Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

One shot: Tobold

Posted by Randolph Carter on June 19, 2009

MMO community connection:

Tobold’s MMORPG Blog

Please take a minute and describe what your blog is about.

Well, the label says my blog is about MMORPGs, but on a more fundamental level the blog is about the games I play, and the ideas, mostly about MMORPGs, I have while playing or reading other sources about games. Thus there will always be a concentration of posts about whatever game I”m currently playing, which can range from the mainstream to the niche, plus posts about MMO game design, plus some occasional off-topic posts.

What was your first MMO and what was that experience like?

Depends how you define MMO. :) I did play LPMUDs on a text-only monitor via telnet on a mainframe, before the whole world wide web thing spread. The first graphical MMO I played over the internet was Ultima Online, but I quickly stopped that after getting my first $500 telephone bill, this being before I got broadband.

Can you recall that first MMO “Wow!” moment?

I don’t recall being wowed by UO, I pretty much played it like a single-player game with strangers around. So the first real “Wow!” moment was creating a halfling druid in Everquest, feeling lost, and then meeting a stranger who gave me some advice and a magical necklace way beyond what I could have gotten myself.

At your peak, how much time per week would you say you spent gaming? How about now?

I would say I fluctuate between 20 and 40 hours per week, of which half is during the week, the other half during the weekend. I never pulled all-nighters in front of a MMO screen, probably because I was already married and had a job when I started this hobby.

Do you tend to supplement your MMO gaming with other PC, console, or tabletop games?

Yes, mostly PC games I play during MMO breaks. I’m way behind on consoles, I have none of the latest generation consoles. Tabletop games I used to play a lot, but only rarely now when friends visit. I do play a pen & paper roleplaying game one evening every two weeks.

When did you first start blogging? Please take us up to present with all of your projects.

I first started blogging 6 years ago, in summer 2003. Before that I had written a lot of my thoughts on various game forums. That turned out to have two major disadvantages: Everytime I switched game, I had to switch game forum as well. And I did have no control over the forum, with posts not being archived on all forums, or forum administrator deleting critical posts. So I started a blog, starting by writing infrequently. Then one day I installed one of these counters, expecting nobody to be reading what I wrote. I discovered I was wrong, so seeing that people were interested in my writing, I wrote more, which attracted more people, etc.

Do you have a schedule or some sort of routine you try and follow when blogging?

My schedule is at least one post a day, except Sundays, where I post an “open Sunday thread” where readers can discuss without me supplying a subject. I do “cheat” insofar as not every post is necessarly published the day I write it. Here is a secret: The posts with a timestamp of 6:30 AM have been posted the previous day(s) and just scheduled for publication at that time.

Would you say there is some grind involved in blogging? If so, what is it and how do you cope with it?

The discussion of MMORPGs is a narrow subject, and the discussion often comes back to the same arguments and discussions. I cope with that by realizing that the audience isn’t static. If you hang out too long on the same game forum you have the same argument why somebody is posting about some “dead horse” subject, when in reality for the person posting the subject is probably new. Nobody ever reads all the previous posts on a blog or forum.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

Definitely the feedback. The interesting thing about MMORPGs is not the game design in an abstract vaccuum, but how the players react to a given set of rules and incentives. As different players have different motivations, this is something that you can’t really explore all alone, you need the thoughts of other players with other motivations to see how they react to some game design. This is something I feel some game developers are neglecting, designing game systems without thinking about incentives.

Would there be a particularly memorable moment from your days of blogging that you’d care to share?

The highlight of my blogging “career” up to now was getting an invite, including press pass, to the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational last year, and being allowed to interview one of the devs there. Made me feel nearly like a game journalist. :)

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

I have considered it, and then dismissed the idea. Voice is a different medium than the written word. I’m more at ease expressing myself in writing. Also I noticed that my readership drops by a third on weekends, which tells me that quite a lot of my readers are reading my blog at work. It is easier to pretend to be working while reading a blog than while listening to a podcast. ;)

Are you pleased with where your blog is in the MMO blogosphere?

Yes, very much. I get about a million visits a year, plus an equal number of feed reads, which considering the narrow subject area and me not being a famous game designer of a well-known game is quite good.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you do anything different?

No. That is simply not the way I think. I live very much in the present, with the past for me being something you can learn from, but not change, and the future being something to be planned for, not just dreamed of.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to try their hand at blogging?

Blogging is easy. Keeping it up, and gaining a large number of repeat visitors is hard. You’ll only manage it if you write true to being yourself, and expressing ideas you are passionate about.

Can you picture a future where you will hang up your keyboard and no longer blog?

Yes, I can. I once was very close to it, when my blog got bombarded by comments from a bunch of trolls with a strong sense of entitlement, who wanted to tell me what I could and couldn’t write about. Then I realized that a vocal minority isn’t representative of my readership, and instead hit the trolls with the ban stick until the commenting tone got back to a civilized and polite level. But readers are the key, I wouldn’t write if people wouldn’t read it, so if MMOs experienced a strong drop in popularity, I might stop blogging.

You wake up to a world where you are the head of a company developing an MMO. You have unlimited funds and resources available to you. Please describe the kind of game you would make.

I would make Shandalar, a MMO-meets-Magic-the-Gathering RPG. There would be a typical 3D world with all the features of a classic MMORPG, but instead of gathering stats and gear your character would be gathering cards. The players would build decks from these cards, and draw a hand of these cards at the start of combat. Every card would be similar to some classic spell or ability in an MMO, and would be placed on a typical hotkey button bar. So you start combat with several random spells and abilities, and every time you use one of them, the card is discarded and you draw a new one from your deck. So even if you kill several monsters of the same type, every combat would be different. And there would be a lot of strategical depth in deck building, and tactical depth in playing the cards in combat.

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3 Responses to “One shot: Tobold”

  1. Great interview! Also nice to see what Tobold has to say. I really admire his blog and blogging style. Hats off to him.

  2. pitrelli said

    Tobold is one of the good ones, nice interview

  3. [...] Tobold [...]

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