Marcus Stephenson Moves To THQ For SvR

Posted March 12th, 2010 at 6:38 am

Some of you may already be familiar with Marcus Stephenson. He has been around for quite some time driving community initiatives or just being accessible within the community. After running a Madden fan site for years he took a position as a Community Manager at the EA Canada studio before moving between a few different projects, most notably as a Producer on NBA Live 10. He has now left the EA Sports studio and holds the position of Game Designer for WWE Smackdown vs Raw at THQ. I had the opportunity to ask Marcus a few questions about his time at EA and his new role at THQ.

PP: What prompted the decision to leave your current position to join THQ?

MS: I chose to leave EA because the opportunity to work in a lead position on the WWE franchise was too good to pass up, and most that know me know that wrestling has always been a big passion of mine.

PP: When you started working at EA Sports what were your main interests and what was the career path you had hoped for? How does the move to THQ change those plans or is the new position what you had always hoped for?

MS: I honestly didn’t know. When I first got to EA SPORTS, I just wanted to excel in what I was doing. I tried my best to bring community to the forefront of EA SPORTS, and I think I did that. Then I wanted to make an impact on a game team (as a Producer), and leverage my community experience, to create a better game – and I think we did that (NBA LIVE). I was at a crossroads at EA SPORTS on what exactly I wanted to do next (continue down the development path, or go back into community management). I accepted a role as Sr. Community Manager for FIFA ONLINE because, well, it’s FIFA – why wouldn’t I?

The move to THQ cements in my mind what and where I want to go from a personal career perspective. The new position is something I have always hoped for because I get to work on a passion of mine, with a franchise that has been successful for a number of years, and on a team that knows where it wants to go in the future.

PP: You have previously worked on NBA Live 10 before most recently moving to FIFA Online. At the time what was the reasoning for shifting away from working on NBA Live 11? Was that something you wanted to do or were you frustrated by the situation?

MS: I had such a fun time working on NBA LIVE 10, I’ll cherish those memories making that game forever, and I’ll miss that team! Things changed once NBA LIVE 10 shipped, and we started pre production on NBA LIVE 11. It was no longer a place I saw myself.

PP: When Mike Wang departed from NBA Live to re-join 2K Sports for NBA 2K11 he cited a big reason being a change in direction for the Live series. Would you agree with that assessment, that NBA Live may be moving away from being a simulation offering? That EA Sports is not committed to the vision that Mike Wang and yourself had for the future of NBA Live?

The way I see it, things change. I can’t say the direction NBA LIVE is moving in, I can say it will be “different,” but I think it will be up to all of you on what you want from a basketball simulation. There are guys on that team that know what’s being said out there, and they’re building something pretty special I think. Mike made his decision, just like I made mine, but I wish the NBA LIVE team success, and think they’re on a path to making that happen.

PP: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the most recent Smackdown vs Raw?

MS: I think where the SvR series has gotten to from a customization perspective, is unmatched. You can basically create anything you want from characters, to unique storylines, and share them with the community. As for “weaknesses,” I think that every area in SvR could use improvement. That’s the goal that every team should have, at least in my experience. You can feel reassured that the team knows about every issue, but we want to make sure that we’re making improvements that effect the franchise long term, and not just for a short term temporary fix. I think sports games get caught up in the quick fix that creates more problems, instead of thinking long term to ensure quality and stability.

PP: Like any yearly title gamers inevitably scrutinize and ask if enough has been done in that one year to warrant another purchase. The WWE franchise has been viewed by some as lethargic and not having made the expected big advancements or in some cases even going backwards. How do you take WWE and enhance the experience every year?

MS: Thank god for software right? If we could get everything we wanted to get into SvR, or any sports game for that matter, in one year, we’d do it. With that said, I get the complaints, and think that as long as there are ideas, there will not be a “lethargic” sense to SvR.

Wrestling games have untapped potential when compared to other sports titles. We’re thinking of things that you guys haven’t ever dreamed (or have and were spot on) so I think there’s a lot of things left in the tank that we can do from a year to year basis to make sure SvR stays fresh year in and year out. You’ll find this out soon enough!

PP: Smackdown vs Raw 2010 saw marked improvement in reviews. The consensus seemed to be that the features were great but the gameplay still needed work. How do you feel about 2010 and how has the team looked at goals for 2011?

MS: I’d agree, the team made huge strides with last year’s effort, and even in gameplay, we saw improvements (seamless transitions between grapple states, dives, etc.). We have a plan for gameplay, and we really think it’s going to make a big difference. Bryan Williams and his team are working hard to keep building off of the things you saw last year, and introduce new things – but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. You’ll see soon!

PP: In what ways do you and those already working on SvR take feedback from the community and how do you utilize it to improve the game?

MS: I know our team reads what the community is saying, but that’s where I think I can have an immediate impact on the team. I’m planning to bring the two way communication to the SvR series, and that means that I’ll be available anytime, and answer every question. Even if I can’t answer the question, I’ll say “I can’t answer,” which is technically an answer. My point is that the community has always played a role in the creation of SvR, but this year, I’d like to bring that to another level!

PP: With THQ in control of the WWE license until at least 2018 does the license security result in the ability to implement more creativity and innovation or are there still limitations to what can be done?

MS: I think that the license deal helps us. That was actually a big reason for me coming here, so I’m glad it was able to happen. I’d say for us, if a simulation wrestling game is what you want, then no other company is in better position to do that than us. This license helps us achieve that goal!

PP: What is there about the WWE that could be better translated to a video game?

MS: The history. The WWE has a legacy that we all can’t deny. I think whether it’s through broadcast presentation, or new modes and features, we need to leverage that history better into SvR so that when you fire up the game, you get a sense of something bigger / greater than just the 2011 / 2012 snapshot or installment of that year.

PP: Is Smackdown vs Raw intended to appeal most to WWE fans or is the game also designed to reach gamers who may not watch much WWE? If you also hope to attract the casual fans how do you balance the game to be fun for everyone?

MS: That’s a great question. I think first we obviously need to appeal to the WWE fan. They’re our lifeblood, and the reason why we’ve been so successful. But I also know that games like “Wrestlemania 2000” and “No Mercy” transcended the audience, and appealed to everyone. I think that sometimes we tie the words “casual” and “fun” together, and maybe that might be the wrong way of looking at it. My belief is that if we create the ultimate WWE simulation, then the “casual” will want to check it out because of the game’s quality and attention to detail. I think that’s where the “ultimate user control” comes in.

You take a game like NHL, and wonder why that’s been so successful. They put control right into the user’s hands which made it fun for non-hockey fans to play because THEY were shooting, THEY were moving their stick. The same thing goes for Fight Night. When you feel like YOU’RE punching, you’re having fun.

PP: THQ also owns the incredibly successful UFC Undisputed series. Do you see THQ as building a “fighting” brand and becoming known for that?

MS: I’d hope so, yes. With the WWE and UFC at the forefront of THQ, I think we’re positioning ourselves to be the leader in the sports fighting space.

PP: What do you hope to hear gamers saying once Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is released?

MS: “SvR 2011 is so good that I’ve gotten into wrestling!”

Thanks to Marcus Stephenson for taking the time out to answer some questions! WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 is expected to release late fall/early winter.

  • AOT

    nice interview. hope you cover wwe going forward would be a good addition to the site

  • LottaJ

    Damn everyone jumping off the sinking ship that is Live. They must have totally changed their philosophy which is scary.

  • Amen Ra

    SvR could be a hell of a game if they bring back Storyline sharing and get rid of that point-based character creation. Who the fuck comes up with these dumbass ideas?

  • Amen Ra

    Maybe I'm thinking of '09, can't remember which I played last…

  • danny

    interesting stuff. svr could be a really fun game but ive just found them to be frustrating more then anything. but with how good ufc was i think they could make the wrestling games really good too if they tried

  • Very good interview Pasta. I hope you continue to do more interviews across all of the game titles you/we follow. Thanks.

  • rockchisler

    I would like to know what this change in Live is?

  • dagamesta

    Could you ask Marcus, why is it every game he is linked to blows?

  • Marcus Stephenson on Live was awesome, hate to see him go because he was a major player for its turn around….but main components to the turn around leaving because of the direction of the franchise definitely puts Live 2011 in doubt.

  • t. daley

    Great article Pasta. Now THIS is the type of stuff you SHOULD be doing with your blog instead of that TABLOID BS of rabblerousing fanboys. KUDOS>

  • t. daley

    I wish you would have probed a bit more into the NBA Live 11 situation. MS seemed a bit tentative in his response to your questions. I don't think he wanted to burn any bridges nor step on anyones toes so to speak.

  • t. daley

    Back away from the ledge LottaJ. We will just have to wait and see. You don't get to be a billion dollar company by making unsound business decisions. Lets just wait and see what develops then pass judgement. One thing I can say is that “sink or swim”, I certainly won't be playing NBA2k11 so it will be Live or nothing in 2011.

  • t. daley

    Pasta: With EA entering into the MMA genre, did you ask MS if he had an opportunity to work on that project and if so why he rejected it.

  • t. daley

    Its funny how many people hate on Live 10 but have absolutely no reasoning behind it. Before Live 10 and Live 09 2k fanboy didn't bother to comment on the Live series b/c it was clearly obvious that 2k was superior in every way, but now with Live 09 and Live 10 pushing the envelope, 2k fanboy is realizing that their beloved basketball game is stuck in the mud and Live is steadily catching favor with the fans.

    Hopefully Live 11 wont ruin the great progress they have made over the past 2 seasons. Lives success is a 2 part process. First you have to win over the Reviewers and once you do that step 2 kicks in which is winning over the fans.

    Live 10 certainly took a huge leap in the right direction as all reviewers acknowledged the leaps that Live has made this year. Live 11 will be a critical year for this franchise. Make or break if you will. Hopefully Live 11 can do what NHL 09 did in unseeding NHL2k and ultimately killing the franchise. It would be fantastic if Live could accomplish the massive feat of burying 2k for good. Fingers crossed.

  • Its a different studio and well into the development cycle, it probably wouldn't have been a viable option at the time.

  • t. daley

    ….and for the record I am completely negative towards 2k as company. Year in and year out they have been peddling half-assed games that don't work properly. They have horrible customer service and there community is run by a bunch of egotistical tools.

    If 2k were anything other than a video game developer, they would have been out of business years ago. They are barely hanging on by a thread now. An interesting stat I picked up on will show you that 2k is on the decline. Only 55000 people bought MLB2k for the 360 where as 116000 have purchased the show for PS3. Historically 360 has always sold more units of any game over the PS3 based largely on the fact that there are more 360's on the streets. I think people are slowly wising up to 2k and are not willing to part with their hard earned money to buy substandard games. Hopefully 2k will fail miserably and we can get rid of this plague to the gaming community.

  • t. daley

    The only problem with wrestling games is that the story modes are never deep enough and the game becomes incredibly boring in a very short period of time. Take a look in your local game store and see how many copies of SvR have been traded in.

    The wrestling is great but the title just has no staying power. Its great for the first month or so but it will always be destined to hit the used game bin.

  • stephensonmc

    I don't want you guys coming away from this with any ill-feelings towards NBA LIVE. I took this b/c I wanted to work on wrestling, it had nothing to do with EA. I loved my time working at EA.

  • HustlinOwl

    Good interview Pasta

  • dagamesta


  • dagamesta


  • Next time you should add a spoiler alert before revealing info such as that!

  • dagamesta

    Good comeback!

  • charlie rudge

    is there anything thq could tell us about the game we're in march now and this is the time where the game is normally realeased so im hoping for huge improvements this year and i want to be able to think WOW! when the game is finally released!

  • charlie rudge

    piss off it's not fake it's scripted!

  • Ricky

    If thats the case I feel sorry for you, 2k10 will still be better than live 11

  • t. daley

    Why feel sorry? I don't like 2kbasketball. I dont like the gameplay style and I wont put up with the broken out of the box game. NBA2k7/8 was my last owned 2k sports game. Live 09/Live 10 offer everything I could want for a game of basketball.

  • Supporter of good basketball, don't care who its from. I usually buy both basketball games. Marcus provided tons of info, insight, passed on our suggestions and answered hundreds if not thousands of questions prior to the release of Live and him leaving the Live team last year was a loss, then Mike Wang left. Two people who I feel brought a lot of respect back to the Live community. Obviously he's talented and THQ pursued him and as long as he's happy more power to him. I'm going to pickup SVR '11 for sure, I haven't purchased it in the last couple iterations because it's basically the game year in and year out.

  • funny

    nba2k is the most complete sports game there is.

    i find it hilarious that you're still clutching to the live series lol

    that game blows and will be canned altogether in the next couple years

  • hey t. daley

    I have a serious question for you

    Do you realize that you're ruining pasta's blog? You have no life and post a reply to every single person with your dillusional rants. Seriously dude, get a life.

  • CoreySA

    Nice interview. Stephenson is a great community guy, always willing to answer questions and was part of a great team that brought Live back from the dead. I'm excited to see him move up the ladder and get a great position on an already great game. This should only help the series evolve, especially having someone so community-based working on it.

    I must admit though, it's alarming and sad to see all of these great people leave EA. I'm a tad worried about the future. Seeing the hiring of an arcade-based exec, seeing a lot of the NBA team split, and seeing some of the initiatives of the 2011 games make me wonder about the direction of some titles. I know it's still too early to base an opinion, but it's still worrying. Now if Ian leaves Madden…then the real worry starts…

  • funnyguy

    Ya T Daley is a hater. He even hates himself.

  • fun

    VG chartz is bogus.

  • Gamerk2

    Frankly, the problem with SvR is they stuck with the smackdown engine, instead of using the far superior WCW World Tour engine the N64 games used. The control scheme was perfect, and the CPU was actually fun the play against…

  • heh

    If Ian Queer Cummings left Madden they'd have a chance of turning it back into a decent game.

  • Dr. Hardin Thicke

    Yes, covering the WWE Games here would be tremendous. Then I wouldn't have to look at any other site, I'd have all my info right here.

  • Someguy

    I'm confused…. Isn't Yukes the Developer of the SvR series?

  • ARC

    Wow, this could be exactly what the SvR series needs. Someone who will actually LISTEN to the true WWE fans. I have bought every Smackdown game on the release date (excluding Just Bring It…I didn't have a PS2 yet), and I see the glaring flaws every single year. Don't get me wrong…the series has improved in many different ways, but they've also taken several steps back since the PS2 days. Please Marcus, if you're reading this, tell the developers to fix the basics (i.e. the various gameplay glitches, the old choppy animations, etc)} before adding new modes, features, etc. SvR began feeling stale around 2007, especially for veterans like myself. The series needs a major facelift.

  • ARC

    Wow, this could be exactly what the SvR series needs. Someone who will actually LISTEN to the true WWE fans. I have bought every Smackdown game on the release date (excluding Just Bring It…I didn't have a PS2 yet), and I see the glaring flaws every single year. Don't get me wrong…the series has improved in many different ways, but they've also taken several steps back since the PS2 days. Please Marcus, if you're reading this, tell the developers to fix the basics (i.e. the various gameplay glitches, the old choppy animations, etc)} before adding new modes, features, etc. SvR began feeling stale around 2007, especially for veterans like myself. The series needs a major facelift.

  • ARC

    Wow, this could be exactly what the SvR series needs. Someone who will actually LISTEN to the true WWE fans. I have bought every Smackdown game on the release date (excluding Just Bring It…I didn't have a PS2 yet), and I see the glaring flaws every single year. Don't get me wrong…the series has improved in many different ways, but they've also taken several steps back since the PS2 days. Please Marcus, if you're reading this, tell the developers to fix the basics (i.e. the various gameplay glitches, the old choppy animations, etc)} before adding new modes, features, etc. SvR began feeling stale around 2007, especially for veterans like myself. The series needs a major facelift.

  • guzda316

    Well I sure hope that you can fix this game for online. The past years the game was fun online and took alot of strategy because you had to guess if they were going to punch or grapple you. If you had a guy that used fist of fury all the time in last years game you just had to tap the strike block. But now you have noobs taking over the online gaming experience. Where they do not even try power lockups all they do are running grapples and quick grapples. Also they changed all the original superstars abilities which i think takes the fun out of the game. Come on Rey mysterio with Kip up. I sure hope you can fix the online gaming so that these noobs dont take it over next year like they did this year.

    Some matches I would like to see added to online gameplay also

    Elimination Chamber
    Survivor Series Tag Match
    Championship Shuffle
    And if possible a 30 man Royal Rumble

    That would be great to see online.

    I use to play SVR online all the time untill svr 2010 came out becuase of the reversal system is hard becuase of the lag but I do like the reversal just all the cheap players have taken over the online gaming of SVR this year.

    Thanks hope you can improve the game.

  • MachoManiac

    Great interview Marcus. I hope you can help get Smackdown vs Raw 2011 headed in the right direction. I would love to get back into playing WWE games. In my opinion, THQ hasn't had a good WWE game since Smackdown vs Raw '06. After the '06 version, they changed the controls which had been the same since the original WWF Smackdown for the original Playstation. The easier the controls, the more casual gamers you may get to play it.

    Also, the road to Wrestlemania has been messed with too much to the point where it loses it's flavor very fast. It is by far too limited on who a player can use. Why shouldn't a player be allowed to use Chavo Guerrero or Jimmy Wang Yang if they want to? WWE legends could fall into this as well. I know there are plenty of fans/players out there that would love to be able to have The Rock vs John Cena at Wrestlemania.

    Well, I'll step down off my soapbox and leave it to you and the rest of the crew at THQ. Thanks for listening to my rant.

  • BD

    Hey Marcus, i hope with your presence in the company a sign of change for SvR is eminent. If you have the time i have some ideas for this years installment, that is of course if you don't mind skimming through.

    Ideas For Exhibition Matches
    Superstars can appear ringside at the announce table and call commentary for almost all match type offering their input and expertise on wrestling or cut a promo. They can leave and return to the announce table at their own volition. The superstar ringside can interact with the wrestlers if their nearby the announce table causing a distractions or trash talk the superstars. Their involvement in the wrestler’s match is strictly unbiased meaning he can be ringside not as a manager but as a very interested spectator serving his own purpose. The Superstar have several prerecorded responses to each question asked by the commentators.

    Ideas For SvR 2011 Ladder Match:
    The Ladder Match has been a constant favorite of mine in the SvR game series and I had some small suggestions as far as ladder finishers and ladder tipping. First off is control of your superstars as far as climbing the ladder; in previous installments we were forced to wait until our superstar reached the ladder’s peak before we can regain control. Ladder sizes small and large would really elevate the excitement of this gimmick match. For the most part ladder finishers have been the most fun and exciting to use to swing the tide of the match into the players favor. In this SvR game I think the ability to interact with opponents on a ladder parallel to your position. You should be able to punch, kick, push the ladder over sending the superstars flying to the outside and perform finishers such as the RKO, Twist of Fate, Side Effect, Green Bay Plunge, Book End (or King End), etc. In the event of the ladder being tipped over the superstar(s) on that ladder can leap over to a nearby ladder parallel to their position. An interesting feature that I thought would make a good addition to this game would be the ability to prop the ladder up on the ring apron and the outside barricade allowing any individual to do whatever comes into their maniacal little minds. I mentioned being able to send your opponent off of the ladder to the ringside I’m thinking maybe the superstars can get hung or tangled up in the ropes on top of falling directly outside the ring. The last addition to this thought is adding more ladder finishers to this match allowing the gamers to choose which finisher the superstar can use.

    Idea for SvR 2011 Money In The Bank Match: **Updated**
    In addition to this franchises already impressive in game features i wanted to offer ideas to the company and help build the reality factor of this video game. To perform a proper M.I.T.B. (Money In The Bank) cash in a superstar must compete in and win a traditional M.I.T.B. match. At the conclusion of the match a player must head to the superstar management options at the main menu, locate the superstar in possession of the M.I.T.B. briefcase and reveal the page pertaining to that superstars stats and abilities. There you'll notice a section called money in the bank which is mark by a silhouette of a briefcase. By selecting that you will reveal a M.I.T.B. inquiry which documents the time and date you obtain the briefcase and any additional information that can be added in. In that section you will be asked to select a championship you wish to pursue and your options are as shown; WWE, World, WCW, “none”, or random which the system will choose a champion for you. None is an option if you feel that decision can't be reach or you want to wait. If you have made a decision and for example have chosen the “wwe title” then you'll be prompted to save and returned to the roster page of superstar management. To trigger the M.I.T.B. briefcase the title you selected must be defended in a match. The current champion doesn't have to retain and there are no specifics to the match type the title is defended in. Once the title match concludes regardless of who's in possession of the belt Mr. Money In The Bank's theme music hits and he sprints towards the ring and shoves the briefcase into the hands of the referee which subsequently leads to the announcer declaring this a WWE title match. Before the referee rings the bell the character select screen is displayed allowing the players to decide if they want to play as the champ or the challenger. Amongst the individuals playing the video game only two are allowed to compete in the following match. Once a selection has been made the match is then started with the current champion in the same condition he won his last match in and Mr. money in the bank with a full momentum meter. While the superstar is in possession of the briefcase he has the option to decorate and/or customizing your briefcase to fit your personality or the personality of the superstar in possession of the briefcase. As for the superstar with the briefcase a special entrance for certain individuals, such as CM Punk and Edge, will add additional style. If a superstar is in possession of the M.I.T.B. briefcase then the M.I.T.B. match cannot be played again unless the carrier is participating in the match defending his case. The carrier of said case will be allowed to defend his briefcase against any opposition that challenges him in any match type he wishes to do battle in (One on One, Elimination Chamber, Hell In A Cell, TLC, Etc.).

  • jimmyjj

    nba live is crap keep svr the same

  • Johnson Marvin10

    fuck u