This semester in my Communications 112 class (yes, I've put this class off for way too many semesters now), I was asked to interview someone "in my field". This was a tough thing for me, and it wasn't because I didn't know where I'd like to head, but because I did know. For me the question was how seriously to take the assignment.
I've long been interested in, and have felt my skills best suited for, the industry of Virtual Worlds. Right now it is a burgeoning economic field, and yet populated by only a small number of visionary designers. One is Richard Bartle, from whom I've been reading [Designing Virtual Worlds]. There is also Raph Koster (Ultima, EverQuest, SW:G), and Jack "Statesman" Emmert (City of Heroes) from whom I've read several articles/interviews. Another is Daniel "Captain Cleaver" James, with whom I was much less familiar, but whose Puzzle Pirates has become my current virtual world of choice.
I decided to ask Daniel James for an interview. It took a couple of emails to get a response, but he reminded me that sometimes such persistence can be the key to getting things accomplished. I would have been hard pressed to pick a worse time to ask, because as busy as he is, the week I had to get the interview taken care of was also a week involving several large code releases, and an announcement of a publishing deal with UbiSoft. He wrote a ton of responses to the game's forums about all of that, but was still willing to answer my questions (of which, I gave him more questions than I actually needed). Needless to say, I appreciated the fact that he took such time out of a busy schedule for a crazy college kid half-way across the country.
The key insight which seemed important to him, and which has been a theme this semester for me was the importance of social and academic networking:
What things have you learned in your academic career that have been insightful in your business career?
Relationships and mentoring are tremendously important. My relationships with my goood teachers were definitely the most valuable part of academia.Just out of curiosity, was there any particular reason the company was located in San Francisco?
Throw a network card and hit an engineer. SF attracts smart geeky people who are a bit wacky. That fits us.
I've been particularly impressed with his presence on the game forums and listening to the advice and suggestions of the players.
I love the players and often they have great insights that we as developers just can't have. I wish I had more time to listen to them. Sometimes they can be annoying, but mostly that is a few tarters, and that's to be expected.
On a tangent: The next closest I've observed was Jack "Statesman" Emmert's involvement in the CoH forums, but he more often projected the feeling of "I'm always right, so I don't need player suggestions". But, that was more a personality difference, as CoH also had an in-game suggestion box, and the feeling that suggestions weren't listened to more a by-product of a larger codebase and longer list of priorities to develop. My real frustration with CoH developer involvement was "Geko" who would often provide some balance (aka "spreadsheet") numbers for the game. It improved the sense that the game followed strict rules, but gave an upper hand to those sorts of achievers who optimize their gameplay in Excel.
All in all, I felt good about my interview with Daniel James, and think that I got some definite experience from it. I'm going to try to watch out for future opportunities to converse with him and some of the others in this small industry. I've posted the full transcript of the interview as well.