Friendly: So, I know you as the fabulous, nay, wonderful, Kiersten Samwell who is the correspondent for Wizard 101. You’re the person who feeds all the people like me all the good stuff they want to know about and share with the community. True? Feel free to expound.
Kiersten: That’s true, I am fabulous and wonderful. (just kidding). I am the Community Manager for Wizard101. It’s my responsibility to ensure that our players know what’s happening in the game, what’s coming up and what’s changing. It’s also my duty to let our development team know what’s going on in the community, your ideas, bug reports, requests and questions.
Friendly: That’s a pretty sweet gig. Right?
Kiersten: Definitely! I love this game, and to be able to play a part in its development means a great deal to me. I love listening to what the players have to say about the game, good and bad, because I really feel that they’re what make this game fun.
Friendly: How’d you get that gig?
Kiersten: Well I started off doing exactly what you’re doing Tom, I was a part of a fansite for another online game; Asheron’s Call. I started off writing interviews with other players in the game, and soon I was running the fan site, as well as my own large guild site. After I turned the fansite over to my assistant, I went to work on several different types of websites. When this opportunity came up, I practically begged for the job. I knew that I wanted to be a part of this, and that I could be an effective conduit between the players and the developers.
Friendly: What’s the best part of your job and what’s the least favorite part of your job (and why)?
Kiersten: The best part of my job is seeing how Wizard101 has inspired our players to be creative in their own way. The Fan Fiction is always fun but I think my most favorite thing is the Fan Art. I love seeing those drawings, and I proudly display them both on our website, and in our KingsIsle lunch room.
The worst part of my job is mean people. While I understand that Wizard101 is not for everyone, those who attack us directly with personal threats can be a bummer. I guess that’s why I have the Tower Shield spell.
Friendly: Now I notice in your correspondence to Wizard 101 fans you often go by the moniker Professor Greyrose (or am I mistaken?). What’s the story behind that?
Kiersten: No you’re not mistaken; I have the persona of Professor Greyrose as part of my position here at KingsIsle. She is the most tenured professor at Ravenwood, after Ambrose of course, so it was natural that she be the conduit between the faculty and the students. I see her as a bit of a guidance counselor as well. I try to guide all our students in a positive way, and be there when they need to talk. I guess that’s why I’m the most vocal on our message boards. I want students to know they can always come to me with questions and if I don’t have the answer, I’ll do my best to find out.
Friendly: Why an Ice wizard though? Are you and those in the marketing department extra good at damage mitigation and have high hit points?
Kiersten: As for Lydia Greyrose, she is actually from Candy World, a land of cookie roads, chocolate rivers and candy cane trees. She is one of three sisters (the youngest of the three, she is actually only a half sister to them, which is why she has faerie wings and they do not). The other two sisters are evil -- they live in gingerbread houses, and have cooked up a legion of gingerbread minions to continue the long, proud tradition of children-cooking evilness. It is probably her half-faery blood that made her "the good one." She learned ice magic as a way of putting out the fires underneath the cook pot, so that she could help the children get away.
As for me, the job does require a certain finesse in damage mitigation and high hit points. Usually a Community Manager has to have a pretty thick skin, but thankfully our fans love our game and rarely cast damaging spells on me.
Friendly: So do you get to play this game at work?
When the time allows, I try to hop on to Wizard101 and listen to what players are talking about. If I can, I’ll help out those who are asking for guidance, and generally make friends and enjoy the game.
There are times when there’s an ‘all hands’ call to hop in to our internal test area, and hammer on a new feature to see if it can withstand our attacks. And I will say I enjoy going toe-to-toe with Ambrose in a Player vs Player duel. ;)
Of course, when I go home, I continue to play Wizard101 on my personal account. So you never know when you’re standing beside me, dueling against me or saving my behind in an encounter. :-)
Friendly: Ok, ok, so go through a typical day of work at KingsIsle for Kiersten . . .
Kiersten: Rarely are two days alike. Some days start at 3:00am, but only if we’ve had a late night recess. I need to get up and change any messaging relating to the downtime.
Normal days start at about 8:30am, and even before I drive in to work, I check the message boards and email for issues that may have cropped up over night. I buck traffic for 45 minutes and arrive at KingsIsle Entertainment. First order of the day is a good hot cup of coffee. From there I spend some time reading blogs like your own, scanning the fansites and forums for information and trying to help out where I can, and I scour the web for posts and comments about Wizard101. This is actually something I do throughout the course of the day, as other duties allow. I love getting Twitter alerts about Wizard101, to know that people are talking about the game outside of playing it.
Another part of my position is Content Manager for the Wizard101 website. What this entails is adding features to the website, working with our other Content Managers and the Web Development team to streamline the use of the website as well as working with our Customer Service department to ensure that the registration process is as fluid as we can make it. Some of my personal additions to the website have been the Help Pages, Creative Writing, Photo Album, Newsletter, Downloads, Color-Me pages and a fair portion of the Player’s Guide. I’ve also got some new pages I’m working on that will hopefully help players decide what school is best for them, and of course, some surprises! Keeping up with the ever expanding content on the website is another chunk of my day, but again this is ongoing and not something I specifically schedule a block of time for.
I have regular interaction with our production manager, technical director, quality assurance manager, game designers and every other department. We exchange information about what is coming up in the worlds as well as feedback from our players about what they would like to see added to Wizard101. Our player’s suggestions do have weight, and you’ll be happy to know that quite a few suggestions are already in the works for the future of Wizard101.
I work closely with our Public Relations and Marketing managers to streamline messaging and announcements as well as prepare for upcoming press releases. I try to work as much with our Customer Service department (that’s Mr Lincoln) as much as I can since we are extensions of each other, in that we are a direct line to and from the players.
As many of our players know, KingsIsle is also working on a second project, so I try to get in and see where they are in their production so I know when I can start building the community for that project.
As school lets out across North America, I try to get in the game to see how populated our Realms are, and gauge how the players are doing before I pack it in for the evening, usually around 6:00. If we have an update or an announcement, or something has broken, the hours go later than that, as I need to ensure that we get all our messaging out to all the players via the website, the fansites, emails, and other media.
Friendly: So I know they say that everyone at Kingsisle has some part in creating the game, what parts of the game would you be in? What’s your hand in the game we all play?
Kiersten: Hmm I guess I kind of answered this one above. I take what the players ask for, and pass it up to the people who can assess and implement these requests. Beyond that I’m contributing ideas for tools that the community can use to improve communicate and interaction with each other, and with the faculty.
Friendly: What’s your highest hope for Wizard 101’s future?
Kiersten: For many of our players Wizard101 is going to be their first online gaming experience. I want them to always remember their first mmo and have a smile on their faces when they do so. I will always love the first mmo that I played, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s one I still play and it makes me smile. I want that for the future of Wizard101, a special place in our player’s hearts.
Friendly: Is there anything you’d like to say to the Wizard 101 fan base?
Kiersten: It may seem like very simple advice, but there is one thing I want you to do in Wizard101: Have fun. I know that seems obvious, but I see so many people playing other games who simply do so because they’re obligated or feel the need to keep up. No matter what level you are there is a world of adventure, excitement, exploration and interest. Don't be lured into thinking that it's only fun if you're level X or greater. If you find yourself logging on and not being excited about where you're going to go today, or what you might encounter, then take a step back and ask yourself why. Think you have exhausted everything there is to do in the Spiral? Think again. Tired of being a Fire Wizard, start a Life Wizard and see everything differently as you explore the finesse of a different school.
All I ask is that you have fun, and if you have an idea about how to make Wizard101 more fun for yourself and others, let us know!
Friendly: Where do you see yourself in the gaming industry in 5 years from now?
Kiersten: Playing Wizard101. :D
In all seriousness, I want to continue to be a part of a gaming community that is positive, expressive, creative and ever expanding.
If I can do that best as a Community Manager, then that’s what I’ll be doing. If I can be more effective as a Designer, then that’s what I’ll be doing. I don’t do this for the paycheck, I don’t do this for the fame and recognition, I do this because I enjoy the game and the players who play it, whether it is Wizard101 or our next project, or both!
Friendly: What has been the hardest hurdle for you (and your department) to overcome and what is your greatest success in relation to Wizard 101?
Kiersten: Thankfully, each of the hurdles we’ve encountered so far in Wizard101 have been ones we’ve seen coming at us. We have a great team that is flexible and responsive to things we haven’t necessarily planned for. Getting the word out about Wizard101 after a quiet build up I think has been an ongoing challenge. We’ve got more TV ads, and we’re looking at other ways to spread the word, but in the end, it’s our players who are our best advocates. We can scream about Wizard101 from the top of Bartleby but unless you, our players, are talking about it, it doesn’t matter.
Personally, I came to this job only a month before we fully launched the game to the world, so I had to hit the ground running, so to speak. I had my starter wand and had to quickly work my way up to Grandmaster almost immediately. It was a fun ride and I’m still learning. The players of Wizard101 are my teachers. I learn from them what they need and want and how I can better do my job.
As for the greatest success? You are. You the individual player who logged in and did something that made you smile. Each and every one of my precious little snowflakes, you are my success.
Friendly: This was always my favorite interview question when it was popular to ask about 10 years ago . . . If you could be any animal what would it be and why?
Kiersten: Ten years ago, I would have had the same answer. There’s a feline in me. Sometimes it’s a domestic feline, independent, playful and ever-curious. Sometimes it’s a wild feline, a survivalist who will claw your eyes out if you come near my children.
Friendly: What other games do you play besides Wizard 101?
Kiersten: I’ve been playing mmo’s in particular since 1998. Yes, 1998. I know that’s longer than most of our players have been on the planet. It all started with Asheron’s Call during its beta. Since then I have either beta’d or outright played: Eve, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, EQ2, Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes, Asheron's Call, Asheron's Call 2, Saga of Ryzom, Anarchy Online, Toontown, Uru (both times), Rubies of Eventide, Shadowbane, Neocron, Horizons, Star Wars Galaxies, There, Auto Assault, Tabula Rasa, A Tale in the Desert and um, that’s all I can think of, and apparently I play too many games. :) But as you can see, I love games, I love being a part of them. They feed a creative side to me that likes to adventure and explore.
Friendly: Are there any secret tidbits to the game that you can surrender for the readers of The Friendly Necromancer?
Kiersten: Well it’s not about the game, but I have a secret about myself. I’m Canadian! So I hope our players will forgive me if an occasional superfluous U makes its way into words such as colour and neighbour.
As for Wizard101, one of the most requested features is a shared bank between characters on the same account, and I'm authorized to tell you that feature is coming within the next few weeks. This will allow all the characters on one account login to share the same bank, which means that Life robe you found with your Storm Wizard can be passed on to your Life Wizard, and Crowns items can be handed down to your other characters as you grow out of them.
Friendly: OK, random question . . . string cheese . . . good/bad and if good, do you like to just bite it or peel it off in strings?
Kiersten: Good – split it up and put it on either side of a hotdog. Yum
Friendly: Any questions for the Friendly Necromancer?
Kiersten: What was it about Wizard101 that made you decide to be a part of the creative minority and commit your time and resources to this game, as opposed to the others that are out there? What captured your imagination?
Friendly: I think I was bonked on the head by a cyclops and I'm still trying to wake up.
When I saw that Wizard 101 was an MMO I could involve my family in instead of tear them apart with, that's when I knew this was a game worth blogging about. I, like you, have been involved in a good number of MMOs in the past. I do think your list puts mine to shame though. haha. I think maybe unlike you, I had a pretty unhealthy addiction to a couple of these and they led to some unhealthy tension and a couple moments of heartbreak and realization. This of course is a topic for another blog post.
I also see a great potential with Kingsisle to realize some good in the world because they are a different company that beats with a different pulse than most. Maybe someday that will be fully realized. Hard to know.
Thanks for considering my family in your game.
Friendly: You’re a pleasure to work with Kiersten . . . thanks so much for your time.
Kiersten: The pleasure is mine. It’s a dream to have a positive, responsive, interactive community that we have with Wizard101 and you are a big part of that community.
Thanks so much to Kiersten and the staff of Wizard 101 for helping make this interview possible!