Interview with Ethan Einhorn, KCII Live Operations Director
We’ve done a number of interviews with members of the Kingdom Conquest II team, in all different branches and fields of game operations, from development to support. Therefore, it stands to reason that there is someone overseeing all of the mobile title operations here at SEGA. That person is Ethan Einhorn. He’s responsible for Kingdom Conquest II and all of the other mobile games we’ve grown to love, and we managed to sit down with him for a few minutes to learn about what he does.
Ethan Einhorn, KCII Live Operations Director
1. What do you do here at SEGA? What do your responsibilities include?
I manage the Live Operations team in the US, which is responsible for coming up with cool in-game events, and making sure players know what’s happening in Kingdom Conquest II’s world of Magna!
2. You’ve been working at SEGA for quite some time. Can you give us an idea of what your journey has looked like up to this point?
I’ve been at SEGA for ten years. The company has allowed me to work in many different roles, including public relations, production, creative direction, business development, and now, live ops. I’m a life-long SEGA fanboy - I vividly remember the Christmas in 1987 when I unwrapped a SEGA Master System. At the time, it was the only system where you could play Double Dragon in co-op, so I was stoked! My first job was working at a Dairy Queen (I was fifteen), and my first three paychecks went to buying a SEGA Genesis - Altered Beast was the pack-in game, but I also bought Batman and Strider. Later on, I saved up $400 to buy a launch-window Saturn (Panzer Dragoon made the system a must-own for me). By 1999, I was such a core fan that I couldn’t wait for the 9/9/1999 launch of the Dreamcast - I bought an import Japanese version about four months prior to the US launch, just so I could play Sonic Adventure and Soul Calibur without delay!
3. What kind of path/career advice would you give to someone looking to work in games?
Look carefully at sites like Gamasutra.com to see what kind of roles companies are hiring for. The listed job descriptions will give you a very clear idea of what the requirements are for specific positions, and that info will help you decide what direction you want to focus on. The more specific you can be with what you want to do, the better off you’ll be - this is increasingly a market made up of specialists. It’s not enough to simply say you want to “design games” or “run a studio” - what kind of games do you want to work on? Free-to-play of premium? Mobile or console? If you aspire to running a studio, are you aware that this actually moves you farther away from designing a game, and closer to things like managing office rent and employee benefits? It’s the best possible time for new talent to find a place at the table, but again, being specific with the skills you’re honing will put you ahead.
4. Which games are you working on now? What games have you worked on in the past, and how have they shaped the way you approach Kingdom Conquest II and other new titles?
I’ve worked on just about every major SEGA brand in the ten years I’ve been here - my specialty has been to focus on new releases that build upon our classic Japanese brands. As a Producer, I worked on Sonic Chronicles (the DS BioWare game), Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 for iOS, and all of the Genesis compilations (such as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for Xbox 360 and PS3). My experience working on these games has taught me to put the player experience first in all cases. Whenever a new event (like the Mega Drive 25th Anniversary Campaign) or a new mode (like Arena) is introduced in KCII, we’re always asking ourselves: does this make the game better? Will this delight players? Is it fun for both paying and non-paying customers? We execute on the best of many ideas that are generated both here (in the US) and in Japan, and then we carefully review player feedback in the forums to make sure we’re on track.
5. Do you have an overall philosophy for the way you think a mobile game should be presented and function? What do you think sets SEGA apart from other companies in the mobile space?
A lot of other companies - particularly in the free-to-play mobile space - focus on things like “core monetization loops” instead of design, and always want to talk about money in interviews. Our key concern lies exclusively with providing a fun experience. Our development teams made many of the games you grew up loving, and I want to do everything I can to support their unique visions. Shiino-san, the Director of Kingdom Conquest II, created “Typing of the Dead”! I’m proud to work for creative leaders like him, and I want to make sure players get to enjoy his products over here in the West.
6. What do you think the future of mobile gaming looks like for the industry? For people wanting to work in games, how do you think they can prepare themselves to take on the challenges to come?
The great thing about a well-designed mobile game is that you can jump in, play for 60 seconds, and achieve something important, or sit down for an 60 minutes and make a lot of significant progress. I think the best mobile games will always adhere to this design principle, which is fundamentally different than console games, where designers can assume that you’re going to be playing for thirty minutes or more every time you boot the game up. Mobile design allows you to fit gaming into your life, no matter how busy you are, and to connect with friends in the process. That’s awesome. Moving forward, I think visuals will continue to improve, making art a great area for new employees to focus on. Social elements will also become more and more important, which highlights the value of network engineers, community managers, and marketing specialists for publishing groups.
7. What’s the best part of working at SEGA?
Working with a great team of smart people who love video games. A close runner-up would be working on game brands that have been meaningful to me since I was a kid. If I could go back in time and tell 12-year-old Ethan that I’d be working with Sonic Team on Sonic games as an adult, 12-year-old Ethan would jump with joy.
8. If you could spend the rest of your life only playing one game, which game would you choose?
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. It’s taken me nearly two decades to get really good at playing as Pai and Lau, but I still am bad at using Akira, Sarah, and all of the other great characters in the roster. I have so much to learn, and I’d never grow tired of building up my skills in that game.
9. Completely irrelevant question… You assimilate an intense power/ability, effectively making you a super hero. What power would you harbor and what crime fighting moniker would you go by?
My cape would be a flowing white beach towel, and my specialty would be to keep people dry. I’d be called Towel Man, and I would be the go-to superhero during catastrophic floods. Of course, I’d also be the leader of the Justice League - Batman and Superman would cower in awe in the presence of Towel Man. You just might see him pop up in DC Universe Online on PS4.
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