Today, I have an interview to share with you all from one of the many indie names found throughout the gaming industry. Kenneth Tran, known for cofounding Nemexia, but he also played the role of lead community manager for Sleepy Giant and publisher THQ for three titles. In other words, he's a busy man, so I'm glad he has taken the time to speak with us regarding the state of the gaming and LAN communities. Below, you'll find the in-depth interview, which mostly delves into the personalities of gaming, the state of LAN gaming, and more.
GZU: The video game community is more or less a grab bag in terms of personality due to its size, but unfortunately, negative stereotypes have been retained, thanks to those who are vocal on several internet outlets.
Do you agree with this statement? If so, how can the video game community be viewed in a more positive light?
KT: I somewhat agree, but I wouldn't let the bad apples ruin the bunch. The video game community can garner more respect if it weren't so elitist. It's elitism that hurts the community. When someone outside of the inner circle of gaming, or newbies, or people who aren't diamond tiered, try to interact with gamers they're met with harsh criticism. We tend to be very proud of our gaming skills, but that leads to elitist attitudes. And most people would agree that elitism is not good for anyone in the long run.
GZU: So do you think it is a matter that can only be corrected by elitists? Or can something else be done?
KT: Society as a whole tends to think of playing video games as a waste of time. But playing sports is not a waste of time? Studies have shown that playing video games can actually make you smarter. In this case, both gamers and gaming companies can demonstrate that hey! we're not just wasting time. This isn't just a hobby, it's like a sport. You're also learning teamwork and other skills. So I think everyone can make a difference if we spread the word about the positive aspects of playing games.
And the bad personalities in gaming...
They can act more like professional athletes who must act as role models. Bad actors can result in fines. Not saying we should censor anyone, but they need to be role models.
GZU: That is definitely true. Unfortunately, with all the gambling, fixed matches, and other problems that have emerged in eSports, we're needing to make some changes.
The next question I have for you, which I should have asked from the beginning, is "Can you tell us a bit about yourself?"
KT: Well, I've been playing games all my life. Been in a CS clan since middle school. Ran an MMORPG server in high school with almost 50k players. Professionally, I was the lead community manager for Sleepy Giant and publisher THQ on 3 AAA titles, including Company of Heroes: Online. I developed the GM manual for Call of Duty: Elite. Since then, I've confounded 3 game companies, the biggest being Nemexia, an MMORTS with a 500k player community. I'm also ranked by klout.com as an expert ranking in the top 0.2% of people talking about online games.
GZU: Alright, so to follow up on that, what can you say your role is in the video game community? As in... where does your voice stand in terms of influence? Could you tell us a short story that details your influence?
KT: For awhile now, I've been an advocate of giving players a more powerful voice to developers. For example, I worked on a game called CrimeCraft. Players wanted some changes made to the game. A lot of changes actually even the price of the game. What I did was I actually made a list of their requests and took it straight to the executives of the company. And said, you need to make these changes. After that, the company sent out a press release saying that they have heard the community, made changes, and it went all the way to the top.
At the time, and still now, many game developers tend to ignore players. I try to influence developers to include their players in the conversation.
GZU: Wait... whaaaaat? The executives of CrimeCraft sound absolutely amazing. I feel that's important... to listen to the community, anyway. For instance, Early Access is designed as an avenue for communication between developers and the community. Yet, sometimes, I feel that that still isn't enough, as some developers refuse to listen or implement decisions.
KT: Very true. But when gamers are united, we're a powerful force.
GZU: Do you take part in LAN gaming yourself? If so, would you mine sharing your PC specs?
KT: I do sometimes. I'm not a LAN dodger haha actually go to PC Cafes for my PC gaming. When I play at home, I use my brother's, a former top 100 or so Smash bros player, PC. It's built from scratch and got all the bells and whistles.
GZU: Geez, former 100? That's impressive. So do you know the specs off the top of your head? We'd love to know!
KT: Haha, I don't, unfortunately. Next time I'll ask.
GZU: Haha, alright. So LAN gaming is a fickle subject. People believe the activity is dying, but here we have QuakeCon, PC Gamer Weekender, and other events that are absolutely flourishing. Do you believe LAN gaming to be dying or, instead, returning? Perhaps you have a neutral point of view?
KT: I think LAN gaming should be returning because it helps American gaming and eSports rise up to the next level in terms of competitive play. For example, Korea has the most developed infrastructure and culture for competitive gaming, and LAN gaming is a cultural norm there. Groups of friends would go out and rather than see a movie or something, they'd all go to play games on at "PC Bang"s, or LAN gaming centers. Plus it's just more fun than playing online!
GZU: So you do believe that LAN gaming has been stale in this case?
KT: It is stale, but not because of its popularity. It's because the game developers rarely include LAN modes in their games now. It's just a matter of practicality. If the developers don't let us hold LAN tournaments by not having a mode at all for it, we're stuck.
GZU: So next question: Games and group interaction in a face-to-face setting make LAN parties great. What LAN-supported games would you feel are best in a LAN party setting? What non-LAN-supported games should feature LAN support?
KT: Well CS and other FPS games are best in LAN settings. Because when you're face to face, it's just so satisfying and fun to see someone throw their hands up when an unexpected death happens. Starcraft is also up there. As for non-supported games, I actually think that hundreds of indie games should come with LAN support. But they don't. Indie games have been ignoring LAN, and I think it would be a lot better if we had more choices for what to play. Mix things up with some indies.
GZU: Why do you think indie games ignore LAN? Do you feel that indie games should have a major presence in a LAN party environment? If so, what can indie developers do to make themselves more visible with the LAN gaming crowd?
KT: In my opinion, it's because Indie Games largely operate on a one time purchase. So their strategy is mass distribution, they want as many buys as possible. With LAN gaming, it's not about how many people buy it, it's about how many hours logged and how active the community is. They can monetize not just with one-time buys, but also DLC, expansions, and updates. Indie developers should realize that a small dedicated fan base that plays your game every day with their friends is sometimes better than having many players play your game occasionally by themselves. They can appeal to the LAN gaming crowd by hosting their own tournaments, having an actual forum, and having ranking systems. Also, showing up at events would help.
GZU: In my opinion, LAN gaming isn't dead, and it will probably never die (yes, even with virtual reality right on our heels), but there is definitely room for growth. How would you personally involve gamers to take part in the LAN community?
KT: Gamers are a competitive bunch. Gamers would take part more in the LAN community if LAN was a true measure of skill over online at home play. You call them LAN dodgers haha. Not saying you should, but you could. Might be good in the comfort of your own home, but the atmosphere is different. Your nerves are different. I'll give an analogy. In poker, you can play online poker for money. Many people do this. But you're not respected until you start winning in live games, face to face. Maybe we should have two ladders and leagues. One for online play and one for LAN play. Who knows what the future holds.
GZU: I think your ladders and leagues would be interesting to implement. Okay, describe your ideal LAN party. You can discuss food, setting, and equipment.
KT: Ideally, it should start with having one big name. Like, hey, a known top player will be there. So you get the chance to challenge then face to face. Then, when you arrive you get beta codes or freebies that the organizers have secured. Then you announce the different clans, like being announced in a boxing match. In this corner... There would be a board for the tournament. There would be one big flatscreen TV that plays spectator for everyone to see, catching good plays when possible. Finally, you walk out with actual trophies and medals. And everyone gets together and takes a big group picture. Then you will remember that party. It's not just a LAN party, it's a mini-convention. It's a LAN event.
Now if you BYOC or it's provided... I don't know. That's up in the air.
GZU: That would sound epic. Final question: what food would be involved, if anything?
KT: Pizza and beer. Hahaha.
GZU: Simple, yet tasty!