Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

One shot: James Egan

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 21, 2009

MMO community connection:

Massively.com

Could you explain what your involvement with Massively.com is and how you came to be working there?

I’m a Contributing Editor at Massively. Originally I joined the team to write about EVE Online, but since that time I’ve begun to cover most any title out there as well as any breaking stories in the industry. I’m definitely more likely to cover sci-fi games than fantasy titles in a given day, but I’ll write about anything happening in the industry if it catches my interest.

I joined Massively in April of 2008, and found out about the opening on the EVE Online site. It was just a brief message they posted stating that Massively’s looking for someone who can write well about EVE so I went for it, wrote a few articles and submitted them, hoping for the best.

The timing wasn’t ideal as I was working on a Nickelodeon spec script for Avatar: The Last Airbender at the time for the writing fellowship they run each year, so I had to choose which job I was going to try for. I went with Massively and fortunately I got the job. Sadly, Avatar is no more, but it ended beautifully.

Horror stories about working for Shawn “Hitler Jr.” Schuster abound. Is working for this megalomaniac as horrible as it sounds?

It’s worse than it sounds. All those “mandatory” 80′s cartoon theme sing-a-longs in Skype… there’s only so many times you can do Thundercats or Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors before you’re ready to snap. The 4am phone calls/rants about “beta keys” and “jade gloves”, various bits of Guild Wars arcana. Hobbits. I don’t even know what the hell he’s talking about half the time but if you don’t agree with him enthusiastically, you’re finished.

I’m kidding, of course. Shawn is great to work for. Controlling the Massively writers is like herding kittens but he does it well. I guess the main thing is that he lets us write about what we’re interested in, what we’re passionate about, as did Michael Zenke before him.

What was your introduction to MMOs and what was that experience like?

It was EVE. Obviously I’d heard about other MMOs for years but never got into them. The fantasy genre just never hooked me, I could never get immersed in it. Still can’t. But I was already interested in virtual worlds and sci-fi themed games (not MMOs at the time though) when I started listening to MMO podcasts.

I listened to Brent on the VirginWorlds podcast, and Massively Online Gamer/MOG Army, the now-defunct podcast from Gary Gannon and Ryan Verniere. I’d hear their stories on MOG about MMOs, and the mishaps and fun stuff that went down when they played EVE. I guess this really got my interest up.

Of course I’d already heard about some of the batshit crazy stuff that happens in that game, but it didn’t quite make me want to jump in. I just liked reading and hearing about the game. Eventually I took the plunge and I haven’t looked back since. So Gary, Ryan, and Brent, thanks so much for pushing me off the cliff!!

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

It was actually before I’d even played one. It was about this sci-fi game where players could form corporations (guilds, basically) and plot against their rivals. I was living overseas at the time and didn’t have access to English language gaming magazines, but a friend pointed out scans of this article that blew me away. It was about this mercenary group called the Guiding Hand Social Club in a game I’d never heard of called EVE Online. They spent close to a year infiltrating another corp, and when the time was right, assassinated that corporation’s CEO while operatives placed at all levels of the infiltrated corp simultaneously pulled off the biggest heist ever in the game (at the time, anyway).

I couldn’t freaking believe it. A game lets people do something like that?! Beyond whether or not the game’s creators allow it, this is even possible?! People spent *months* planning and waiting for that one shining moment — is it even a game at this point?

For someone who’d really only played single player games on PS2 or whatever console I had at the time, I was in awe. This was the first time it had dawned on me what’s possible in a video game. So I started reading more about it, which led me to the podcasts, to playing the game, and ultimately to Massively.

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

The weird thing is that when I started writing for Massively, I thought I’d be playing more games than ever. “You’re paid to play games!” isn’t quite the reality of the situation, although my friends still seem to think so. The thing is the more you write about games, the less time you’re actually playing. It’s not a complaint in the least, just a misconception I think a lot of people have. One that I had in the beginning as well.

But at my peak… good question. EVE in the beginning, easily 20 hours in a week, pre-Massively. Some weeks more, like during holidays — and if I was single — I’d maybe rack up 30 hours. Now, it’s much less, maybe 10 hours in a week. Part of this is that I’m also playing other games, either on Steam or just single player games on my laptop, plus a few betas.

There’s also the simple fact that when your regular job is focused on MMOs you sometimes just want to unplug at the end of the day, and that’s not always by playing what you’ve written about since the morning. I should note the upside there though — as long as we’re on top of news coverage, I can stop and take an MMO break anytime I want. It’s not like they can fire me, right? It’s “research”!

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

Absolutely. I think that’s important. I’ve become a big fan of games like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead. Also console gaming is something I do with friends. We all meet up at someone’s house and have these Halo 3 gatherings pretty regularly rather than just matching up online. It’s really a social thing for us, as much about the games as hanging out. The consumption of Jim Beam and Coke typically ensues. Also the occasional cigar.

I used to be really into pen-and-paper RPGs, especially the World of Darkness games, before they did the whole reboot. (I’m not all that familiar with the new setting but I’ll give it another look soon.) My favorite was Mage: The Ascension, with Vampire a close second.

I lived abroad for a huge stretch of my life and didn’t get to play games like this much for a while, but since I’ve been back in the States for a while now we’ve got a regular Aberrant game running which has been a lot of fun. I now play with the same group of friends I played games with growing up.

When did you first start blogging? Would you mind taking us up to present with all of your projects?

Massively is my first go at writing for the web. People usually seem surprised when I say this, but I’ve never been a blogger as such. I come from a print background so this has been something new for me. Compared to some of the people I work with and other game journos I’ve spoken with, I’m still pretty much a noob with only a bit over a year of experience doing this. So I feel really lucky that Massively gave me my first shot at games journalism. They’ve expressed a desire to clone me, so it seems they’re happy with what I’ve done for them so far.

Prior to this I was an editor at a biz magazine and did a lot of freelance writing and editing when I was living in Shanghai. All print. Some of it was interesting, and being a biz journalist in China was challenging, but honestly it could get really boring. I still shudder when I think back to some of it. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to write about something fun.

Do you see blogging as just a hobby or perhaps something more?

Oh, it’s definitely my job. It can be a fun job, and is much of the time, but ultimately it’s still something I take more seriously than a hobby. Writing is my livelihood. If I had more time I’d run my own gaming blog on the side, something with a very different style from what I do at Massively.

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

I don’t have a rigid schedule per se, not like I did when working any 9-5 job. I’ll often start work around 9am, sometimes even 10am if I was out late or (more often) working late the night before. I work well into the evening on most work days though. I find it easier to write in the evening.

My schedule, as of only a few days ago, will be a bit lighter though. I probably won’t be putting in quite as many hours at Massively as I have been, and I’m going to look into some other options. Whether that’s freelance writing about games, tech, anime… a salaried position somewhere… I’m not sure yet.

I’m not leaving Massively of course, I love the job, but sometimes it’s good to mix it up a bit. They’ve been supportive of my choice to do this, so another thanks to Shawn and my editor-in-chief, Elizabeth.

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

Yes, there are definitely points where you hit a wall and it’s a little tough to get past. It’s not so much writer’s block as just the fact that you’ve been at it for a long while on most any given day.

More than anything, I think it’s the pace. Massively is a really small team of writers but we turn out a new post, interview, or feature story every hour Monday to Friday, and through the weekend too, albeit at a slower pace.

How do I cope with it? Sometimes I take a step away, do something else for a while. When that’s not an option and they need me there covering what’s happening in MMOs, you’ve just got to push through it. Even on those days, the fact remains that you’re writing about games, and that’s not bad at all. Keeping that in mind always helps.

By contrast, what do you find pleasurable about blogging?

The simple fact that I’m writing about something I care about. I spent years writing content for other people either by contract or smaller freelance projects. So writing about what I want, when I want… you can’t beat that.

Would you care to share a particularly memorable moment from your blogging past?

Pretty much any usual “day at the office” has all manner of bizarre things discussed among the writers. Chocolate breast explosions (oldie but goodie), “Michael Zenke’s insulting article… of clothing” (we turned a borderline insane, over-the-top rant from a reader into a T-shirt). In Zenke’s defense, he had nothing to do with the T-shirt thing, someone else did it. Then there are the elaborate but so far fruitless schemes to abduct key figures in the MMO industry and force them to reveal the future. That was mine.

Sometimes I’m amazed we get anything done, but we really do.

When I think about a memorable moment though, no single thing jumps out at me. I guess more than anything, there are lots of little moments that make the long hours and my void of a bank account worth it. Being Slashdotted for the first time, the recognition I get now and again, and in general just connecting with my readers. I get a lot of email from people who’ve read my work, and that’s something I didn’t have much of before writing for the web. All in all, it’s been a good year at Massively. I’m looking forward to plenty more.

Have you ever considered branching into podcasting?

Oh, no way. I’m much more comfortable with just being a writer.

Are you pleased with how your contribution to Massively.com has been received in the blogosphere?

Absolutely. I actually get a fair amount of email from my readers, which is really cool. I had no idea how this would turn out when I started writing about games but this has all gone really well so far.

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

Yes, actually. In fact that’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve been really focused on writing about MMOs but there’s a whole lot more out there that interests me. Ideally I’d like to balance out MMOs with writing about other topics, in other styles.

When I was in uni I enjoyed writing short fiction, plays, and was really hoping to get a foot in the door with writing for animation. I think I’ll be happier with some more variety in what I write about each day and that’s the general direction I’m heading in now, although I have to admit I’m still not sure where this will lead me.

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

Just write about what interests you. Have fun with it and try to connect with other people who share your interests, see where it goes from there.

If you happen to be one of those bloggers who really loves this and wants to try and earn a living writing about games, the enthusiasm you’ve shown on your own blog will do a lot for you. I know we’ve hired people because of that passion they have about their games of choice.

The other thing is what people never seem to want to talk about, but it can be hard to earn a good living doing this. Some people do pretty well though, no doubt, but when you’re starting out — much like I am to be honest — it can be rough. Still, if you love what you do, that means a lot more than raking in cash writing about topics you don’t connect with, simply for the money.

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

Actually I can’t picture *not* writing about games. But I’ve also never pictured writing about about games and games alone.

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.

Unlimited you say? It’s a game called “Resonance”, but more of a virtual world or a simulated reality. While some other users/players make up this society, the cities are fully populated by all manner of AI, creating a bustling metropolis. You can do most anything possible in the real world, which might sound boring, but the concept of Resonance is that you can step away from yourself — removed from the mimicked reality of Resonance — and follow the threads of causality connected with things you do, or what you *don’t* do.

For example, you see a little girl walking her puppy on the sidewalk. The leash slips out of her hands and the puppy darts into the street. She chases after the dog without thinking. A van speeds towards her, the driver is distracted. You act and save the girl (and why not, her dog too). Your action intertwines yourself in her life and you can step away and watch her life unfold. Snapshots of her birthday party at age 9, video from her backpacking with friends in Thailand during Spring Break, audio of her tearful apology to a friend she let down while in grad school, diary entries, so many ways it can be conveyed — but you can see how she lives her life, in highlights. Her shining moments and darkest days.

Whether it’s her troubles at school, her sadness when her dog passes away from old age, her med school graduation, her wedding day, explaining to a tearful family in the waiting room that their loved one (her patient) didn’t make it, buying a puppy for her own daughter… these are all moments in that life that your single action gave to this little girl. You can follow her life until its eventual end, and if you choose to, follow the threads into the next generations, her children and grandchildren.

On the other hand, if you didn’t save her in the street that day, there are threads you could follow with the loved ones she’s survived by as well.

That would be Resonance. More an experience than a game. It seems like no one would ever want to try this, but once they experienced its depth and the realities generated on the fly by the system, people would be pulled into it.

Nah, screw it. I’m clearly deranged. It would never work. I’ll just make the Ghost in the Shell MMO!

One Response to “One shot: James Egan”

  1. Beta testing can be a great way to make money, but many people don’t understand that the Pay is quite low for the hours, and it can be hard work with lopng hours. The best thing is though that it can be a chance of getting into the games industry. I eventually got into the games industry through developing Flash games, but if I had known back in 2002 what I know now I probably would have gone straight into beta testing after uni!

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