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Ten years on ... in more ways than one

Yes, this week sees the tenth anniversary of World of Warcraft. A game I now have the honor of working on, and one that lots of nice things get written about already. Suffice to say I'm incredibly proud of getting to be part of the Blizzard family now, but that isn't the only anniversary this week.

On this day ten years ago I arrived in Oslo for what was, I thought at the time, an interview with Funcom, but was the weirdest interview I'd ever experience (and probably ever will). I'd known folk at Funcom for a while, having covered their games through my position on the Vaultnetwork at IGN. We had gotten to talking and it turned out one of their community managers was off to work for Blizzard (Hi Thomas!), and they were looking for a replacement. 

So they flew me to Oslo to talk some more.

It all started in the early hours of the morning when I got of the high speed train that takes you from the airport to downtown Oslo. I quickly found out that due to some kind of error I didn't have the hotel room that they said I would, so found myself stranded in a strange city, in a foreign country, after midnight, with no contacts to get a hold of at that hour. Luckily the hotel staff took pity on me and helped me find other accommodation. 

I took a cab to the new address, another hotel across town.

I was tired, it was now close to 2AM and I was supposed to start a job interview at nine o'clock, for a job I'd dreamed off. This wasn't a good start, but I was just glad to have avoided the first bump in the road.

I grabbed a little sleep, nervous about the rest of the day ahead.

I wanted to show willing, be early, and still have enthusiasm to throw at it!

Of course there was a strategic flaw in my newly acquired back-up hotel. I was now not where I was supposed to be, which was not where I had directions from. In fact, I didn't exactly know where I was, relative to where I was supposed to be ... and before you say it ... given it was ten years ago, that's long enough that smart phones weren't a thing, neither was good wi-fi, and I couldn't 'just' Google it. 

Some old fashioned detective work, a.k.a asking people, soon had me on my way to another train station to get a train out to the Funcom offices.

I got there a little early, but then no-one showed up at the allotted time. In fact it wasn't just that no-one showed up for me ... the entire office appeared to be deserted. I was about to get worried when someone finally showed up and let me in. Nothing started till ten, which I would later learn was normal, but to my normal UK office hour brain, that seemed all kinds of ludicrous. (I'd get used to it!)

The rest of the day was somewhat of a blur, that didn't actually involve anything that I had previously expected of an interview. Interviews, in my mind, had a certain structure, and certain things you expected. Like being asked questions, or even being tested. That wasn't what I got here.

I was asked to tag along as a they gave a tour to a journalist from EDGE magazine, who was going to write a preview of Dreamfall. I guessed that they wanted me to see what it would be like, but I did wonder when the actual interview was going to start.

Turns out it didn't. I spent a great day seeing the new games (and got a first glimpse of Age of Conan, long before it was announced), meeting people, and seeing how they handled the press interactions. Oddly, I started to act as if I was already doing the job, maybe that was the point, maybe that was the test, I just hadn't figured it out at that point, but had decided I may as well make myself useful. 

Only with hindsight I figured that they had probably already decided to hire me, but the me in the that moment, was more than a little bewildered at the strange way the day was going.  

Then I got to sit down with the boss, the actual CEO. Compared to corporate London, Scandinavia has a very 'flat' management style, that much I knew (having busily devoured a book on Norway on the flight over) ... but for me this was odd ... although at least I thought that this appears to be closest that I've gotten so far to an actual interview! He is actually asking me questions! Apart from the fact that the questions were more about just me, not my skills, not what I thought I could bring to the company ... no, just what books I read, what I thought about this and that, general industry stuff. Very informal, almost in an off-putting way, but also in a rather cool way.

This place was different I thought. 

I wasn't entirely sure if it was good different or bad different, but it was a different that intrigued me and made me want to find out more.

Then they asked if I wanted to join them for their Christmas party! Definitely not something I was used to asking, or being asked, in any interview process I had been a part of. Still, I figured I best roll with it, despite now being so far beyond the realm of being an interview that I thought I may as well enjoy myself. I took it as a good sign, or perhaps another hidden test, that they wanted to get me drunk and socialize. 

I met a lot of amazing people, many of whom would shape my life for the next ten years, many of whom became truly fantastic friends and colleagues. 

I didn't know it yet, in that moment, but my life had just changed. It's not often you can trace genuinely life altering moments that aren't weddings, funerals and such back to such a certain date, place, and time, but I can. I was suddenly (and to be honest quite unexpectedly) now on a different course.

On the other side of an ocean, this small game called World of Warcraft was launching in the United States, a good portion of the folks I worked with thought it might struggle to compete with Everquest 2. I remember having that argument that night. I thought WoW would come out on top of that rivalry having played it in the beta, and seen it at press events for IGN ... of course none of us realized just how genre defining that World of Warcraft would become. That was all still in the future, but it's amazing how you hold on to tiny details of nights like that, and can recall those conversations.

The idea that any MMO could have ten million subscribers on it's tenth anniversary was such an insane concept, that no-one there would even have considered it, and that was a restaurant full of people making MMOs! 

I went back to the hotel, tired, a little drunk, confused, but strangely content. Happy even.

My life had changed.

On the Monday they called and asked me to come back and work for them, the following week I took the plunge, moved to Norway, and officially started working in the games industry as a full time job, and not just as a sideline writing for IGN.

Ten years ago today ...

... it's been quite a ride! 

That day and night launched me on a trajectory I never, ever, could have imagined. I have met so many amazing people, worked with so many dedicated and passionate teams across games like Dreamfall, Anarchy Online, Age of Conan, The Secret World, Pets vs Monsters, and now World of Warcraft (via a few other projects I'm probably still not allowed to talk about due to NDAs and such, but were also amazingly cool attempts at various things). It allowed me to experience Oslo, and then Montreal, and the wonderful experiment that was the studio there. 

It meant I got to interact with fans and the community from around the world. From adventures at Dragon*con in the early days, through GDCs, and PAXs, to events like Blizzcon. I am truly honored to get to be a part of this massive MMO family, and that I have gotten to meet so many amazing people! 

Some days I can't believe it's been a decade, but it's been a great one, so here's to the next ten years!

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