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Catching up with Aaron "APOC" Kaufman

By methuselah - 12th December 2010 - 04:12 AM

GameReplays' own methuselah recently got a chance to catch up with long time Command & Conquer Community Manager Aaron "APOC" Kaufman. Aaron is currently on loan to THQ.

methuselah: First things first. I understand you just got married congratulations and best wishes from the entire C&C community. How is married life thus far?

APOC: I've now been married over 2 months to my beautiful wife Jackie. Most don't know this, my wife and I met on New Year's Eve 06/07 through mutual friends at a bar we just happened to both be at. My life changed dramatically when she came in to my life, little did you guys know, I was doing a ton of online dating on Jdate and Match.com and had just about given up hope when I met Jackie. I can tell you honestly, be patient and persistent, those who've told you love finds you, no joke.

SO, married life, well we're on the lookout for a nice underground bunker and are planning about 10 kids. I have no clue how I'm going to support the family, but I'm sure I'll find a way as I always do. My wife forced me to sell my Ferrari that I worked so hard for during my time at EA (my bonuses!), all so she could have these crazy Jimmy Choo shoes. I'm just saying, these are the things I didn't expect when getting married. And of course, I'm kidding. Married life rocks.

meth: I understand the honeymoon took you to the wine country which is a wonderful place to go for that sort of thing. Where all did you get to go?

APOC: I had always dreamed of a Honeymoon that would take us to Tahiti, Fiji, Thailand, some million dollar 6-star resort, but I also needed someone to bring me back to reality. I'm not as rich as Joe Kucan, dude still owes me a ride on his yacht. We decided to take a short Honeymoon because our current plan is to save for a bit and take a longer vacation next Fall. We had an amazing 3-night experience up in Sonoma, California, home to the Napa Valley wine country. We stayed 1-night at an incredible resort called Meadowood (they have a Ferrari club!) and 2-nights at the Fairmont Sonoma which has the best Spa on the planet. We lucked out with some family hook-ups to stay at these places. Pretty much our honeymoon consisted of eating meals at restaurants you've seen on the Food Network and Diners Drives in and Dives, drinking a lot of wine, chillin, more chillin, and the rest is history, and I mean that in a good way. If you ever visit the wine country, hit up my favorite winery, Dutcher Crossing.

meth: Do you have a favorite wine? A favorite winery?

APOC: I should have read this question before answering the previous, nice one Apoc. My favorite wine is a Pinot Noir, specifically the one from my favorite winery, Dutcher Crossing. Jackie and I actually wanted to get married at Dutcher, but they could only accommodate 60 people, and we had about 140. I live for wine, wine lives for me, and I live for my wife…and my C&C family.

meth: Where did the two of you meet? And which of you first thought of the unique date on which to get married (10/10/10?)

APOC: Once again, I should have read this question. We met on Dec 31, 2006, New Year's Eve at a bar called The Arsenal. And frankly, if you want to read our pretty magical sappy story, click this link to check out my wedding site.

To be honest, 10-10-10 was a date that fell on us by fate. I know everyone was nerding out over it, but we weren't, though the thought of it was pretty awesome. There is no doubt I won't be forgetting that date. I'll take the credit for securing it!

meth: What comes next for the two of you? Kids? A white picket fence? What is the plan?

APOC: Man, you guys ask the hard questions. Puttin ol' APOC on the spot here. If you must know, 2 kids max, no more than one dog at a time and preferably one that doesn't shed hair all over (Jackie wants a Bernice Mountain Dog, o great), no white picket fence but a cool front yard, ideally a 2-bedroom-2-bathroom home somewhere around the LA area, preferably Santa Monica, and a relaxing life. Jackie works downtown, I work in Agoura Hills, pretty much opposite ends, so finding a place to live hasn't been easy. The economy sucks, and for the price of a 3000 square-foot home in Austin, you have to pay double just to get a 1000 square-foot apartment here in LA. Oy vey.

meth: How are things at THQ? Is your new community as big of a pain in the ass as we were?

APOC: Are you trying to tell me the Command & Conquer community was one big pain in the ass? Are you trying to tell me my ass is still hurting after 6+ years as your C&C Community Manager and it's not because of my spinning class or yoga or "other" activities?! You may be right, and I may be kidding.

I am very honest and upfront. I left my post as the C&C Community Manager because, for me, for me personally, it was time for a change. The truth behind the lines is after C&C 4 completed, most of our C&C team was impacted by some unavoidable economic changes that it would be hard to argue against from a business standpoint. I and 12 others were kept and formulated in to a top-secret new C&C team under the leadership of Jon Van Canegham. Without a shadow of a doubt, I did not leave EA and the C&C team for any other reason than simply being exhausted and sincerely needing a change. I love C&C, I love the community, I love the dev team I worked with for nearly 7 years, but with C&C going in to a very long development cycle, I needed to evolve and move on, for me personally. It was easily one of the toughest decisions of any kind I've ever had to make, and that was primarily because I did not want to leave my C&C family.

The opportunity I've landed at THQ has turned out to be a great move. Managing the WWE and UFC community is starkly similar to C&C, so I can take just about anything. I've brought all my energy and thinking, and especially key learning's from my days on C&C to the ring and Octagon of THQ and am making tidal waves of a difference not just amongst community management within my games, but others as well. There are certainly similar things that are a big pain in the ass, like message board trolls and unnamed online issues that just make me say dejavu, but I've come to realize, this is a frakkin video game, just enjoy it and know every day you wake up…it's just a video game.

meth: It's been five months how about a quick compare and contrast? I'm sure EA does some things right. I'm sure THQ does some things right. If you put the two together what would you take from each?

APOC: THQ is a much younger company than EA, so for that reason, EA is ahead of the game in some areas such as process and resources, more related to how the company flows, not so much on the game making side. Both EA and THQ make incredible games and have very unique but similar development processes. What's interesting about THQ, at least for WWE and UFC is the primary development of our game takes place at Yukes…in Japan. The folks at my office are primarily the leads (think Jason Bender's, Amer Ajami's, Greg Black's). That has a lot of pros and a lot of cons I've come to adapt to, one being, I don't speak Japanese!

THQ is definitely on the up and up in every corner of the ring, it's a great time to be a part of their family and they've welcomed me with open arms.

meth: Have you had time to follow much C&C wise? C&C 4 post release support has not been good, the ladders still don't work and we miss you.

APOC: I've been quietly keeping tabs and noticed the same myself. It's simply because the current C&C dev team lacks the resources to support and are focused squarely on rebooting the franchise. That's the 100% fact and it has 0% to do with lack of care which I can't blame the community for thinking, but that is the 100% truth. It's the reality I faced on Feb 1, 2004 when I officially became your CM during the dark days of no Zero Hour support. That infamous 1.03 patch didn't magically appear out of thin air, I had to camp out in between Mark Skaggs and Harvard Bonin's office doors for many nights. Sometimes that is the reality we have to face, and it's sincerely one I fought in the name of the C&C community a number of times, and won, and lost, not every battle is won. When the team rehires a Community Manager, I have no doubt you'll start to see support pick up, or at the very least, feel a stronger two-way communication.

But the community cannot pin it on THIS dev team. If I can give the current development team with Sam Bass and JVC some strong defense, they are working incredibly hard on the future of the franchise and it's hard for me to say to you guys at this stage, but their time is better spent on resetting the foundation of the franchise, so it can be reboot properly and put back in its place as one of the best RTS games around. That was the original plan after we released Red Alert 3; C&C 4 was a transformation of a C&C specific multiplayer game, but based on market conditions and such at the time, we had to drastically change that plan. After C&C 4 CommandCOM, the community response to the gameplay was evident that process didn't have the greatest hope of succeeding, but the dev team once again poured sweat and tears in to making that game as great and unique as possible. C&C 4 may not have been C&C's best moment in the sun, but the current C&C dev team is definitely taking some key learning's from it, don't fear. I would say The Matrix Revolutions and the final Star Wars were significantly worse, and I'm sure Twilight: whatever it's called will be too. Come on now!

At this point, the current C&C dev team is feeling the unfortunate outcome of that process from a negative community standpoint (i.e. how you guys feel right now), but inside their secret cave, they are reaping the benefits of finally having massive room to breathe and create the next great installment in the Command & Conquer franchise, time is finally on their side. You can't make a great RTS game in 13 months and the fact our former C&C team did that nearly 5 times in a row (especially if you count BFME 1, 2, ROTWK, KW, RA3: Uprising), and produced consistent 80+ AAA titles nearly every time is one of the most unheralded and unknown miracle success stories of the video game industry ever. We should write a book on the years 2002 – 2008, or just give a tell-all to WikiLeaks.

meth: Thanks for taking the time to catch up Aaron and best of luck in all you do. Anything you'd like to say to the community as a whole in closing?

APOC: Give the current C&C team a chance to prove themselves once again and give them the benefit of the doubt despite the lack of support on C&C 4 and the C&C community in general right now. Every great franchise needs time to breath and reboot, and Command & Conquer is finally getting its due, even if it's at a negative community vibe cost right now, I'm certain it'll pay off soon enough. Command & Conquer will be back, and it will be back with a strong force, and vengeance!

I'd also like to thank the C&C Community once again for allowing me to evolve to where I am today. If C&C wasn't such a successful franchise with one of the most dedicated and passionate fan bases in the world, I wouldn't be where I am right now, and who knows, I may not even be married. Something tells me I have the C&C Community to thank more than anything, so thank you again. I sincerely miss you guys to, even you Shortbus. I welcome any of you to drop me a line at Tank@thq.com, any time.

Every day is community day,