is that I love my job. I make video games for a living. It keeps me young and there is definitely a cool factor with my daughter and her friends. As with any job, there are sometimes long hours, but I always make it a point to be home every evening to have dinner with my family and tuck my daughter in at bedtime.
Do you think you’d be as invested and passionate about your job/company if you weren’t a mother? (If she only does children’s games)?
Yes! I was at Activision for over 2 years before my daughter was born. I grew up playing video games and can’t believe I’ve made a career working on them.
Have you ever gauged the success or likeability of a product based on your children’s reactions?
Not really . . . my daughter is not a huge gamer. She prefers simulation games that let her cook or design clothing; she’s not much of an action-adventure gamer. But she does love to come in to my office and help test the games and see if she can break them.
How do you ensure the ESRB rating stays at an appropriate level? Do you have kid testers?
We are quite familiar with the ESRB ratings process and requirements, so we know what content to avoid. The European rating standards are actually stricter than the US and prove more challenging to adjust gameplay to comply. We do use kid testers, but not to gauge our ratings. The kids come in to help us tune the gameplay and validate the fun-factor.
What do you say to people who criticize video games for children? What is your advice to parents when selecting appropriate video games for their children?
Everyone has a right to their opinion, and I am not offended in any way if someone does not wish their child to play videogames. I think it is the parents’ responsibility to gauge the appropriateness of a game for their child. Of course the parents should read the ESRB labels for the cautionary descriptors, but it’s up to the parents to decide if their child has the emotional maturity to distinguish a game from reality.
What makes the Ice Age 3 video game so different from the other two releases?
For the first time in an Ice Age game, you can play as multiple characters. The game allows players to master the unique abilities and combat skills of six playable characters through a wide variety of gameplay including action-platforming challenges, side-scrolling missions and puzzle solving. Another first for the Ice Age game franchise, players will go head-to-head with friends and family in the all-new competitive multiplayer mini-games.
Psst, gamer geek moms — come on, we know you're out there — if you enjoyed our interview with Activision game producer Nicole Willick, don't miss our interview with LeapFrog's V.P. of Educational Gaming, Maureen Bunney !