Today, we continue our series of Gameblog Interviews. The response has been surprisingly positive thus far, and it’s a joy to continue discussions with folks scattered throughout the MMO Blogosphere.
Direct from San Diego, CA we are pleased to bring you the second interview in the Gameblog Interviews Series with Cuppycake. Her blog Cuppytalk is a great mix of industry insight, game log/review and humorous observations. We are definitely glad that Cuppy stayed safe and sound through the Southern California wildfires so we could talk with her! She’s a MMO veteran, Community Manager for Areae, Inc, and sings in (a) Rock Band.
WorldIV: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about Cuppycake?
Cuppycake: Sure. My non-gaming name is Tami Baribeau and I have recently relocated from St. Paul, Minnesota to sunny San Diego, CA to work as a Community Manager for Areae, Inc. I got my start in gaming when I was younger with console platformers like the Mario series and Sonic the Hedgehog, and RPG classics like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and the Final Fantasy series. My venture into the massively gaming world was through EverQuest, in which I became quickly entranced by the large volume of people working towards separate but similar goals through grouping and raiding to enhance their characters. In my spare time I enjoy making and listening to music, reading, watching movies and NFL football, riding horses, and writing. Oh, and I’m also a talkative and opinionated blogger that loves to stay on top of the latest news and opinions in the gaming and web industry.
WorldIV: Your blog, Cuppytalk ( http://www.cuppycake.org ), definitely puts casual gaming at the forefront, since it is in your header. Especially in level-based games, how is the casual gaming experience maintaining or changing?
Cuppycake: It’s definitely changing and evolving, especially with games that have taken the solo play experience and legitimized it as heavily as World of Warcraft and Everquest II. Looking back to EverQuest and games of its era, there wasn’t all that much you could accomplish on your own aside from a good conversation with your guildmates and selling items AFK in the Bazaar. MMORPGs today are starting to recognize the importance of an individual’s time and the necessity for quick play sessions that provide a player a sense of accomplishment. And thank goodness for that – because with the wide array of massive and casual games to choose from currently, less people are willing to pick one sole game and play it. I don’t know about you, but personally I like variety and choices – therefore I’m thankful for advancements in the casual game market. Things like the SOE Station Pass go a long way for people like myself who enjoy trying different games and exploring various worlds without having multiple subscriptions. I’d say there is quite a long way to go before the industry has really figured out what casual players need to have an enjoyable play experience, but I’d also say that what we’re doing with Metaplace is a giant leap in the right direction.
WorldIV: You mentioned that games are evolving to recognize the casual player’s time limitations. Do you think more games will continue offer the “jump in and play” experience, or will there be a place for games that require much more of a commitment of time?
Cuppycake: I think both of those answers are correct. I think we’re going to continue seeing a huge rise in casual games (that’s something easily proven by looking at current market data out there now) because it’s obvious that is what a lot of consumers are really looking for these days. Consider the success of the Wii, and Xbox Live Arcade games, and virtual spaces like Club Penguin and Neopets. There is a huge necessity for games that families can play together, games that allow you to take extended frequent breaks as real life obligations arise, games like Super Mario Galaxy that allow parents to spend short gaming sessions with their kids and actually accomplish something while having fun. Likewise, there is a segment of the gaming population who really enjoys games that require a huge time commitment – because they want to put a lot of time into gaming with other people who do the same. That’s totally fine too, and I expect more games to make an attempt to cross over and appeal to both demographics.
WorldIV: As of when we’re writing this, the latest post in your blog about Metaplace ( http://www.cuppycake.org/?p=315 ) certainly highlights the tremendous amount of potential it offers to players and world-builders. Is there a feature in Metaplace that you are especially proud of or excited about? Do you want to expand on how Metaplace might appeal to the more casual gamer?
Cuppycake: Sure. Picking the ONE feature I’m excited about Metaplace is near impossible – but I am particularly interested in the badges and contests. We’ll be having challenges that encourage people to make a certain type of game, or give a solid goal to work towards while playing games, and I think that it will be an incredible amount of fun to see all the submissions. The community that will build around user-submitted badges and achievements is going to be really intriguing for me, because that’s totally my thing. I just can’t wait to see all the neat ideas that people come up with day to day. As far as the casual gamer goes, we expect Metaplace to be right up their alley. A player will be able to come to Metaplace and browse through a collection of games and worlds and sort them however they wish (by popularity, by rating, by tags, by user, etc.) and log in and start playing right away. They’ll be able to keep track of their favorite games, embed them in their MySpace or Facebook pages, and even try to make their own game. For a casual builder, we’ll be having a marketplace that allows them to import stylesheets that will give them a jump start, and modules that allow them to customize and add things to their game. It’s all geared towards allowing players and builders to spend anywhere from a tiny amount of time to an obsessive amount of time and have a good time in the way that suits them best.
WorldIV: From your blog, we see Rock Band and Everquest 2 have your attention right now. These games are pretty different from one another – what draws you to each of them?
Cuppycake: Ask me again in a week and I bet the games will have changed! 😉 Kidding aside, there are certain elements to a game that really make it stick with me. With Everquest II, it’s the community, hands down. The players are so helpful, courteous, and mature that it really makes immersing myself in the world more enjoyable. One of my favorite things to do when I play an MMO game is to turn up the music, read all the quests and dialogue and play the game as it was designed to be played. Being able to explore the world and accomplish things without using spoiler sites and ‘cheat’ add-ons is doable in EQ2 because the community is so eager to help each other out, and I love that. Rock Band is the perfect extension to my addiction to games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution. In my spare time I am also a musician (piano, vocals) and I love the marriage of two of my favorite things to do. Rock Band has the great social aspect of being able to hang out with a few of your friends and work together to get high scores and unlock songs. I also do pretty well with games that rely on tone and rhythm, so I have fun. Besides, everyone has always wanted to be a rock star!
WorldIV: Rock Band does look fun. What song are you rocking out to the most on it?
Cuppycake: “Welcome Home” – Coheed and Cambria, because I’m a huge fan of the band. Otherwise, I think I’m probably best at “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s or “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi.
WorldIV: You’ve played a lot of games, including MMOs. As a self-described “MMO addict,” what do you find to be the addicting factor?
Cuppycake: The addicting factor to me is the total package of the persistence in a multiplayer world. The fact that I can log in to a world and advance my character, make new friends and work together on common goals. I can then log out and come back another time to the same character and friends in a dynamic world – and that has always been mesmerizing to me. I have always been just as immersed in the community outside of the game as the one inside it as well, reading and responding on message boards and blogs. I also love the socialization aspect of using an avatar to create an entire roleplaying persona and interacting with other people in your character’s shoes. I guess there are lots of addicting factors in MMOs, so picking “the one” is difficult!
WorldIV: You mention the fact that you like creating a roleplaying persona. Obviously your persona is still you, just another aspect of you. Have you ever experienced an aspect of your personality that comes out when you game that you haven’t always identified with otherwise? (For example, we know a guy who is rather shy in real life who is just a total outgoing jokester in game. Another person seems really laid back and she gets very competitive once she’s playing a game online.)
Cuppycake: Oh definitely, I think that’s the great thing about using avatars to represent yourself and a good deal of why roleplaying appeals to me at all. Becoming something that you’re not or something you’ve always wanted to be is a huge draw to a lot of people when they’re playing an online game. It gives you an opportunity to make whatever impression on others that you want to make, which is a lot of fun. For example, I enjoy roleplaying a Blood Elf in WoW because I like acting arrogant, snooty, magic-deprived and obsessed. I think it’s awesome because anyone in real life would tell you that I’m really laid-back and down to earth and that is totally not who I am. It’s just fun to change things up and try something new when you’re exploring a new world.
WorldIV: Is there any title coming up that you are excited about?
Cuppycake: The next couple of months are looking pretty stagnant right now, other than Lost Odyssey for 360, but that’s mostly because I have a stack of games I’m currently working on that are the focus of my gaming time right now. There is Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, and Bioshock waiting for some 360 love, and then I still have Rock Band and Everquest II’s Rise of Kunark expansion that I’m working my way through. In the MMO world, I’m interested to see the launch reaction on Pirates of the Burning Sea and Age of Conan, but most interested in trying out Warhammer: Age of Reckoning.
WorldIV: Emi at WorldIV is a “girl gamer,” who notes that it is really nice to see another woman out there – especially one so involved! Do you think the gaming industry as a whole, recognizes our demographic? Have any of your teammates been surprised to find out you are a female? Why do guys who play girl avatars always stick out?”
Cuppycake: Always nice to hear about other females who spend time gaming and talking about games! I have a different opinion on this subject (and often times a heated one, but I’ll leave that to my blog) because I tend to enjoy blending in gender-wise rather than sticking out in the crowd. I think the gaming industry has been doing a great job providing games that both males and females will play. Fun games are enjoyable regardless of your gender, but the advancement and prevalence of the casual market has made big strides in encouraging more females to play. I especially think that MMORPG’s have came a long way in evening out the male/female ratio, and that there are a lot more females playing massive games than most people think. I definitely feel the gaming industry recognizes our demographic, because they’d be fools not to. Not paying attention to 50% of the possible market would be a disasterous oversight! With a name like Cuppycake, people aren’t often surprised to find out that I am female – but I don’t flaunt it. I rarely ever mention my gender for any reason while playing games, which is why I think guys who play girl avatars stick out so much. A lot of them try to hard to seem ‘female’, which gives them away.
WorldIV: In your role as Community Manager for Areae, you certainly must sometimes OD on gaming being that you are in the industry. Yet these numbers in Nick Yee’s self-selected survey ( http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/000891.php ) indicate that most gamers play 20 hours a week. Is this near your weekly game-time? Being that you work in the industry, does it ever get overwhelming?
Cuppycake: I definitely don’t play 20 hours a week! There was a day when that would have been an extremely light week for me, but now I don’t get as much time to sit down and actually play the games that I like to follow and talk about. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s a fair trade off because I get to surround myself in an environment I love all day long while I’m at work. Few can say they actually love what they’re doing for a living, so I am extremely grateful for that. I’d say that my actually gaming time per week is closer to around 5-10 hours, with spikes if I’m sick or when a new game comes out. For example, with Rock Band I played easily 30-40 hours a week for the first two weeks – but it’s been a few days since I’ve touched it now. Also, being that for the first time in my life I live in a place that isn’t 10 degrees outside in December, I am a lot more motivated to leave the house and do things outdoors. The cold Minnesota winters were a huge factor in my gaming hours back home! I wouldn’t say that I get overwhelmed, but I do notice that I can’t open an internet browser at home without navigating right to my work email or forums and making sure everything is okay. I definitely have a personal interest in what I’m doing day-to-day at work, and it spills over into my free time without me even noticing. Basically, it’s not that I’m burned out on gaming or have a lack of motivation – it’s mostly that San Diego has brought a lot of new places to explore and new friends, and I can’t find the TIME to play.
WorldIV: From your current role and your past projects, you obviously understand the importance of a game community to MMORPGs. What can developers do to build the kind of sustaining community that will keep their players interested and involved?
Cuppycake: I’m biased on this question, because I think that the community is the single most important factor of any online multiplayer game. I think it’s extremely difficult to design a game that not only has great gameplay elements (combat, questing, level design, etc.) but also caters equally to the fanbase’s needs to socialize and interact. The best way for developers to build a community and keep people interested is by making it easy and necessary for people to connect with each other. Features like robust guild tools, voice chat, message boards, meeting places within the game and LFG tools should all be standard in MMOs nowadays because they are enablers for communication. It should never be difficult for players to find one another, and there should be tasks that groups of individuals can work on together. If a player wants to create a guild and recruit for other players, it should be simple for them to do so. Likewise with joining a guild. Things like community spotlights, fansite support, developer interaction with the paying customers, and rewards for player participation are excellent facilitators to a growing and changing community. Basically, the developers just have to recognize the importance of the needs of the player base, design with those needs in mind, and continue to support and add to them as the community requests it.
WorldIV: Let’s say someone gave you a great deal of money and a stable of talented developers to build an MMO with. The only catch was it had to be based on some existing IP. Which IP would you pick to develop your game around?
Cuppycake: I’m almost obligated to say “My Little Pony” because that’s sort of a running joke about me, but I’ll switch it up for the sake of something new and excited to talk about. Honestly, I’d love to see an MMORPG set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy novel series by George RR Martin. As cliche and popular as that response is, there is no environment that has really reeled me in and held me there like ASoIaF. The familiar locations and key characters would make a phenomenal storyline for the game in combination with the various heritages making good races and the unique NPCs. I just think it would make a great setting, but I’m a fan of traditional fantasy which a lot of people feel has grown stale over the years.
WorldIV: From an observer’s perspective, the last year has been a wild ride for you: Blogging on Cuppytalk for about a year, hired by Areae, moved to the West Coast. What’s your perspective on the last year? Was working in the industry the goal? Was blogging an important part of entering the industry?
Cuppycake: The last year has been exhilarating and exciting in every way! I always had a dream of working in the game industry but never imagined that it would ever become a reality. Living in Minnesota, there aren’t too many opportunities for employment in the game world so I was persuing other options that ultimately I wouldn’t have been as happy with. A great opportunity came up for me to relocate to San Diego for the job of my dreams working at Areae, and I made every possible arrangement I could to make the transition as easy as possible. I don’t know how important blogging in itself was to entering the industry, but networking as a whole is crucial. It’s really important to get your name out there, make connections at various conventions, volunteer to help out in various online communities and start a portfolio of your work to show off your ability to write. Having a blog is just one way to say – “Hey, I’m interested in the gaming industry, have lots of opinions that go beyond just playing games, and oh yeah, I can write too!” That’s huge as far as I’m concerned.
WorldIV: You really do have a very enjoyable blog! You cover a lot of things and it seems pretty diverse. How do you find the inspiration to blog regularly? What are your favorite topics to write about? Do you believe that bloggers have a role, purpose or value for the MMO industry?
Cuppycake: I’ve actually been having difficulty finding the motivation lately because of lack of time to really put effort into writing thoughtful posts. Most of my blogs talk about current news in the industry but I don’t like to just link news – I like to add the Cuppytwist to it and give my opinion. I like to follow up on major commentary that is making its way around the ‘blogosphere’ and I enjoy doing things like contests and throwing out ideas for others to talk about. I don’t really have ‘favorite’ topics to talk about because I like to have a large amount of variety to keep people entertained. Lately, I’ve just been throwing out updates on Metaplace, talking about the various console games I’ve been playing, highlighting other interesting blogs that I’ve read, and posting funny things to entertain others. I am a huge supporter of the blogging community, as I’m sure most bloggers will attest to. I have helped numerous bloggers get theirs set up and given lots of pointers for starting out and building an audience. I’ve written a “So you want to be a blogger?” post that has recieved more hits than any other post on my blog, and do a regular “New Blogger Update” that mentions new blogs I’ve came across in my experience. I also was one of the first hosts on the first couple of episodes of the “Shut Up We’re Talking” podcast on VirginWorlds.com, which is THE podcast for MMO bloggers. I absolutely feel that blogs are a crucial voice in the MMO industry, as their subjective opinions are of value to potential future players. Blogs have the ability to state the facts without a PR twist, and are independent thoughts and reviews that often times are more accurate and detailed than press reviews.
WorldIV: Have you had any bad experiences blogging? Anything that made you hold back from your voice?
Cuppycake: I haven’t really had any bad experiences blogging. Every once in awhile a bad seed or two will come around spouting off that I only blog to bring attention to myself, which I think I’ve made clear in various posts is incredibly inaccurate. I enjoy talking about what is going on in the gaming world just as much as I like reading other people’s blogs and editorials about the same subject. I like having a place that is mine for posting whatever I want; a place that I can come back to in the future and know won’t be deleted. Gaining readers wasn’t even a concern of mine in the past, I was just writing for myself and giving myself a good location to store all my thoughts. The fact that people actually read what I have to say is still mind-boggling to me and it’s very surprising when people say “Hey, YOU are Cuppy? I read your blog ALL the time!”. The only thing that ever makes me hold back my voice is the fact that I work in the industry now and some things just aren’t appropriate to say regardless of the disclaimer on my site. Anyone who has been with Cuppytalk from the start knows that occasionally I get a little heated about some topics (female gaming, ‘failing games’, casual vs. hardcore) but I rein myself in a bit now. I think it’s very crucial as a blogger to be yourself and to not swing your opinions based on external factors. You really do develop a personality that your readers connect with and it is important to stay true and honest with them and yourself.
WorldIV: It’s awesome to see how you’ve made the successful transition to San Diego and the gaming industry, and you’ve offered great tips about getting there. Do you have any other advice for a player (or three) who want to make their career in the gaming industry?
Cuppycake: The best advice I can give is just to network, network, network. There are plenty of opportunities to attend conferences and summits in both the gaming and web industries, and new talent is always welcomed. Make a portfolio of your work that contains links to things you’ve written, places you’ve volunteered, forums you’ve administrated, and even guilds you’ve led. Make business cards that have your email address and a link to the portfolio you’ve put together. Stay involved with the industry by helping out in any way you can – a lot of conferences and conventions will allow a free or discounted pass if you volunteer some time working the booths. Oh, and don’t give up – but be sure to have a temporary backup plan because it might take a while until the right opportunity comes up.
Cuppycake’s enthusiasm for blogging was obvious. After all, she put up with us on this — and wrote great answers — and even let us pester her more than once. Thanks, Cuppy! Look for more Gameblog Interviews in the near future.
(Edit: Bad news struck after posting this. Please have our heartfelt sympathy for your recent loss, Cuppy.)