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Daring to Dev - The Journey from Fan to Game Designer

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Making games is arguably one of the coolest jobs around. Not only do you get to do what you love and get paid for it, but sometimes it can make you a rock star... or even a legend. So how does one get into their dream job? Ten Ton Hammer's Dalmarus spoke to Game Designer M. Margaret A. Krohn, aka Luper, of Sony Online Entertainment to find out how she was able to work her way into the industry. Luper started off as a gamer and through her passions eventually become a designer on SOE's free-to-play hit, Free Realms. Here's her story.



Ten Ton Hammer: Hi Luper! First off, let me say congratulations! Going from being a fan of an SOE game to becoming a designer on Free Realms had to be an exciting journey. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about it today.

Luper: No problem. It's truly a pleasure. I've always thought that designers should be more personable. It makes people realize that we are real human beings...And often, I think players forget that.

Ten Ton Hammer: Before we really get started, can you tell everyone your position at SOE, and who you are?

Luper: Currently, I'm on the world design team for Sony Online Entertainment's Free Realms. This means I'm a Game Designer who creates content. My real life name is M. Margaret A. Krohn, but virtually, I'm usually known as Luper. Honestly, I don't think my name really tells you who I am, but at the same time, I am many things, so it would take a long time to give you all the details. I'll just simplify it for now- I'm a gamer.

Ten Ton Hammer: For those that may not know it, you were the player community's Blood Mage class lead for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes while that program was still active. How did you find out about the program and how did you go about becoming the class lead? Do you think that volunteer community position helped you get where you are today?

Luper: Correct, I was. I found out about the program via an in game friend, who said I should apply for the position. Of course, I wasn't the only person who applied for the position. There were quite a few other players who thought they should be the class lead. The hardest feat for me was that I read a lot of blogs and forums, but I didn't always post on them. It made it easy for people to shrug me off because they hadn't seen my name on many posts, but if they were on my server, they knew me well. I guess word travels fast and people really stood up for me, which was nice. The community in Vanguard has always been awesome. Sometimes, I log in just to chit chat.

Ah, but back to the point. I started posting more often and really expressing what I thought were the issues with our class, explaining that I would try my best to listen to everyone's opinions and make sure the developers had an understanding of what the community as a whole wanted, and not just what I wanted. I had played every class to fifty, so I could easily deduce the game play of the other classes. It made it easier for me to explain things to the community, especially for players who hadn't tried all the classes. I guess it worked.

Even though the program is no longer active, I still run and pay for the web site for the Blood Mage community- www.vgbloodmages.com. I'm actually looking for some active moderators, so if you're interested, you'll have to email or PM me!

Genuinely, taking the class lead position made me realize how much I really wanted to get involved in the community. It was the beginning of a new me. I became way more sociable, which I think has truly helped me in real life. So, I really do feel that volunteering for community positions will help one in the long run. Not only do people remember you, but you grow as a person, especially if you are or were a shy person like me.

Ten Ton Hammer: During your time as class lead, you were definitely known as one of the more vocal and intense class leads the community had representing them. At the same time though, you were always very focused in your feedback to the developers. Obviously, this went a long way in being taken seriously, while never taking away the drive for your request. Can you share any tips for some of the more rambunctious community members as far as helping them get their message across in a constructive manner?

Luper: Most developers are or were gamers. They understand where you're coming from, but it's not always their decision whether your ability gets nerfed, or your pet is purple. So, don't hang them for it. The best advice I can give anyone is to just be calm, collective, and constructive. "C" cubed? Haha. No one wants to listen to a ranting buffoon. Although you may be amusing, any sane person will not take you seriously.

Here's an outline that is easy to follow and really helped me get my opinions noticed:
  1. State the problem. Be as detailed as you can about the issue. The more information supplied, the easier it is to understand. Preferably, disclose how something works and then how you would like it to work.
  2. Give a step by step explanation of how to reproduce the issue.
  3. Provide suggestions for the contention.
I hope it helps!

Ten Ton Hammer: I remember talking with you at FanFaire 2008 and coming away with a sense of how passionate you were about the game then. At that point in time, had you thought about one day working for SOE? If so, did you have any particular position in mind?

Luper: In 2008, I was dying to get my foot in the door, so I was definitely thinking about working for SOE or any game company to be honest. It's always been a goal of mine to become a Lead Designer or Creative Director, but I know you can't always start at the top.

Ten Ton Hammer: Did you go to school with the intent of landing a job within the gaming industry? If so, what were you studying? While you were in school, did you ever intern for SOE?

Luper: No, I didn't. It's funny because both of my majors have nothing to do with gaming. School was pretty much my back up plan. If my dream of becoming a rock star (which I'm stilly working on) or game designer didn't happen, I was prepared to enter the real world with the basic skills for a job that would at least help people and make me money. I majored in Health Care Administration and Music Theory. I was never an intern for SOE during college, although that would've been rad.

Ten Ton Hammer: Without a doubt, it's virtually ever gamer's dream to one day help create a game themselves. What (or who) inspired you the most to pursue this career? Had it been a lifelong dream?

Luper: You've got that right! I think it's every gamer's life long dream to make a video game, so of course, it was one of mine! I'd have to say that I was really inspired by MMO Games, not necessarily one in particular, but all of them as a whole. It's amazing how people from all over the world can log into a virtual universe and play together! Meeting new people from all over the world in your own home? Seriously, how can it get any cooler than that?

Ten Ton Hammer: How did your Free Realms designer journey begin? Did you see the position on the SOE site? Did someone from SOE contact you to let you know a position was available?

Luper: Hah, this is one of those "I was in the right place at the right time" kinds of stories and it's a bit long, so bare with me! Originally, I had heard that SOE was going to start hiring some Customer Service (CS) representatives and Quality Assurance (QA) testers for Free Realms. I realized that I was going to have to start at the bottom and work my way up if I really wanted to get into the industry.

At that time, I was still living in Illinois, with over two thousand miles of land distance between me and my goal. It was one of the biggest decisions I've ever had to make. My brainwaves were going through a mixture of emotions- both excitement and nervousness. I'd be leaving all my friends and family behind was it really worth it? What did I have to lose though? It was an opportunity of a life time, so I took it!

All my stuff got shoved into a POD and put in storage. These things are useful! Because I didn't know if I'd get the position, so I had them hold the POD until I knew for sure that I'd need it shipped out to me. Although the thought of returning, being rejected, was a sad one, I had to prepare myself for it just in case.

One of my friends, who I had gamed with, lived in San Diego, so he let me pretty much live in his living room for a few months. Friends are awesome. Always appreciate them! The day after my interview, I received a call and I was hired! My start date...September twenty-second; I was ecstatic!

While I was working in QA, I overheard some people talking about apprenticeship positions that were opening up for Free Realms. I jumped on the thought of getting one of these so called apprenticeships and immediately sent my resume over. Sounds easy right?

Of course, something always comes up last minute. Ah, the hurdles of life. They follow me ever so closely. I was told that I had to finish a design test or my resume would mean nothing. They told me this at around 4:55pm and I had to work overtime till 10:00pm! How was I going to finish this before the end of the day? I wasn't. Had my dream been crushed? No, I was too close.

Instead, I decided to take action. I emailed the people in charge and explained my situation, promising them I would send my document as soon as I finished it. I stayed up until five in the morning completing it and sent it on its way. Man, you think of the craziest things when you don't sleep.

After only working as a QA tester for two weeks, I never thought I'd actually get the position. It was more so, a "hey people...I'm here and I really want to be a designer just so you know". To my surprise, I got it! I wanted to scream; I was so excited!

That's how it all started. I know it's a long story, but I really hope it inspires others to follow their dreams. Just don't give up!


Partying in Free Realms

Ten Ton Hammer: What's been the most interesting thing going from a fan to a player? As players, we all want everything added or fixed "right now". How has your perspective changed now that you're on the other side of the fence?

Luper: The most interesting thing for me has been learning! It's never ending. My experience in design grows each day literally as I'm working, which is very amusing to me.

My perspective hasn't changed much. I know that players want things fixed right away, and although I can't always make that happen, I do my best to avoid making bugs as I implement my content. I appreciate every little thing now. I also notice details that I had never really seen before. Sometimes, this hinders my game play, but often, it helps me make better design decisions.

Ten Ton Hammer: Back in your Vanguard days, I remember teasing you about being the only person to ever "beat" the game since you had leveled every class to 50. How have you channelled that kind of intensity into your current position?

Luper: Haha! Yeah, you did like teasing me about that, but you weren't the only one.

As far as channeling the force in my current position, so to speak...I'd like to say I'm a dedicated and reliable person with a pretty good work ethic. I always try to progress in real life as much as I do in game. I just do my best.

Ten Ton Hammer: From my perspective, it feels like a hundred years ago since you sat down for an interview with me when you were the community's Blood Mage Class Lead for Vanguard. How different does it feel being interviewed as a designer compared to when you were a player?

Luper: I don't feel like it's aberrant. The questions are different, but I still feel like we're just old pals chit chatting about the thing we love--gaming.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can the fans expect to see you at this year's FanFaire?

Luper: Of course! This will be my second FanFaire as an SOE employee. Last year, I had a lot of fun and it was nice seeing everyone again, even though I was working most of the time. I can't wait! Every year is always a blast.

Ten Ton Hammer: Thank you so much for taking the time to walk us through your amazing journey, Luper. Is there anything else you'd like to share with the Ten Ton Hammer readers before you go?

Luper: Actually, I do. If you don't read anything else, please just read this one sentence: follow your dreams (because they do come true)!

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