Ask Mo: Jobs in the MMO industry, jobs in MMOs

Today, we’re reintroducing our general MMO advice column, here named Ask Mo: the column where you ask Mo questions, and he… lets me answer them for him because he doesn’t talk, see. That’s his thing. The first question is an oldie but goodie that arrived in our inbox recently:

I have always been a huge fan of MMOs, since the original days of EverQuest. I grew up, went to college and eventually got into the video game industry proper where I worked in QA. I have recently had to leave the industry to do what’s best for my family, but my passion goes unfulfilled: I never got to work on an MMO. I am limited in that I cannot leave my current location, but I still want to try to work with the MMO industry. My skill set largely revolves around project management and people management, so I don’t know what I could work toward doing in the MMO world. What I was hoping for was perhaps to glean some of your great knowledge of the MMO circles to perhaps provide some direction, some hope that I may still be able to get there some day.

Flee, flee for your lives!

Seriously, I love MMOs, and I love devs and players and games, but this is not a good industry right now. The recession and recovery has been very bad for us. (Unless you’re a Guild Wars 2 columnist at MOP. Then you’re virtually assured a position at ArenaNet eventually. I’m kidding. Mostly.)

The hard reality is that location is extremely important to the larger MMO studios (and even to some of the indies; consider that City State Entertainment only recently began taking on select remote employees). There are studios willing to hire contracted writing, community, and QA folks from afar — ArenaNet and BioWare have both been known to do that, for example — but those are usually short-term contracts that do not lead to long-term employment. They’re great for extra cash in hard times and look good on a resume, but they are not a career. This limits you if you’re unable to move to an online gaming mecca like San Francisco, LA, Seattle, San Diego, Austin, or DC. And please note that with the exception of Austin, all of the places I just named are extremely expensive to live in, so even moving there and landing an entry-level on-location job may or may not be a ticket to the monies.

Of course, that’s mostly for writing, producing, design, community, and QA roles, and those who can move and can afford the expense of living in high COL city should know that companies like Blizzard and Riot are nearly always hiring customer service and QA folks if you just want to get your foot in the door. Programmers, on the other hand, are in significantly higher demand. Artists and modellers are, too, of course, though those jobs are less likely to outlast the game’s launch. If you’re a programmer, you can make so much more money without the crunch hours and layoff cycle working in a non-gaming industry. And frankly, you should.

For the community and human resources roles you’re looking at, you can often get noticed and picked up as a blogger or YouTuber, but that’s a crapshoot, and frankly it’s harder to get a paid gig as a blogger than at a game studio these days.

If moving is out of the question and you really just want to work on an MMO, you could always consider donating your time to an indie studio. Games like The Repopulation and City of Titans are by gamers, for gamers, and a lot of them are always looking for help, sometimes in return for profit sharing. It may not be glamorous or lucrative, but it looks a hell of a lot better on a resume than nothing in these lean times.

The next question is job-related too, in a slightly different way. It’s from long-time reader Avaera, and I’m embarrassed to say I’ve pulled it out of our email bin from last May:

Where did all the community jobs go? My first introduction to an immersive online world was a little known 3-D chatroom of the late ’90s called Cybertown, and I remember the most engaging thing about it was earning in-game currency by getting a job as a welcomer of new players to your virtual neighbourhood or as a block deputy organising events and moderating your street’s bulletin board or dozens of other community-focused jobs.

Similarly, the most immersive games I’ve ever played were three text MUDs (Aetolia, Imperian, and Lusternia), and these have roles you can take on as newbie mentors for new recruits to your class, PvP champions for guildmembers who were responsible for warping in to rescue a weaker player if they were ganked, treasurers for managing city finances, diplomats for negotiating trade/conflict deals with other nations, events managers for guilds, and city-wide activities or political decision-makers responsible for maintaining/changing the cultural direction of an organisation. All of these had tangible systems and mechanical rewards built into the game experience, and you felt as though you were doing something involving other players that was more than just hunter-gathering for yourself. Almost every major MMO I’ve found has craft skills as the only real jobs available (aside from everyone being a mercenary), and they aren’t real roles in an interactive community, no more than a resource node or NPC merchant is. Can you recommend any lesser-known worlds that have these missing community jobs, or have they all disappeared entirely?

It’s strange how shifting from text-based imagining to graphical virtual worlds has limited our creativity and our options, but it’s happened all the same. In fact, I remember it happening in real time, as I once obsessed over the MUD Castle Marrach when EverQuest was in its heyday. EverQuest was so stifling and one-note compared to the playstyle freedom I’d known in Ultima Online, and I actually went looking for that feeling backward technologically to MUDs. Few MMORPGs have done better even since, so you’re not alone.

Of course, MMORPGs really can’t functionally do all of the things MUDs could do, and those that can certainly can’t do it as cheaply. There are older games that provide some of what you’re looking for; Ultima Online, for example, still has a counselor program, an event GM program, and player systems for city mayors and governance. There are sunsetted games that provide some of what you’re looking for too, like Star Wars Galaxies’ politicians and entertainers and industrial mavens and Vanguard’s diplomats (don’t even start me on the magnificent wonder of creativity we lost when Glitch sunsetted). Some modern games provide player councils, like EVE Online’s CSM, or judicial systems where players are judge and jury, like ArcheAge. Asheron’s Call, now maintenance-moded, still has a monarchy system that grants leadership experience to those who mentor newbies.

But finding them all in one game is virtually impossible. Our reality is that most modern MMOs are combat sims with some extra trappings, not world sims with combat added in. We’re not in an age when virtual worlds are being crafted at all, let alone explored to their fullest potential, and most — not all, but most — of the “sandboxes” on the market or on the way are blank slate MMOs, emptyboxes, rather than the heirs to MUDs and their everythingbox design-all-the-things mentality. And even some of the devs who made those once-great virtual worlds still haven’t acknowledged or internalized that and why a lot of gamers really do want to be Uncle Owen.

From personal experience, I can still recommend Ultima Online; there are few other games with deep-sea sunken-treasure fishing, glassblowing, true gardening with crossbreeding and mutations, and a political system (and it’s getting an expansion this year!). If I were looking anew, however, I’d set sail for a game like Wakfu, which includes player government and environment control, or Mabinogi, which features (among other more typical accoutrements) an aging mechanic, commercing skill, and musical composition system. Those MUD-like MMOs with depth and flavor beyond combat grinds are out there; they’re just vastly overlooked.

They’re also old hat to Avaera, I expect, so if any of you readers have more obscure suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Are video games doomed? What do MMORPGs look like from space? Did free-to-play ruin everything? Will people ever stop talking about Star Wars Galaxies? Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and mascot Mo every month as they answer your letters to the editor right here in Ask Mo.
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96 Comments on "Ask Mo: Jobs in the MMO industry, jobs in MMOs"

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SorriorDragneel
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SorriorDragneel

I have a question for a good friend who might leave GW2 whata re some of the ebst wardrobe/costume systems out there? I know GW2 and RIFT have very good ones Wildstar has been upgarded but yeah she is wondering.

dorn2
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dorn2

Mathew_Reuther dorn2 
You make a really good point about studios lying.  I’ve heard some real horror stories.  Companies taking money and not even working on the product they tangentially promised.  Messes like that are why we have foolish concepts like milestones.

MMO’s are a bit different though.  Even if they’re made by a studio they’re so huge that the people at the top are still money men.  Across the board none of them employ enough programmers.  Far too much focus goes on aritsts/level designers/etc.

Mathew_Reuther
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Mathew_Reuther

orionite I have never had an emotional experience on Amazon as a shopper. There’s a wide gulf between web software design with a pleasant, intuitive UX focus and the mission on Virmire in Mass Effect which combines every single discipline into one massive gut punch that the internet hasn’t stopped talking about since. Make sense?

Mathew_Reuther
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Mathew_Reuther

dorn2 Cast and crew credits for something like The Hobbit: More Spec Fx Than You Ever Dreamed Possible and A Bunch of Kiwis Too show a pretty hugely diverse set of spcializations within film. I’ve been working with the crew doing the Back in Time documentary (closing out their second Kickstarter soon) and they’ve had quite a few people involved prior to going post, and they’re about to engage a bunch more people across various post studios. That’s just for a documentary.

But, hey, that’s really tangental anyway. I get your point and agree that there seems to me to be a disconnect between what money people understand about games and what the reality is. But I want to be clear that I think part of this lies firmly on the shoulders of the gaming industry. Being so needy for capital makes studio management lie their asses off to the investors at times when they should be telling the truth and educating the “money” as to what’s happening. I’ve been told point blank never to tell the investors the truth about x, y, or z by studio management. I loved the guys I worked with and thought that the majority of them were both pretty good people as well as talented individuals, but the “strong suit” of the companies I worked in was never absolute honestly.

And that’s where I think the industry could really improve. Maybe not total transparency at every single turn, but being honest about how things are going. If you look at a company like City State Entertainment you see a good example of being out there with what’s up in development land.

If more studios were being more forthcoming with things (at the very least to their investors) and more investors became aware of how things worked within the industry, there would be a greater set of resources available (call it common investor knowledge, the kind of thing you have with investment arenas like real estate, for example) that new investors could rely upon, and that studios could refer to.

It’s pretty hard to pitch something to people when there’s not the kind of institutional knowledge that builds up over a long period of time. (I mean if you look at “all” entertainment industries, games are probably the youngest outside of web-series, no?)

Games are complex things, and it’s easy to say “oh, yeah, games, my kid plays those…drives his car around in a circle” and of course that’s SO off base it’s not even funny. :)

dorn2
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dorn2

Mathew_Reuther dorn2 
I was alluding more to the skillsets involved than the total complexity.  Most investors can’t really grasp that games need massive amounts of engineering.  It seems like even a lot of executives in large companies forget this fact.

djnesh
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djnesh

Modrain dirtyklingon sadly, not only in the game dev industry

Mathew_Reuther
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Mathew_Reuther

Duke_W Do you think that Stephen King, in his younger years, felt constrained by the fact that his publishers had their own “tastes” in literature, or that making money sullied his writing? Do you believe that he, after decades of writing, dreads the new pages or new stories or feels constricted by all the ideas he has already put out into the world? Or do you think that he loves writing so much he’s always looking for new things to say and new ways to say it, like taking on writing for The Walking Dead’s 6th season.
Yes, hobby is hobby to some people, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others who are professionals who enjoy what they do. Not everyone is “meant” to design games. But for those that are, the fact that they are doing so “for the man” isn’t necessarily the ball and chain you’re imagining.

Mathew_Reuther
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Mathew_Reuther

ManastuUtakata Yes, you have posted way more than I have. So has Damonville and paragonlostinspace. So have a lot of people. Some of them across every single comment section since the dawn of time (MOP) and some only in the ones that interest them.

Some people only post one comment ever on any given thing and don’t engage beyond that, and think that even bothering to reply isn’t the way to go. A lot of people don’t even have email alerts on.

Sometimes I go a week or so before I find a subject I have any interest in here. Sometimes I find multiple in a day that trip some thoughts. I comment in discussions I find the most interesting, and skip the ones I don’t. I typically avoid dropping gifs and clips into my replies here, favoring words over cute memes. I respond to most comments which ping me or reference me (like this one) and I post when I feel like, and how I feel like.

Almost as if I were an individual like anyone else.

So while you may think that the handful of times paragonlostinspace and I went back and forth below (4 or 5?) is “too many” … how might I then be responsible for him following me up into this reply chain?
He came up here after that exchange and threw out a number of comments (you have to hand count those..so, thanks for caring, bro?, I guess?) like it was some kind of victory. Like proving that I was interested in this topic (again, as someone who has worked in industry multiple times, not a shock) was some kind of smoking gun. You came in and reinforced that (heya, I’ve posted twice more at least since you commented, btw…) and then gave your own philosophy of “how to post”…to what end?
If the goal is for me not to talk (not sure why anyone is obsessing over that) then why @ me or continue discussion at all?
There’s a kind of irony in the fact that three people with fairly high post counts are involved in a thread which takes me to task for posting. The only one to even mention it was you. And you still implies that I was “doing it wrong” …
How about everyone just talk about the actual topic of the article instead of: berating people for posting, ignoring a line of discussion to instead make pointless insulting comments, call each other trolls, or play armchair referee.
There have been zero replies in this thread to my statement that professionals find pleasure in their work through their depth of understanding, in spite of that being a not-so-uncommon point in, among other things, various writings on game design. So the actual point I made, which is a salient one when contrasted with the assertion that working makes you hate things, has been buried under the bandwagon of “you shouldn’t post a lot” …
There’d be a lot fewer replies to page through if Damonville had actually responded with why he felt that my statement was off base instead of attacking my intellect.

Mathew_Reuther
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Mathew_Reuther

Gibbins Mathew_Reuther Do *you* respond with “thank you, thank you” when called a troll for actively engaging in a topic that interests you, stalked across reply chains, and generally dicked with?
If so: that’s nice.

I don’t. 

This should be a crime? I don’t think so.

Look: Paragonlostinspace got bent because I pointed out that arguing against your own best interests and telling people how they should live their lives isn’t a good thing. He followed me up into this chain, and Damonville decided to post meaningless blather of biblical allegory couched as philosophical point and then act as if I was somehow too stupid to understand the depth of his profound statement. 

Me not rolling over and tucking my tail between my legs when confronted with that behavior doesn’t make me guilty of anything other than not being willing to get shoved around.

Me being willing to directly respond to people when they reply doesn’t make me anything other than willing to continue a discussion. If you are not interested in discussion, you probably shouldn’t be in a comments thread in the first place, so people acting shocked when someone is actually engaging in writing replies seems off to me.

Not everyone leaves one comment and calls it a day. (Both Damonville and Paragonlostinspace tend to post much, much more than I do. Both frequently are engaged in discussions which have “sides” to them, and both regularly go after others who disagree with them in their own way. That doesn’t bother me. But let’s not pretend that they’re not busy posting a significant amount or are all puppies and rainbows.)

Gibbins
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Gibbins

Mathew_Reuther Wratts

I’m not that fussed who is right or wrong, but you do stand out as as someone with an especially abrasive style of presenting yourself to the community.