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15 Minutes of Fame: Behind the scenes at WoW Insider, part 2



Is WoW Insider your full-time job, or do you do something else as well?

Zach: I live in the Philippines, where the standard of living is (thankfully) very low. This means writing for WoW.com can practically be my full-time job without my family going too hungry. I'm also a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, writer, events host and ronin for hire. For the most part, though, being a dad takes up most of my time.

Matt: I'm a freelance writer. I have one book out (Things That Never Were, Monkeybrain Books) and have had short fiction published on Fantastic Metropolis, in Postscripts magazine and in an anthology called Adventure. I'm very slowly working on a second book.

Mike: I'm happy to be working for WoW.com as a full-time job. I periodically pick up other freelance work when available.

Alex: WoW.com wasn't always my full-time job, but it is now. When I first started here, my investment was only a few hours a week and my primary job was management at Hollywood Video. I actually didn't mind that job, but this is still significantly better. Now and then, I dig around for some extra freelance work on the side, simply because you really shouldn't let yourself get too comfortable when you're a freelance journalist for a living. It's a profession where you should always keep a plan B in mind.

Fox: WoW.com is actually just a side job. My real 9-to-5 job is in cancer research. There's a little bit of writing and a little bit of editing involved, but honestly, it's nowhere near as fun as writing about internet dragons. I'm actually working on a career change right now. So, if any of you out there are looking for a full-time writer-type guy for ... writer-type stuff, I'm totally available for ... writing. I am write good. For serious.

Lisa: WoW.com has quite happily taken over my schedule. I used to call myself a freelance writer; now I simply call myself an editor at WoW.com (although I also maintain a regular freelance schedule, too, both online and in print).



Has writing about games always been a career goal for you, or did you get started doing this in a more roundabout fashion?

Zach: I'm a writer who happened to play World of Warcraft. That's really just it. I lucked out on reading a call-out on WoW.com -- then called WoW Insider -- looking for PvP writers. I submitted and thankfully my rambling passed muster with the powers that be. I consider getting accepted into WoW.com one of the most fortuitous and happy moments of my professional life, to be honest. Really, who gets to paid to write about playing a video game? It's the most wonderful thing.

Matt: I don't think I ever had a "career goal" of any kind. I got into this job because my wife saw that WoW Insider (what WoW.com used to be called 1,150 days ago) was looking for writers. My submission essay was entitled "The Myth of Plate," and I don't think I ever used it for an actual column.

Mike: I used to work for Blizzard as a community representative on the forums. It wasn't necessarily my intention to write about WoW for a living, but after I left Blizzard, I had a moment of crisis and thought, "What the heck am I supposed to do now?" Like I say in my profile on the "About" page for WoW.com, I figured that writing about WoW was the next best thing to writing for WoW.

Alex: I always wanted to be a writer, but I never thought it would be games journalism. I thought I would be writing fiction. I've been writing short stories ever since I was a little kid and one of my biggest life goals was to become a published author. That love was stifled somewhat during high school because I went to a college preparatory high school. Let me tell you, nothing kills creative goals more efficiently than a college prep school. I had to go to quarterly career counseling during which balding men in business suits told me repeatedly that there was no future in creative writing and I'd be much better off focusing on "real" jobs.

Because the school offered no classes whatsoever that were in line with what I wanted to do as a career, I turned to the only two available outlets for my passions: yearbook and newspaper, both extracurriculars. I think I learned more in those extracurriculars than I did in all of my actual courses combined. How many people can say they know what a pica is? I was senior editor in both yearbook and newspaper before I was a senior at the school, which was unusual.

I know she will never ever read this, but I would feel weird going into such detail about high school without saying thanks to Amy Canapa. She was the one teacher that encouraged me instead of trying to beat the creativity out of me. She's probably the reason that I'm here writing this.

Fox: Writing is just plain fun. I didn't have any special dreams to be a writer or any big plans involving the video game industry. I just plain like to write. That's why I do it. I got involved with wow.com simply because I saw they were looking for writers and figured, "You know what? I could probably do that." While the jury may still be out on my tenure here, I think most people can probably at least agree that when it comes to writing, "You know what? He probably does that."

Lisa: I've been around the sun a few more times than most of us at WoW.com, and the reason I'm here is because it's a good way to work. I've been on staff at print magazines, worked in corporate communications, run my own business, freelanced exclusively ... I'm not ready to stop writing, but I'm Done(TM) with faceless office buildings and nasty dry cleaning bills and office politics and ugly commutes (and even the cooler stuff like industry awards and professional prestige and impressive hourly rates). WoW.com fits into working at home with a family of busy, creative people and making "what I do" more a part of my entire life. I couldn't ask for a better fit.

What's a typical day at "the office" like for you?

Zach: I wake up, walk to the other room, fire up my computer ... and that's it. We all log on to Campfire when we're working, and it serves as our virtual office. It's deathly boring and routine. Except when you consider I have two wonderful daughters and a supremely remarkable wife who bakes all sorts of goodies (that do nothing for my ever-ballooning midsection) with whom I can spend a enviable amount of time with. It's a dream, really. I'm blessed to have a respectable bit of work and the time to watch my children grow.

Matt: Way, way too much caffeine. Way way way too much. When I'm writing, I drink a lot of caffeine and listen to loud music and try and disconnect my thoughts from the day to day.

Mike: I wake up and immediately go to my computer. Then I spend the rest of my day there.

No, seriously, though. I check posts in our queue for content and style, look at several different sites for scoops, read forums to find stuff that hasn't hit major WoW sites yet, respond to emails, chat with my coworkers, have clandestine meetings with other editors, light my cigars with $100 bills, etc. I do a lot of trolling -- in the "looking for stuff" way, not in the "annoying people" way. WoW has a huge audience, and it's a big job to find content.

Alex: The first thing I do when I get behind my keyboard is check my email and sift through the 100+ emails that have arrived overnight. Seriously, we get a lot of email. Every single tip or comment that gets sent into the site, we read. I don't skip over any of them. I also check Twitter and Facebook and read through any replies we've gotten there. The community is so important in this job that you really need to pay attention to what's going on. Some of our biggest stories have comes from someone sending us a link and saying, "This looks a little suspicious; what do you think?"

After that, I ... read Reddit for about an hour, but I tend to not mention that part to anybody. After that, it's just triage. Every single editor has a list a mile long of things that need doing, and it just comes down to which ones are the most important on that given day. It's always changing, and it's always more than we can finish in 24 hours. The most important items on the list are simply keeping in contact with the staff and watching for any news flowing in. That's an ongoing job.

Fox: On a typical day, I show up around 8:30 a.m. Shortly after arriving, I announce my plans to turn the company around: "We'll build a second model house to make it look like we're in the black and then hold a big ribbon-cutting ceremony." Mat McCurley (of Addon Spotlight) is usually there at that point, and after I tell him the idea, he insists we play paper-rock-scissors to see who gets to present the idea to the board. I always lose, because I always pick rock. It is a rock, though -- you'd think it beats everything.

Lisa: Once I'm sure everyone else is off to work or school with whatever they need for the day, I try to cram in some exercise or walk to school with my daughter before sitting down over a cup of tea to skim through the most pressing email and then tackle editing the day's queue of posts. Fox and Mat are usually building up some water cooler momentum in the chat room, but I'm usually way too deep in posts to participate much yet. After editing the queue, I polish off my email and tackle a fairly massive RSS pileup. (I have to keep up not only with WoW but with kids gaming in general, for my family gaming column at sister publication Massively.com), and the other topics that I write about elsewhere.)

Then I try to hunker down and turn out the day's articles while keeping up with breaking news, helping out writers and editing incoming posts. By early afternoon, I should be back in the WoW.com chat room and moving on to editorial projects. It's a good day if I've managed to do all that and still take a shower and put on "real" clothes before anyone else arrives back home. The real challenge: holidays, because everyone's at home and swarming all over me and my office -- but the deadlines haven't gone anywhere.

What's it like working in a virtual workplace? What are the team and the atmosphere like, and how much interaction do you have with everyone else?

Zach: I know I said it's deathly boring, but I'm kidding. I work with the most amazing people. Each one of the writers on WoW.com is incredibly intelligent, and conversation over Campfire is never dull. Imagine geeks from all walks of life sharing a common passion in World of Warcraft -- it's pretty amazing. Being as I'm from the Philippines, I really don't have much real-life interaction with the other writers, most of whom reside in the United States. I was, however, extremely blessed to have met my amazing co-workers at last year's BlizzCon. As amazing as they are in the virtual space, they're even more awesome in person. You should hear Michael Gray's passionate defense of vampire LARP. Priceless.

Matt: It's interesting, because I tend to find the "virtual workplace" to be both more and less confining than an actual location. Of course, the minutia of day to day is stripped away. There's no dress code, and as long as my assignments are in on time, my schedule is my own. But because we can only contact each other via chat room software and email, it makes it harder sometimes to get feedback and confirmation from others about what's intended or desired or what have you. The team itself is a pretty comfortable group for me at this point (1,150 days and all), and I don't think there's anyone on it I don't enjoy
talking to. Except Sacco, because he's so much prettier than I am.

Mike: Oh, man. Working from home is hard. Most of my day is spent trying not to get pulled in a million different directions by the internet. I'm still learning the ins and outs of disciplining oneself to work efficiently when not surrounded by other (tangible) people who're also working. Luckily, WoW.com's team atmosphere is very friendly, and the presence of a bunch of people who're also supposed to be working helps keep me motivated. I talk to all of our writers and editors, usually several times a day for each.

We're very laid back when we can be (most of the time) and very focused when we need to be (patch day, anyone?).

Alex: I find that while the internet allows a lot of anonymity, you'll probably learn more about them than you otherwise would in person once they open up. I know some of my coworkers better than I know my family. There are a number of columnists that I don't get to talk to as much as I'd like, but there are quite a few people working at WoW.com who I know like a brother or sister. People will show aspects of themselves online that they wouldn't in person. I probably know more about Michael Sacco as a virtual coworker than I would have if we worked in a real office together.

One of the benefits of a virtual workplace is I get to work with people from all over the world. I log in to get to work and suddenly I'm collaborating with someone from Colorado, someone from Minnesota, someone from Massachusetts, someone from Texas and someone from the Philippines all at once. You don't get that sort of experience driving to your 9-5 downtown.

Fox: Instead of showing up at an office building, I show up in a chat room. That's pretty weird to get used to, but it winds up functioning better than you'd expect. In between the occasional LOLcat posting, a lot of work gets done. And because it's a chat room, it inherently feels like more fun. We have our own little inside jokes; our own little culture. Going to work for WoW.com never feels like a hassle -- it never feels like work.

You want to work for WoW.com. Trust me. It's, like, the best job in the world.

Lisa: Online discussions tend to drill deeper more quickly than real-world conversations, and we all communicate constantly in the team chat room, team emails, editor emails, IM, Twitter ... It would be impossible to feel "cut off" or "antisocial" -- in fact, I probably get more interaction with my coworkers now than I ever did buried in an editorial office or upstairs in marketing and PR. You get used to picking through water cooler chat on the same screen as one-on-one editing questions, links to breaking news and an ongoing debate about lore or beta changes. At worst, it's distracting and funny; at best, it's inspiring and motivational.

Come back next week for Part 2 of our interview with Zach, Matt, Mike, Alex, Fox and Lisa about life at WoW Insider.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wow.com.

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