INTERVIEW by BRITTANY FARB | BR!NK PHOTOGRAPHY by MARTIN RINGENBACH
With a love for video games and a thirst for diverse culture, Texas native Alena Delacruz arrived in Germany looking for an adventure. Little did she know that only one month after her arrival, she would join the project management team at a rapidly growing social gaming company. The MIT grad would go on to help design games like Bubble Island and Monster World, establishing herself as a fantastic, successful Product Manager. So how exactly does one get paid to play games full-time?
Most important question: What exactly do you do?
Right now I am an economy designer for wooga, which is a social game company. As an economy designer, I work with all of the resources that you build in a game, how fast you build these resources, and how a game is paced. It’s easy to recognize a poorly-paced game, but if you play a well-paced game, you don’t really notice the design.
How do you train for this type of job?
There are more and more universities opening up gaming departments, and they offer courses that go through different aspects of how to build games and what kind of role you would have in a company. In the past — and how I got into this job — there wasn’t formal training for specific jobs in the game industry. For this specific job, you would have taken business or marketing courses or some kind of math-related course like statistics, which is really helpful to know. You would kind of cobble together the skills you gained through a math-based degree and prior work experience. For someone going into this now, I would recommend the university route. It’s nice to have a certificate that says you are very competent at this one specific task, and you also become a bit of a specialist.
Would you consider yourself a gamer?
Oh, absolutely. I’ve been gaming since I was about six or seven. Luckily, my father worked with computers in the military around the time when video games first started becoming popular. He just started throwing me these games, and I would play on his account. I had an easy entry into video gaming at a very young age, when I think a lot of people got into it a bit later.
Screenshot from Bubble Island
What’s a typical day in the office?
I’m not sure there is a typical day. It depends on if your game is in pre-production or if it’s been launched. An average day during pre-production involves a lot of meetings and a lot of concept discussion about the game. It’s a lot more creative and softer. After launch, that’s really when you’re on a time schedule and you feel a lot more stress. You’re constantly looking at the growth numbers for the game and really understanding how the game’s vital signs are developing.
How long does it take to launch a game?
It varies from game to game, but I would say about a year.
You must feel very accomplished once a game is launched.
Yeah, you do. You launch this product, it hits the air, and now you get to see if people see it the same way that you see the project. You’ve been working on the project for a year, so you kind of have this tunnel vision. You may not see some flaws or you may not experience the game the same way as other people will, so it’s really scary, but also very rewarding.
Screenshot from Monster World
Switching gears a bit — why Germany?
My idea to move to Germany actually came up during the downturn of the economy. It seemed to be the perfect time to do one of those backpacking trips through Europe that you always hear so much about. The idea was that I would start in Germany and learn German. Instead, almost within a month of moving, I had applied to Wooga and had been accepted. It all happened so fast; it wasn’t expected that I would go in this direction, because I wasn’t really job searching at the time.
Do you see yourself staying in Germany long-term?
I have slowly changed my idea of long-term. Definitely for the next four to five years. Long-term… I’m not even sure that I can look past that time, just because I still think me being in Germany is so exotic and alien that it’s hard to think I would settle here for a few decades.
What major differences do you see in Germany?
It’s a completely different mentality. It almost feels like the U.S. is an island and you don’t really have any connections to other cultures. When those cultures enter the U.S., they kind of assimilate, modifying into a modern American cultural idea. In Germany, you feel like you are in the greater European region. If you go to a restaurant or you go somewhere and you don’t speak the language, they may expect you to try, just because people here live in a much more multicultural world.
When you come to Europe, being from another country is not unusual. Speaking another language or not speaking the language of the country you are in is also not unusual, so it feels a little easier to build connections and shared experiences. In the U.S., everyone is in their little island, and when you enter a city, it makes you feel lost and alone. When I came to Berlin, it felt like everyone was willing to connect and interested in opening up the boundaries and borders for having a friendship.
What is the German office culture like compared to the U.S.?
Much more relaxed. There’s much less competitive drive to prove your worth in comparison to the people you work with.
How can our readers contribute to your success?
I would recommend going to the wooga website. We’re hiring for every position — literally, every one. Find something you like and apply.