Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A day in the life of a Game Master

leprachaunOne of the downsides to any company offering a successful product or service is, as they gain popularity and grow, they start to lose that human face and interpersonal touch which local organisations such as a corner shop have.  This is often the very thing that attracted people in the first place; the ability to know the supplier of your product or service by name, and interact with them personally should you as a customer desire.  The games industry is no different, gone are the days where software houses, consisting of a couple of mates in someone's garage cranked out best selling video games for less than the price of a round of drinks at some swanky London wine bar; the gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, WOW is one of the biggest, if not the biggest product of this industry.  Being an MMORPG, WOW is in a strange juxtaposition of being a game whose very fabric lies in social interaction, being run by a seemingly faceless multinational corporation.  Blizzard have gone to great lengths to retain their community spirit, encouraging, and in some cases actively supporting,  fan-sites, blogs, forums.  Providing their own conduit to developers through their own forums and introducing the thoughts of the developers with things like Ghostcrawler’s blog.  But there’s one person, that every WOW player has, on occasion, spoken to and interacted with, but will almost certainly know nothing about; the Game Master.  Who are they? what do they do all day? what makes them tick? I’ve managed to get access to the inner thoughts of one of these elusive leprechauns, and I’ll be attempting to bring a human face (or is that a troll face?) to the mysterious entity that is the GM.  Over the course of my next two blogs will be asking some questions about exactly what goes on in the day to day life of a GM, and what makes them tick.

Mystic: Blizzard are keen to highlight the fact that their staff are keen gamers themselves, what initially attracted you to becoming a GM?

GM: Well I suppose the thing that attracted us all at first was those stories you hear of GMs doing all this cool things like making mobs appear, turning everyone in to Gnomes etc.

Mystic: What comprises a typical working day or week for a GM?

GM: There’s no such thing as average... depending on what has gone on; patch days, server or network issues, or anything else which mean the queues can explode in untold number of ways.  Typically we’d work a healthy 40 hours a week of non-stop pew-pew of the [support request] queue.  There are several different shift patterns available to GM’s from a standard five-day 9 till 5 to 4 day shifts which cover other hours; whatever time of day there are always GMs sitting at computers waiting to help.

Mystic: How does your workload change when there’s a major patch release, or network problem?

GM:Well with patches it's all new codes / fixes which, as with any other patch can either be very good and go smoothly, or occasionally be a horrible one where things go wrong and it goes south, quickly, after a 'fix'. In some cases we might see a NPC not die for instance....now you take into account how many people are dying to play this new content and suddenly nothing works. First thing they do...BOOM ticket! It can be as if a million voices cry out, but unlike Alderaan, can not be so suddenly silenced.
Reports are handy though to show us what’s up and we can then spring into action. But you can't stop the flow once it starts hehe.

Mystic: Many technology companies, such as Blizzard, offer their employees the opportunity to work from home, are you able to do this or are you solely based in an office?

GM: Office all the way! There is so much that could go wrong if a PC at one of the GMs homes was key-logged, the office offers a far safer and more secure environment that it is simply not an option to work from home. 

Mystic: What interface do you have into wow?

GM: The only thing I can say about this is we use the same base client players have but with a few additions to help us help you guys. Other than that..it's a secret!

Mystic: Being a GM strikes me as being quite a solitary role, you pick up a request, deal with it, move on to the next one, is this the case? or do you work in a close-knit team with the other GM’s?

GM: We are all in teams as it gives us access to more ideas, points of view, options etc. A second pair of eyes looking at what you may see as a hopeless case can yield another way to deal with the issue at hand which is a great thing!
The teams are set like most others out there, we have a head guy who acts as the final word on issues then there is the rest of us ground troops, so to speak. Most teams would have about 10 people in them and the people on the team have different skill sets to assist players. We can work alone most of the time but when something pops up we can just ask for help
Don't know if you want to plug another site (always – Mystic), but http://www.wowwiki.com/Game_Master, has some other details people may not know! 

Mystic: Do you all work on the same server?

GM: No such thing for us really. We help everywhere when we are needed, being tied down to one server would be a pain if things get quiet! Any EU player that needs help will get it from any GM who is free to do so.

Mystic: Do you have any regular contact with the developers and testers of WOW?

GM: Not as much as some of us would like, but they are always there for us to give them a poke if the need is called for. As you can imagine these guys in the dev team are very busy guys and girls; trying to keep the game fresh and new while fixing bugs keeps them on their toes from the moment they set foot in work.

Mystic: Do you have any influence over what goes into the patches / future releases?

GM: Some yes, and I can already see people face palming after this, but the suggestions forums, or what used to be the suggestion forums, have done more for this game than any GM will ever do. We would mainly give feed back [to the developers] on bugs and other minor issues.  A player with a well thought out idea for a game is king! I don’t mean the most common, ill thought through ‘suggestions’, which we encounter all the time, which are along the lines of “ NERF MAGES!!!11J!” and “DKS SUk BUFF EM OR I QUIT “.  The suggestions which make a difference to the game are those which have been though through and well articulated. [DOES THAT MEAN THE ONES IN LOWER CASE? – mystic] So if you have an issue, think about it first, then act; post your comments on the forums, but don't be one of those NERF guys!

Mystic: Have you or any of your GM team (or anyone else you know) been referenced in-game with one of the items / characters? And why?

GM: The devs are a bunch of smart asses when it comes to things going on in the world alright. I'm sure we have all come across Haris Pilton, Ophera Windfury etc. They love to throw these little Easter eggs in where they can.
A lot of people who see these usually go ' LULZ at the name ' which kinda cheers people up sometimes.  But for every joke they also tend to go out of their way to show respect to some people by including them in game or having something small dedicated to them;
I'm not sure if anyone reading this(anyone? my regular reader is not just anyone! – mystic) remembers a young kid in the US called Ezra Chatterton. Ezra had a brain tumour and, through the Make-A-Wish foundation, was able to visit Blizzard headquarters. Here he spent the day as a dev and even made an in-game item and quest for the game up while he was there!
Sadly in 2008 on the 20th of October Ezra passed away. The devs decided to give this young guy a spot in the history books buy making that quest active, creating the item to be used in game etc. The NPC he created, Ahab Wheathoof, still stands in Bloodhoof village today and they again then made him an Elder in Thunderbluff as part of the Lunar Festival.
Again all these little things they have popped in game can be looked up! Just google WoW Easter eggs...you would be surprized at how cool the devs are.

I’m afraid that’s all you’re getting for now, if you like what you’ve read and want to hear more, check back in a few days time for the final part of the interview.

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