BZP Admin Binkmeister interviews BIONICLE.com Webmaster Kelly McKiernan
Following hard-hitting journalistic successes like “Bohrok-Kal price cuts at Wal*Mart” and “Keychain update”, (former) BZPower admin and newsguy Binkmeister tackles his toughest interview yet: Kelly McKiernan, current webmaster of BIONICLE.com and BIONICLEstory.com. Bink cornered Kelly and forced the following answers out of him. Contrary to Kelly’s complaints, the rope marks aren’t permanent. Sissy.
Bink: Tell us what your job is.
Kelly: You said it yourself. I’m the webmaster. Duh.
Bink: Do we really want to do this the hard way? *smack*
Kelly: Be like that. My official title is “Internet Content Manager for Product Group 3,” which covers three current product lines: BIONICLE, Racers, and TECHNIC. It’s just a fancy way of saying “webmaster” or “web producer.” It means I’m ultimately responsible for what gets put up on those web sites.
Bink: What do you concentrate most of your time on?
Kelly: Well, BIONICLE is a full-time job, so I spend about 90% of my time working on that. I have an associate, Anne Mette, who is focused on TECHNIC and Racers, although I lend a hand there when needed – and vice versa.
Bink: What type of day-to-day things do you work on?
Kelly: It varies, which is part of why it’s a good job… it’s not the same every day. It really runs in six month cycles. We update BIONICLE.com’s look and feel twice a year – once for each product launch…
Bink: We knew that.
Kelly: Shut up. So it kind of goes like this: work with the marketing peeps to understand and define the overall marketing campaign, and where the web fits in. The Internet is a big part of the overall strategy – I’ll come back to that in a little bit.
Bink: I’ll hold you to that.
Kelly: Just so long as you hold me, you handsome devil. After we define the role of the Internet, I write up a brief and pass it around the brand manager (who basically “owns” BIONICLE) and get her input and signoff. Then it’s off to the local market managers for their review. Once everybody’s on board, I draft specifications for various things… any game(s), the architecture, content, Flash applications, local web site versions, and so on. These are distributed to whoever will do various bits of work. The content is drafted and reviewed, then translated – right now it’s translated to 14 languages total. That’s pretty major.
Bink: Which languages, and what are the challenges?
Kelly: English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese. Most are straightforward, except for Czech, Hungarian, and Polish. They use what’s known as extended Latin character sets, which aren’t available in all fonts. So we have to pay special attention to those languages. Russian isn’t bad because we use specific fonts for that. Sometimes, like for the upcoming Mistika game, we create a separate version just with that language.
Bink: Speaking of the Mistika game, why is it still not online, a month after the rest of the English site was released? Oh, and pay no attention to this red-hot poker.
Kelly: You wouldn’t da… ouchie. The game was a bit late in getting started, and was delivered late. By that time, it was the middle of vacation time in Denmark, so the country essentially shuts down. Ouch! I’m talking here. The department responsible for implementing the game not only has key people on vacation, but they’re short of resources. The best estimate is first of September, but we're looking at making a limited-functionality downloadable version available before then. Now put that down.
Bink: Fair enough. You were talking about the process of developing the site(s).
Kelly: You remembered that far back? I’m impressed. At the same time we’re doing translations, we’re getting designs “comps”. These are versions of the site, done in Photoshop, that we can comment on, tweak, and get just right before putting it on the web. The Mistika design phase went very easily, the designer did a good job of delivering what we had in mind. After that, the images get sliced up and a tech guy (not me) builds templates for each page. Some of the “assets” get ordered from another company, like the product page animations, many of the downloads, etc. I can then use a custom-built web tool that lets me put the text in and upload pictures, PDFs, Flash, downloads, and so on. We do the US (Default) site first, since it has to go live first. Before it goes public, we put it on a quality assurance server and it gets reviewed and any bugs fixed.
Bink: Then you launch it?
Kelly: What, you think it’s simple as that? You don’t know nuthin’. OK, well maybe in essence, yeah. We launch it. Wipe that smirk off your mug.
Bink: Doesn’t sound too tough. What kind of bumps in the road do you experience?
Kelly: Bumps a-plenty, my friend, it’s a bumpy road at times. Time is always short, and it’s kind of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces. The fun part is relying on other people or companies to supply those puzzle pieces so you can finish something else. It’s all interlocked; don’t get the content done in time, you can’t get the translations done in time, then the markets review them late, and then it’s a struggle to get the local sites built without approved content. And so on. Then there are the resource issues, or when things are late.
Bink: It sounds like it takes a calm, steady hand to manage all that properly. So why are YOU there?
Kelly: Steady as a rock, I am. Well, mostly. I usually only throw temper tantrums when I haven’t had enough chocolate. Fortunately, the Danish know from chocolate. And there’s a vending machine 30 seconds from my desk that is stocked with Snickers bars. Expensive Snickers bars, but still Snickers.
Bink: All right, now that we’ve exhausted the work stuff, I guess we’re forced to talk about you. Do you like the job?
Kelly: Oh yeah. Normally, about 80% of the time, things flow pretty smoothly and I get to do different things. Write specs, draft content, do research for games, work on actual production, attend meetings (some are actually fun), build sets for next year, contribute to the overall marketing plans, read movie scripts, and so on.
Bink: OK, enough about you. Wait, you get to build next year’s sets? Wha huh?
Kelly: Smooth, you’re smooth. Yes, there are times when the building instructions are being finalized and they want to make sure everything is correct. So people in the department are drafted into building duty. And this time it’s special for me, since one of the names I suggested was used for a set, and I built that. It was a good build.
Bink: Speaking of 2009, can you tell us…
Kelly: What do YOU think, genius?
Bink: Worth a try. But that brings up another point. I see all sorts of places where Greg drops hints about upcoming stuff, but you’re generally mum about the future. Why is that?
Kelly: What did you say about my Mum? Never mind. Well, I figure it’s better to be silent than sorry. Greg’s been around and doing this long enough that he’s got a better feel than I do. So I mostly leave it to him to answer questions about story stuff, unless it’s directly related to the web.
Bink: Are you involved in the story?
Kelly: I am, actually. That’s one of the more rewarding parts of the job, to be included in the story team that comes up with the outline and some of the specifics for the upcoming story. I’ve been to one story meeting in person, and a couple by phone, and I’d like to think I made a positive difference. I also had the opportunity to write the first draft of the story for BIONICLE.com’s Story section. I think that, above anything else, was the single best accomplishment for a fan-turned-webmaster. Once you are all able to read it, I hope you’ll agree. In many ways, it’s an honor to be in this position, at this time.
Bink: Why “at this time”?
Kelly: I’d tell you but then I’d have to sic the Visorak on you. You’ll find out.
Kelly: *Bats eyelashes*
Bink: What’s your favourite vegetable?
Bink: That’s a fruit!
Kelly: That’s a narrow interpretation.
Bink: Do you spend a lot of time in Denmark, at LEGO’s HQ?
Kelly: A fair amount of time, yes. The place where I stay is 2 minutes by bike from Legoland, and I have a season pass. Since there’s not a ton of stuff to do in Billund, Denmark, I tend to go to Legoland 2 or 3 times a week and walk the inner circumference. Kind of a Danish equivalent of mall-walking. It’s summer this week, so the sun’s out. There’s no telling how long that will last, though.
Bink: So you like Legoland?
Kelly: Sure, what’s not to like? Miniland is excellent, and some of the rides are fun, especially the water splash rides in the hot sun. The only thing I don’t care for is the number of people who think it’s okey-dokey-fine to fire up a cig in the middle of an amusement park crowded with children. It’s legal, but to me, smoking around children is a form of child abuse.
Bink: Hear hear. What else about being in Europe (or specifically Denmark) is different than the insignificant berg you hail from?
Kelly: Geographically it’s not that different from Portland, Oregon… flatter, though. And the weather is a tad more extreme, but comparable. The language is a little barrier, but most everybody speaks English so that’s rarely a problem. Culturally, it’s not that different; I just visited Italy on vacation – now THAT’s a different culture.
Bink: Is there anything that stands out about Danish culture?
Kelly: The one thing that springs to mind is watching people eat tacos with knife and fork. I never would’ve thought of that. But mostly it’s just nice and polite.
Bink: Back to work stuff. Do you ever talk with set designers?
Kelly: Jealous much? You bet I do. They’re a very interesting bunch. I have the rare opportunity to watch over shoulders while sets are being worked on, and I get to see various iterations of a set during development. And it’s convinced me of one thing – it’s a good thing I’m not a set designer!
Bink: Yeah, you do suck at that.
Kelly: Bite me. I’ll have you know a model I designed for Power Functions will be filmed (with me) and online later in August. It came in second in a competition. So there.
Bink: Well la-de-dah for you. What else can you tell us about BIONICLE, big shot?
Kelly: I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s reaction during the rest of this year. I’m inordinately proud of the Mistika web site, especially the home page, and how things will play out online. The main page of the web will have some really, really interesting stuff by the end of the year. I think it’s going to make a powerful impression.
Bink: You said you’d talk more about how the web fits into the overall strategy.
Kelly: I can see where you wrote a reminder about that on your arm. In Crayon.
Bink: Red hot poker time!
Kelly: WhatImeantwas… the overall tagline is “Battle for Power – Reveal the Secrets”. Which isn’t a secret anymore. The story is being told in various media: books, comics, advertising, TV, story serials, and web. To name the big ones. Everything has been carefully orchestrated (in part by me) to be released at certain times. You may have noticed the numbers on BIONICLE.com…
Bink: Yeah, we noticed. Or did you miss the zillion threads about it in the forums?
Kelly: YOU MAY have noticed the numbers counting down on BIONICLE.com, I was saying. Yes, it’s a series of countdowns. You’ll see interesting things once the timer reaches zero on a given panel. This is where we’ll be revealing secrets. And sometimes we’ll unlock a particular story section to help explain things just a little bit more. The story will be told through the comics and books and web site, mostly. The story serials should feed into it as well, but from a side point of view (or so I understand).
Bink: So there’ll be more videos?
Kelly: Yup. Some of them will be web-only exclusives. We have about two and a half minutes of CGI animation, which will be released in various lengths over time. Each will move the story forward just a little more. I dare say there will be a surprise or two along the way.
Bink: “You dare say?” Could you be more pretentious?
Kelly. Yes. Yes, I could.
Bink: Well, don’t. Will these movies be available for download at any time?
Kelly: I believe that is the plan, but not until November or December.
Bink: How about the song? Will we hear that soon?
Kelly: I’m not sure when that will be released. It might be used as an exclusive with something at some point, for a while, before wider release.
Bink: OK, now for real: what can you say about 2009 and beyond? Or don’t you know anything?
Kelly: I can’t say much, and certainly no specifics. And as Greg has said, it won’t make much sense until you see the end of 2008 anyway. But I’m looking forward to it… I think there’s a ton of potential in how it’s being done.
Bink: What will you be working on for ’09?
Kelly: I’m planning for the first half of 2009, and will probably do much of the work for that before the end of this year. That includes some new concepts for online gaming that we’re investigating. I’m hoping for a quantum leap in game play experience for 2009, and I have some very clear ideas about how to get there. I just finished the initial game brief a few days ago, in fact.
Bink: How do the sets look?
Kelly: Like bits of colored plastic. What did you THINK I’d say?
Bink: All right, I think that’s about all we can stomach. Back to the salt mines, you!
Kelly: As always, a pleasure. May a rabid camel do its business in your slippers.
Bink: Back atcha.
Kelly: Always have to have the last word, don’t you? Not this time, buddy boy!
Kelly: What odds are you laying?
Bink: 50 to 1 that you’re odd.
Editor’s note: At this point the interview was forcibly ended.