Mark Lamia '95: Studio Head Responsible for Record-Breaking Call of Duty Series Keeps it Real
They don’t teach you how to fend off blood-thirsty zombies in law school. Mark Lamia ’95 learned that skill on the job.
As studio head of Treyarch, an Activision studio, Lamia’s teams have been responsible for a string of video game hits. He is perhaps best known for his work on the blockbuster Call of Duty series, including Call of Duty: Black Ops, which scored record-breaking sales of more than $1 billion. The games are at the forefront of the genre known as “first-person shooters,” which are action games where a player’s experiences are from the first-person perspective and utilize weapons-based combat.
A regular day at the office for Lamia can involve everything from coordinating deals for voice-over work with a Hollywood star – actor Sam Worthington is among those featured in the latest Call of Duty release – to meeting with combat veterans for technical advice. Treyarch’s Call of Duty games have been built on historical fiction (except for the Zombies mode of the game, of course). “We bring in veterans who help us with our weapons selections and as inspiration for our game design. With Call of Duty: Black Ops, a member of a Black Ops team talked to all the designers about his experiences during the Vietnam era. It’s one thing to make a game about it; it’s another to hear how they trained for missions. We want to create something that has enough elements of authenticity to immerse players in the fiction.”
The plight of veteran unemployment influenced Activision Blizzard’s CEO, Bobby Kotick to form the Call of Duty Endowment, which helps soldiers transition to civilian careers after military service by providing funds to organizations that focus on job placement and training. The endowment has provided more than $1 million in grants to help place veterans in jobs, and is funding a scholarship at Loyola for a second-year day or third-year evening student who has been honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces. “It’s the right thing to do to give back to people who have served and their families, and the fact that Loyola has set out on a specific mission to help veterans is fantastic.”
One of the things that Lamia really appreciates about Loyola is its commitment to philanthropy. As a student, he participated in a pro bono legal clinic helping those with employment-related issues. “It was a great experience for me to get my head out of a text book and in front of someone with a real problem so that we could actually help them,” he said. “I’m proud that Loyola is so actively involved in providing pro bono services. Loyola does this on many fronts, and instilling the value of giving back is great, especially given how privileged we all are.”
Lamia values the problem-solving skills he honed in his classes at Loyola. “We were taught to think on our toes, critically appraise situations and then argue a point of view,” he said. “Those are skills you can build a foundation on. Those are skills I use every day in my job as a studio head. Spotting issues and working towards resolution – I feel like having those skills in every position I’ve had has given me an edge. It has been of great value in running a studio.”
Before Lamia was a videogame maker, he was a fan. He worked in the computer lab as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was then that he first considered gaming as a pursuit beyond a past time, working with a professor to use the game Sim City as a learning tool for a public policy-planning course. Later during law school, he was inspired by Doom 2, one of the early first-person shooter games.
After graduating from law school in 1995, and taking the bar, Lamia pursued an entry-level job at Activision Studios, where they started him out burning CD-ROM discs for games in development. He worked his way up the ladder, becoming an associate producer, producer, executive producer and then vice president of North American studios in 2000. While vice president, he worked on the creation of the Call of Duty franchise. He moved to Treyarch in 2006, and became its studio chief a year later. He now leads a studio organization of more than 200 game developers and oversees all studio functions, from creative development to business development deals and everything in between.
Lamia marvels at how the industry has evolved and grown over the years, now attracting top Hollywood actors, writers and composers. “To get them to work with us is a testament to how far gaming has come in the last 15 years,” he said. “It’s now mainstream entertainment that Hollywood wants to participate in.”
When it comes to free time, Lamia’s family takes precedence. His wife is alumna Rhea Lamia ‘95, whom he met in their first-year section. The couple married after their second year at Loyola and now have twins. But even when he’s not at work, Lamia still plays videogames for fun.