Interview: The heart of a gamer
What’s the job of a Game Director?
Eckart Foos is the Game Director for Travian. That means, he’s the central figure and responsible for anything that has to do with the game. The 40-year-old Fribourg native sat down for an interview with us and talked about his role in the company, T5 and the “heart of a player”.
Recently, something happened in one of the forums that indirectly led to this interview. What can you tell us about this incident?
Eckart Foos: We experienced some troubles with a server for the South African version of the game that took some time to fix. The players on that server had to suffer through a lot. For me it’s one of the most important points in my work for Travian Games, that the players know, that we value each and every one of them. We take their concerns serious. So I decided to address them personally in the forum, as “Chancellor of Travian”. I just wanted the players to know that we care and that we hear them.
Of course, I didn’t have an account for the South African forum. So I registered a new account and posted what I wanted to say. The players there liked it, but pretty soon they started to ask “who is that guy”? They didn’t know that some guy called Eckart Foos in Germany is responsible for Travian.
We have a really great team of community managers down there, so I usually don’t interfere in their work. They do a fantastic job in continually providing players with information. But in this case the situation was different.
From the feedback of the players we learned that it might be a good idea to introduce myself to them.
How long have you been working for Travian Games?
Eckart Foos: It’ll be seven years this summer.
There is a certain aura around companies in the gaming industry. They are often described as dream employers. Tell us about your job! All fun, no work?
Eckart Foos: Exactly! (laughs) In reality it’s a little bit different. I have been a gamer for as long as I can remember. There seem to be a lot of different ideas about those jobs floating around. Most of them have nothing to do with reality from my experience. You have to be a player at heart, but keep a professional mindset and seriousness. I have to do my job just like anyone else has to.
The Meetings, the protocols, organizing many people in my team who are working together – all of that hides behind a fun game that is played by so many players internationally online. In addition, it is my task to think about the future and possible strategies for our game. Where do we go with Travian? Which areas do we want to strengthen? Like I said, you can approach those topics with the heart of a player, but in the end you have to do it with the mind of a professional. It is important though that you never lose the love for games.
Is it easy to keep that love while working in the industry?
Eckart Foos: That has nothing to do with the industry itself. You just have to keep that attitude alive and keep on being passionate, keep the curiosity. As a pro it helps me to keep an eye on the market. What are the trends on the market? What kind of games do gamers prefer at the moment? You have to keep an open mind and use it to strengthen your own product.
You say you have to keep an open mind for everything that’s happening on the market. With that in mind, is there a single game that you call your favorite?
Eckart Foos: Yes, the GTA series is definitely my favorite. I used to be a PC gamer but nowadays I am slowly turning into a consolero more and more – probably because I’m getting lazy. At the moment I’m playing a lot of mobile and tablet games. You get a lot of game for a small buck.
When I was a teenager, I used to buy games for 50 or 60 Marks, which was a huge investment for a student. So if I invested into a game and didn’t play it through because it wasn’t good – that meant trouble. Fast forward to 2014 and we can try a mobile game for 99 Cent. You like it? Great. If you don’t like it, you didn’t burn too much money. I can draw a lot inspiration for my own work this way.
So, what’s the daily business of a Game Director?
Eckart Foos: That’s a tough question actually. I am something like the CEO of a small company, if you see the game as a small business. There is no aspect around the game, which I can completely ignore. Everything about the game is in my interest from technical questions to game mechanics or the business side of my responsibilities. Many people on our teams are working on the success of the game. But once something is jammed, it’s my responsibility to take care of it. I’m not a specialist. I have to keep the project as a whole together and make the decision in which fundamental direction we go with the team.
So, you’re really some Kind of chancellor?
Eckart Foos: Actually that’s a good description. As chancellor I am working with different Secretaries and together we build the government. So, maybe you could say that.
Is there something about your work that you like or dislike especially?
Eckart Foos: I love the direct feedback I get from our players. They give us their feedback in forums, on Facebook or on our blog. No matter whether they rejoice, praise us or criticize, their opinions are always important to us. Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to keep track of it all, because it takes a lot of time and my work takes a lot of time, too. I try to do it as often as possible. I’m mainly in the German-speaking forum, but I also read the English forum.
The difficult part is, however, to develop a certain feeling, especially at the beginning, what is a real challenge and what is only a “Flash in the Pan”. Where do we encounter real problems and how can we respond to those problems. As a small example: There are always individual requests for T3.6 servers. We have to find out, if this is a real demand by our players or is this only some kind of nostalgia for some players. Those are important and sometimes difficult questions.
What do people from your private community – friends and family – think about your work? Do you get criticism that creating games is not a real job?
Eckart Foos: My parents were pretty skeptical in the beginning. After my first month here they noticed, that I get paid to do this work. That calmed them down a little bit.
You said earlier, that you have been working for Travian Games for seven years. How about your skill as a Travian player? Are you a pro there, too?
Eckart Foos: I know a lot about the game, that’s true. But I’m nowhere near the skill level of our players. On many occasions I’ve seen that allies in the game progress way faster than me. Playing the game is important to me, though. I have to develop a feeling about our game and how the players actually play it. I have to find out, how the players talk about the game and what they think. I can follow that task from a low rank. I don’t have to be a Top 10 player for that. Travian Games has established pretty strict rules for its employees. We are not allowed to be a Top player.
I’m always afraid that someone from my allies finds out who I am. So I can’t give away my nickname here.
There seem to be a lot of different opinions as to what is the “best” version of Travian. What’s your favorite?
Eckart Foos: Of course there are a lot of good memories for the players and for Travian Games as a company with older versions of the game. However, I think the current version 4.4 is the best. The balancing is pretty on spot the whole implementation for adventures and items is really great. It helps players who don’t want to invest too much money to have a chance to succeed in our game.
Travian is ten years old now – and hasn’t lost its magic to many fans. What’s the magic here to you?
Eckart Foos: The core of the game hasn’t changed at all. This core is about one thing: “The better organized team wins”. The players organize themselves. They communicate and act as a team. That whole social aspect, diplomacy, the necessary skills – that’s the core. The core hasn’t changed and is still absolutely fascinating.
With T5 many new and innovative features will find their way into the game later this year. What do you think about it? Are you looking forward to T5?
Eckart Foos: Of course! The system with kingdoms and governors is a lot of fun and brings a fresh spin to the game. Pros, beginners – the dynamic between all those players – that is going to be fantastic!
For the first time in Travian history, T5 will have its own mobile versions. What does that mean for the game?
Eckart Foos: That’s a huge step forward in the evolution of our game. The mobile market is ever growing – I play a lot mobile titles myself. We’ve tried to develop Travian for mobile platforms before, but in the end we were not satisfied with the quality of the final result. With T5 we will reach a standard that satisfies us and I think we’ll be able to offer players a new dimension of Travian.
You are a family father. Are your two sons gamers?
Eckart Foos: (laughs) Not yet. They are two and four years old and of course they sometimes look over my shoulders and ask questions about Travian. They are too young to really start their gaming “career”. Just a few weeks ago I brought a Travian branded cup and a shirt home for them – they loved it.
Over the past few years you have met many players in person. What or who left the biggest impression?
Eckart Foos: The professionalism of Travian players and their style to play our game. The strong will to win the server – that is really remarkable. They develop deep strategies to win – to talk with them is really fascinating.
Of course, there is also a pretty weird side. Once there was a group from Italy right in front of our office building. They were searching for our merchandising shop. Or take the son of an Arabic emir, who suddenly stood right in our office to get lessons on how to play Travian. There are a lot of those stories.
Is there something like T H E typical Travian player?
Eckart Foos: No, we enjoy our pretty diverse community. Some are here to enjoy the social part of our game. Others just want to build and develop villages and of course there is a lot of people in Travian for the fights.
Imagine this. You go home after work today – and suddenly a fairy appears to grant you one wish about Travian. What’s your wish?
Eckart Foos: Server stability!
Anything special you want to tell our readers?
Eckart Foos: I want to use this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your loyalty to the game. Stay with us, because Travian 5 is going to be an awesome game. A lot of things will change, but the core stays the same. We continue to develop this game and we’re looking forward to the future with our players and fans.
Thanks for your time!