Erik Mona is the publisher of Paizo Publishing, creators of the popular Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Planet Stories line of pulp fantasy novels. What many people don’t know is that Erik—who has won more than a dozen major game industry awards—first entered the job market at Weber Shandwick, as an Assistant Account Executive in our Minneapolis office.
Paizo recently announced that it has founded a new company called Goblinworks to develop Pathfinder Online, a massively multiplayer online adaptation of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Erik spoke with me about his road from the PR industry to helping to create the next big MMO.
Was publishing always part of your career path or was it something you discovered later on?
I’ve always wanted to be in publishing. While I attended Emerson College in Boston I majored in Writing, Literature and Publishing, which is essentially an English degree with an emphasis on the business of publishing. I edited one of Emerson’s literary journals while there, and was an intern at Twin Cities Business Monthly.
But my number one life’s goal was to someday edit the roleplaying game magazine Dragon. I knew that was what I wanted from age 7 right up to the day that it actually happened.
How did you get started at Weber Shandwick?
I first worked at Weber Shandwick during college, as a temp during holiday break. I was raring to enter the job market as soon as I got out of school, so when the agency offered me a position as an AAE in the Consumer Products group, I took it. My two and a half years at Weber Shandwick taught me a lot about communications and how the business world operates.
What was it like working on the Consumer Products team?
It was a really fun group. We were younger than most of the other teams, and we’d often get to do promotions that were on the zanier side. Like, “How many of these products laid end to end would it take to span the Golden Gate Bridge?”
Is there a particular campaign from that time that sticks out in your mind?
Probably the best thing I personally made happen was when we were promoting a food industry client’s support of a local food bank during the holidays. I got St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman to go to a local grade school and read Green Eggs and Ham to the class. He wouldn’t wear the Cat in the Hat hat I gave him, though, because he’s too smart a politician for that.
Were you doing any game industry work at that time?
I did freelance writing and adventure design for the RPGA (Role Playing Game Association), where I wrote a dozen scenarios for their Living City shared-world campaign, a sort of “massively multiplayer offline game,” if you will. I consulted with TSR and Wizards of the Coast on continuity for the Dungeons & Dragons Greyhawk and Planescape settings. Also, I spent many long weekends driving to every gaming convention that I could. That’s how I met Lisa Stevens, who later became the CEO of Paizo.
How did you make the leap from PR to publishing?
I decided to go to graduate school to polish my writing skills. Before my first semester ended I got a call from Wizards of the Coast saying there was an opening to be the editor of Polyhedron, the RPGA’s magazine. I interviewed, got the job, packed my things and headed for the Pacific Northwest. I never even bothered to get my grades for that first semester.
When Wizards decided in 2002 to license its magazines to Paizo Publishing, I moved to the new company. At Paizo I achieved my life’s goal by becoming editor-in-chief of Dragon and Dungeon magazines until the license went back to Wizards in 2007. I also launched the Planet Stories line to bring classic pulp science fiction and fantasy books back into print. That’s really a labor of love for me.
Paizo recently took a lot of people by surprise by announcing that you were entering the video game market with Pathfinder Online. Why do an MMO?
We made that decision because of a solid business plan. Ryan Dancey, who has experience in the tabletop game industry as well as the MMO field with EVE Online, demonstrated that there was a market opportunity for a free-to-play fantasy MMO where the players could do and build anything they wanted. He made the case that it should be done, that we could pull it off, and that we could do so using minimal resources from Paizo.
Pathfinder Online is currently in the funding stage. Why did you announce it so far in advance?
It really comes down to community engagement. From the beginning, Paizo has operated with as much transparency as possible. We didn’t want our community to be blindsided by this news, and we wanted them to be involved with the development of the MMO. Ryan has a plan to actively engage the community in early playtesting, so we’ll be working hand in hand with the players from the beginning. That will help us a lot as we create the game, but that very early announcement also means that people will have to be patient for a while until it’s released.
So what is your role in all of this?
Well, at Paizo I wear the publishing hat and I do all of the marketing, with input on strategy from the executive team. I create and run promotions, write announcements, blog posts, advertising and website copy, and manage the social media channels. I’m involved with Goblinworks on the development of Pathfinder Online to make sure our brand represents well within the game, but also to make sure that the tabletop game remains vital. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is still the core of our business.