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The Evolution Of Community Management
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The Evolution Of Community Management

October 19, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[How has community management evolved as games change from packaged products to online services? Gamasutra speaks to CrowdStar, CCP, and Insomniac to investigate how three very different companies manage their communities.]

Not so very long ago, the role of the community manager was to police the game forums -- period.

But as gaming has moved from product to service, community managers have grown much more relevant to studios. Today's community managers wear multiple hats -- serving as the liaisons between the gamer and the design teams; contributing to marketing, PR, and customer support and retention efforts; even going out into the field to meet and greet the most ardent fans of the games they represent.

Whether they are employed in the MMO, the social, or the console spaces, community managers confirm that they -- and their teams -- perform a countless array of functions, frequently 24/7. And they have the tales to confirm it.

Take Valerie Massey, who has been on the job for almost 13 years, first as a player counselor for Ultima Online in 1998 and then, in 2003, as the original community manager for EVE Online. Today she is senior director of community relations for that MMORPG, at Iceland-based CCP Games.

"Back in 1998, we were the front line support," she recalls. "If a player had problems with the game, they'd contact us and we'd try to resolve their issues."

Today, Massey has a team of six -- and growing -- who communicate with EVE Online's players through message boards and, more recently, through social media like Facebook and Twitter.

"The players tell us what makes them happy, what makes them unhappy, and we relay that information back to the developers," she explains. "Then the developers will say what they can and cannot do to acquiesce to those requests."

She calls humor her primary tool: "You need to know when to use it and when not," she says. "Most importantly, you can't take gamers' complaints personally. It's not about us; it's just that we're the first ones in striking distance. Pretty soon you learn to build up a thick skin but, at the same time, you can't become so disconnected from the game that you don't feel anything. If you have no passion for the job, your players will see that immediately."

EVE Online

One of Massey's biggest PR challenges is the blogs often created by players who "become the voice of authority on the web," she says. "Where once the industry was covered strictly by professional game journalists, today we need to show bloggers -- who may be some kids in their parents' basements somewhere -- the same respect or it can quickly backfire on us. That just shows you how our job is changing with the times."

While community managers were once known as "forum monkeys" whose job it was to simply moderate the forums "and make sure nobody's puts any nasty pictures on the message boards," today they have become an integral part of the design team.

"The designers want to know how the gamers are reacting, but they can't spend hours each day reading 200-post forum threads," she says. "So they've come to depend on us to read all the feedback, distill it down into a summary, and then tell them what most of the players want and what they don't want."

She and her team provide the designers with regular reports and participate in design meetings. She sees much of her effort focusing on player retention, telling the designers what changes the players desire to keep them happy and connected. But when the designers then make unpopular decisions, choosing not to give the players what they want, it becomes the community team's responsibility to take the heat.

"We are the meat shields," she says.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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