Interview: The goal is “fun”!
Brian Terek is product manager for Travian at Travian Games in Munich. He spoke to us about his unorthodox path into the game industry and his passion for the game.
Hi Brian, thank you very much for your time. It is an open secret: you’re not only working for Travian Games in Munich but you are also a very passionate Travian player and a longtime fan. How many hours of sleep did you sacrifice already in your life, to defend against an attacker in Travian or to attack another player yourself?
Brian Terek: (laughs) Phew, I don’t know. I can only tell you what it was like before I started at Travian Games. At that time I played on the DE1 server. I was rank 1 in the population ranking at that time and I wanted to keep that position of course. The problem was that I helped to build a wonder of the world at the same time. You can figure out for yourself that my sleep phases at that time lasted only about two to four hours. Sometimes I slept two hours, then the alarm rang and I checked for any attacks in the game. If nothing went on, I went right back to bed for two hours until the alarm was ringing again. This went on for a couple of months.
This sounds almost like a young father who is looking after his child at night!
Brian Terek: There’s a lot of lifeblood in a Travian account. Perhaps the comparison with paternity is somewhat high, but you really care about the account, that’s true. There’s much love there.
You talk of lifeblood and love. How important is Travian – the game – for you?
Brian Terek: I have been playing since Travian 1, so for nine years now. And I continuously play at least one account. And so far I’ve managed to always end up in the Top 20, with the exception of a speed server.
What went wrong?
Brian Terek: Well, I work. And I always play alone. This means that I have no duals and no sitter. I don’t like anybody playing around in the account doing things that don’t match my strategy. The only exception is my girlfriend who gets up very early. The first hour in the morning she uses the account and sends around resources. As soon as I get up, I take over again.
Apart from that, Travian is the essential part of your professional life. Tell us, what you’re doing at Travian Games in Munich!
Brian Terek: I’m a product manager, exclusively for the game Travian. I’ve been in the company for seven years and started originally in tech support. There I had to do with databases and with requests by players, the dev team and our community management. After about one and a half years, I took the opportunity to become a Product Manager, guided by an experienced Product Manager. That was a very good constellation. The experienced Product Manager knew anything on the economic field and I was the guy who knew everything about the game. In particular, my task was to bring in the perspective of the players and our community.
Since 2013, I also fulfill the tasks of the game designer. We are currently in the development phase for Travian 5 and since we continue to develop an existing game, the tasks in this area are quite manageable. That gave me the time necessary to try other things than usual. We had the birthday server last year and of course our upcoming summer special called Ancient Europe, which will be an interesting challenge – even for the long established players.
You just described a very unorthodox way, how to break through in the gaming industry or in any other job. Do you see special advantages for people who have a wide experience and come into this industry from another field?
Brian Terek: Definitely. My experiences have helped me personally very much. The path of my life so far is quite exotic anyway. Originally I’m a programmer, an application developer actually. In my college days, I had a role playing game shop. A real shop, because the Internet didn’t exist back then as we know it now. I dealt with Warhammer figures, Magic The Gathering cards and role-playing games in general. When I was done with college, I was already a passionate Travian player and one day a vacancy at Travian Games popped up.
They were looking for someone with two core competencies: the candidate was supposed to know the game very well and know everything about data bases. I was the perfect match to both and that was my ticket to enter the gaming industry. My skills have helped me later on again. If you remember T3, we introduced three special buildings like the brewery for instance. I designed those three buildings, took care about the balancing and did the programming.
I have to ask you this question: What is your favorite version of the game?
Brian Terek: Clearly Travian 4.4. Not only because the balancing is good. At the time of T1, I was just still too green. With T2, I was very successful and had a good time. T3 brought many nice new features, but with T4.4, the balancing is just great. I love tactical gameplay! T4.4 supports that perfectly. There are so many ways to be successful. There is not only “one way” to victory. Also, I am very proud of the auction system, even if some parts of our community don’t share that opinion.
In the “good old times” you had to spend five to ten Euros every month, to buy the necessary boosts. With T4.4 you really can earn a lot of silver at the beginning through auctioned items. You just have to give them away and not use them yourself. With silver you get the gold. So you are not forced to spend real money to be successful in our game.
I talked to other employees at Travian Games and they all give the same answers about you: A: He is the only employee who won a server B: Brian doesn’t buy gold to play. Is that true?
Brian Terek: That’s really true. Before I started at Travian, I’ve spent my 20 Euros monthly on Travian 2. When I started here in the company, I didn’t have to buy gold anymore, because a specific quota was free. But when I became product manager, I wanted to find out about some things.
I wanted to know, if a player can be successful on a server without buying gold. I use gold, but it is only gold that I generated through auctions and silver before. Also, I wanted to find out if you can keep up, if you are playing alone with no sitter. And finally, the feedback from the community concerning the gameplay was very important to me. How do they play together as an Alliance, how do they communicate and what do they think about the game?
As a passionate Travian player a dream must have come true for you, when you started in Munich. Is it still a dream for you?
Brian Terek: Honestly, even after seven years at Travian Games it’s still a lot of fun. During my time here, I had different supervisors. Some let me try out some things – and fail sometimes – others have led me rather close. Now my supervisor is Game Director Eckart Foos and with him it’s even more fun. He trusts me to do what’s best for the game and the players. He leaves me space, to develop and try new things that we haven’t done before. This would not be possible without his confidence. As a result, it is always nice to implement new things and see the finished result. Not everything works, but that’s the way you gain experience.
The game industry seems to be this unreal dream land for many young people and players. They want to work for gaming companies. Can you give them a recommendation, how to start in the industry?
Brian Terek: Many people in our industry come from different industries, although you can study game design nowadays. There are many talented people who have previously worked in other areas. An entry is always possible and there is not the “correct” way. It’s all about the mindset of people. You must be flexible and be aware, that it is not a land of milk and honey, but hard work. For example: Every young girl wants to be a top model without thinking about, that this can be a pretty tough job.
What games do you play except Travian?
Brian Terek: Actually not so many. I’m not a console gamer. I like free 2 play games and I’m a huge fan of Civilization 4. There’s just so much depth in strategy to this game. I still like Starcraft and Warcraft. I just like RTS games in general. Otherwise, I spend my spare time with Travian, small games – and I enjoy Munich.
Are you still active on normal Travian servers or do you just play on internal test servers?
Brian Terek: I always keep one account on our normal servers and play there. It’s always a German world and of course I am currently testing T5 and playing Ancient Europe with many other employees.
Is that the part of your job that you like the most? Or is it more like some kind of a duty?
Brian Terek: No. This is a very dynamic task. I love the MMO aspect of our game. The players are the biggest content and the main feature of Travian. The relations of the players are subject to constant change. I want to remain in touch with those developments. Players on different servers can “tick” quite differently – sometimes relationships develop in a strange way among the players even in one round on a single server. Guys who have been friends in the beginning, fought each other in the end, and vice versa. For me, this is my hobby. I play games with other people. That will never become a duty.
You are one of the people responsible for the Travian summer special Ancient Europe. So it’s your fault if our players don’t go out this summer but sit in front of their computers and play the new Travian scenario!
Brian Terek: I hope that our players still enjoy the outdoor swimming pool (laughs). You can play Travian and also the summer special without staying inside the whole day. If you log in for several quick visits a day, that’s just fine and enough to succeed.
For Ancient Europe, two things come together. One thing is our own tradition of having a summer special. We did this for the last few years so that our players have a little fun during the summer months. In addition to that the internal restrictions have fallen, that we always must have the wonders of the world in our endgame.
With the summer special, we listened to our players. They have been wishing for a long time that we redesign the endgame. My role was to collect feedback from our supporters, the community management, forum mods and multihunters. What do the players want and what bothers them? Ancient Europe was a very manageable development, but yet offers the “old-timers” enough strategic incentives to fully rediscover the endgame. I think we did pretty well. There will be new victory conditions, a certain “capture the flag” element and a completely new endgame. That will be cool.
You got to meet a lot of people over the years both inside the company and by meeting players in person. What or who has left a particular impression?
Brian Terek: I very well remember forum posts, in which all Travian players were described as low class or pubescent children. I cannot confirm that. I was fortunate to get to know many different people through our game. From the old lady, who was looking forward to her pension to the young punk who has been looking forward to his future driver’s license. All those people united through their love for Travian. The only group of people that I’ve never met is politicians (laughs).
Tonight, a fairy visits you and grants you one wish around Travian. What is your wish?
Brian Terek: I would wish, that players on the forums for a change also note the positive aspects and write about the stuff that they like. If there is something to complain about, everyone writes several pages long posts in the forum. Nowadays it is regarded as a positive signal if no one blows to the Shitstorm. That is a pity.
We want our gamers to enjoy Travian. For this we need to know what our players like about the game, what changes they like and what’s fun for them. That would help us to development the game in terms of our players!
Any final words to the readers?
Brian Terek: From time to time I receiv very positive feedback from players and they tell me about their positive experiences in the game. But on the forums and on our blog I just read negative comments. I would urge all players to express their opinion. Not only those who would like to complain or express their factual criticism, but also those who simply just want to say how good or beautiful the game is in their eyes.
And always remember: have fun! This is the main goal of Travian.
Thanks a lot for this interview and your time!