335/366 – Community Villain
One thing that I tell people who ask me about getting into the games industry and starting in it is that they have to be prepared, especially if they’re working in the Community sphere, to be a villain. That isn’t to say that you need to start perfecting your evil laugh ™ or that you should be practicing how to tie innocent people to train tracks, but moreso to be perceived as one, especially if you’re responsible for communicating sometimes unpopular things or to be responsible for rules or policy enforcement.
I say this because the simple reality is that there are going to be times when you, as the messenger of much of what the development team is thinking, or the person who is responsible for executing policy on player behavior, will be seen as the “face” of the company. In this sense, if you’re the one talking about something, it’s as official as if it came from a press release or a top person in design or development or the CEO, and as such, you’ll be the focal point of the reaction to it. Does that mean that the messenger feels like they’re the one that gets kicked into the pit ala “300”? Definitely. I always tell people that one of the things you have to get used to dealing with as a Community person in the industry is being able to be steadfast and professional even as things appear to be burning around you, a sort of understanding about having to sometimes live the “this is fine” comic.
Is it entirely understandable why you, as the Community person, become the lightning rod for the ire of players? In this context, yes, although in a few situations, some of the methods for expressing that ire are, in any civilized society, pretty inexcusable (the death threats leveled for a balance tweak in Call of Duty come to mind). The expectation of a little bit of verbal abuse by an angry community of players in no way should make you a pin cushion or punching bag, and responding to those over-the-line posts should be done coolly and with a straight head. But communicating things players don’t like can certainly make you seem like the bad guy, a sort of Emperor Palpatine archetype that cackles in their glee at the expense of others and who rules with an iron fist. It’s not a good feeling, but it’s one that I think displays the mental fortitude required of people working Community in games. This is because as much as the normal human reaction would be to react emotionally or poorly to such perceived-to-be unjustified anger and rudeness, you have to be better than that. You have to be the person who keeps an even keel and massage the language appropriately. You have to be the one to be able to shape what the community sees as being villainous into things that the development team needs to hear.
That basically means you have to come to terms with being perceived as not-so-great sometimes, to be seen as the Snape to the players’ Harry Potter – a person who has come to terms with how they may sometimes be seen in the face of a larger goal that needs to be met. But I think as mentally taxing as that may be at times, it can hopefully be balanced out by the times that you get to talk about new and exciting things, or cool changes that you know players will like, or deliver news that is highly anticipated and likely to be loved. To get that gratitude and excitement directed your way, and to essentially be, for a time, a hero instead of a villain – those are the good times of the job that make some of the worst of it worth it. These are the things that make a Community or player-focused job a joy to have, and it’s this empathy and satisfaction at seeing players happy that keeps many of the professionals going – even if sometimes the unhappy times result in them feeling like The Dark Knight more often than Superman.