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A developer's journey: From poker pro, to gifted gamer, to influential developer

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Many people have the dream of wanting to develop video games for a living, and for one Justin Patel, who is an Associate Designer at EA Tiburon, his dream of doing just that came true when he showed EA just how well he knew the "Tiger Woods" franchise.

In an exclusive interview with Examiner.com today, Justin took the time to discuss life before EA, how got to be employed by the gaming giant and his outlook for himself and the franchise moving forward.

He has been working for EA Tiburon for over two years now, and this is the third "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" installment he has been a part of.

Before coming to work for one of the most entertaining EA Sports franchises around, Justin grew up wanting to have a career in the video games industry.

Patel talked about his gaming preferences growing up, and how he took an active approach in trying to make his dream of becoming a video game developer come true.

"My dream was to make video games. At heart I was always a sports gamer. I played all the EA the titles. I played 'Madden' and 'NCAA Football' every year. But golf was always a passion of mine.

"I went to college for computer science. I wanted to get in on the engineering side to write code for games. I paid my own way through school, while working full-time, but it was all a bit too much for me.

"So I took a break from school, and other life things came up that worked out well, and they allowed me to stop school altogether," Patel said.

A career in poker and becoming very successful at the game many in the world love provided Justin with the opportunity to travel cross-country so he could compete in various poker events.

Soon though, the travel and grind of that lifestyle wore on Justin, and it was when he started becoming more interested and passionate about the popular EA Sports franchise "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" that an opportunity with the company began to open up.

As Justin attended various community events the company held for its most dedicated players, he began to impress certain developers of the game, which eventually lead to an offer from EA Tiburon.

"I had no previous development experience. I went to a community meeting, and I wasn’t big on the changes they made to the previous year’s installment. I provided a lot of feedback that was well taken, and the next thing I knew was I getting a job offer," Patel said.

Admittedly though, taking the offer from EA and leaving his entire life behind in North Carolina was no easy decision for him to make.

"It was a hard decision at the time to take the 6-month contract. I had a lot of family and close friends where I lived in North Carolina. I had gotten to the point in my life where I was burnt out on poker and traveling. It was about a year and a half into taking a break from cards when I heard from EA.

"My mom helped me take the chance by saying that if EA didn’t work out I could always fall back on the things I was doing before.

"It was different coming to a place where I didn’t know anyone. There were a lot of new things I had to learn about the gaming industry, so I ended up investing all of my time into my work," Patel said.

Justin acknowledged that the result of his hard work was success and the improvement of the franchise. He described some of the aspects they changed once he arrived at EA Tiburon.

"A big thing for me when I got here was changing how the game played. I thought the mechanics were a little old. When you look at the last two games, things have changed a lot.

"As we moved forward, I would like to continue to evolve the game’s mechanics. There are areas of the game that could also use a little more help, but we will look at those in the future," Patel said.

He said one of his favorite parts of each development cycle is when the team is finished designing the game, and they get to start producing it.

"It is exciting to take those ideas and make a transition into playing them out," Patel said.

Over the course of his time at EA Tiburon, Justin has made it a point to stay involved with the "Tiger Woods" gaming community.

He said when he first started out with the company; it was easy to relate to gamers and what they wanted to see change in the game. Justin acknowledged as the distance between his time as a gamer and his position as a developer widens, it's progressively harder to maintain the perspective of a consumer.

"It’s easier to think less like a consumer the more your in the industry. I try to bring a ‘how does the consumer feel about this’ attitude to the job everyday.

"When I’ve looked at things as a consumer, I think I’ve steered some ideas away from happening that wouldn’t have necessarily been great for the game.

"I’m still an active community member. There are a lot of community members I knew before I worked on the game. I’ve played countless rounds with them and have even met some of them in person," Patel said.

Justin said that when he explains to fellow employees of how he came to work for EA, their jaws typically drop in disbelief.

"People are shocked when they hear about how I got to this point. A lot of people won’t even believe me when they hear about how I came here," Patel said.

This, however, is not an uncommon thing for a developer to hire a passionate member of its gaming community, as Justin explains.

"One of my brother’s good friends got hired at Activision because he was really good at 'Call of Duty.'

"One of my good friends was developing phone apps and actually lived off of the earnings from that for a couple of years. They were affordable apps he made on his own. Cisco took notice of that and they hired him. Things like this are fairly common in the industry," Patel said.

Justin then explained the Game Changers Program that EA runs, and said it is one of the best ways to gain the attention of developers.

"It’s a program where the best players of the game actively take part in community days and media days. They will also do tips and tricks videos. They really help the dev team with in-game feedback.

"There is an application process people can go through, and when the studio is looking to add, they usually take the most experienced players," Patel said.

Gamers can all check out Patel's work on EA Sports' "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14" when it is released on March 26th.

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