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Gamemaker scores an ace

Orlando's EA Tiburon will develop the new Tiger Woods video game.

By MADHUSMITA BORA
Published April 11, 2007


ORLANDO - In another coup for Central Florida's emerging video game industry, Orlando-based EA Tiburon said Tuesday that it is the developer of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 video game. Slated for a summer launch, the game was originally created at the California studios of parent company Electronics Arts Inc.

Landing the latest franchise helps the Orlando studio solidify its position as the most significant player for sports games development within its parent company.

The studio already boasts an impressive roster of leading game titles, such as Madden NFL Football, NASCAR and NCAA Football. It is now talking about unveiling newer titles later in the year.

"We are working our tails off to bring quality games," said Steve Chiang, general manager. "We are here because we love games."

The newest addition catapults the studio's audience beyond its traditional base of American football fanatics and superhero fans to golf, a sport that transcends age, gender and national boundaries. It's also creating more work for the Florida location, triggering job openings. Last year the studio hired 140 people. This year it plans to add another 100.

For Florida this means more high-tech jobs, and recognition as the home of one of the most prominent sports video game developers.

"They represent the highest form of opportunities for the metro Orlando area and the corridor," said Randy Berridge, president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

The economic development represents Central Florida tech companies from the Tampa Bay area east along Interstate 4 through Orlando to the Atlantic coast.

The Orlando-Tampa Bay area has been home to defense-related industries for decades, Berridge said. Companies such as EA Tiburon require similar job skills, albeit for the commercial arena. Its success symbolized that the area is more than just a hub for defense research and contractors.

"The idea that you have a company that represents the largest producer in the video gaming industry sends a signal to the entire region," Berridge said.

So, does it help to inherit two of the most powerful brands - Tiger Woods and John Madden - in the world of gamers?

"Definitely," said Joe Laszlo, research director at Jupiter Research. "What inspires people in significant numbers are the sequels, so owning the franchise is a huge asset."

The game software industry reached $7-billion in sales in 2006, according to Jupiter Research. It's expected to surpass $8-billion by 2009. As the industry grows, the challenge for game developers such as EA Tiburon will be to constantly innovate and add new features, Laszlo said.

At EA Tiburon, programmers are already heeding that call.

The next generation of games would be more interactive in nature with a focus on user-generated content, said EA Tiburon's Chiang.

Players would be able to create their own game and characters from EA Tiburon screen shots and post it on the Web or e-mail it to friends and family. They would also be able to create social networks with fellow gamers.

The strategy is to mirror popular Internet portals such as youtube.com, which allows video sharing, and myspace.com, a social-networking site.

Some of the elements will debut with the newest Tiger Woods PGA Tour version.

The game will allow players to play as themselves by creating their animated image from a photo.

It will also allow them to play with people from across the world, but not in real time.

Ever fantasized about being a pro golfer, but shied away from the tee? Here may be a chance to live your dream. At least virtually.

Madhusmita Bora can be reached at mbora@sptimes.com.