Tuesday afternoon saw GDC treated to a talk about community management by a former scientist who now does that most thankless task in the world of videogaming. Emma Siu got her start in games by helping a friend with the non-combat MMO Wander, a beautiful game that nevertheless released with more than a few serious bugs--the press, after an initial and familiar cycle of hype, wasn’t impressed; neither were the players.
This was Siu’s trial by fire, initiating her into the world of community management, where bad press (some calling it the “worst” game on the PS4) led to a cycle of worldwide anger. Supporting the game publicly and privately “took a heavy toll” on Siu. “Shit really was on fire, leading to emotional strain, stress, and ultimately tears,” she said.
She walked us through how she navigated these challenges. She began by highlighting a lengthy but polite Facebook feedback comment about Wander. This is the type of criticism you should encourage and actively reply to.
“Empathize, acknowledge, and build a relationship,” she said, arguing that you must always acknowledge the validity of critiques (where they exist), asking them how they are, and reassuring them by using as much practical information as you can give them--about forthcoming fixes, changes, and the like. “By showing that you care, you are connecting with your community on a human level,” she said.
She gave us a breakdown of both the player comment and her response, showing how the veritable essay could be distilled down to a few salient bullet points that could be responded to.
“The community never sleeps, but you have to.” Siu talked about how at the height of the acrimony over Wander she stayed at the office so long her car got towed, she missed engagements with friends and family, and even nearly went broke--there was a point where she only had 8 dollars left in her bank account. The Wander team stayed in the office until 6:30 in the morning on more than a few days. She pivoted from this into talking about the importance of self-care, something she could only do after she left Wander in August of 2015, going freelance.
Despite the advocacy of self-care, and her extolling the virtues of community engagement--she opted to go back to working with gaming communities rather than return to science and pursue a medical degree--I was left wondering why the gaming industry tolerates this. “Never underestimate the tremendous wrath of an immeasurable horde of irate gamers,” she said as one of the takeaways. But is there a better way?
“What made me stick around?” she said in response to an audience question. “I’m stubborn as hell,” she said with a laugh. She also talked about how the team inspired her to keep going at Wander as long as she did. So many people who work in this industry have to be that stubborn, diving headlong into the maw of crowdsourced rage while wearing a smile and “engaging.” It’s hard not to feel like we all deserve better.