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Behind Wowhead's Data: Perculia's peculiar talent for curation

Behind Wowhead's Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curation
I've always imagined the content manager of Wowhead as WoW's version of Star Trek's Majel Barrett, the iconic voice of the stream of data we can't help but consult like an oracle. Like Barrett, she sometimes appears in character, here in the game or there among the community blogosphere, but Perculia's primarily known for her steady grip on the fire hose of data represented by the Wowhead database.

No mere data junkie, Perculia brings a trained art historian's sensibilities to curating the game she loves. Ironically, when Blizzard commemorated her devotion to WoW's data earlier this year by naming an item after her, it was a guildmate who discovered its existence and tweeted the link -- yes, a Wowhead link -- to her.

WoW Insider: Perculia's Peculiar Signet -- congratulations! Tell us how Twitter managed to uncover this news before you did!

Perculia: Thanks! I had just finished posting a daily blog to Wowhead News and was settling down to write about new archaeology changes when one of my friends and guildmates, Esoth, sent me a tweet with the Wowhead link. Half-expecting it to be a broken page that required coding, I was pleasantly surprised to see my name on it! To the best of my knowledge, the item had a different name when we first datamined it, which explains why I didn't notice it at first.

I was super-excited and humbled when I clicked on the link; the following outpouring of congratulations on Twitter was similarly heartwarming. It's a fan's dream come true, one of those things everyone secretly thinks about but it's too abstract to think about practically shooting for. It's a lovely cycle where I was recognized for my contributions to the community, and my work in turn was shaped by my pre-Wowhead experiences in Azeroth.

Behind Wowhead's Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curationSince Mists hit, I've gotten numerous messages from players that have looted and bought my ring. My guild even purchased one and mailed it to me the day after I hit 90! I had seen their messages that I should log in, but I assumed they just needed someone to open a lockbox or answer another database question. I was pleasantly surprised to get a beribboned package instead.

You snuck in the back door to the Wowhead staff as a volunteer, isn't that right? How did you get a foot in the door?

I became friends with the site director, Ashelia, a few years back when I was writing about my progress working on The Insane. We were both officers in similarly-progressed guilds -- however, I was having a great time with the Insane and she was struggling to stay motivated. We started chatting about our similar WoW interests and I ended up buying a bunch of Darkmoon cards on my server for her, and she gave me a Robot Chicken as a gift. We even had an idea for launching a WoW blog, so I like to think we accomplished that a few years later with Wowhead News.

Fast forward some time, and I was completing grad school and she was working at Wowhead. She was looking for someone to volunteer and write weekend guides that was knowledgeable about many WoW topics, and I was looking to do some writing that was unrelated to all the academics I was steeped in. I'd started up Flavor Text around this time with some close WoW friends covering lore topics, but I thought coming up with organized guides would be a fun challenge! ... And then last fall, around BlizzCon 2012, I became an official employee.

And now you must be absolutely swamped in Mists of Pandaria content. What exactly is involved in being a content manager? It sounds like you literally Manage All The Things!

The most visible part of my job is Wowhead News, but I also work on improving the quality of the database and new features such as battle pet maps. I update Wowhead News daily with PTR/beta previews, guides on popular content topics, and blue posts. Guides were how I initially got started at Wowhead and players like reading those -- a lot more than just blue posts -- so I try to make sure I have a few each week covering the most relevant topics.

When a new beta or PTR patch hits, I'm logging on as soon as I can to try out the new areas and write up guides. I remember how I always felt a bit lost when a new patch hit as a raider, even when I was on the PTR, so I try to come up with articles that are both easy-to-navigate yet detailed.

Another large part of my job is making sure our data is completely accurate, often supplementing the available information with customized coding. All of the transmog sets and Same Model As tabs were manual work, as well as less-obvious things like LFR and heroic item sets. Whenever a zone is removed or changed, I have to go back and flag all the NPCs, items, and quests as no longer available. When the BMAH reintroduced tier 3 gear, we had to code that back into the database. There are tons of little quality tweaks that our users have come to expect by default on top of the raw data.

The Keeper of the Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curation
I also work with the rest of the team to constantly brainstorm new features. One big feature for Mists of Pandaria was creating an interactive battle pet map. We also take user feedback very seriously and we're always happy to add search filters or other based on what the users want. Recent examples of that have included an item filter for things that show up on the BMAH as well as collaborating with The Undermine Journal to provide up-to-date buyout info on our item pages.

We see you tweeting all the time about playing the game, too -- or at least wanting to, when the deluge of content work lets up. What's your play time in WoW like these days?

It's ironic how this job makes finding time to play at the start of an expansion very difficult! While my schedule is very different from when I started playing in vanilla or my time as an officer in the server's top guild, I'm level 90 and enjoying pet battles, battlegrounds, and sniping mounts on the BMAH. Ideally, I'm hoping to go along to my guild's alt runs when they start up as well since I do miss raiding somewhat. I was settling into a routine of chasing achievements and a handful of reputation quests each day, but the PTR switched things up.

My playtime now is still better than it was in early beta though. The first half of beta had a chaotic schedule -- all the new zones and profession recipes would be added without real warning and I had to race to write everything up. When beta took on a more predictable schedule, I was able to tag along on some heroic DS clears, work on legendary dagger clusters, and knock out some of the achievements I had to put on hold for several months. I'm looking forward to settling into a somewhat predictable schedule with the PTR and getting back to collecting mounts and pets again.

Behind Wowhead's Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curationSo what are you enjoying most in game now?

I've always enjoyed 25-man progression raiding, achievement chasing, and mount collecting. With this job though, sadly the raiding part had to go. I was raiding pretty consistently from BWL until tier 13, which included kills like pre-nerf Sunwell and realm firsts like Death's Demise and Grand Crusader. Currently I'm a Friends and Family member in Something Wicked on Whisperwind (US).

I've always been a bit of a collector too -- my rogue has a huge collection of cloth robes and I love collecting mounts and achievements. I got hooked on mounts when I was one of the first people on the server to win the ZG tiger, which inspired me to become a better raider since I wanted people to have a good impression after they inspected me in Ironforge! I have huge bag space issues due to things like the cream priest T6 set in my bags, so it's probably good that work has been hectic and preventing me from collecting a lot of the rare spawn vanity trinkets.

I'm of the mindset though that if something is simply farmed for a status symbol and isn't fun at all, you should reconsider it. For me, a lot of the vanity farming is about figuring out the puzzle of soloing something or making a detailed to-do list, not actually finding the items. I also really like collecting matching sets of gear, regardless if they're transmoggable or not. I have a few demon hunter-themed sets, as well as many cloth lookalike sets on my rogue. I wish legendaries could be transmoggable so I could wear Warglaives all the time and complete my transmog look.

It's been a challenge at points to redefine how I play WoW -- I was used to chasing realm firsts and rushing to complete achievements. I definitely felt a little weird the week of Mists' launch, where I was too busy to even log on the first few days in contrast to Cataclysm's launch, when I got realm-first rogue.

How has what you do at Wowhead changed the way you look at the game?

True confessions: When I started playing WoW all those years ago, I thought Wowhead was automatically updated by some mysterious in-game powers. While it's true we do have the Wowhead client, so much of the data work requires staff input. Things like LFR/heroic item sets, adding boss skull icons to NPC search lists, marking an item as no longer available, making sure Blingtron doesn't appear on 50 zone maps because he can be summoned anywhere ...

On a different note, as part of working at Wowhead, I've realized how important community is to the success of the game. I've gotten to collaborate with so many players that share a passion for this game, which really keeps it going.

Behind Wowhead's Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curation
Do you ever wish you could turn off the flow of information and just discover something about the game on your own?

The start of a beta or PTR is a really exciting time for me because it's unknown territory for everyone and I get to essentially log on and scour the new zones as part of my job. It's always exciting when I stumble across something I can turn into a large story, especially if I was looking for something else. I had such a thrill logging on beta in July to find rare spawns and vanity loot added -- not only did I discover something, but I was in a position to make a lot of players happy by sharing that knowledge. Recently, I logged on the PTR hoping to find the Brawler's Guild, and instead I came across a bunch of cute Darkmoon pets.

However, all that exploration does require very structured play (as well as note-taking) so I do miss sometimes logging on and getting lost in a particular achievement without having to worry about allotting enough time to the next article.

Do you use Wowhead yourself, as a player? What are your other favorite game resources?

This past weekend, the battle pet map has repeatedly come to my rescue as I knocked a bunch of achievements out. I have transmog sets pretty much memorized at this point but still enjoy browsing that feature to look at all the gorgeous armor artwork. I have to say that's my favorite feature I've worked on at Wowhead, hands down.

Here's a few sites that stand out:
  • El's Anglin El's not only has the best fishing resources, but does great previews of beta and PTR features that are informative, creative, and written with a lively gnomish RP slant.
  • Warcraft Pets Building Wowhead's visual battle pet database and map was hard work, and we're impressed by the MoP tools Warcraft Pets has created.
  • The Undermine Journal Their AH resources have personally helped me as a player to amass enough gold to buy most TCG mounts off the AH. I'm really happy we were able to team up with them in MoP.
And a very special mention goes to WoW Insider of course. You guys have been one of Wowhead's top supporters and we've enjoyed collaborating for years now. Cohosting the BlizzCon 2012 party was a highlight for many people and it's always fun meeting up with various staff members at conventions. Personally, I especially love the lore and transmog articles, and you're my go-to blog when I want to read an editorial. WoW Insider is also great for getting smaller blogs in the spotlight, which is how Flavor Text first got recognition.

Behind Wowhead's Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curation
We like you guys, too! Now: Best part of working at Wowhead -- go!

There are some obvious perks like getting to work from home and setting my own hours, but the best parts are the times I get to fly to Blizzard for press coverage. Working at BlizzCon and the March press event were intense times, but rewarding on so many levels. I hadn't been to BlizzCon before covering it for work in 2012, and suddenly I was meeting friends in person for the first time and churning out hours of live coverage, then going back to my room and getting Wowhead's MoP Talent Calculator up!

While covering events like BlizzCon is a huge responsibility, it's humbling to realize that so many people both would love to be in my position and are impatiently waiting to read the breaking news. And there are fun press-only perks to attending large events, such as tours of Blizzard's campus, which features an amazing library and museum.

How do you deal with a life that's pretty much all WoW, all the time?

It's something I've been very mindful about balancing. Playing WoW used to be a way to purely relax, but if I'm in the middle of a big work project, logging on and looting an item that needs to be fixed isn't the best way to unwind. I'm never quite sure when Blizzard will release an announcement, so even if I'm playing for fun in the evenings, I have to keep an eye on our blue tracker. I used to be an officer in a server-first guild, and after juggling Firelands with evening posts, it became pretty clear quickly that I couldn't continue with the unpredictable schedule. It's just tricky to have work and leisure intertwined.

If you weren't working for Wowhead, what do you think you'd be doing professionally?

I've had a lot of experience working for museums and other arts institutions, so if this hadn't come along at the right time, I'd probably be taking these writing/database skills and using them in an arts environment like I was before this job. The two fields seem unrelated, but there's actually a lot of parallels in maintaining museum databases and writing easily-understandable exhibition materials. I completed a graduate program museum education while starting work at Wowhead, so that's always something to return to.

Behind Wowhead's Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curation THU
Your bio note at Wowhead indicates your AFK interests to be quirky. I play classical piano as well, and that seems pretty normal to me. But this thing about elaborate hats -- tell us more!

The classical musicians I know don't really intersect with the WoW players I know, so hearing that is cool! I was a double music/art history major in college and intensely played for years doing things like performing at Carnegie and Steinway Hall and teaching music theory to college students.

In my spare time, I'm big on art and fashion history. I've done a lot of event planning in my past at museums and other art institutions and always enjoy a good costume party. Since I get to work from home, I'll think nothing of putting on a boa or a fun hat if I need something whimsical to cheer me up.

Let's talk about Mists. Any surprises the expansion has brought that totally took you off guard?

I've been pleasantly surprised by all the rare spawns and the quirky objects that have spawned in the world. Writing about the rare spawns was one of my favorite articles for beta -- and then finding out there were even more rare spawns several months late for Lost and Found was icing on the cake. Even when I could only log on for a handful of minutes around MoP's launch, I moved my alts to several spawn points so I could collect awesome items like the Tablet of Ren Yun. Cataclysm felt a bit air-tight and this ensures players will always be out in the world.

Plus Blizzard just has so much fun with rare spawns ever since vanilla: They have cleverly named items, like Lady La-La's Singing Shell or interesting dialogue like Duggan Wildhammer, who drank too much plague-infested ale.

Behind Wowhead's Data Perculia's peculiar talent for curation
I didn't really expect how overwhelmed players would be facing cooking and dailies. I felt a bit tired doing them every day on beta, but I assumed it was because I was under a work deadline. Players are used to being completionists -- plus we're used to more straightforward reputation grinds from Wrath and Cataclysm. So it's very overwhelming when there's so much content to process and it's harder than before to complete. Many players have to make hard decisions now about what's the most efficient thing to do with their limited time, and on top of raiding responsibilities, that can be a lot of stress.

There's a number of rewards that offer a very small benefit to raiders for a very large time commitment. Does it discourage people from striving to be the best? Or does it force players to evaluate what benefit they're getting from all avenues, more so than before? On one extreme, you'll end up with someone without any gems, flasks, or enchants because 'nothing is an increase' and on the other extreme, you'll have someone farming up stacks of food that's forgotten to read up on the boss encounter.

I think that the reputation grinds are intricate and could have been left as is if they just removed VP items from reputation levels and rebalanced the VP rewards across PvE activities. The exalted tabards are gorgeous, and the plot arcs are interesting.

What do you predict will be the surprise hit of Mists?

Rare spawns was a niche thing in past expansions and I think it's really going to be at the forefront in Mists. The spawn rates for Mists rares was upped enough to where most players can get a few kills and whet their appetite, while the prized vanity drops remain at a low drop rate for dedicated collectors. I think players will continue to be out there in the world, much more so than in Cataclysm.

The Tillers and pet battles are two aspects of MoP that many "serious" players thought weren't for them -- but everyone seems to be won over by their charm now.

On a different note, I really like the concept of Challenge Modes and think former hardcore raiders short on time will enjoy this.

As for the future, Brawler's Guild on the 5.1 PTR is shaping up to be something fun. What if you had to try out for a guild by defeating a certain number of bosses? What if rival guilds showed up and started pelting players with banana peels?

Away from Wowhead, find Perculia writing about lore and more academic topics at Flavor Text, musing about general game analysis with Hamlet of Elitist Jerks at It's Dangerous to Go Alone, or on Twitter at @perculia.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to lisa@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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