After their presentation at the 2008 New York Comic Con, I caught up with Jeff Hickman, Josh Drescher and the always wacky Paul Barnett from EA Mythic's Warhammer Online to talk a little bit about the guys, the promotion of their game and what their in-office jobs actually entail.
The first question that I asked was just how many events like Comic Con (where they gave a very amusing presentation that I will talk about in a later article) they have done over the past few months. After a small fit of laughter, Paul answered with an attempt to put things into a bit of perspective:
"I have done 275,000 air miles over the last two years," he said. Knowing Paul, I asked for clarification and he assures me that not only was that the number when he wrote it in his blog, but that it has increased ever since the last time he checked.
From there, he told me, they plan to attend Gen Con, then two days later, they fly to Leipzig for the Games Convention. Immediately after that, they're on a plane to Seattle for PAX. The guys estimated that they are out of the office for about half a month each month, traveling to shows and conventions to talk to potential players about the game.
I know that there are some of you out there who, upon reading that last paragraph, thought to yourselves "when do they actually work on the game?" Anticipating that question, I put it to them just like that. Josh was quick to remind me that the three of them were not the only ones working on the game, that there are developers in the EA Mythic offices working diligently while they complete the public relations part of their jobs.
"I am IV'd to my Blackberry," Jeff chimed in, "I am working remotely a lot from places like Singapore, Japan , Germany, or wherever we are."
"Every night when he's home," Josh added, "Jeff's at home on the Beta server."
"We have a great team," Jeff re-iterated, "a lot of great management... We take care of business."
"Another important thing to remember," Josh said, "is that part of making a game is responding to your customer base and the only way that you can understand what your customers think about what you are doing is to go out and talk to them, shake their hands, show them what you're doing and that you're not just operating in a cave working on something that you don't intend to show them until after you've got their money. So, coming to the shows, especially shows like [Comic Con] that are not industry exclusive, half-academic nonsense, are absolutely critical to what we do..."
Paul chimed in at this point to say that on a similar subject, when they do the developer diaries that show how they are making the game, people often comment about seeing developers playing Rock Band, and suggest that this means that they are not working. He wanted to point out that this simply is not the case. The footage that is used in these videos is taken at 11 at night or later, after more than a full day's work.
When I was thinking about questions to ask on this subject, it occurred to me that there were people who were never quite sure that Josh, Jeff and Paul actually did on the game. We see them in videos and at shows, but what are their actual game-development responsibilities?
Paul calls what he does "ruthless delegation". Partially, I suspect, because Paul likes to use words like ruthless. As Creative Director, Paul is responsible for the overall game. He makes sure that Mark (Jacobs') vision is being followed. He offers encouragement to the team, comes up with ideas and concepts that bring in Mark's design.
Jeff, Paul tells me, is "the steady hand on the tiller of our ship." Unable to resist going overboard with a metaphor (see what I did there?) he said that Jeff is always on the lookout for storms, reefs, pirates and anything else that might be a problem. Jeff makes sure that he knows everything about the vision for the team and knowing every last detail about how the game is being put together. He brings it all together.
Josh, as Associate Producer, "does a bajillion things". Moving from metaphor to simile, he is described as being "like the nervous system" that collects everything together. Kind of like a "cat herder", whose job it is to make sure that everything comes together from marketing, forums and boards to presenting, to making sure that strike team leads get time with Jeff (Producer). Josh did tell me though that his next six months will be spent primarily on planes.
In the end, while they may take some flack for being the visual face of WAR, entertaining fans and informing them about the game, Josh, Jeff and Paul are more than just a marketing force for Warhammer Online. Each of them has jobs that go above and beyond what you and I get to see and all three of them are very clearly (in this reporter's opinion) dedicated to making Warhammer Online the best game possible. Being backed up by 250 other folks at EA Mythic doesn't hurt either.