When 15 Minutes of Fame first heard from Nick Gerakines (Korale of Medivh-US), he was a WoW-playing Yahoo employee tipping us off to his company's proliferation of employee-centric WoW guilds. Today, he's moved on from Yahoo, wriggling deeper into gaming with two new projects: a spot at Electronic Arts (EA) working on Rupture.com, a social networking site for gamers of all stripes; and I Play WoW, a Facebook application for WoW players.
Intrigued by the comments to our recent news post about I Play WoW, we decided to track down its creator. While we were at it, we looked up the creators of Hearthstone, another popular WoW app for Facebook. What we discovered: two very different approaches to the idea of social networking among WoW players, from two very different creators. This week, we talk to Nick Gerakines about I Play WoW; come back next week for our visit with Chris Nolan of Hearthstone.
Nick Gerakines, aka Korale of Medivh, pretty much exemplifies The IT Guy from Silicon Valley. He's worked at Yahoo "developing next-generation federated data storage systems, driving test framework development and highly concurrent Erlang application systems." (Whew!) These days, you'll find him crunching on EA's Rupture.com social gaming application. He's written two techie books for Wiley & Sons (Facebook Application Development, published in 2008, and the upcoming Developing Erlang Web Applications). In his copious spare time (we jest, we jest), Nick has crafted I Play WoW along with his wife Carolyn (Jeanelly of Medivh-US), who handles the product, community and support aspects of the app.
15 Minutes of Fame: You've been playing WoW in the context of guys from the IT and gaming community for quite some time now. Tell us a little bit about that whole work/gaming culture. Are you still with a Yahoo guild now?
Nick Gerakines: At Yahoo, we had a lot of fun gaming. Most of the Delicious team played together somewhat regularly although it was a very casual group. There were several other guilds at Yahoo that were into more serious PvE and PvE.
My main, Korale of Medivh-US, is in the guild Squirrel Mafia. We are pushing through the available end-game content in WotLK. I only recently hit 80 and will join the 25-man Naxx raid that Squirrel Mafia has been rocking lately.
At Rupture/EA, nearly everyone games in some form or fashion. Several of us are in Nurfed (Blackrock-US) and PvP regularly when it makes sense. Rupture has some pretty slick integration points with WoW (as well as XBox Live, Steam, etc.), so it's not hard to find an excuse to "test" something when we've got time. We love to talk about gaming, experiment with new games, challenge each other and have fun.
Do you and your wife Carolyn play together?
We do! Carolyn wasn't a WoW player when we met, and it wasn't until after we were married that she started to play. We really like leveling new characters together and have done so with several. We also raid together on Medivh and have seen most of the end-game content together.
What's your WoW style -- raider, casual, PvP ...?
I've always played spellcasters of some sort, and I really like the end-game raiding content. I've seen most of it and really get into the lore and love reading up on the who, what, where and why of quest lines and content. Right now my main is a healer, so I'm pretty used to playing a supportive role in PvE end-game content. I like playing world PvP content (Halaa, etc.), but I've never done well in the arena or small Battlegrounds.
As someone who's blended a passion for gaming into professional life, how does actually playing the games fit into the mix? How much of game time is work time and how much is play time?
To make (good) software for gamers, you have to be a gamer. I probably wouldn't have created I Play WoW without really being into the game and having the need for it. I've logged many hours in game developing it, fixing bugs, testing features and getting feedback. Fortunately, most of my WoW time is for my own enjoyment.
During busy work periods when you have less time to play, do you find yourself becoming a little disconnected from the player base your apps are designed to serve?
Definitely. That's where Carolyn has really stepped in and helped. She's much more active in-game than I am currently. She's been the driving force behind most of the recent features in the past few months and has really helped me understand where some of our users are coming from when they find bugs or have questions and comments.
Do you think the WoW Armory changed the way players relate to other players within the game?
The short answer is yes. The WoW Armory is a great tool for exposing some aspects of the game. Without it, I Play WoW (and many other WoW-related websites and services) wouldn't exist.
The long answer is a firm no. I think Blizzard really dropped the ball with the WoW Armory and aren't doing nearly enough with it. Primarily, I think more resources should have been invested in the WoW Armory when it was first launched. It's had issue after issue, and it's only been in the past four or five months that some cool things are starting to emerge. I don't think they thought it was going to be used as much as it was.
What social networking app do you think is most on hit today?
Facebook is on top right now. It is the place for developers to build applications that integrate very tightly with their users and there are tons of books (cough cough) and examples on how to do it. I think Rupture has the most potential of becoming a social aggregate for users to share and connect their gaming experiences.
Any new features or plans for I Play WoW that you'd like to share with readers?
I've got a few things that I'd like to make available. I'd love to integrate more character information and guild integration into the site. Recently we added a feature that displays your character's gear on character profile pages, and I'd like to build onto that.
Tell us about Rupture. What are the advantages of a separate social networking site like this, vs. something like I Play WoW for Facebook?
When I started I Play WoW, the goal was to expose the overlap of your social network within WoW and your network of friends in Facebook. Rupture takes it a step further by taking your real-world friends and network and exposing all of the games and gaming platforms involved. I think I Play WoW is a much smaller, condensed version of Rupture with a very specific purpose.
But do active gamers really have time for one more social app?
Personally, I don't think so. I Play WoW is made to be dead simple and requires little interaction with its users, once they've added the app and imported their characters. It has several core features like displaying your characters on your Facebook profile and sending a notification to your news feed when you "Ding!" with one of your characters. Everything else is optional. Rupture is very similar because, unlike most social apps, it follows you and your data and really simplifies the way you interact with your friends and network.
This minimalistic approach is what I attribute to I Play WoW's success. There are additional things you can do with the application, but you don't have to if you don't want to.
Gamers always want to know how you managed to turn your career path toward the gaming world. How did you get where you are today-was it a deliberate path or sheer serendipity?
I think it is a mix of lots of luck, passion and relevant career skills. I'm really passionate about social networks and creating software for them. Luck fits into the picture because at the time, there weren't any World of Warcraft-related Facebook applications that did what I want, and I had the chance and skills to create one.
What projects are on your front burner right now?
I'm currently working on a second book with Wiley. It's pretty involved and eats most of my game time, clocking in at 10+ hours a week. Between the book, lots of open source involvement, a very opinionated two-and-a-half-year-old and Rupture/EA, my days are never boring.