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Dev Profile: Sara Jensen

Dana Massey Posted:
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Sara Talks About Shadowbane, Her Career Path and the State of Women in Game Development

Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen carries a unique challenge in game development. She is the Lead Designer, not the first, on Shadowbane, an MMORPG that has been on the market for quite a while. Her task is to keep the game fresh, yet still maintain the vision that originally attracted its subscribers. We took the time to discuss this and other challenges in a brief developer profile Q&A.

MMORPG.com: Can you tell us a bit about what you currently do, and the day-to-day responsibilities of that job?
Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen:

The "lead designer" part of my job involving writing a lot of documents, managing a lot of other people's ideas, and making plans. The "regular designer" part of my job is designing systems and maintaining class balance. I'm also the Shadowbane data manager -- if it's not hard-coded, and it's not art, it's mine. Unless it's patch planning time, my day-to-day responsibilities are all about spreadsheets, text files, Access databases, and Perl scripts.

MMORPG.com: How did you arrive at Wolfpack? Can you run us through what brought you to this company and into the industry in general?
Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen:

While studying English in college, I spent my time during the school year playing MMOs, and during the summer, working temporary data entry jobs. I wrote strategy guides for popular websites, worked with developers for pet features, and was a senior volunteer (back when MMOs had volunteer programs). I ranted at Lum the Mad's for a couple of years, as one of the first outsiders he brought in.

After a short stint as a web developer, I moved to Austin and saw a Ubisoft ad on Gamasutra.com for a data entry monkey at an Austin MMO studio. Hey, I have data entry experience AND I love MMOs! I got the job four months before Shadowbane shipped, and I moved up to a real design position shortly after launch. It's all been upwards from there.

MMORPG.com: What to you is the most challenging part of your current job?
Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen:

With a live MMO, you're working under multiple masters. Management, coworkers, and players all have different ideas of where they want the game to go, and as the lead designer on an established title, it's my job to integrate those ideas and manage their implementation without veering from the course. Sometimes people have really great ideas, but they just won't work for our game. It's tough to tell them so.

MMORPG.com: You have what many would consider a dream job. What is your favorite part of your job?
Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen:

There's nothing like putting a new patch up on the Test server -- we get to see real enthusiasm for all the work the team has put into improving the game. If I worked on console games, I'd get that experience every couple of years. On a live MMO, I get that experience every month.

MMORPG.com: As a women in a leadership role at a game company, you are a rare. Please tell us a bit about the unique challenges you faced getting to the top of an industry often described as male-dominated.
Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen:

We're not such a rarity anymore. The Women's Game Conference in Austin has been successful, and Sheri Graner Ray won the Community Contribution Award at this year's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. I hear this year's GDC had the highest female attendance ever, and I noticed -- I had to wait in line for the bathroom for the first time!

The challenges you sometimes hear about women in the games industry are largely a thing of the past. I highly encourage other women interested in games to look into game development as a career.

MMORPG.com: Sara, can you talk about the unique challenges of being the Lead Designer on an established title?
Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen:

Maintaining the vision of those who've come before you might be tougher than coming up with something on your own, but I enjoy it. It gives structure to the job. Fortunately, Shadowbane has always had a strong, singular vision: to be the best PvP MMO available. We've kept it up.

MMORPG.com: Finally, as a senior voice on the Shadowbane team, could you deliver a message to your game’s fans about the future of the game?
Sara "Lietgardis" Jensen:

Shadowbane is still the best PvP MMO on the market. Other games allow you to fight other players, but it's only under special circumstances, and you don't fight over anything that matters. In Shadowbane, PvP is always on, and you fight over things that matter: persistent rewards in the form of cities, territories, and resources. Those other games can't offer that. In the future, we'll continue to deliver meaningful PvP. In the coming months, more specifically, we're improving social systems, we're adding more matchup opportunities outside of city sieges and resource mine fights, and we're looking into unique PvP ranking systems. It'll be fun.

Thank you to Sara and Wolfpack for making the time. As always, we encourage you to comment on what you've read.


Dana Massey