An Interview with Katie Postma, Myst Community Manager
Winterwind recently had the chance to interview the Myst Community Manager, Katie Postma. She talks about the past success, what made Myst great, the sad loss of Uru Online and what the future may hold.
Winterwind: Your entry into the Gaming Business seemed to be somewhat unique. Your love of a particular game eventually led the maker of that game to hire you. Is that true?
Katie Postma: Yes that is how it happened. I was one of a group of Myst fans called "Avids" (a term Rand Miller came up with for the most voracious Myst fans) and had visited Cyan during a fan convention. At the time, they were beginning to consider the needs of the public Uru Live beta, and wanted a Community Manager who knew the developers, could work with Ubisoft, and understand the fans' needs. It was a case of being in the right frame of mind at the right time.
WW: What can you tell us about this convention? Is it as crazy as the Buckaroo Bonzai convention?
KP: I don't know what their conventions are like... but uh... ours are fairly laid back with a lot of small groups gathering to chat, usually a demonstration by the Development Team on the newest and most anticipated Myst game, and fan presentations on the Saturday night. These range from computer presentations to songs and skits to testimonials to ... just about anything. It's hard to really explain without just going and seeing for yourself. The past 3 years there have been around 100 people in attendance at each one.
WW: How could such a sure thing like Uru online fall through? Officially, then unofficially if able, what happened?
KP: Well this was, is and probably always will be a really really sore subject with Myst fans, with Ubisoft, and of course with Cyan. Cyan spent nearly 6 years developing this beautiful, immersive online game and finally brought D'ni to life! I compare it to X-files... if that show was on today, it would be yanked after 8 episodes. But it was given time to get known, and develop that special audience... percolate a bit. At the time, Fox had nothing going on anyway and let it ride. They took a risk. If Myst had had an online incarnation 8 years ago, it would probably be alive and well today. 8 years ago, the market was slower but the technology was, too. And the market for games today is like the market for TV shows. Original and creative is out, quick and easy is in. You have to be an instant success or your backing is yanked! Trying to sell a highly intelligent concept to the lowest common denominator is nearly impossible, and Ubisoft prides itself on producing high quality games, but they still need to turn a profit. The marketing, development and production teams at Uru Live within Ubisoft were heartbroken. But we answer to those who have created this business based on selling goods to a market. After watching the closed and open betas very carefully and weighing all the options, the decision was made... and it was a really really tough one to make.
WW: The Uru community, and Myst community in general, has always been gracious and 'peaceful' when commpared to many other gaming communities. What are the ingredients for this?
KP: I think this can best be answered by looking at the games themselves. Myst games are beautiful, peaceful, require patience and intelligence. I think what draws a fan to a Myst game also draws them to one another - their mutual love for exploration, and taking little or no pleasure in hurting or maiming for "fun". As a result our community is comparably intelligent, patient, and fun-loving. We can also be VERY Myst-centric to a fault, but of course, among ourselves that's just great...
WW: Do you think that the loss of Uru online may have weakened the community?
KP: A lot of hearts were broken in February 2004 when we had to announce the closure of Uru Live. But a lot of resolve was formed, too. And though there was a huge rift among fans, Cyan and Ubi, there was also a sort of commonality - we were ALL hurting. No one had a single claim on the sadness so we shared it. As a result, a LOT of smaller communities grew tighter, and many fans found each other out of a need to understand and mourn together. So I guess the answer is yes, initially we felt very weak and suffered, but ultimately, moving forward and comforting each other has brought us all closer and strengthened many of our relationships with each other.
WW: If the Myst community is persistant enough, do you think that eventually Myst online will return?
KP: That is the dream of most fans, of Cyan and of many at Ubisoft. Right now, there is "Until Uru", which you can host and provide a place to play again. There is no new content or story except that which the players provide, and yet it remains... over a year since closure, there is life in the caverns. This alone gives me hope. The numbers are small but they are there... I'll personally never give up hope.
WW: The novels were extremely well published, some getting a fantastic hard-cover treatment. Will we be seeing Myst branch into any other formats, such as possibly film?
KP: A Myst Miniseries was actually in production for SciFi several years ago but ended up being shelved for reasons undisclosed. And a film has been a great dream of fans, especially having seen what can be done with CGA! The only way it would be done right is if Cyan themselves could have creative control, and for that you need a lot of funding. We'll see what happens in the future but like you, I'd love to see Myst in other formats! The games are based on STORY which means you can take it to any format and still feel like you are delving into what makes Myst so magical.
WW: The Myst 3 soundtrack goes for $40 on Ebay. All of the Myst games have had extrodinary music. There have even been clips in major film trailers. Has the Myst music been an intregal part of its sucess, in your opinion?
KP: Yes in my opinion the beauty and creativity of the games is what makes Myst so unique. Part of that beauty is, of course, the incredible soundtracks. I also like to think that Myst set the bar very high for future games... so now we have amazing soundtracks in many games. Robyn Miller composed for Myst and Riven and is still composing now. Tim Larkin who did the music for an Academy award winning short film, has done some of realMyst, Uru, and currently is doing Myst V. Jack Wall did Myst III and IV and it's amazing how Jack was able to make each track a kind of homage to both Robyn and Tim. Each of these 3 men has a very unique and interesting background and currently do really cool things... but their involvement with the Myst series has made us all the richer for their contributions.
WW: What can you tell us about Myst 5? Are you involved in any way?
KP: I can tell you that Cyan has finally been able to give us some closure on the Myst story, not in a sad way but in a graceful and satisfying way. I can also say it's going to be totally unique from the previous titles... like a great marriage between the 2D and Uru. Myst V is fully 3D with a point and click option for the traditional Myst fan. This will mean that both Myst fans and casual gamers alike will feel at home exploring this fantastic last chapter in the Myst saga. I'm involved in that I helped to develop the online marketing plan for fans (not that one is needed much!) and also got to go to E3 to demonstrate the game to media and industry members. It is in early beta now and should be out this fall, and you will LOVE it.
WW: *side note* that sounds like a HUGE improvement over the movement interface in Uru. Moving the character around was a common issue fans had with the game.
KP: Yes, we had a lot of "ahh's" and "oh GREAT"'s at E3 this year when we showed people how to navigate the game. A LOT of improvement and I think the general gamer will be quite impressed with it!
WW: Beyond Myst 5, what do you think is in the future? Does Cyan or Ubisoft have anything planned?
KP: Cyan has a lot of great ideas, and as Rand said last week, "some are safe, some are really out there". They aren't leaving anything to chance and are willing to do what it takes to remain competitive in the industry while remaining true to their artistic and moral ideals. I am really looking forward to seeing what's next. I'm not sure yet if Ubisoft will be partners with Cyan for their next project but if they are I dearly hope I'll get to remain involved as well.
Winterwind would like to thank Katie Postma and Ubisoft for their co-operation in making this interview possible.