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Guitar Hero developer, an IC native, speaks to young entrepreneurs

BY CHRIS CURTLAND | JULY 16, 2009 7:15 AM

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When Jeremy Andersen was Ponging on an Atari 2600 during his junior-high days — after finishing chores and homework — his mother would ask, “How are you going to make a living playing video games?”

The Iowa City native — who went on to develop the wildly popular Guitar Hero line — insists it’s been a “valid career path.”

Soon after graduating from the UI — still fighting the urge to Jam with Scottie Pippen, and to Streetfight with Ryu — Andersen found the answer to his mother’s question. Brother Jason Andersen was working at Tiburon Inc. in Orlando, Fla., developing the iconic Madden football series. Jeremy Andersen was soon hired there, putting his marketing degree to use.

On Wednesday, Jeremy Andersen told a crowd of 40 about his journey. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, he gave advice to students in the Pappajohn Business Building who are in the Jacobson Entrepreneurship Academy, a weeklong day camp for students enrolled in grades seven through nine.

“These youngsters are going above and beyond,” he said.

For the last 10 years, Andersen has been developing video games for various big-name companies. He says he doesn’t even know how many titles he’s worked on. After stints with Tiburon and Neversoft Entertainment — where he worked on Tony Hawk Pro Skater — in 2000, Andersen, along with his brother and managing partner Isaac Burns, cofounded Budcat Creations in Las Vegas. After many successful smaller endeavors, Budcat moved to Iowa City in 2006.

The brothers grew up there, and Burns had graduated from the UI with a degree in mechanical engineering. Since the move, the company has exploded. In 2008, Activision Blizzard bought out the company and selected it to develop Guitar Hero. Its employees have grown from six to 70.

But in Las Vegas, recruiting was difficult for the small company.

“It was hard to get people to come work in Vegas,” Andersen said, where, he noted, the cost of living was ridiculous. “We wanted people in Iowa. There’s low crime, low traffic, and lower living cost.”
Andersen admitted his entrepreneurial efforts were “risky,” but he had to go where the opportunities were.

“Starting a business is a big challenge,” he told the sometimes chatty, other times bored crowd. “But it’s all about taking what you love and applying it to something.”

Dawn Bowlus, lead instructor and director of the kids’ program, lauded Andersen’s inspiring business bio.

“A lot of people think entrepreneur ideas are a little nutty,” she said, “But [Andersen] took something he was dreaming about and made it into a career.”

She hopes the campers will do the same in the future. Some have even got a head start, such as Alex Choi, a 12-year-old eighth-grader at Northwest Junior High, who noted the importance of work ethic in the entrepreneurial world.

“You have to work at what you love to be successful. It’s like a small business — if you work hard, it will grow,” he said. “I did, and now I can finish four or five songs on expert.”

Alex rocked the crowd with a face-melting Metallica riff and scored by reaching star power four times. Though he could not finish his rendition, he estimated he was at 90 percent accuracy.

His bass backup, Jacob Pajunen, an 11-year-old seventh-grader at Southeast Junior High, is exploring entrepreneurial endeavors in the pet world.

Jacob worked with two female hamsters and one male.

“No joke: there were twenty babies running around,” he said.

But his grand hamster plans “crashed,” and he has since moved on to guppies and small fish.

Wednesday’s camp ended with a button-smashing jam session for all and with a raffle in which Aerosmith and Metallica versions of Guitar Hero were handed out.


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