Tag Archives: Games

Game Developer Barbie

“It’s really not that big of a deal.”

“FUCK YOU. IT’S A BIG FUCKING DEAL. It’s the BIGGEST FUCKING DEAL.”

I will admit, my response was probably not the most polite or appropriate for the situation. But I was not wrong. Mattel announced new Barbies today. And while the news of new body types (holy hell they added a curvy barbie!!!) was enough to draw me to the site, what made me gasp with joy was the Game Developer Barbie.

She’s got a computer accessory. She’s got long red hair, with headphones snugly in place. She’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a light jacket. She’s got sneakers on her flat feet. She’s me. (Actually, if they made the curvy version it literally WOULD be me.)

She’s me. I’m a game developer, and this summer, I will have a Barbie doll that looks just like me, dresses just like me, and DOES MY JOB.

When I was in High School, I was one of the smartest kids in my class. They made us talk to a guidance counselor about what job we wanted so we could plan out our college path to get there. After 30 minutes of her trying to convince me to be a Doctor, Lawyer, or Teacher, I finally just said, “Look, I am gonna go to college, I will figure it out there.” I was steered away from being a writer (“You don’t want to be a starving artist do you?”) They pushed the Doctor and Lawyer hard – as expected for a poor area. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something amazing.

I went to college and my “plan” became Take as Many Classes as Possible, and Figure it Out Later. 4.5 years later, I was planning on being an English Teacher. Then I discovered the Guildhall and literally said “Wait, I can make games? They have schools for this kind of thing? I am going THERE.” And I did. But that moment struck me because no one – in all my years of playing video games, ever once said “Why don’t you try to make them?” I owned a computer, and worked on them, but never once thought – hey let’s make a game. Hell, I BUILT LEVELS for Heroes of Might and Magic and Neverwinter Nights, and never once thought, I should get paid to do this. Because no one ELSE did. Games were a “waste of time”. Always.

Barbie makes it so people WILL think about it. I remember thinking about careers like being a vet, a stewardess, a tv anchor, all because that was what Barbie did – AND I DIDN’T EVEN PLAY WITH THEM.

Further, I remember way back in 4th grade when we were asked what we wanted to be when we grow up. I said something weird and my teacher responded with “Pick something Barbie could be.” Yeah, it was a bit sexist because she didn’t say that to the boys, but her heart was in the right place trying to direct me towards real careers. I then switched to insisting I would be a mermaid, because I had an Ariel Barbie doll.

This is important. Very important for the next generation of girls. I wish I had had that vision when I was a kid. I would have been making games since I was 10.

It’s a Mad Men World

It started as a joke. “in 40 years, a Mad Men-like prestige drama about a 2010s game studio falling apart” – a funny idea. Take the show Mad Men and make a version of it that deals with game studios dying.

Someone else tried to spin it into a “woman power story” which I could approve of, except for the fact that *I* work in this industry and I immediately laughed at the implausibility. “Underdog female protag starts in QA, becomes the studio’s lead designer in 7 seasons. I’m in.”

I am a woman, designing levels and games, I have a Master’s Degree. I have 8 years of experience. I have shipped 6 titles. Three of my titles have sold over 15 million copies and earned over 3 Billion dollars in 4 years. If a season == a year – this idea for a story line was completely implausible. So we started piling on more “joke” ideas. Only they weren’t jokes. They were things. That have happened to us. The laughter stopped and all that was left was several people staring at Twitter slightly disappointed and dismayed. That was when I realized, it really was a good Mad Men like story. It left us just as depressed and demoralized as if we had been watching Mad Men.

The season arcs do write themselves.

Season 1 – our studio is starting work on a huge game. Staffing up, hiring friends. Getting into the flow of making the game. 3 episodes in, a publishing head hancho comes in and makes some outrageous and insane demand. Adding some super complex feature without adding more money. 6 episodes in, the game is announced. The high is being ridden. Everyone parties, then buckles down to work. 9 episodes in, crunch begins. Episode 12, after 6 months of crunching, the team finally ships the game. Season finale.

Season 2 – The team celebrates launch. Halfway through the first episode half the team gets canned. Those who remain get doctor’s appointments and lawyer appointments to deal with the fallout from 6 months of crunch. The season continues with the team getting to work on a sequel to the game they just launched. The game has gotten a 7.5 metacritic. It sells well enough to get a sequel, but not well enough for anyone other than leads to get bonuses. Over this season, good talent starts leaving and the only ones who get promoted are the idiots to get them out of the way. The season ends with being halfway through the 1 year turn around sequel when a competing company announces a game that is the same game, but with better art, better licenses, and a dynamic lead designer.

Season 3 – The deathmarch of crunch is worse, more talent is bleeding away to other studios. The team is completely demoralized working on a project that no one wants because of the other better game. The season continues showing the life costs of working on this game. Divorces, affairs, lost connections. They finally ship the sequel game, to lower review scores, lower sales, and the internet is calling for those “hacks” to be fired. The finale is the employees showing up to work one day and they are locked out. The studio has been closed.

Season 4 – Starts with a few of our favored protagonists starting an indie studio. They are living on savings, borrowing money, etc etc. They try to get publishing deals for their “genius” idea game. It never works out. The whole time one of the no talent hacks from the former studio goes off, manages to luck out and get a job as a lead designer on an amazing game. The indie guys keep working, robbing Peter to pay Paul, and finally at the end of the season ship their indie game.

Season 5 – Indie game is DOA. They try to monetize it differently. It’s critically acclaimed but no one buys it. They struggle on, as the team loses people 1 by 1 as they all go back to crap jobs at big studios just to pay bills. Maybe even losing one or two to death – especially due to heavy alcohol drinking (which has gotten progressively worse over the series). Season and series ends with only character left getting a super high paying job as a programmer in banking doing mindless menial tasks 8-5, and coming home and playing video games. Not doing his dream job, but happier for it.

 

There. There’s the outline for the Game Developer Mad Men. I am going to go get a drink now.

Promoting Better Play

“We’re not above bribing you to be nice to each other. And frankly, neither are you.”

They said this at the BlizzCon they announced Warlords of Draenor at. And I remember thinking… That will be a neat trick. In the words of our tank Xxiv, “You can grief someone at anything, says the guy who was griefed in Journey.” (Journey has no chat, matchmaking etc, you just move through the world with another player. But apparently his match didn’t move. They just stood still.)

As a game designer, I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to convince the player to do what I want them to do, without just flat out telling them. And sometimes with just flat out telling them. It’s funny, because it kind of crosses over into being a parent. How do you get the toddler to do what you want, without forcing them to do it.

As all parents and pet owners know, there is positive and negative reinforcement. Positive is rewarding them for doing what you want. Bonuses, treats, special treatment. Negative is punishing them for doing things you don’t want them to do. Spanking, time outs, etc. Blizzard is pretty good at getting a majority of people to “play” the way they want us to play. They want you to quest instead of grind just killing mobs? Make the quests have better rewards, take less time, and give more experience.

Torgo answered the question “Does WoD promote better play?” and he answered the question from his pov. But the game designer reads that question very differently.

This question is asking a lot of things. And play is a very loaded word for a designer. So I wanted to answer it, with my designer cap on. Play is not just about with other people, but everything you do within the game. other people are going to come into it more because it’s a multiplayer game.

Yes. And oh god no.

I am sure you are all surprised at my dichotomy.

Promoters!

– Garrisons do an AMAZING job of promoting play. People logging in at weird hours and staying up late to check missions, discussing buildings endlessly trying to figure out the best ones, helping with invasions, even working together to get achievements to get the guild banners! Further, they provide a very REAL reward in the form of bonuses, extra gear, extra materials. Very much a positive reinforcement to get us to play and play with all the parts.

– Flexible raid size. Our team of raiders is 15, just within our guild and real life social group. Now 2-3 of those might drop or wander away, but that would still leave us with 12. 12 is an awful number of raiders in the old system. In WoD – no worries. Even so, if you add our partners in crime, we are at potentially 32 raiders. THIRTY.TWO. That’s a ton of players and far beyond what I ever expected us to be at. So many people to play and have fun with. No man or woman left behind!

Non-Promoters!

– Items in dungeons not dropping from the final boss. Oh man… do you know how many times I have gotten into a Shadowmoon Burial Grounds run, the tank has been just terrible… we get to the first quest item and bam – he’s gone? Only to realize he was a dps, who had a tank offspec and used it just to rush to the item? It’s in the double digits already. Even worse – I had to run Grimrail Depot TWICE because I forgot to pick up the quest item off the ground, and even though I had a lockout where I had killed all the bosses, it wouldn’t let me back to that spot. So far actually none of the rumored “incentives” to keep playing together have been clearly communicated. And furthermore I have actually found it MORE difficult to succeed in a group of friends because we don’t get the luck of the draw buff.

– Proving Grounds. These were flawed to begin with. Players don’t really learn about their class in them. They don’t learn how to raid. They don’t learn how to move out of the stupid. All it does it gate the content. And what if my friend I want to drag along on heroics can’t do it? That doesn’t promote play, it promotes frustrated and upset people. This is a heavily negative reinforcer. It’s not good at all in that it makes players feel like crap and like they shouldn’t even be trying to play.

– No Flying. I haven’t done one bit of archeology or farming because oy is it HARD to get around Draenor. It’s very clear they wanted to gate and limit the player’s movement, but did they have to make it SO MUCH in every zone? It’s a very strong reason for why I don’t want to do these parts of the game. I don’t want to use a glider, I want to fly. Fiddly one off mechanics over a system wide ability I paid a great deal of gold for… yeah.

– Melee unfriendly fights. I already know one casualty to the melee unfriendly encounters of Slag Mines and Shadowmoon Burial Grounds. It is only a matter of time before we get into raids and find them there. Too often Blizzard seems to think the answer to making a fight “difficult” or complex is to make it insanely busy. There are a dozen different things to keep track of. And poor melee have to worry about huge swaths of downtime as they move. They have done this to a lesser extent to ranged, by taking away our ability to have some spells cast while moving. This is so negative. Especially for my guild groups, which are melee heavy. We would queue for a dungeon, get halfway through and be unable to complete it, despite having all done it singularly with pugs. The luck of the draw seems to be the deciding factor here, and we all miss it by playing with our friends. Bad choice.

In the end, I think WoD is just as good and just as bad as most expansions at promoting play both alone and in groups.

Warlords of Draenor First Impressions

WoW is a big thing for me, so in preparation for the new expansion, I flew my mother out to watch my toddler, stocked the house with snacks and Coke Zero, and took Thursday and Friday off work.

Here we are, 5 days later and I have a level 100 warlock, a level 92 monk, and a level 90 priest in her garrison. What do I think of WoD?

Amazing

Garrisons. I have my laptop set up at work so I can pop over and check mine before work, during lunch, and during break. At 8am, a time no one in my guild ever plays, there were 7 people on, checking before going to work. I have been moving characters into Draenor just to get to the garrison and start stockpiling resources.

Story. Holy cow. I really can’t say much without giving away spoilers but PALADIN TAUREN.

Good

Bonus objectives. The bonus objective areas are interesting and a clever way of having areas that are just “kill the things” without having those quests. I am a bit disappointed I can only do them once.

Rares and treasures. Once more we have brought back the MoP treasures idea and I really like it. It gives me a good reason to go poke my nose around in all the nooks and crannies of the expac.

Bad

Garrison dailies – the “strategic” ones. Could these be any LESS explanatory? They don’t give you any information about what you need to do. It turned into a cascade of people asking in guild what to do for the quest as the day went on.

Inn Quests – These are awesome, but it makes the inn feel very mandatory. As does the Stable. As does the Trading Post… In fact, it just feels like every building is fairly vital. Are they planning on expanding garrison? I deeply would like to have more of the buildings and I hate feeling like I have to choose between one content and another.

Outpost stuff – I was unaware how important some of those choices were. And now I find out it’s 10k gold to change them? OOF.

Ugly

No flight at 100. I decided to go do the daily in Spires of Arak yesterday and it took me 20 minutes to find my way there. Once I got there (after dying from fall damage) I was greeted by a few HUNDRED people all trying to do the same daily. 20 minutes later, I gave up and went back to my garrison, with 10% of the daily complete. This is NOT how I want to spend an hour of my game time.

Follower Mission Levels. These scale based on the player level, not the follower level. Which means my blitz to 100 has led to me having a ton of low level followers with no ability to level them. (Edit – they fixed this.)

Screen Time

“So Joyia, how are you planning on limiting your kid’s video game time? How are you going to keep him from playing your M rated games?”

This was a question asked of me by a World of Warcraft guild mate.

He didn’t like my answer – “I’m not.”

When I was a kid, my mom never limited my game time. We had a computer and an NES. Both were in the living room. Game time was limited only by one factor – is someone else using it already. Actually no, two factors, that one, and “Is your homework done?” My mother took a firm stance on kids should be allowed to spend their time how they want to. She had her own hobbies (including playing games). She didn’t have time to police ours and see if they were “worthwhile”. Once I had finished my chores (which were criminally few now that I think about it) and homework, I could do whatever I wanted. Sometimes that was games. But just as often it was reading, or writing, or talking to friends on the phone.

At the very least, at least she always knew where we were right?

Yes, people can get really sucked into video games, but they can also be just as obsessed over many other things. I read dozens of books every year. I spent at least a 1/4th of my childhood with a nose in a book. I was the only kid in my class in elementary school who wasn’t allowed to have books at her desk. Not even text books. I would read them instead of listen. (Though, really, wasn’t that the POINT?)

Further, I remember a girl in my elementary school who took a flute out to recess every day. The teachers tried and tried to get her into playing with the other kids, and she refused. All she wanted to do was play the flute. They let her because she said she wanted to be a flutist one day. They wouldn’t let me read, which was exceptionally annoying, despite the fact I said I wanted to be a writer. Fifth grade and we were already being judged by our activities. Here’s the thing though. That girl? Full ride to college on a band scholarship. Later she ended up joining some ridiculously hard to get into symphony in New York. At 11, she knew what she wanted to do and she didn’t let anything get in her way, not even well meaning teachers or parents.

I didn’t want to be a game designer when I was 11. I knew I liked games. I knew I liked books. I knew I liked making up stories with my friends. I knew I liked making up games to play with my friends. I wanted to make Calvinball. But no one, in all those years, ever told me making games for a living was a thing I could do. So yeah, at the time the hours and hours I sunk into playing video games was a “waste”.

What about now?

So we’re working on SSA, and we’re discussing what happens when one player does something like steal all the treasure in an area. They start discussing various solutions we could do as designers to fix this. I immediately piped up with “But we shouldn’t. That’s a real life problem to solve.” A few blank looks and I clarified – “If your brother steals all the loot, you punch him. That’s the POINT of playing games in local multiplayer. But more, we shouldn’t change it because it allows the players to game the system. You can power level characters if one can collect all the loot and exp. It also makes the game more of a mad dash.”

In the end, we sat down and played the game, local multiplayer, just like kids would. It was less than 3 minutes to the first “Hey! THAT WAS MINE!” and about 5 minutes to one player letting the other one die to get loot. Within 15 minutes, a huge crowd had gathered around the two players with much good natured jokes and laughter. We didn’t change the system. Let them fight over loot.

I am not sure I would have thought this way, if not for the experiences of playing all those games with my brother. All those local multiplayer games with my friends. I was also the kind of kid who would hook up two controllers to cheese the system and give myself help. I have two WoW accounts NOW just for that purpose. I always buy both versions of each Pokemon game, so I can trade between them.

Well, that explains the time limits… as long as homework is done, I don’t care. Maybe it will be his passion. Maybe it won’t. But there is no reason to enforce my hobbies and desires on him. He’s his own person, let him spend his time how he wants.

But what about M rated games?

Again, my mother never limited the books I could read. If we had it in the house, I could read it. I remember picking up a Stephen King book at 12. I tried to read it. Oh man was it DULL. I also remember watching R rated movies. In the living room. That was the thing about having the tv/console/computer in the living room. You couldn’t do anything without everyone seeing. It was amazingly good at limiting what I would try to watch or play. My mom would come in and say something like “Oh that’s gross, I don’t want to see that.” And switch it to something else. There was never a “You can’t play that.” It was always, “This isn’t appropriate for the family room.” Then a few times we had candid discussions about sex, drugs, and such, so that she knew I knew what was safe, what wasn’t, and how to deal with those situations. At no point was the line between reality and media blurred.

Talking to a kid and interacting with them on a constant basis really helps. So I hope when my kid gets old enough to play games, he plays them with me. Skylanders is a great family game. So is Minecraft. (As an aside, I do not look forward to telling him that Creepers – aka Booms – are not fluffy little friends like he thinks right now.) If he wants to play a game like Skyrim, I will let him, where I can see, in the living room. There will likely be discussions and conversations about the difference between reality and fantasy, but I have faith in his ability to learn. Also kids tend to be very self limiting on “adult” things.

In the end, I think my biggest issue with saying “I will limit your access and time to games.” is that not only was mine not limited as a kid, but how hypocritical would it be for me to say, “Sorry you can only play for an hour each day,” when I will be playing for at least 2-3? Yes, I will probably do the same thing as my mom and say, “I don’t want to see that on the living room tv, so different game.” but otherwise, I don’t really think I have a leg to stand on about playing too many games. Do what you want, as long as you are responsible and take care of your chores/work, then your free time is your own.

Understanding the Other Self

I remember the first time I showed my dad WoW. He didn’t really get it. I explained that the green named people were other players. I explained that the game couldn’t be paused. I explained how we moved through the world and did quests, killing monsters. He never seemed to quite understand. He kept asking me, but what was my character’s name? Was I saving the princess? His understanding of games was narrow, and I didn’t know the correct words at the time to explain the difference.

My son, by virtue of being a game developer’s kid, has been exposed to games from the very beginning. Before he was even a year old, he watched me play things like Skylanders on our living room TV. At around 11 months, he realized for the first time that putting something on the portal of power caused the TV to change. He did this for hours. Skylanders on and off, looking up at the TV to watch the change.

The next, the real magic happened. Tiny Pittman took the portal off the coffee table, set it on the floor, then carefully stepped up on it. He looked at the TV. Of course, nothing happened. Despite the fact that I call him a Skylander, he isn’t actually. He tried a few more times, even testing the portal with Skylanders, but he couldn’t get the TV to change when he stepped on the portal. He seemed disappointed. His understanding was that anything placed on the portal appeared on the screen. Our magic for Skylanders is limited, but it wasn’t in his head.

The next time he really began to interact with games was several months later, while he sat on my lap while I played WoW. I mounted up on a flying dragon and Tiny pointed at it, then loudly exclaimed “Birdy!” I laughed and replied, yes, that was Mommy’s birdy. I kept playing, and he reached out and pressed the space bar. My character reacted by jumping in the air. His response: “WHOA!” He began pressing the space bar repeatedly. Watching intently as my character jumped around Azeroth. Finally, I zoomed in on my character, and he said “Mommy!” Yes, my character is a red headed human, so it makes sense he would recognize her as me. I nodded, and agreed. Yes, that was Mommy.

What really got me was watching him completely understand and accept, not only that my online avatar was me, but that I was also in control of her. At 1 year, and 8 months, Tiny understood that the characters on the screen were merely extensions of the people behind the keyboard.

I look forward to seeing him grow and discover virtual worlds. I also wonder what kind of expectations this will create in him. What things will he understand that will be outside of my grasp? What will those virtual worlds look like when he gets there?

A different kind of crunchy mom

It never really occurred to me I should be writing about being a game developer mom. I am a game developer and a mom, but these two things don’t really seem to overlap very much in the public eye. Recently on Twitter, I made a comment to a friend about being a mom in game development, and she replied with surprise, as she rarely talks to other moms who make games.

At first, I thought this was rather odd, I mean, there are tons of moms who make games! But then I stopped to think about the people I work with and have worked with. Um. Well. I mean, none of my companies can be accused of hiring lots of women, but some are over the average (13% female workforce). And yet, I have never worked with another mother, unless they never talked about it. (I even interviewed at a company, that after a while, the guy got me to admit that I wasn’t planning on having kids anytime soon, and his response was “Oh good, you women have a habit of quitting when you have babies.”)

I have worked at a company where just as I started, a producer left on maternity leave. She didn’t come back when it was over. As this was in the middle of a death march of a crunch, I really couldn’t blame her. 60 hour weeks with an infant? You must be crazy.

I guess I am crazy. I got pregnant right as TfB geared up on Giants right after shipping Spyro’s Adventure. We had a 1 year turn around time for Giants. I knew it was going to be rough, but as long as we shipped in June, we would be fine, as I was due in July. No worries. Except for the tiny detail of “Games almost never ship on time.” It wasn’t too difficult, working on Giants. My studio is pretty stress free, friendly, and people worked to get my stuff done first “just in case”. In the end, I shipped my kid the same week we hit submitted. I worked right up until the Friday before my due date (the next Tuesday). I didn’t do this because I was told to, or asked to, but rather because I love my job, I love my game, and I really love the people I work with.

When I first got pregnant, it was always known I would take a few months off, then back to work and back to Skylanders. I never thought of leaving my career to stay home with my kid. I had worked very hard to get where I was in the industry and was very lucky to get a job at TfB working on a game I loved. No way I was going to put that on hold for 5 years. So I found a daycare within a mile of my office, signed Tiny Pittman up, and went back to work exactly 3 months after I left to have my son.

So what is it like being a game dev mom? Weird. But I expect many women feel the same in other fields. I really think though, crunch is the source of my biggest problems with being a game dev and a mom, and likely the reason I don’t find many others.

First, before I had my kid, I only remember one incident of a parent responding to crunch. At one company, we were in the middle of mandatory 60 hour weeks, including 2 late nights. One of the men who sat across the office from me would Skype his kids at home to say good night on the late nights. It was cute, and I really felt it meant a great deal that he was trying. Someone said something to him once about “being a good father”. Then, this very nice, generally calm man, snapped at the commenter with a very harsh “If I were a GOOD father I would be at home putting my kids to bed instead of here working on this stupid game!” It may have been stress, it may have been dissatisfaction with the way the project had been handled, but clearly this person was wildly unhappy about missing his kids, and no one even knew until that moment.

That moment really stuck with me, because I knew that’s how I would be. I was already cranky at working 60 hour weeks because it cut into my WoW time. How would I deal when it cut into my kid time? I talked to my husband about it that night and pointed out, we really needed to make sure our “crunches” never synced up. So at least one of us would always be able to watch the kid and the other could crunch. He is also in the game industry, but fortunately, always at different companies.

That’s a fear I have. I love working in the game industry, but it’s brought me all the way out here to California. My family, and thus my kid’s grandparents, are 3000 miles away. There really isn’t such a thing as 24 hour daycare around here, and even if there was, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. So on each project, I work in fear of hearing those words – “mandatory crunch”. You can mandatory all you want, but if me or my husband can’t watch the spawn, there is no one else. His daycare is open from 7am to 6pm. That is my availability to work. Period. He’s 20 months old, I can’t exactly bring him into the office. But regardless, that is a constant distant worry that hangs out in the back of my mind.

That’s without even taking into account how not spending time with my kid affects me. Right now my husband and I are separated, so every other weekend I have the spawnling. In our big push for a milestone recently, I came in on the weekends I didn’t have him. I worked 3 weekends, and every other weekday night. I managed to keep up, but it was exhausting. And not seeing my kid made me sad. When I did see him, I was tired mommy, not fun mommy. I was “here’s a quesadilla for dinner because I am exhausted and can’t make you something more nutritious”. It’s rough on families. I am not sure if it was working those weekends, but since that usually don’t bother me, I think it was not seeing the spawn, and it made me depressed. I wasn’t able to work as well, and I was noticeably unhappier to my co-workers. Even worse, there were people who commented that I wasn’t there every weekend. They weren’t my lead, or even in charge at all, but there was clearly resentment that I had not been there. My lead is understanding, and never batted an eye, but what about others? Now, whenever I interact with that person, their comment colors my view of them.

Being a parent is all about time management. I have to plan everything and make time for everything. Showers, food, shopping, everything takes time and everything has to be accounted for. If I want to raid in WoW, it has to be with a guild that understands I can *only* raid from the time we start to our set end time. I can’t go 15 minutes over. If I could, I would have already planned it. We have done this on a few occasions, and every time it has lead to me and the kid being late to work the next morning. So having someone else come in and tell me how to spend that time is going to be a huge burden. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with this at TfB (all overtime has been voluntary and at a time of my choosing), but I can see very easily where it would quickly drive a woman to find a different job.

Say what you like about gender stereotypes, but in the almost 2 years since I had my son, I noticed that generally I am the one to give him a bath, clean his room, do the shopping, clean dishes, do laundry, pick up toys… All of this time spent doing things. Not to say my husband didn’t help, but the balance of chores was skewed towards me. When I work overtime, all of those pesky chores don’t get done. That’s the first thing to go. So the dishes pile up, the kiddo’s room looks like a tornado hit it, and there is a huge pile of clean clothes that managed to get washed but no way in hell they will get folded and put away.

To add to the already absurdly small amount of free time, I am a game designer. One of the things about being a game designer is you really need to play games. It helps you learn how other people are solving problems, cool things they are doing, and probably helps you make your game better. But with time already taken with work, chores, kid time, and husband time… that leaves how much for games? I don’t play nearly the number of games I should, and all to often now I just watch some let’s play videos, since I can do that while playing WoW.

When I complain about lack of time, people *love* to say, well yeah but if you didn’t play WoW, look how much time would you have! There are definitely some problems with that. First, WoW is what keeps me sane. It’s my stress release and brain dead time. It’s my hobby. I don’t watch tv unless I am playing WoW. I don’t watch movies unless I am playing WoW. WoW is why I still have friends I talk to more than on Twitter. People always say you should make sure to take time for yourself. Well, there it is. WoW is my one hobby I always hold on to. I quit a Wednesday night job I had teaching just so I would have more time for my kid and NOT have to drop wow.

So I decided to find out… how do game dev dads do it? How do they deal with the time issue and how does it connect to crunch? So I asked the guys I work with that I know I have small children. With varying degrees of gratefulness, relief, and awe, they all replied that it was their wives. Their wives kept their kids, home, and everything running smoothly. The dads who worked every weekend, their wives picked up the slack. A few expressed to me their worry at missing their families, but that was just the way life goes. A few implied, if not outright said, well, that’s the way the world works. (My feminist voice in my head screamed for blood, but I kept her quiet.) Much like in every other field, it seems as if the wife is expected to pick up the slack and tend to the family and home when the husband must work overtime. When I talked to a few women in the industry, sans kids, about how they would handle it, one replied, and I quote “That’s why I am not having kids until I am ready to leave the industry.” !!!

During one particularly long crunch at another company, they offered free laundry services. The employees could bring in a bag of dirty laundry and a few days later get back a bag of folded clean laundry. Someone joked, oh hey, it’s like having a company mom! I replied that it would actually be far more useful to have an onsite daycare for the hours of crunch. Everyone looked at *me* like I was crazy. But really: then employee could work, non-employee could get all the housework done, and there wouldn’t be that slightly squicky idea of someone touching your dirty underwear.

What about single parents? I asked a single dad in the industry. If he has to work, his ex-wife gets the kid more than her share and gets angry at him. So sometimes the kid spends time with his family. Lucky he has family in the area. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to work.

Here’s another strange thing about this whole situation. Perception. I get in to work most days at 8:30. I only take a 30 minute lunch, then leave at 5:30 (my kid’s daycare closes at 6). That’s 8 and 1/2 hours every day. Most of the office gets in at 10. (When our core hours start.) One time, during a Friday afternoon break fairly soon after I came back from maternity leave, someone commented that I was one of those “6 hour a day workers”, with a laugh, then said they wished they had a kid to give them a convenient excuse to leave early every day. I nearly punched him. With a glare I pointed out that despite the fact that HE rolled in at 10:30 every day, didn’t mean everyone did, in addition to being a hourly employee, I clock in every day too, would he like to review my calendar to check I work more than he does? He apologized, and has never made such a comment again, but how many other people think this way too?

When I left for maternity leave, I left on a Friday. Our game went to cert the very next Friday. I missed 5 whole days of the project, in a time when the only people actually making changes were the programmers and only for vital progression or cert bugs. About a year later, talking about being pregnant and shipping the game, someone replied, “Well, yeah, but you left like 2 months before we finished.” My response: “WHAT. THE. FUCK.” I had to correct him too. When did we cert? When did I leave? OH RIGHT. 7 FREAKING DAYS. In his mind, I had been gone “forever” because I was out 3 months. (The 3 months between cert and ship actually.) People’s sense of time skews when it’s not them. But these perceptions matter when everyone is tired, overworked, and stressed.

My experiences are just mine, but I can very easily see women not being willing to put up with it. My kid is absolutely the most important person in my life, and if not for my sheer level of stubbornness and extrovertedness, I seriously would have considered being a stay at home and professional WoW player. Is this one of the reasons we have so few women in the industry? How do we fix it?

Well for one, schedule and scope our games better. All too often work gets re-done or wasted. Leads and Publishers want more than they are willing to give time for. May the producers who build the gantt charts and FORCE the studio to get it to fit within the time frame find eternal joy. (My favorite producer was the one who drew one out, it showed we had 6 months more work than time, and said, “Okay, no one is leaving until it works.” 3 hours later, a very weary set of leads left the room with a workable schedule that did NOT include crunch.) Second, seriously, consider onsite child care. First off, child care is the *most* expensive thing when it comes to having a kid. My child care is almost as much as my RENT, and I live in California. If a company could get me onsite cheap child care, I would do everything in my power to keep that job. I’d take onsite child care over every other perk I get at a company.

I plan on writing more about being a mom and a game dev, but this is where I had to start. The one thing that makes it super difficult to be both. The one thing that would make me leave the industry. I love my job, but my kid wins.

Free to Play Vs Subs

During my Game Design 1 class this week, I talked about WoW. As a part of this, one of the students asked a question:

“Yes, but how do you feel about the subscription fee?”

Then he made a comment that he just couldn’t get past the sub.

So here’s my answer, that I feel is very important for any person who considers subscription games.

  • This month I bought Gone Home for $20. I played it for 3 hours. It was great, and totally worth it.
  • I got into the Hearthstone Beta, and bought $50 worth of cards. I have played it probably about 30 hours. Totally worth it.
  • I bought Dishonored for $60, played it for about 10 hours, and it was totally worth it.
  • When I go to the movies, I pay $10-12 for a 2 hour experience. Totally worth it.

So the question becomes, what is the value of WoW at $15/month?

Well first off, I only pay $13/month. I pay in 6 month blocks. So it takes about 2 and 1/2 games to equal the amount of money I spend playing WoW.

Let’s see… I got Dishonored, got 10 hours worth of play. XCOM, 36 hours. Borderlands 2, 4 hours. So all told about 50 hours worth of play for more money than I spend on WoW in a year.

I play WoW, on average, 3 hours a day. (From 7:15 ish to about 10:30-11 most nights.) That means in 17 days, I have already played more WoW than I would THREE other games I bought at $60 each.

The only single player game in recent memory that even comes close to WoW is Skyrim. I have about 240+ hours. Totally worth it.

But even so, these games can’t compare to WoW because I play WoW with friends. I enjoy hanging out with them. Killing Internet Dragons with them. Griping about quests and LFRs.

I am not saying that one type of game should be played over the other. I loved Dishonored, XCOM, and Skyrim. I want to replay all 3. But at a purely cost vs time played, WoW wins, hands down, regardless of the subscription.

The Price of Progress

When writing for a site that earns money based on hits, the best thing you can do is write a controversial and slightly inflammatory post you KNOW is going to get commenters riled up over.

Bravo Holisky, you did it perfectly!

200 comments and still growing. *slow clap*

That being said. I totally agree with you. More than that, I honestly believe it is PAST time for World of Warcraft to implement a buy a character store.

So let’s review the arguments people have for why there SHOULDN’T be a character store then review the arguments for why there SHOULD.

This is a terrible idea!

1. You need the 90 levels to learn how to play your character correctly!

There are more ways to level than ever before. You can level through PVP, Pet Battles, being power leveled, etc. Even so, playing at 90 is very different from leveling. It’s two different games. People who come for the leveling will still level. People who come for raiding will get to jump right to the meat. Pve is not the same as Pvp, so why would someone assume leveling is the same as raiding?

Two stories – The first is about me. I leveled a hunter to 60 in vanilla, then leveled a mage to 60, then a priest, then a warlock. What can I say, I like ranged DPS. When Burning Crusade hit, I leveled the hunter to 70, then the Warlock. Once my warlock hit 70, I was a part of a raiding guild, and one night they drug me along to Karazhan. We were fighting the trash before Moroes, and one of the healers asked, “Joyia, why aren’t you Life Tapping?” I responded, “Why would I do that? It just leads to me dying.” I had never used Life Tap. I didn’t even have it on my bars. I had leveled that character, but had no idea how to raid with her. Fortunately, our other warlock took me under his wing and taught me how to play as a raiding lock.

Second, in Wrath, I was running random heroic dungeons on my priest. I got into a dungeon with a level 80 DK. He started pulling and I had the hardest time keeping him alive. I was an ICC geared healer, and this was one of the starter dungeons. It should have been cake. I looked at the tank’s gear. He was wearing a mix of spirit plate and other plate (maybe dps or tank, I don’t know). He had not spent a single talent point. I asked, “Dude, what’s up with your talents?” His response – “What are talents?”

Leveling teaches a player virtually nothing about playing well at level cap. Especially since some of the most important spells players only get at level cap, or the rotation relies on secondary stats being at a certain level.

2. You will miss all of the STORY!

Way back in vanilla, there was a mod *everyone* had. Everyone. I played for 20 minutes, before my friend helped me download and install it. It did several things, but mostly it made the quest text instantly appear instead of slowly appearing. That way I could just click okay and follow him to the locations. Even now, I rarely if ever read quest text on my first run through. I am blitzing my warlock to level cap as quickly as possible. Especially with all the new map and tool tip stuff.

People don’t read quests. They don’t watch cutscenes. I know people who didn’t know who Tirion or Bolvar were in ICC.

Not everyone cares about the story.

3. Professions/Gold/Gear

For about 30 seconds I thought this was a good argument. Then I remembered… It’s not. I have power leveled professions on multiple toons. It’s *always* easier at level cap. Also, dailies make earning gold a snap. As do scenarios, dungeons, and LFR. All of which give gear too. They will likely start the players with a set that is equal to the lowest dungeon blues, but that’s fine. It will get replaced rather quickly anyway.

Even better, this would help server economies, as there would be tons of people buying up all those low level mats. OR even better than that, Blizzard would implement a catch up systems like Thanksgiving for all the professions. (Actually they kind of did with Ghost Iron recently, remember?)

4. Everyone starts near the top, there is no one to help. (Really? What game are YOU playing?)

Wow… so someone tried to say that players like helping new players and that if this is implemented there won’t be anyone to help or the only people to help will be mouth-breathers. UM. First off, what game are you playing? Because as far as I can tell WoW is definitely NOT a game where people like to help strangers. Guildies, of course. RL friends, always. Strangers? GTFO NOOB. Also, they make it sound like those level 85 players won’t know anything and that’s a bad thing. How exactly is it different from a level 10 asking where the auction house is compared to a level 85? Level is just a number at that point. Will it be rough for the first 3-4 months? YEP. But then the good people will come out of the woodwork and the newbs will help other newbs…

5. Guilds will suffer from bad players!

They already do. Even worse, they have to keep the bad players because that’s the ONLY option they have. The influx of new accounts to WoW following a character buying system would lead to hordes of players, including many who would learn quickly and potentially become excellent raiders.

Let’s say 1 million people join the game just because they can skip leveling. If only 10% of them are decent THAT’S 100,000 NEW RAIDERS. That’s 10,000 NEW RAID TEAMS. As a guild officer, that idea positively makes me want to shiver in excitement.

6. It’s pay to win!

You can already do it. It’s just difficult. You can already pay for power leveling. This just streamlines the process. This takes it from being illegal and makes it legal. This protects the players by making it a Blizzard offered service.

Also, if you agree that the “winning” of WoW is downing the last raid boss, then actually it’s not. It’s pay to skip the grindy bits to get to the real part of the game. Everyone says the “real” game begins at level cap. Well, let’s get to the real game then.

7. It doesn’t take any time to grind to 90 ANYWAY! Just do it!

Well, if it only takes 2 days, then why gripe if someone skips that? Also people love to bring up heirlooms, forgetting that totally new players wouldn’t have those. Nor are they likely to be in a guild with the leveling buff.

Real arguments against it:

Button overload! – This may even be worse than starting fresh and facing x amount of hours to 90. There are a ton of buttons in WoW at level cap. It would be very daunting.

Solution – Perhaps a scenario like the DK one, that teaches and adds abilities as you go. Honestly WoW could use a “solo scenario” set that is directly targeted at teaching players to play their class and spec well. Match the player with an NPC of the same class and spec who leads them through a dozen or so scenarios to teach them skills, talents, glyphs, etc. I would like this EVEN NOW, so I could really learn to play a melee class well.

No additional leveling content or updates.

Oh this is actually a good one. If everyone can skip the old content, there is no reason for Blizzard to update or add to it. But then… have they really done that much anyway? Other than Cataclysm, have they *ever* added mid level content since Vanilla? And even with Cataclysm, how many people replayed all of that content? Blizzard has the stats. Clearly it wasn’t *that* great or they would have updated more or updated Outland. (Now what, Friday they are going to announced updated Outland.)

So why should they do it?

1. They sort of already do allow it with Scroll of Resurrection.

2. They have exp gear and potions in China. Precedent has been set.

3. Sudden influx of *tons* of players BOTH OLD AND NEW.

I sit next to a guy at work, who would love to play WoW. He doesn’t though because he doesn’t have TIME to level a character. He would raid with us, two nights a week for 4 hours total, but he can’t play anymore than that. He’s a smart guy. He would learn fast.

I am an officer in a casual guild. We have existed as a raid team since May of 2013. Now, 5 months later, we are 2/14N and 10/14 Flex. Why are we not further along on Normal modes? Because we only have 11 players. 2 tanks, 3 heals, and 6 dps. If ONE of our tank/heals is out, we *have* to flex. And life gets in the way all the time! We recruit nearly constantly and yet our gains are almost always met by losses. New babies, new jobs, new school schedules… there is always something. WE NEED MORE PLAYERS. That is the truth. I can’t wait for our realm to be coalesced with another one.

4. The average age of WoW players is increasing. These people have lives, jobs, kids. They don’t have time to play a game for a month just to get to the real game, and gear for a month, then to be able to play with their friends. It’s too much of a time sink. To hook new players, you have to lower the barrier to entry. Lower barriers equals more players. Which would you rather have – a game bleeding subs year over year, or a game with tons of new players every month?

I also don’t think there should be “requirements” like having a max level character. Maybe limiting it to the “previous expansion cap”. I could get behind that one, but really this service needs to be more for new players than for old. Old players are hooked. They have the heirlooms. They have the experience of knowing leveling zones, dungeons, friends, etc. This service should be targeted at new players to draw them in, get them into the game, and then they will stay here. WoW is at heart a peer-pressure driven addiction. Why does it continue to be the 800 pound gorilla? Because even if there are better games, WoW is where your friends are. Your friends pull you back. Now let us pull in new players and get them to the cool stuff asap.

The Game’s the thing.

I was asked how I felt about how big a success Skylanders has been. How did I feel about it becoming a pop culture phenomenon.

Dazed? Unbelieving? Surprised? No single word could possibly describe the emotions I feel. Humbled. Awed. Ecstatic.

So instead, I will tell you a story.

As a kid, my mother and I played tons of video games. It was a family thing. But when the power would go out, we would bust out the board games and drag the whole family into a game of Monopoly. We occasionally played even when the power wasn’t out, but that was the only time everyone would play. Around the time I hit High School, Monopoly started creating all of these variations, generally licensed. Star Wars Monopoly, Nintendo Monopoly, Pokemon Monopoly, and so on. I LOVED IT. I bought at least a dozen different versions.

Me and my mom would cycle through them, playing all the different ones. We even came up with Uberopoly, a version that required NINE Monopoly boards, arranged in a grid, with special rules on passing Go, turning corners, moving to new boards, and the requirement that you had to have ALL of a color before you could claim a Monopoly. We played it for DAYS and had no idea who was even close to winning.

This year they are making a Skylanders Monopoly.

Does that one sentence sum it up? All the emotion and disbelief of how well our game has done. Right there, in one sentence.

It’s just not possible. It’s just unbelievable. World of Warcraft gets a Monopoly. Disney gets a Monopoly. Doctor Who gets a Monopoly.

A kid’s game for the Wii at the end of the console’s life cycle does not get a Monopoly. Except it does. When it becomes a worldwide phenomenon, sells 2.5 toys a SECOND, and makes over a billion dollars, it gets a Monopoly game.

And creates this huge ball of feeling inside me, that completely shuts down my brain, and makes me feel like… How can I top THIS? I am 30, and I am seriously asking the question, how do you top a game you worked on, becoming so big, you get your childhood all wrapped up in a licensed version of your work. Calling it a success seems superfluous at this point.

What do I do next? What is the encore?

Shocked. To the point of tears. I just sit here and think, I have the coolest job, working with the coolest people, on the coolest game ever.

I am sure Skylanders Monopoly will be the Monopoly I play with my son. “See, this is mommy’s game. This is your game.”