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Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Dev Journals: So You Want to be an MMO Developer: Part III

By Guest Writer on January 02, 2007

Sigil's Nick Parkinson continues his look at the question: "So You Want to be an MMO Developer?"

Today, we present Part Three: Design, of Nick's four-part developer journal series. Nick Parkinson is a developer at Sigil and is currently working on Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.

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Where to Start

If you’re reading this, there’s good news. You’ve probably already starting doing all the things you need to do to be a designer. Bag of Doritos in one hand? Highly caffeinated beverage in the other? If you answered yes, you’re already halfway there. First and foremost, you need to play games. You need to love it, and we’re not just talking “I root for the Bears when they’re winning” love… we’re talking “I wore my Mike Ditka signed boxer shorts to my wedding” love. If you don’t have that, you’ll probably get tired of it pretty quick.

Secondly, aside of actually playing the games try creating some. You don’t need to know how to program to do this. Write a killer quest out on paper. DM a game of Dungeons & Dragons for a group of friends. Make mods for NeverWinter Nights or Morrowind. Write short stories. All of these things will help you develop the ability to get creative ideas out of your head and translated into compelling gameplay ideas and content. It’s also provides a great response to angry parents/spouses demanding to know why you’re always on that infernal computer.

Where to go to School

This is the tricky part for design. There are very few colleges out there that offer degrees in game design – and while we certainly don’t have anything against them, only about one designer on our team actually attended college for game design. We’ve got people from all walks of life on our design team -- former teachers, scientists, engineers and GMs. Some are really young and just getting into the industry while yet others are a little older and decided to switch careers.

While there’s things one can do to augment their creativity, creativity itself can’t really be taught. Add that to the extremely competitive nature of even trying to break into the industry and unless you’ve got other means to support yourself already lined up it might make more sense to, if you’re going to go to school, go for something that can get you a job outside the gaming industry as well. English degrees, creative writing, even programming (designers who have an understanding and familiarity with programming are definitely ahead of the game) or art. If you’re dead set on going to school for a game design degree – don’t let this discourage you, just be aware that it’s not a guarantee of a job and that in the end and it probably won’t be the thing that makes or breaks the deal either.

Getting a Job

This will likely be the hardest part. Getting a job in game design will probably not happen overnight. You’ll need to be persistent and you’ll need to work hard for it. Just sending off resumes and hoping for the best is rarely enough (though it does happen). Just like with art, knowing folks already on the inside helps. But how can you meet them? It’s actually a lot easier than you might think. Get in beta and post a lot of quality feedback on the forums. The possibilities are pretty much endless after that.

Jeff Butler, Sigil’s President and co-executive producer got his start as one of the earliest EverQuest beta testers. He ended up producing the first couple EQ expansions before helping to found Sigil. Even at Sigil, we’ve already hired several designers for Vanguard out of our beta testing community and it’s likely we will hire more in the future. If you want to make a good impression, that’s the way to do it. It’s also important to note that the road goes both ways. If you’re a dink in beta – it’s not going to help the chances of getting hired. Keep checking the corporate websites for when positions open up, and when they do jump on them and when it comes time for the developers to make a hire getting in there, interacting with them and making it known that you’re interested in a job can make all the difference in the world.

What to Expect

There are a few different kind of designers. Mainly though, you can break them down into content designers and system designers. As a new hire, don’t expect to be working on any systems right away. You’ll likely be entering as an associate (read: entry level) designer who is responsible for content implementation. You’ll be the person placing goblins in the dungeon, or writing dialogue for quests, etc. It can actually be a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. Burnout can be a very real problem and you’ll need to make sure, especially as someone who’s probably very eager to get in there and prove themselves, that you don’t overdo it right away and burn yourself out creatively and physically. Associate Designers Mike Wyatt and Peter Rocchio offer a little more insight:

What’s your favorite part about working for a game company?

Mike Wyatt, Associate Designer:

The creative collaboration… hands down. Seeing some crazy idea in my mind evolve from an idea into actual content that players will enjoy is an amazing feeling. It usually boils out of control, though, as one idea spawns another, and another, and another… and the next thing I know, one simple idea ends up being the driving force of an entire area with everything wrapped around it. I just hope everyone has as much fun playing through the content as I’ve had creating it! Mech suits? Yeah, we’ve got ‘em! Sounds like a great slogan, “Vanguard, their gnomes have mech suits… with thrusters.”

Peter Rocchio, Associate Designer:

The women. They are everywhere, swarming like ants on a Dorrito at a picnic. Developers are mobbed whenever we step out of the office. Every night the bouncers form a phalanx and rush us into our limos before clothes start getting torn off.

The location of my last dwelling was somehow leaked. I came home one night to find a window smashed and all my underwear stolen. Needless to say, I fired that useless security staff and promptly moved to another gigantic mansion on the beach. There is something about working on a fantasy MMORPG that just drives the ladies wild, don’t ask me to explain it.

What is one thing people might be surprised to learn about working at Sigil?

Mike Wyatt, Associate Designer:

Everyone is involved, regardless of your job title or position in the company. Most of my previous employment has been a strict corporate environment… so it’s a great breath of fresh air to be working for a company with the professionalism of a corporate environment with the good ol’ feeling of being a part of a family. It’s like working at a mom and pop store, but with lots of computers, air-soft guns, and random acts of violent kindness!

Peter Rocchio, Associate Designer:

Each day at noon they unlock our shackles for lunch and use electric prods to drive us like cattle. The sight of designers scurrying four legged around the walls to feast is both horrifying and beautiful.

- Nick Parkinson
Sigil Online Games

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