Extra Credits is a web show that takes a “deeper look at games; how they are made, what they mean and how we can make them better,” according to Penny Arcade, where the show is distributed. In their latest episode, shared with me by my friend Jonathan Bailey, number 11 of their seventh season, they tackle community management. I will embed the episode at the bottom of this article.
There are a couple of things I want to discuss, but before I do that, I want to praise the clip. I enjoyed it and I’m glad to see community management’s continued push into the mainstream. Gaming has always been among the industries that have most readily adopted this profession, so it only makes sense that a gaming focused show would dedicate an episode to the subject.
The episode largely hits the mark for me. It says a lot of good things and, overall, I agree with the themes that are represented. Namely:
- Community management can be a thankless job.
- The role of the community manager will continue to grow in importance.
- (Great) community management does require a skill set.
- Community managers are often underpaid.
- It’s important to hire good community managers that are a fit for your community.
- Community management is an ongoing process and doesn’t start “when the beta goes live.”
These are all great points! I am thankful that Extra Credits has chosen to tackle the profession in this manner. They did a good job. That said, there were a couple of things I wanted to highlight and provide some insight on.
Experience is Important
At 2:19, the video mentions the idea of “giving preference only to those with community management experience,” when hiring for the role, as if this is a bad thing. But the most qualified people are, more often than not, people with experience.
Later in the video, the idea of a test is introduced. When you are hiring a community manager, the presenter says, you should develop a series of questions to ask them. Some example questions are provided. But what is the best way to know what questions to ask? And, if you are a candidate, how can you make an informed answer to those questions? And, if you are the person hiring, how can you judge whether or not those answers are appropriate? The answer to these three questions is experience.
On some level, it’s circular. Experience tells you what questions to ask, how to answer those questions and whether or not those answers work. Of course, you don’t have to have experience to write good questions or provide good answers, but there is no doubt that experience helps you to do so and, more importantly, to do so with confidence.
The video does suggest the idea of falling back on the good community professionals you already have in your company, for help coming up with the questions and judging the answers. But who says those people are good? And if this is your first community hire, obviously you don’t have those people to rely on. Creating the test isn’t hard (as the video says at 3:41), if you know what you are talking about. But not everyone does.
Tests for Hiring
Whether you call them a test or just a series of questions to get a sense of a candidate’s experience, knowledge and management style, it’s definitely a good idea. Since the hiring process for a community manager doesn’t necessarily need to be much different from hiring for other roles, it is fair to say that many who hire already do this.
Specifically, I believe it is helpful to get a sense of what the community manager has dealt with. What have they actually done? Not just what have they read about in academia or in books (like mine), but what have they actually done themselves? That is often what separates the mediocre from the great.
It is also worth considering that some questions may have multiple correct answers. There is no one path. For instance, let’s examine this question, from the video:
You’re looking at the forums and you notice a thread where several players are harassing another player and making sexual or racial comments. What action do you take? You find out that two of the harassing players are also some of the biggest spenders in the game and popular in the community. How do you proceed?
If it were me applying for this job and I was asked this question, here is what I would say:
Hopefully, we have community guidelines in place that make it clear that this type of behavior is not permitted. If that is the case, I would remove any and all posts where this occurred. This would stop them from continuing to harm the member who is being bullied and also allow me to privately contact all of the people involved, as I do not believe in public humiliation or moderating in public. I have found that people are more likely to respond negatively to being corrected in public, and it creates more issues.
Depending on the severity of the remarks, it is possible that a member could be banned from the forums. Racism and sexually explicit threats are very serious and are two areas where our community should take a firm, clear stance. With most types of guideline violations, you can give people the opportunity to improve (as long as they wish to do so), but there are some that are so heinous, it doesn’t make sense. If the remarks do not warrant banning, I would contact the members who made inappropriate remarks and politely and respectfully inform them that these comments were not in line with our guidelines and explain the reasoning, briefly.
While you can allow more leeway for a member who has contributed a lot to the community, you must apply similar standards to all members – whether they are brand new or the biggest spenders and most popular players in the game. If your guidelines don’t apply to all, they may as well not exist. There isn’t a stage where you can spend X amount of dollars for the right to mistreat people in the community. No such right should ever exist. So, when it comes to serious conduct issues like racism and sexually explicit threats, we must be as consistent as possible, no matter who the member is. In fact, in an ideal world, we should expect and encourage veteran, popular members to set an example for all members to follow and to be the best of what our community has to offer. Not the worst.
At the end of the day, it is not only the right thing to do, but if there is fallout, it is the more defensible position. “We banned then because they used racial slurs,” is better than “well, we let them get away with it because they gave us a lot of money.”
I would also contact the member who was harassed to apologize and let them know that we do not tolerate that in our community. Furthermore, I would encourage them (and anyone who replied to the harassment to defend the member) to contact me, or report the post, if they should ever see that in the future. This would enable us to see it as quickly as possible.
All of these actions and messages would be documented through our forum software, to ensure that we can look back at that situation in the future and see exactly what occurred, in case we should have any further issues with any of these members.
Now, is that the correct answer? I don’t know. If I was hiring, it would be. For any company that I’d want to work for, it would be. But it won’t be the answer that will be correct for everyone. Some will say that you should never, ever consider the idea of banning a high profile member from your forums. No matter what they do. And if that’s what they want, they’ll hire a community manager who will give that answer. Does that make it the right answer? It does for them.
You Get What You Pay For (Generally)
“And this isn’t to say that we should all start paying our community management people more,” the video says near its conclusion.
While I understand the point, talent costs money and, by and large, the more talented the community manager, the more they should command salary wise. Just like a programmer or a designer. If you can’t afford to be competitive, then what will happen is that you’ll lose your talent to other companies who can afford to be competitive. As nice as it is to hear “community managers are heroes,” praise doesn’t pay the bills, improve someone’s lifestyle or allow them to put money away for retirement.
For example, you aren’t hiring someone with my experience for $40,000-$60,000. Of course, I wouldn’t take a job as a community manager at this stage of my career – if I were to take a job with a company, it would be Director of Community, VP of Community, Chief Community Officer or a similar title. But for veteran community managers, that isn’t a particularly attractive salary, unless it has great benefits and the community manager lives somewhere with a low cost of living. When you pay at the low end, you will be limited in your search. That’s not to say you can’t find someone who will be great, but like any profession, there are people that are more attractive candidates and those candidates will command a higher salary.
During the video, an example is given of a game that costs $100 million to produce. It is suggested that if you are going to spend that much, “we should respect the people who buy [the game] enough to at least” hire a good community manager. But you also should respect a good community manager enough to make sure they are included in the budget. I’m not saying they should be a huge line item, but if community management is so important, and it touches various departments within a company, is it too much to ask that you dedicate at least 2% of the budget to that department?
It’s just not enough to say that community managers are heroes, you have to back that up with action that demonstrates that you value community. If you don’t, you have to wonder whether or not you are simply paying it lip service.
Watch the Video
With all of that said, once again, I enjoyed the video and appreciate the work that Extra Credits put into it. Watch it below.