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The Hard-Won Wisdom of Bill Roper
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The Hard-Won Wisdom of Bill Roper

May 15, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

Game development veteran Bill Roper, who played a key role in the rise of the seminal Warcraft and Diablo series throughout the 1990s, recently sat down with Gamasutra to look back at the breadth of his career.

As co-founder of Flagship Studios in 2003, which ground to a halt after Hellgate: London foundered in the public's eyes, he went through a rough career patch, even after so much success as one of those instrumental figures behind Blizzard's rise to power.

Now installed at the Atari-owned Cryptic Studios, where he's working as design director on upcoming superhero MMO Champions Online, in this massive career retrospective, Roper discusses everything from recruitment to the painful lessons he's learned -- and how failure can teach you more than success.

What are you seeing in terms of the job market in the current economy? Are there more young people in games more so than ever? Also, when you look into hiring, I've got to imagine there are more experienced people available compared to a few years ago.

Bill Roper: Yeah, there's definitely a huge push in both directions. We are seeing a lot more students coming in. For the last three years, we've seen a big influx of students that are coming with game degrees and that have had specific education in our industry.

I think there's always been a level of young guys and gals that are interested in gaming and want to get in and do it, but now we're seeing them show up with training, with ability, with some base knowledge that's there. But at the same time, there are a lot of really experienced people because of what's happened with the economy -- the bigger publishers having to lay people off, small independents shutting down.

So, it's a very interesting time to be on the hiring side of things, because you have a pretty wide diversity of ability levels and background coming through. It's actually very helpful when you're building a team; if you're looking for more experienced people at more lead management and executive levels, they are out there.

And when you need people to come in, they're eager to learn and anxious to see what they can do. And bringing in those entry-level people, there's a lot of them coming in, too.

Atari/Cryptic Studios' Champions Online

This has been happening for the past few years; you must have seen it on people who have these specific game degrees. It's fairly a new phenomenon versus someone who maybe has a liberal arts degree and has done some interning at a game company or something. Are you finding that you can find people both ways? Are there interesting differences in somebody who has a game degree versus other people?

BR: It's definitely both ways. I don't necessarily think that because someone comes in with a game degree, that "Oh, well, they're going to be far superior." They definitely have, I think, a higher level of understanding, a better vocabulary; they're able to hit the ground running a lot better.

Every company, every team has its own nuances, its own style of doing things, and its own technologies, so there's always going to be that learning curve. But when you do have students coming in that have gone through gaming degree programs, generally, you just find that they have...

There's the possibility that they're going to have just the higher degree of baseline knowledge. They have that step up to step in and do something at a starting level in the company.

We wanted to maybe go a little big picture and think about the lessons you learned that you're imparting. I guess the first place to start with you is Blizzard and all your time there. When you look back at when you were still at Blizzard and at what you're doing now, what are some of the key lessons in terms of game design -- and obviously especially MMO game design -- that you took from Blizzard and you definitely still see yourself using at Cryptic now?

BR: Wow, I mean, a lot. Blizzard was where I started, and I really had a pretty amazing opportunity to grow up in the industry that way and learn very hands-on with people. For me, being in that weird space where I'm not a programmer, I'm an artist... You always have the soft skills...

Design, producing, those kind of things -- there tends to be less technique that can be taught somewhere. There are design tenets you can learn and things like that, but so much of it is having the level of just natural ability and then honing that by doing it.

I always think that in programming, in art, in music, and in sound, there is that level of natural ability that has to be there, but these are techniques that you use. So, you can get someone to a certain level; it's harder to do with producing. And there are books that everybody gets and things like that.

I found that we didn't tend to do that at Blizzard. It was more feeling with being able to keep vision on the big picture of the project. We never sat around and said like, "We're gonna do Scrum programming" and all the terminology, you know, pair programming or, "We're gonna be using, getting TS," all this different stuff.

It was more about, "Everybody works for the betterment of the project." I think that was a really big one that I still do now when I'm leading the Champions Online team. Everybody has to check their ego at the door.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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