David Perry Comments:
Ivan Sulic got his start in the industry as a video game editor for IGN.com. He’d gone around the block, as they say, before arriving at this current position at Flagship Studios. Being a developer with a very independent sensibility, Flagship has allowed Ivan to spread his wings, and explore areas outside of the purview of his position. He seems to be doing a bang up job.
Please dispel the myths: what do you do at work every day?
I work on the game storyline (dialogue, outline, quests), converse with and handle our many fansites to appease their voracious appetite for all things Hellgate, crank out any promotional content that needs generating, handle any assets that need creating, produce any videos that need doing, contribute my bit to our PR and Marketing machine that is the imposing Ms. Tricia Gray, manage our small collection of official websites, and generally impress the rest of the team with my insane Fight Night skills. I also write poorly punctuated and unnecessarily long sentences to confuse the hell out of people.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I began working at IGN as an associate editor under Stephen Butts around six years ago (give or take). Quite simply, I was an extremely bored student with some writing talent. One lazy morning a friend directed me to an internship application on IGN.com and said, “You know about this gaming crap. Why not apply?” I did and was hired fulltime just a month or so later. The rest of my gaming career includes a stint at Ziff-Davis where I contributed to the 1UP launch under Sam Kennedy and another run on IGN’s PlayStation channels under Jeremy Dunham. Now I’m at Flagship where I diligently do…stuff.
What skills did you have that made this sort of work possible for you?
I write well enough for games editorial, but then many monkeys do. I also don’t mind late hours and weekend tasks, which are prerequisites for any online editorial gig and the ridiculous publishing structure of that medium. I also have a high tolerance for office tomfoolery and all the unwanted dry humping that comes with the job. Where I’ve worked in gaming, a thick skin is necessary but some sort of indestructible titanium exoskeleton is a big bonus.
That got me through the vortex of evil that is the editorial end of our industry. Along the way I picked up modest video editing skills and a solid understanding of feasibility. I now know what can and cannot happen in game development when considering budget and deadlines. All of this helps me to create Hellgate’s storyline, increase our community awareness, and generate the necessary written and filmed content we’ll need to package a solid title with all the pretty extras.
Talk about the less-glamorous work you did before jumping into games. Did any of that experience help you at all?
I used to do menial labor for a civil engineering firm. I was your average hole digging sap that carried the wonderful assortment of shovels and pickaxes the company used regularly. In that time I developed a real talent for complaining about all the goddamned hills that plague the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Most of day was spent concocting crazy schemes to flatten said hills, actually.
Oddly enough, digging holes has not yet helped me in my day-to-day activities at Flagship for am I rarely required to do percolation tests anymore.
Did your education help you get where you are? Or should people hoping to be in your shoes simply drop out, and get to work?
Absolutely not. My education did nothing but waste a lot of time. Contacts, work experience and a wealth of published content helped me get where I am now. Network Engineering, as exciting as it sounds, only aided me in better appreciating just how tremendously horrible my life would have been had I kept jamming my face into a rack of overheating servers. If you want a good job, accumulate experience and meet people. Your doctorate in Urban Planning will not help any..
In 2007, what do you think the salary range will be for someone in your role? From a junior position, all the way up to an Executive Director level?
I honestly have no idea. I don’t know many other up-jumped storywriters who double as video producers, PR monkeys and community managers.
Some game developers laugh when they hear the word “Royaltiesï¿½?ï¿½ — are royalties real? Should I take it seriously if I’m offered some as a part of my employment package?”
Only if you trust your genre, your product and your team. Royalties don’t mean a hill of beans if you’re working on a space or mech sim, even if you are doing Freespace 3 or MechWarrior 5. Sales numbers simply aren’t there in certain genres to make royalties attractive, even if the product you’re creating is obviously AAA. However, if you attach yourself to a million selling franchise with yearly releases, or if you are lucky enough to be part of an established crew with a new IP and a solid business model, royalties can change your life. Weigh and measure every opportunity individually.
How competitive is the market for the sort of work you do?
I have no idea. I don’t concern myself with such things. And since my title explains very little of what I actually do, I wouldn’t even know how to form an answer even if I did strive to better study this end of the market.
Within your current role, are there opportunities to transition to other areas of game development, should your interests take you there?
Oh hell yeah! That’s one of the perks with being employed by a small to medium-sized independent development studio. If you’re good at something, you can do that something.
Should I suddenly develop a talent for level design, they’ll let me design levels. Should I spontaneously become the greatest AI programmer the world has seen, they’ll let me program the AI. Effort garners reward. Make a show of talent in any area and you’ll excel in that area, regardless of what you were originally enlisted for. It may take many long nights and longer weekends to get your name and your end result circulating around the team, but it’ll happen.
In my case, I was originally hired to handle fans. I’ve since written the story for the game and am now also working on a bonus edition DVD, which includes way too much video I previously had know idea how to make well. But, I wanted to do all this, so I did it. They appreciated what became of my efforts and now I have those responsibilities under my belt for better or worse.
Bottom-line: When in certain environments, trying yields results. How this applies to big business gaming and billion dollar companies with 100s of people on a single team and a lot of outsourcing, I cannot say.
Fast-forward 10 years: where are you, and what are you doing career-wise?
I’m fishing and writing fiction near some nondescript lake in Washington, Oregon or Alaska. That or I’ve fallen to the same zombie attack / alien invasion that has destroyed the rest of the world. Either way, I’m good and no longer being contaminated by the very computers that will one day rule us all.
What advice would you give to people interested in doing what you do?
Do it well. Do it fast. Be honest. Be candid. Don’t heed the process. Just do something and see what happens. People like results, so give them some. Then volunteer to give them more.
Note: This series of interviews was conducted by one of our dperry.com
contributors – Evan Shamoon.
Though, Ivan Sulic started his professional career as an editor for IGN, he’s proven that miracles can indeed happen; he got a job at one of the premier independent development studios in the world in a capacity that he’s truly interested in.