Thursday, June 12, 2008

Natalie Sousa Interview

Everybody appreciates a good success story. A person who follows their dream and realizes it is an inspiration to everybody. In the gaming biz, one of the best examples of this is the husband and wife duo of Natalie Sousa and Nelson Rodriguez. The Achievement Junkie couple started out just like many other gamers (myself included), a member of the video game community with something to say. They started off with a podcast that gradually grew in popularity and now Nelson works for Microsoft and Natalie is the webmaster for talkingaboutgames. Besides their podcast, you can also catch them on Pick Up & Play, a weekly videocast on Xbox Live Marketplace.
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Recently I spoke with Natalie about her success and what its like to be behind the gaming curtain. As you would expect if you listen to her podcast, she was very easy to talk to and has a great sense of humor. I even managed to talk her into being a guest on the coloradojoe podcast in the near future so look for that soon (a Father's Day Gaming Gift Guide podcast will be available tomorrow). Here are a few of the things we discussed.
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You are the webmaster for the Talking About Games website. Its mentioned in your profile that you are a trained photographer. How did a photographer end up so involved in the gaming community?
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There's no direct link to photography and video games. Both just happen to be things I enjoy. Photography is somewhat tech-y and gaming connects to my geeky side a bit. There's also a creative, imaginative side to both. I ended up in the gaming community simply through podcasting. I started podcasting about photography at first, then decided to jump into the podcast-gaming scene.
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When I first started listening to Achievement Junkie (two summers ago if memory serves) I was confused about your relationship with your partner Nelson Rodriguez. There were moments when I thought you were a couple and other times I thought otherwise. I now know that the two of you are married. How did you two meet and was your mutual love of gaming the impetus for you to get together? Please tell me you fell for each other while taking turns playing Ms. Pac Man in a Pizza Hut.
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Haha! I wish I could say that! Nelson and I worked for the same company years back. He was located in their NJ office, and I worked from their headquarters office in Boston. They had a company wide meeting in Montreal one summer, and we fell in love with Montreal. We started a long distance, email/phone relationship a few months later.
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What is it like working with your spouse? Do you ever have differing views about games you should focus on and if so how do you handle that? Do you play co-op games together or are you interested in completely different titles?
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Working together is fun, but it can also be a bit stressful. Its easy to blend personal feelings with work and we have to try hard to separate the two. (I'm not saying I do that well, btw) The types of games we enjoy are pretty similar though I have a higher tolerance for cutesy little arcade games, like Eets Chowdown & Boogie Bunnies. We love playing games together: Gears of War, Commanders: Attack of the Genos, Puzzle Quest, Poker Smash, etc. Co-op games are preferred (I wish every game had a co-op campaign), but versus will do.
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Tell me about the genesis of the Achievement Junkie podcast. What motivated you to start podcasting and why did you make it Xbox 360 specific? What is the process you and Nelson go through when you create a podcast?
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Our podcast developed a few months after Nelson started writing for a gaming blog. It happened to be Xbox 360 specific, simply because that was the only next-gen console that we owned (at that time). The show has changed a lot since our first episode, including a name change, going from weekly to daily episodes, then back to weekly and even a few vid-casts sprinkled in between. We wanted to create a gaming podcast where we were engaging with our audience, and not talking down to them or assuming they knew all of the insider-gaming terms.
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Achievement Junkie's popularity seems to have led to a lot of other opportunities for the both of you. Did Nelson end up at Microsoft as a result of his work at Achievement Junkie and was your involvement in Talking About Games before or after AJ?
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Achievement Junkie had everything to do with Nelson getting hired by Microsoft. Looking back, we can identify some of the turning points that had a big impact. The first was meeting Microsofts community team at a Lost Planet launch party (that we almost didn't attend). John Porcaro, Director of Online Communities at Microsoft, pulled out his Zune and Achievement Junkie was on his play list! It was awesome to find out that a major player in the gaming industry listened to our show! It was exciting and encouraged us to experiment with the podcast. A few weeks after launching a daily vid-cast, another turning point, Nelson got a call from Microsofts community team. The idea for Talking About Games developed shortly after Nelson started his role as a Community Manager for Gamerscore Blog. We realized that the time needed to maintain our original site was going to be difficult as a result, but we still had ideas for launching an even larger site; one that focused on a strong community presence while still bringing people reliable gaming news, reviews, and content. So we connected with our podcasting buddies: Jay Van Beveren (he's our Editor in Chief), Parris Lilly (he's our PR guy) and Jose Betancourt (he's our Community Manager). We pooled our creative and technical talents, and from that, TalkingAboutGames.com was born.
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How did you and Nelson get involved in the Pick Up and Play videos on Xbox Live?
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When we started doing our vid-cast, we did it every day for a few weeks, which was incredibly stressful, at times, but it was fun, too. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do it. In the back of our minds we thought 'wouldn't it be cool to put something like this on Xbox LIVE?' We always have crazy ideas like that. When Nelson joined the community team, the idea of us doing a video for them came up. This was at least a year ago. And they said 'now, we can't promise anything, and we don't want to get your hopes up... but, we'd love to explore the possibility down the road.' So, for the first few months of Nelson being at Microsoft it was put on the backburner. Then, Inside Xbox was launched, and they were looking for new content. We ended up spending MONTHS submitting proposals and shooting demos and re-shooting demos, until finally, we got included as one of the programs on there. We've been shaping it the whole time, and are still trying to improve it, but we're thrilled that we are now working on something we only vaguely wished about a year ago.
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As a former gaming community member who is now a gaming insider, what do you think the average gamers biggest misconception/s is/are about the gaming industry?
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What I realized since sneaking behind the curtain of this industry, is that its easy to look at the gaming industry as a whole and assume that its an expert - it does it everything right, every step is calculated and it's a huge, well-oiled machine. When you get a little closer, you see that its just a bunch of individual people who are trying to create something exciting, or offer a different experience with a console or a game or an accessory. They all have to take chances, not always knowing how its going to turn out, and not always getting it right but hoping for the best every time.
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You've mentioned in podcasts that its sometimes tough being in the spotlight. What are the positives and negatives of being a public figure in an industry that can have such harsh critics?
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When we started the podcast we were excited to learn that we had 200 people listening to us. We now have thousands of viewers every week, which is amazing and fortunate and lucky AND intimidating. The challenge is that the internet is a safe, distant layer that makes it easy for people to say things that they wouldn't normally say to you if you were face to face. We've had to learn to grow a thicker skin when it comes to that stuff, and its something we have to work on all of the time. The positive stuff makes it all worth it - having an interaction with our audience, learning about games that they play with their friends and family, and having that connection keeps us motivated.
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What does the future hold (career wise) for Nelson and Natalie? Will you continue to do the Achievement Junkie podcast? Will Nelson try and team up with his crush Olivia Munn? Will you drop Nelson like a hot potato to work with pretty boy Geoff Keighley? The two of you have had incredible success, where do you go from here?
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Haha! Olivia Munn is the only gamer chick that Nelson has my OK to team up with. I haven't had a chance to meet with or work with Geoff Kieghley, but I'm sure Nelson would be ok with it. I want to be able to create an experience that people can relate to, that they are inspired by and learn from and have fun with. I want the audience to feel like they can connect with the shows that we produce and that they are part of it too! All of this feels a little dream-like... I want to share that with our audience and have them feel like they are along for the ride.
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And finally...what three games are taking up most of you time right now and what are your top 3 all time favorite titles?
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Top 3 favorite games of all time? I love them equally, but for different reasons: Gears of War - they say you'll never forget your first shooter. It opened up the shooter genre for me and gave me an incredible, movie-like experience. Pac-Man CE - totally addictive and fun! Its the only game on the 360 that I continue to play even though I unlocked every achievement. Super Mario Bros. - an all time favorite platformer. When I was growing up I was limited to 3 hours of video gaming during the school week (it was SOOO unfair!) and I'd spend it playing Super Mario Brothers every time. New Super Mario Bros on the DS is amazing.
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At the moment, I'm spending time with Boogie Bunnies - I'm trying to unlock a silly achievement where I loose NO bunnies in a beach scene (its harder than you think!). Lumines Live, which I enjoy playing against Nelson. Sadly, he beats me 9 out of 10 times!! Those are terrible stats and I'm trying to change that, I've got a way to go. Another game I'm playing at the moment is embargoed. If you are willing to honor the embargo on it, I can tell you the game. I'm really loving it... its an awesome co-op experience. (She told me but I'm not sharing, sorry. TT)
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1 comment:

KingOfGods said...

Great interview. I have to say after watching you guys on pick up and play, I have become a big fan. Nelson and Natalie make a great team and are fun to watch.
I look forward to you guys in the future and wish nothing but bigger and better things for you.