The "Ins and Outs" of Online Gaming Community Management
Codemasters Online Gaming's Kyle Rowley, the Community Manager for RF Online, pens this Developer Journal about a day in the life of a Community Manager.
Whether you’re an active member in your preferred online game’s community or not, sometimes it’s good to get an insight into what the guys behind that vague forum title “Community Manager” actually do; outside of the participation in community-driven banter that you all love so much, that is.
For those of you who are not familiar with myself, or my alter ego “Laeth” I’ll do a quick introduction. My “real name” is Kyle Rowley and I’m the Community Manager (CM) for Codemasters Online Gaming’ Sci-Fi MMORPG Rising Force Online (RFO). Professionally, some could call me a n00b in the Community Management business – I’ve only been CM for RFO for around 10 months after all – so my words are not to be taken as the bee's knees on what community management entails, or how one would go about doing this for a living; but it should provide some insight for those of you who are interested.
I’m sure that a CM’s responsibilities will range from company to company, with some preferring a more hands-on approach to forum moderation / participation and others leaning more towards the delegation of such tasks to others whilst they take more of a PR role. Whatever the case – one thing is consistent throughout – is that it’s the CM’s job to ensure that the community that he/she is managing is happy, or at the very least, content with the game and how it is being operated. Obviously this isn’t always the case; actually more often than not it’s the other way around and CMs are seen to be putting out flames left right and centre – but the community are seen as representatives of the players who play the game and as such, should be treated well and with respect. So bearing that in mind, the rest of this article is entirely based on my own experiences within Codemasters Online Gaming… take it with a pinch of salt :D.
Day to Day…
When the sun rises and I awake from my slumber, I dread coming into work… oh the pain! Oh no, wait – that was my previous job working in a well-known UK based supermarket *shudders*. But nevertheless, this tells me something about what I’m doing now. I ENJOY IT! In reality when I wake up in the morning - apart from looking half dead – I’m fairly optimistic about the day ahead and all the lovely forumites I’ll get to harass, (they love it really).
After waking up, (way too early) and taking the scenic, motorway-enhanced, hour-long drive to work, I’m greeted by some rather charming receptionists. A nice stroll along some corridors and I arrive in my department – Codemasters Online Gaming (see photo below).
8am - So I’m equipped with my (strong) coffee and then I’m straight into a conference call with the developer, which in my case is CCR Inc.
It’s worth pointing out that Codemasters Online Gaming don’t have any of their MMO development staff on site and while a lot of developers prefer to use their own community staff – which is understandable for communication purposes – COG like to keep both the community team and the marketing team close together. The reasoning behind this will become more apparent later on :).
The purpose of the conference call is to ensure that we as operators and publishers are kept up to date on the latest goings on within the game. Bug fixes, updates, design changes etc. are all on the agenda, so it’s important for the community manager to pay close attention to the information being passed between the two parties as much of this news will get given to the players.
9am – Once the call with the developer is over, it’s time to check my email, (thousands upon thousands of emails… ARGHHH!!!!) and take a look at how the game's official forums are doing.
Depending on the company, some community managers are a lot more active on the forums than others. This could be for a host of different reasons: more staff or different priorities, to name a couple; but I personally like to keep a persistent presence on the forums. Community members like to know that someone is there reading their feedback, comments, praises or complaints. That’s not to say it’s always necessarily a pleasant experience…being a community member and browsing forums in your spare time is completely different to working on them for a living. As you’re representing a company you have to find a balance between ensuring your responses are accurate and informative as well as including your own personal touch. No one likes a ‘corporate-speak’, blabbering community manager after all.
For anyone looking to get into community management, I’ll give you this small warning. You have to be thick-skinned and willing to take a beating every now and then! I’ve had my fair share of beatings from the RF Online community: “Laeth you lose at life!” being one of my favourites for last year. On the other hand though – when the community feel you have made a decision that they agree with, or if the team has done something uber-cool that the community enjoy – it feels good to get some positive feedback / responses.
It’s quite bizarre really; on the one hand the community members can see me as one of the ‘corporate’ types where everything I say is a lie – but on the other hand I can get slammed in the office for acting too much like someone directly out of the community, so I can’t win either way.
But yes…email responding / forum-checking normally lasts for anything up to two hours. Community issues on the forums then get sent to the different areas within the company (marketing, production, network operations, web development etc.) for action items to be assigned. The community seems to generate more meetings than any other area of COG – I feel quite proud :D.