25/366 – The Somewhat Unsung Heroics Of Gaming’s Community Managers
I’d like to think that the expression “it’s like herding cats” was coined with Community Management in mind (even if it wasn’t called that at the time. The saying comes from the difficulty of overseeing or dealing with entities that are chaotic and at times troublesome. Other than cats, whose ancient place as worshiped gods in Egypt appears to have imbued in them a perpetual sense of mischief, an online community, especially in games, appears to fit this description pretty perfectly.
Today is Community Manager Appreciation Day, or CMAD as it’s known in the shorthand, and while some cynics out there will say the day was manufactured by CM’s in order to give themselves a pat on the back, that doesn’t mean that a time to recognize what they do isn’t warranted. Community Management has really only become prominent as a professionally recognized title or aspect of a company’s continued operation in the last decade or so, and the rise of the internet has meant that the responsibilities, formerly thought of to be more of a marketing or company-biased position, have had to change and evolve to fit a more customer or client-focused job of service. CM’s at their core, are a way to get some frontline, non-canned interaction with people and translate feedback to the company’s decision makers. The appreciation by customers and clients for this kind of feedback loop can’t be understated.
Now I might be biased because I work Community in this portion of the CM pie, but I really feel like if it really is understated or not seen in any part of this industry, it has to be in managing Community for games. I feel this way because video games deal with:
- A more widely expansive demographic of players of all ages and mentalities
- A product which is essentially a leisure hobby for many (and therefore valuable to them to make enjoyable)
- A sometimes volatile industry with massive peaks and valleys for consideration of a game’s “success” or “meeting expectations/worth the hype”
All of these things together make a gaming Community Manager’s job very much the embodiment of the herding cats picture I linked. When you have to have a good pulse on how your playerbase is feeling about a particular state of the game, any element of the designed game experience that may or may not be enjoyable, and whether or not the constant cycle of development is actually perceived by the gaming cat herd as listening to them, that’s a pretty harrowing and challenging task. Good Community people in games pretty much spend their days doing things such as, but not limited to: increasing positive sentiment and connection with people, translating back and forth between developers with a clear design philosophy and players with a clear playstyle/game experience philosophy, and serving as the frontline, for good or for ill, for when new things get released.
With regards to that last responsibility, it’s probably that being in the trenches portion of the job that makes what a Community Manager does in games at times seem like it’s one that ironically has the least pane of visibility from players (unless there’s a messup or the CM misspeaks or responds in a way the players dislike). There’s so many intangible things that a Community Manager does behind the curtain, and in an industry where designers, producers, and decision-makers often take a role front-and-center as far as talking shop about the holistic ideas behind their game experience (as they should), what a CM does can sometimes go flying by as unsung heroics. There’s exceptions, of course, especially as CM’s in games become more and more part of the voice and face of a studio, but I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve answered questions about how to break into the games industry through Community rather than the traditionally thought-of path of game design or programming.
I don’t say that to state that it’s some kind of unfair thing or that CM’s in games get the shaft. On the contrary, many of them are appreciated on some level by their players and their studios. But I do say it to call attention to some of the things that they do that aren’t always as visible or seen, but contribute just as much as any designer to making sure a game is (and continues to be) successful. My peers know that the spotlight isn’t necessarily one that’s desired by a CM, but it’s still worth it to point out what they do so people get insight and understanding on what it takes to do the job. On a day of appreciation, it just seemed appropriate to do so – so give your CM’s an internet hug today!