An interview with the most influential women in MMO development: Part 2

Shawn Schuster
S. Schuster|02.22.10

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Shawn Schuster
February 22nd, 2010
An interview with the most influential women in MMO development: Part 2
Throughout this entire week, we're presenting one question a day from an interview we did with the top women in MMO development. We asked them how they got into the industry, how public opinion on women gamers is evolving and what advice they have for female MMO players who want to make that leap into development.

So starting last Friday and continuing throughout all of this week, we'll present one article a day with one of the questions we asked these key developers. Look for each post to drop at 5pm EST every day until Friday. Keep reading below for today's question.

What influenced you to get into MMO development specifically?

Carrie Gouskos: It was actually a product of circumstance. Dark Age of Camelot (Mythic's first major title) was my first MMO, and as a result, I have a lot of fond memories of that game. One year at E3, I interviewed Mythic executive producer Jeff Hickman and creative director Paul Barnett for GameSpot and was blown away by their energy about Warhammer. Combine that with family living near the studio and the fact that I always wanted to be a game designer; I jumped at the job offer when they made it to me.

Melissa Bianco: Opportunity, actually. I'd been playing MMOs since the early days of Meridian 59 and pretty much every beta after that (UO, The Realm, EverQuest, etc.) and found that I really enjoyed jumping into a new world, discovering the lore behind the game, and creating a character that I could advance and take a personal interest in. My motto was, "Fashion before function." Back in 2002, my husband noticed that a local company called Cryptic Studios was making a game and was looking for staff. He mentioned it to me, and I applied for the Office Manager position. I was in the process of interviewing for a position at Stanford and on the day of the interview, I got a call from Cryptic. Needless to say, I blew off Stanford (sorry, Stanford!) and was hired on.

Some people go to school and work like dogs to get a break working on a video game and this opportunity just fell into my lap. I didn't stay in Office Management long because we needed bodies to work in the editor and so I was trained to place AI beacons. It was a "right place, right time" situation and it worked out beautifully for me.

"Some people go to school and work like dogs to get a break working on a video game and this opportunity just fell into my lap."

Marissa McWaters: I spent many, many hours in games throughout my life, so I had a natural pull to find some sort of work in the games industry. A friend of a friend knew I was looking for work and suggested I apply at a game company, so I did and I got the job. It was an entry level job, but I still considered it an amazing opportunity. I spent a lot of time learning how things worked, asking a lot of questions of people outside my department, and trying to understand what the roles of different departments were. As I moved through different jobs, I gained unique perspective and invaluable information that help me with things I do every day.

Jessica Downs: MMOs have long appealed to me as a player because of their potential to create real, persistent stories and communities. It was only natural that I would want to help create the environment that allows those things to develop. My aim is to try and make the world feel full and real, without forcing the players to sit down and read a wall of text. I'd love to get more involved in the writing at the design stage, so that I can drop those little tidbits into the environment, and make the players feel as if the world around them lives and breathes, as if the NPCs have lives of their own after the players log off.

Lani Blazier: My favorite games have always been ones that have a solid story-an opportunity to give my character or avatar depth and purpose-and that let me play with other people. MMOs gave me a way to expand my gaming experience in a way that single-player or FPS multiplayer games couldn't. I've always been intrigued by the friendships, relationships, and teamwork that evolve within an MMO. Each server becomes a living, breathing parallel world, each with its own unique atmosphere, traditions, and quirks. It amazes me still!

Katy Hargrove: I love fantasy. MMOs tend to be core fantasy worlds revolving around a certain mythology. Such worlds are full of every kind of creature. That means in an MMO I get to make a lot of creatures, enough to fill up an entire world! The Guild Wars 2 world is absolutely huge, so business is good right now!

The amazing thing about working on an MMO is how, once it launches, you receive immediate and continuous feedback from players about everything in the game. Unlike other kinds of games, I can see people as they play reacting to and interacting with things we've made. This means we can respond quickly to what they're enjoying and build upon it. It's extremely rewarding work.

Linsey Murdock: I've always had a love of fantasy. I love the idea that someone can imagine an entire world and from there, anyone can get involved. I think MMOs take that concept to a whole new level. Entire sub-cultures develop naturally within these games, created organically by real people from all over the world. It's awesome to watch them experiencing a world you've helped to build. MMOs are massive worldwide undertakings, where a group of developers have imagined a world, made it come to life and are inviting you to live there all together. Like a giant virtual hippy commune-except sometimes you get ganked!

Laralyn McWilliams: I went to Disneyland (and later Walt Disney World) as a child, and knew as soon as I went on Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion that I wanted to do that for a living: I wanted to create immersive worlds for people to experience. As home computers became available and I saw my first text adventure game, I realized that there was a way you could create that kind of immersive world and actually let people interact with your setting and characters. It was years before I started developing games professionally, but I never lost the drive to find new ways to bring worlds to life. Working on an MMO is the pinnacle of that goal, because it goes beyond creating an environment and characters: you're helping to create a LIVING world that can change and grow. That, plus the ability to continue to refine and perfect the game even after launch made MMO development really appealing to me.

"MMO games are more special than other games, because they allow the best achievements to be shared."

Emily Taylor: I have been playing computer games for as long as personal computers have been around, going back to the days of Frogger and Donkey Kong. When arcades first appeared I used to hang out for hours watching the big kids play Pacman. I have also always been deeply fascinated by the concept of virtual worlds and online communities, and spent many happy hours on BBSs (bulletin board services) before the days of the World Wide Web. When I was introduced to MMOs in the form of the first EverQuest, I realized this was a perfect combination of my two interests that I absolutely had to be involved in.

Rosie Rappaport: I used to spend WAY too much time in the handful of 3D chat rooms in the mid 90s. I thought there was tremendous potential for games and I really wanted find a 3D online game with a social aspect. When I heard about EQ I immediately asked John Smedley if I could be part of the team.

Kate Paiz: When I was an undergrad at MIT, there were a lot of my classmates that were interested in game development. That was when I first started thinking about it, and while I initially started my career in technology consulting, my then-boyfriend (now husband) was working at There and I found myself spending nearly as much time at the studio brainstorming about the developing game as I did in my "real" job. After about a year, I transitioned to There and have stayed in games ever since.

Sara Jensen Schubert: I've spent my entire career working on MMOs and I hope to stay. MMO games are more special than other games, because they allow the best achievements to be shared. It's one thing to play through something cool in a single-player game, then go to work the next day and talk about it – it's something else entirely, and much more satisfying, when everybody can see it as it happens. (I see a lot of newer single-player games are adding community features and Twitter feeds and stuff, but it's not quite the same ... it's really cool though!)

I also enjoy the work, specifically, because it rewards long-term patience, vision, and leadership. MMO devs don't get to go on vacation when the game ships, because the real work is just beginning. I like it that way. Although vacation is necessary after crunch times!


As we approach more specific questions later in the week, look for tomorrow's question to be "What would you say is your crowning achievement in MMO development?". Stay tuned!
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