An interview with Frag Doll turned Game Producer Sabre

2 March 2015 | No comments yet

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For my latest interview with an awesome geek, I looked in my own backyard. Kim, known as Sabre online, and I graduated from the same high school class. But while I knew she was a Color Guard captain and she knew I was a yearbook editor, our geeky careers were far ahead in our futures and we only knew each other in passing.

Fast forward ten years, Sabre is shaking up the video game world with her viral videos and video game promotion for Ubisoft. I caught up with her last week in order to learn more. Here’s what I learned from our Skype chat.

First, can you introduce yourself to my readers?

My name is Kim, but I’m better known online as Sabre from the Frag Dolls. I am part of an amazing team of women competitive gamers for Ubisoft. We will occasionally compete as competitive gamers, but most often we are brand representatives for Ubisoft and their game titles. We go to events and showcase games, do game demos, and talk to gamers, since we’re gamers ourselves, so we can get excited with people about games that are upcoming and be that connection to the community that a big company like Ubisoft sometimes needs.

Is this your full time job?

It is. I started off right out of college with my business degree working as a government consultant in the DC metro area. I tried out for the Frag Dolls and I made the team. About a year after making the team, I was working both the day job and the Frag Dolls as a night and weekend job and it was just running me ragged. I couldn’t keep up with both. So I decided to leave my well-paying government job to be a Frag Doll full time, and it has been this way for the past two, two and a half years.

In your experience, how are job applications, networking, and other standard practices different in a geeky field?

To be honest, I tend to be a very traditional worker in the sense that when I put together a resume for a job I tend to be very conservative. I use formal language and grammar. For creative fields, I’ve seen research and I’ve talked to people who say, “Well, depending on the type of job you’re going for and the type of company, if the job is very out there, you sometimes want to match your resume to that. To which I say, to each their own. I would never feel comfortable giving a non-traditional resume, and that’s just me. And it’s worked very well for me so far. I think if you’re going to go a different route in terms of how you present yourself to a company, it never hurts to be traditionally polite, very informative, and personable, because I think that fits in with any career you’re going for.

What about when you’re building a traditional resume around nontraditional accomplishments?

When you have a creative background, you find ways to display it in a more business-like setting. And I’ve done that in the past, too. I’ve created a viral video. I have a video on YouTube that has over four million views. How do you put that on a resume and explain the significance of that to a company? In that particular case, you want to go into everything you did to get that video to where it is. Not just making the video, but the planning, and the technical aspects of the filming. You want to present information that says, “I am a capable human being and I can replicate this success.” You’re proving your expertise through that, even though it is a creative endeavor.

Describe a typical workday for you.

A typical workday for me is very much focused on brand management. The Frag Dolls are a brand of Ubisoft. It’s fun and interesting from that perspective because we are our own little business unit with the company. So if we have an idea, we can come up with the pitch deck for it and we can pitch it to our supervisors and make the case for it. If we make a good enough case, then Ubisoft will say, “Sure! Here’s some funding, go ahead and do it.” From that perspective it’s very entrepreneurial and, going along that line, we sometimes don’t have traditional workdays. We’ll see something online and come up with an idea and we’ll say, “Hey, we should do something like that but for charity, and how can we tie in an Ubisoft game with that, too?” It is very much, if we have a good idea, we can just run with it.

Otherwise, my day to day tasks involve interacting with our audience, making sure we have YouTube videos planned, and we all have our marching orders and know who’s going to livestream and when, what are they going to livestream, and when do we promote that. We make sure to support each other online, and support our community when they do things, as well. Kind of all over the place, now that I think about it.

Do you work from home?

I do! It’s a blessing and a curse. People who don’t work from home tend to get very jealous about that, but I am such a workaholic that I don’t ever stop working. That’s a mix of my personality and that the Ubisoft main office is in San Francisco and I’m on the East Coast, so we have a three hour time difference. So I will still get emails about work until 9 PM at night so I literally get up and work, and then I work all day and into the evening and the next day I rinse and repeat, too.

Do you travel a lot for work?

I do. Whenever Ubisoft needs us to go to an event—and there are a lot of events—and then ones that are specifically for video game conventions, there are at least five or six major ones that happen each year and there are more and more popping up as the years go on. At a lot of those big events, Ubisoft will have a booth, and we are usually invited to go and be brand ambassadors to get people excited, demo games, and explain to people the new features of the new games coming up and when they can expect the games to release and things like that. So there’s a fair amount of travel. I would say that I probably travel once a month, sometimes multiple times in a month, and usually our downtime is just late December to end of January. Right now we’re prepping for PAX East, which happens in Boston. As soon as spring hits, we start gearing up for the big events like E3 and San Diego Comic Con. It’s gonna be a crazy year of traveling!

How do you balance work and life when your work is one of your hobbies?

Honestly I don’t. (laughs) I am horrible at work life balance. Because I am a workaholic and I care so much about what I do, it’s easy for me to just get caught up in it. It can be tough. I think the hardest thing about it is that when we livestream—and this is just a personal thing for me—livestreaming is one of the most draining experiences. I still can’t believe there are people on Twitch that go for 10, 12, 24 hour livestreams because it’s so draining for me to just be in front of a camera and consistently talk and be excited and get emotional and get involved in the game and I think that is what I have the hardest time with. I love gaming and it’s such a personal thing for me, and I feel like when I share that online it can be exhausting. Having to be sort of “on” all the time for the camera can sometimes sap the fun out of it.

So that’s the tough part of the job. What are your favorite parts of the job?

I love working with the Frag Dolls. I think these women are awesome and fun and they’re all very passionate about gaming. It’s just nice to be around women who share the same passions that you do, and it just happens to be both the same hobby and work passion. I also like working with our community—a lot of them are just awesome. We’ve made so many good friends through coming to events and getting to know people, people in livestreams who we may never meet in person, people in game that we’ve randomly met that we just happen to be in a game lobby with who join our chats and now we see them all the time. It’s super awesome to hear other people’s stories about how they’ve made friendships through games that span the world. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re into so long as you game together. I also like is the charity work we do. It’s the best feeling to game for hours and hang out with people and have it raise money for charity. There’s nothing better than that.

However, I suspect I’m about to learn even more things I like about my job. I am actually leaving the Frag Dolls to work for Ubisoft full time as an associate producer. So now I am going to actually make video games, which is my dream job.

I got the job through a lot of perseverance and networking to be honest. I’ve met so many great people at events while working as a Frag Dolls. One good friend of mine recently transitioned to Ubisoft as a developer, so I reached out to him and say, “Hey I’ve wanted to be a producer forever. What do I need to do to become a producer? What things will they look for on a resume? Do I need to go back to school?” And he told it to me straight. He said, “Look, do you have a business degree? Are you passionate about games? Have you made games before? If you have a portfolio, great.” So it was partly my past experience that helped and partly who I knew. Being able to talk to people and get a better understanding of what game companies are looking for for this particular role both helped.

What does a game producer do?

In general, they are the project manager. They oversee a game from start to finish, and will be there from all the steps from software development to game development and I believe they’re the one that puts everything on to a schedule and into a budget and if anything happens, issue-wise, they’re able to resolve it very quickly and make sure everything is moving smoothly. They make sure all the pieces are coming together and everyone is working well. I’m not a game developer, or somebody who codes, but I certainly want to help people make games and I will do all the management stuff that is necessary. I’m very fortunate to have gotten in with Ubisoft to make games.

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It’s a sad testament to the state of our world that I even have to ask this, but as a woman in gaming, how do you keep your experiences positive?

I think it’s like with most anything. Honestly, it’s the same as in your personal life. You need to pinpoint the negativity and get it out of your life, whether it’s certain people or your job that’s bringing you down. Whatever it is, get rid of it. When you start bringing in the people that are good, whether it’s your coworkers, or in the case of gaming, your gamer friends or Twitch community, you all stand together and make sure that negativity does not get into that. You have to have a unified front, but I think it’s getting better. It’s telling that we’ve heard so much about the bad things that are happening [in the gaming community] but I also think it’s a good sign that we’re hearing about it instead of it happening in the dark. I think it’s going to be a long healing process. We all have to mature a bit, figure ourselves out, figure out how we’re going to interact with other people. It sucks, but I have faith that we’ll persevere.

What is your advice to people who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

Just don’t give up. If you want something bad enough, you can get it. And if it’s not happening immediately, that’s OK, sometimes you have to work a little bit at things. I think we all can achieve whatever the things are that we want. Most of the time when people are struggling for something and not getting it, I honestly think that they’re not analyzing the situation correctly.

I’ve seen this a lot in business cases where I’ve had people come in and they have missed something very crucial. So I tell everyone, when you go into a situation and you want something out of it, you have to determine the players, the objectives, and how you are going to get what you want. Take a step back, take your emotions out of it, and look at the scenario, look at the people involved, and go for it.


Read more interviews on Otaku Journalist:

Otaku Links: Robo glitter

27 February 2015 | 5 comments

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I didn’t expect the prettiest anime of Winter 2015 to be a mecha anime, but life is full of surprises. Circumstances outside my control led to this not being such a great week for blogging, but the Internet was as lively as ever.

  • If you weren’t at Katsucon, BeatDownBoogie’s video is a good cross section of the fabulous cosplay that was on display.
  • I’ve seen a lot of t-shirts depicting anime, but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone make an animation for a t-shirt. Anime-inspired apparel artist Boomslank is promoting their latest design with its own video. Here’s my own review of a Boomslank shirt.
  • Heard the one about the guy cosplaying Satan who runs into nuns in the hotel elevator? Anime anthropologist Charles Dunbar traced this popular piece of con lore back to the ’80s. This is an old article worth rereading about the oral tradition of anime conventions.

Otaku Links: Two short weeks

20 February 2015 | No comments yet

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Between my San Francisco work trip, Katsucon, and the inevitable crushing sickness that followed, I haven’t spent a lot of time looking for links. Here’s just a little bit of Internet to start off your weekend:

  • My friend Katriel has been promoting The Anime Encyclopedia, Revised 3rd Edition, for the better part of a year and it’s finally up for order! Twenty dollars for an ebook (nevermind $80 for a book) sounds steep, but you have to understand just how thorough this is. I received an early copy and kept control+F searching the document for the most obscure anime I could think of—and every single one was in there.
  • After emailing my friend Kailer repeatedly for help on kanji readings, she showed me Jisho’s ultra-handy bookmarklet. Simply drag the link to your bookmark menu. Now, any time you see a Japanese word you don’t recognize, highlight it in your browser and click the link. Boom! Instant assistance!
  • One thing I’ve been watching while recovering from this cold is Great Teacher Onizuka. This 1999 classic is a product of its time, with clunky art and recognizable ’90s shounen tropes, but is still fast-paced and full of heart and ready to entertain in 2015.

Illustration by blue-eyes-louise

Sports anime and the Odagiri Effect

18 February 2015 | No comments yet

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You’re probably tired of hearing about my love for sports anime. Motivating storylines, passionate characters, and seriously cute boys make titles like Yowamushi Pedal, Haikyuu!, and Kuroko’s Basketball my essentials.

But I haven’t mentioned my husband’s love for sports anime. I didn’t force him to watch Yowamushi Pedal—like you might have assumed given the way I talk about it nonstop—he got into it himself. Now our Monday evening ritual is watching it together.

Still, we’re getting different things out of it. A super robot genre fan, he loves the way Yowapeda dramatizes cycling the way other shows depict mecha piloting. He cares a lot about technique and results. Whereas I savor the character development, relationships between characters, and any of their indications of emotion or vulnerability.

For better or worse, my husband isn’t into dudes. I am though, and to me Yowamushi Pedal is a fujoshi’s dream. He doesn’t see it in the slightest. It’s like a Magic Eye drawing that I can see and he can’t—and now that I’ve seen it one way, I can’t go back.

Until Navy Cherub’s Sports Anime panel at Katsucon, I didn’t realize there was a name for this—the Odagiri Effect. In 2000, there was a popular kid’s show called Kamen Rider Kuuga that starred actor Joe Odagiri as the titular masked rider Yusuke Godai. The live-action show was targeted at kids, but due to Odagiri’s dreamboat status, it picked up an unexpected secondary audience of housewives! Since then, Japanese kid shows have aimed at picking up multiple audiences. Although Kuroko’s Basketball and Yowapeda run in Shounen Jump, it’s impossible to deny the massive adult female audiences they’ve acquired. It’s not just the way the boys are drawn, but the mature way their emotional bonds are depicted.

midousuji_wtfI used this photo so I could caption it: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sports animes’ multiple audiences were illustrated quite well by the Katsucon panel itself. I got there early and chatted with all the other women waiting. We discussed our favorite characters, our favorite ships, and so on. John had come with me, but he stuck to amassing new StreetPass contacts while I talked about girl stuff. Then, the male panelists came in, much to my surprise. While we talked about kids and women as sports anime target audiences, their very status as adult men indicated a third audience, too. And of course, the world isn’t so cut-and-dry that interests are decided by demographic, either!

The Odagiri Effect sounds like a win-win, since it generates money from a compounded audience, but the downside is that it plays it safe. Negative arcs about injury or lack of sportsmanship are resolved quickly and neatly, and while friendship abounds, romantic subplots are nowhere in sight. There’s no incentive to risk alienating any of the target audiences, so the show stays away from tackling complicated themes.

Either way, it’s nice to know the straight men in my life aren’t just humoring me when they agree to watch Free! with me.

Can you think of a show in which you’ve seen the Odagiri Effect in action?

Katsucon 2015 recap

16 February 2015 | 3 comments

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I went to my first Katsucon when I was 22 years old. Since then, I’ve never missed a convention, not even when a blizzard (Kat-snow-con) threatened to keep us all home.

That’s six years of mid-February conventions, and all with my Valentine. (I tweeted that it’d been eight years, not six, because I am bad at math.)

However, John has been my only constant, really. I’ve spent Katsucon doing all kinds of things, from working in the maid cafe to reporting on Artist Alley in a wheelchair, after I broke my foot. Katsucon was the first convention I reported on back when I was an intern at the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, and the reason I got a mention of my reporting published in Jezebel. Now, nothing can keep me away!

This year was far less exciting than previous ones. We showed up for just Saturday, waited in a short-for-Katsucon two-hour registration line, visited the Maid Cafe, (where one of our tablemates was hand fed by a butler!), played Hanafuda, and saw the Batmobile, all while I took photos of every Yowamushi Pedal cosplayer I could find.

John and I mostly spent it shopping—including buying our very first Perfect Grade Gunpla kit, the most technically complicated, physically large, and expensive model type that there is. Expect to hear a lot more about that at Gunpla 101.

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Other purchases: Peepo Choo, the graphically violent yet painfully close-to-home story of an otaku who discovers Japan is not his “arbitrary Neverland” of fellow fans. What Did You Eat Yesterday?, a poignant cooking manga/portrait of LGBT life in Japan. Machine Robo, starring the exploits of villain Devil Satan 6 and other campy Super Robot genre pioneers. The classics Akira and Metropolis. Together, everything on this table cost less than $80 total, which shows that you can get good deals at cons.

I’ve written a lot about Katsucon as a prime reporting opportunity, but it felt good this year to relax and catch up with friends. Did you go to Katsucon and if so, how was it?

Photo grid via my Instagram

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