15 Minutes of Fame: Life as a WoW Insider writer

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15 Minutes of Fame: Life as a WoW Insider writer
From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

What's it like when World of Warcraft becomes your job? This week, 15 Minutes of Fame zooms in for the second half of a behind-the-scenes interview with a handful of WoW Insider staffers. We'll muse over what it's like to write about WoW for work, what it's like to play WoW for work, the rewards and frustrations of writing for a living -- and the No. 1 question we get asked by readers: How can someone get started writing professionally about gaming?

  • Zach Yonzon pens The Art of War(craft) every week and creates many of the graphic images you see on our home page, guides and posts.
  • Matthew Rossi, one of the most seasoned hands on the WoW Insider crew, is our resident warrior expert who also writes about game lore and general news.
  • Michael Sacco, a senior editor, started writing at WoW Insider after working at Blizzard itself.
  • Alex Ziebart started out as a weekend blogger and is now a senior editor.
  • Fox Van Allen joined WoW Insider early this year and writes the shadow priest portion of our priest column.
  • Lisa Poisso (that's me) started out writing the professions column three years ago and now works behind the scenes as an editor and turning out several weekly columns.

Be sure to catch part 1 of our interview from last week.

15 Minutes of Fame
: Do you still play WoW for fun, or has it become merely something you do for work, or is it a combination?

Zach: Right now, it's mostly work. A lot of the fun died for me when a lot of my friends left, and especially when my wife decided she couldn't devote time to the game and justify paying the monthly subscription fee. On the other hand, I find the beta extremely fun and I'm looking forward to Cataclysm. I'm excited at the prospect of it rekindling our love for the game -- it's just such a new and different experience that I can't wait for my wife to go through it. We'll probably rush our mains to 85 and then roll our goblins. Until then, though, I log on and sometimes PvP in an embarrassingly mechanical fashion. I haven't even bothered to upgrade my gear on my main, spending most of my time on alts.

Matt: It's a combination. There have been times where I have wanted to take a break from the game but haven't because it's something I get paid to do. But sometimes I think that's more an excuse I trot out for others rather than the truth. When I level yet another warrior "to test out this spec idea" am I really doing it for work or just because I'm demented and love warriors?

I think in the end, I play WoW for fun -- and I just grump because, well, that's who I am.

Mike: I was a progression raider for quite a while in Wrath. I still play for fun, but I've long since burned out on raiding in this expansion. I've been playing copious amounts of the Cataclysm beta to keep myself psyched for the expansion's release.

Alex: I play WoW for fun significantly less than I used to, but that's not entirely the fault of WoW Insider. Part of it is because you don't want work and play to overlap too much and I can't dedicate every waking hour to WoW, but it's not exclusively because of that reason. I also play less because it's the end-of-an-expansion cycle, and the last thing I want to do after writing about Cataclysm is log in and go do Argent Tournament dailies. Once Cataclysm actually launches, I will probably be playing the game more again. But it will never reach the same level that it was before I started working for WoW Insider. Playing that many hours of WoW a week while also writing about WoW for a living? Good lord, no.

I think how I play the game has changed significantly. I don't log on and just immerse myself in the glory of the game like I did previously. The fun comes from picking apart the games I play and looking at them critically. What about this do I like? What do I dislike? Why did the developers choose to do what they did here?

Fox: I do still play WoW for fun. In fact, I promised myself that if it ever stopped being fun, I'd give it up, because it'd show through in my writing. We all have our own little complaints about the game, but at the end of the day, we're all hooked on it. And based on what I've seen in Cataclysm, we're only going to get hooked even worse.

Lisa: Right now, it's all about work projects. I'm hoping for an infusion of energy with Cataclysm, and I'm trying my best not to let work news spoiler my enthusiasm.

I had absolutely no idea when I started this work that I would end up ...

Zach: ... playing this game in an embarrassingly mechanical fashion. It's not that I don't enjoy or love the game -- I do, I still think it's one of the best games I've ever played -- but things change when you're not playing with friends. I know I moved one character to a realm with friends, but I wish I could move all my characters. I'm still waiting for Blizzard to give us a wholesale deal, since $25 per character is stupidly expensive for someone who lives in the third world.

Matt: Dangling by my fingertips over a volcano while Ziebart cackled maniacally above me, the detonator in his hand.

Mike: Being in a senior position on the site. I originally intended for this job to be a temporary stop-gap measure to provide me with food money until I got another post-Blizzard job, but I'm happy to have been proven wrong.

Alex: ... so invested in the job. This isn't a job that is only around during the hours I'm on the clock. I'm always on the clock, and I'm always concerned about whether or not things are operating smoothly, both for the site and the staff. The achievements are real, and so are the disappointments. There are times when we're happy and there are times when we're angry. Sometimes there's even a little fear. When I first started here, I figured I would just be turning in my assignments and moving on with life each week. I never expected I would sink so much emotion into a job. I wouldn't trade it for anything ... so here's hoping for many more years of WoW, and many more years of WoW Insider.

Fox: Being a low-grade internet celebrity? Going to BlizzCon? Actually having people read what I write? Talking to Lisa Poisso about myself for a 15 Minutes column?

Lisa: ... having this become anything more than a pleasurable distraction from my "real" writing.


In terms of what you do at WoW Insider, what do you find most enjoyable on a day-to-day basis?

Zach: Ironically? That it still leads me to log on to World of Warcraft. That sounds worse than it actually is because the game is still amazing for me, it's only gotten terribly lonely and disconnecting. I'd imagine the aimless wandering I'm doing at this point is what ronin did after losing their lords. I find it truly enjoyable because it forces a new perspective upon me, and I enjoy the game for what it is, rather than merely for its social aspect. The Art of War(craft) also forces me to revisit my views on a lot of things, not least of which is my approach to PvP. It's gotten a lot more introspective. Or maybe I'm just at that junction in life, who knows?

Matt: I really enjoy writing TCAFOW. I named it; I've been the sole writer on the column for its entire existence; I've (to my knowledge) never missed a week on it. I've tanked, PvPed and fury DPSed on various warriors while writing it, and it feels like something I could probably keep doing until WoW itself finally ended.

Mike: I work with a lot of great people, and I'm grateful that our staff is so agreeable and easy to work with. I'm gifted with wonderful managers and a talented editorial team. And I'm happy that we're the only site that does what we do -- we're not just about raiding or datamining or blue-tracking theorycrafting. We offer something for WoW players of all stripes, and I think we're pretty good at it.

Alex: Managing the team. Working with a team of skilled people is something I absolutely love. It's why I didn't hate working at Hollywood Video or other retail outlets. You have a team, you have a goal and you need to figure out how to reach those goals and keep your team organized and motivated. Every single member of your team has strong points and weak points and you need to figure out how to best utilize those skills. It's a challenge and is consistently rewarding when your team achieves something great.

Fox: The people are what really make the job. I went to the Scott Pilgrim premiere with Mike Sacco. I went drinking in New York with Mat McCurley and Rich Maloy. I have rivalous e-shouting matches with Dawn Moore. I cannot wait for BlizzCon, when I can finally meet all the rest of this ragtag, misfit bunch in person.

Lisa: Writing for me is about hitchhiking on other people's passions. I feed off interviewing other people. There's nothing more fascinating than having someone fling open the proverbial doors to his life, to dig up and spill out the kernel of what drives his passion for what he does. Editing offers much the same type of reward. Sure, slogging through sloppy typos and mistakes isn't fun -- but making sure one of Matt Rossi's legendary essays really grabs readers by the short hairs? It's like riding the tiger.

Is there anything in your job that you've found to be especially frustrating?

Zach: Probably only that it's as close as I can get to working for Blizzard. Being a fan of the company for a long time -- such that the only video games I really play with any intensity or devotion are Blizzard games -- writing about one of its games is practically a dream come true. "Frustrating" probably isn't the right word, considering I've got about the most awesome job as it is, but one can't help but imagine being on the other side. WoW Insider has one of the best teams I've ever worked with, though. If anything, the most frustrating thing for me is the fact that I haven't been able to give WoW Insider as much effort as it deserves.

Matt: My own strange grammatical and stylistic hobby horses. Just ask someone about my love of parentheses some time, or why I can't spell "Cataclysm."

Alex: The first is that I need to constantly remind myself that not everybody at WoW Insider is here full time. In fact, most people aren't. I often find myself frustrated that I don't have X number of people around on major patch days to lend a hand, but the reason they aren't there is because they have other jobs and other responsibilities, not because they're neglecting WoW Insider.

The other frustrating thing is the timing of those patches. A lot of our workload is dependent on Blizzard's timing. When Blizzard decides to put the PTR up at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, we have to react accordingly. There's very little we can do proactively when it comes to patches; it's almost all reactive. If Blizzard decides to put a major content patch on the PTR at 10 p.m. on a Friday while the editors are out at the movies or a bar or whatever else, then we need to drop everything and run home. It wouldn't be so bad if we could plan for that, but Blizzard will do what Blizzard will do.

There's also the little issue with being unable to talk to my family about what I do. They don't understand what I get paid to do, and they never will. "So ... You write about some game? How do you write so much about one game? Why do people read this stuff? What maniacs would pay you to do that?"

Fox: The most frustrating thing is always the same thing: deciding what to write about. Some weeks, there are about a hundred different things on my plate, and I can't decide which to tackle first; some weeks, I'm spending a sleepless night trying to come up with a topic that'll inspire me. The hardest part is really taking what I want to write about and reconciling that with what I think the readers are going to want to read. (Sometimes, I have to toss in a few The Fresh Prince of Bel Air references to make the medicine go down more smoothly.)

Lisa: Ugly, clueless or antagonistic comments are always frustrating.

Memorable WoW Insider-related moment -- go:

Zach: Nothing can be more memorable for me than meeting the wonderful people I work with in person. Given the nature of our work, that's actually a pretty rare thing ... and I'm halfway across the world, to boot! So seeing Adam [Holisky], Alex, Liz [Harper, former editor-in-chief], Dan [O'Halloran], Robin [Torres], Michael Gray, Chase [Christian], Matt Low and even Mike Schramm (while he was still with WoW Insider) in the flesh stands out as the highlight of my time here at WoW Insider. Oh, and the same night we all had dinner, I actually got to within an inch of Felicia Day. It's pretty hard to top that.

Matt: I haven't gotten to go to any of the BlizzCons or anything, so I guess the most memorable moment for me is a toss up between the various "wow, you have a lot of chest hair" comments from when I posted a picture my wife took of me as my About the Bloggers pic, or the time someone actually impersonated me to try and hit people up on various servers.

Mike: The "Ask a Faction Leader" column was created when I was dosed up on painkillers from a toothache. I came into our team chat and started rattling off insane column ideas to [then Editor-in-Chief] Liz Harper, but one of them (AAFL) ended up sticking. I haven't tried repeating the process. Lightning striking twice and all that.

Alex: BlizzCon is consistently great. I like working in a virtual space, but BlizzCon brings our virtual team into the real world and reinforces the work we do. We're real people doing real work as part of a real team. It's a bonding experience. We work our asses off at BlizzCon, and it feels great. The WoW Insider party makes it feel even better. Last year, we expected 200-300 people to attend our party. Over the course of the night, well over 1,000 people passed through, including the cast of The Guild and a few other notables who shall go unnamed for their own sake. There is no greater inspiration to keep doing what we do than that.

Fox: The best day I ever had working at WoW Insider was probably April 1st -- April's Fools Day. For a brief, two-hour period, WoW Insider became Twilight Insider, and I got to kick things off with an incredible, sexually charged picture of Taylor Lautner and John McCain in my kitchen. It was the epic beginning of a rather public love affair between myself and Taylor Lautner, especially if you believe the blind items on all those celebrity gossip websites. And you should always believe the blind items you read on celebrity gossip websites.

Lisa: When I made the change from columnist to way-overloaded columnist and finally to editor, I discovered the gold mine of nonsense I'd been missing by not being in our chat room as much as I am now. Gaming writers blowing off steam in chat -- yeah, it's every bit as entertaining as it sounds. I couldn't possibly pin down a single moment in that ongoing stream of hilarity.
What would you say to someone who wanted to get into writing about games?

Zach: What's stopping you?

Perhaps not everyone will manage to get a gig writing for WoW Insider or Massively, but if you want to write, the best way to start is by actually writing. It's easy enough to get a free blog and kick it off from there. It's quite disingenuous of me to give that advice, considering the only reason I'm writing about gaming is because I lucked out on my WoW Insider application, but knowing what I do now after years of working with WoW Insider, I see the value of personal blogs about World of Warcraft or other games. There's so much to write about, and not even WoW Insider can cover it all (although we try our darned best to). There's always a niche that needs to be filled somewhere about some game.

Many of our current crop of writers made a name for themselves writing their own blogs, such as Matticus or Frostheim and even past writers such as BRK. You could say that these writers made an impact on the playing community with or without WoW Insider, and that's the way it should be. Everyone has something to contribute, and that's the beauty of a democratized medium -- everyone has a fair chance of being read. You don't need to work for a well-known gaming blog. That's a blessing and a bonus if it happens. What's important is that you share your thoughts and your knowledge. Do it often enough and well enough, then maybe it can lead to something bigger. If it doesn't, your work is still out there ... and if it helps just one player become better or grants some insight to someone somewhere, then it's worth it.

Matt: The same thing I'd say to anyone trying to get into any kind of writing job: deadlines. Meet them. Everything else you hear people say is important ... Learn to take criticism, always try and improve, take everything as a chance to grow ... But man, meet those deadlines.

Mike: I'm probably a bad person to ask this question, given that my original Blizzard position (entry-level GM work) fell into my lap and that securing my original position for the site was in no small part due to my Blizzard position. But: write a lot! Start a personal blog. You don't even need to talk about games all the time. Showing that you're able to provide quality content at a consistent pace puts you above 90 percent of other applicants for these kinds of jobs.

Alex: Just write and be passionate about it. Start a blog of your own and write about things that strike your fancy. Even if you don't get a substantial following on your blog, you'll be training yourself for the real deal. If someone wants writing samples from you, you already have practice doing it. Do you really think you're going to do a good job submitting writing samples when you've barely written anything ever? You're not. Get writing, post it somewhere and get into the habit of doing so. Being damn good at what you do and being passionate about it are the two most important things for getting your foot in the door when it comes to writing about games. There are very few other requirements.

Fox: So, you want to be a famous, world-renown author? With Fox-level talent and Fox-level groupies? Awesome, let's get to work!
  • Step 1: Get some writing talent.
  • Step 2: Go write about games.

That's all it takes. Seriously. What's stopping you? Writing about games was probably a heck of a lot harder 10 or 20 years ago back when the same 100 people were fighting for the same 50 jobs at GamePro and Nintendo Power. Nowadays, you can just publish yourself. The audience is bigger and always hungry for new content. Go get a blog. The bells and whistles aren't important – it's the content, stupid.

If you're good at what you do, an audience will find you. It may be a thankless job at first, but if you're entertaining enough, and have something worth reading, there will be people out there who will find what you have to say. (You may have to do a little bit of shameless self-promotion first.) Heck, if you're really good, one of your favorite class writers at WoW Insider will find your blog and link to it. And don't forget The Daily Quest.

Lisa: Keep the stardust out of your eyes. If you can't manage to post on your own blog regularly (even when you don't feel like writing, even when you can't think of anything to say), what makes you think you'll enjoy meeting deadlines every single day? If you fall apart or blow up when someone suggests a change to something you've written, how do you think you'll feel with a team of editors swarming over your articles? If you don't especially want to write about a topic or take a particular angle but your editor tells you that that's the assignment, can you turn out a good piece despite your personal feelings? Can you write when you're sick as a dog, when everyone else is on vacation, when your internet connection is down and you have to head to Starbucks just to make deadline? Romanticizing the process is only setting you up for a huge let-down. Writing a lot now is not only a way to get your feet wet (and a foot in the door) but also to make sure you won't feel like pulling out your own toenails after you've done it for a year or more. If you still love it after all that, then you may just be in for one helluva great ride.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wow.com.
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