How Service and Gaming Led Me to Community

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“Granny, can you cash a $500 check for me?”

“Ummm, what for little man? You’re only 12. Why would you possibly have a check for $500?”

“I’m really good at playing video games and I happened to win a tournament I was in?”

 

That was my first real taste of the Video Game industry. I was 13 and had just won a small tournament for Age of Empires 2. From that point onward, I’ve been involved in some form or fashion in the industry. While not always my primary focus for a career, gaming has long been one of my main hobbies and something I tend to fall back on when I need to relax. Here’s a short glimpse of how I got to where I am now—Community Director and Producer for indie publisher Versus Evil.

Lance James

Lance James

I became heavily involved with the Age of Empires community as a result of my playing at a high level. Through my participation in the community, I was then invited to become a Community Manager for an RTS Fan-site called HeavenGames. Bear in mind, I was around 15 when this happened, so I was very quickly learning about interacting with others as well as dealing with typical CM responsibilities. I’m very grateful for starting off in the community field as a volunteer as I feel like I got a glimpse of the industry as whole and it enabled me to still gain that experience which is so critical for many employers. At HeavenGames I learned the core skills of being a Community Manager and seeing first–hand what some people in the industry were doing at the time. (Thank you Ensemble Studios and Graham Somers wherever you may be!) Graham served as my first real example of a Community Manager doing great things. He would routinely come on fan forums, talk and build relationships with the people, and often open up the hidden world of Game Development to us peons, not to mention offering me a first hand personal tour of Ensemble’s Dallas studio.

Life goes on, and mine certainly had quite a few events pop up—including an 8 year stint in the US Army. (You can read about it here – http://www.operationsupplydrop.org/from-competitor-to-community-manager/ – thanks again Bob!) During my time in the military I stayed active with HeavenGames, finished my Bachelor’s Degree (Criminal Justice/History), and, of course, continued to game. There are a few very key skills that I developed or evolved while in the military that have had a direct impact on my current professional career, and to give credit where credit is due—thanks US Army!

  • Interpersonal Communication Skills – dealing with people of varying backgrounds (often in varying countries with multiple different languages) and often in high stress situations certainly has trained me to be able to interact with a large number of people, diffuse hostile or negative situations, and work in tandem with people
  • Listening Skills – You’d be surprised how helpful is to really learn to listen, understand and communicate.
  • Teamwork – A community is built with a common interest, and while opinions may be all over the place (and welcomed!) I’ve be grateful to work with some really great communities that have felt like one big team or family even. As a CM learning to help the community and letting them know how to help me has always been rewarding.
Taken in Mosul, Iraq, getting ready for a patrol.

Taken in Mosul, Iraq, getting ready for a patrol.

Once I wrapped up my time in the Army, I was left wondering what I should do. I was looking around at all sort of options including Law School, Law Enforcement, more military, and finally going back to my roots as a Community Manager in the gaming Industry. One of my friends showed me this job opening for an upcoming RTS Game and with some fantastic help/advice from two wonderful people (Thank you Kristen and Justin!) I applied for the job at Trion Worlds and was now at my first full-time Community Management Role.

Working with a developer/publisher on a AAA or big budget game was very exciting. It had all the bells and whistles, big budgets, and lots of media coverage. What did this mean for the community? Well, it was an interesting time period where FaceBook, Twitter, Reddit, and other media weren’t like they are now. Forums, and I mean the old school V–Bulletin forums were our main source of information when I first arrived. We had a great little community already established and I got the opportunity to learn even more. I got to experience the industry side of things including the relationship of Marketing, PR, and Community as it relates to information. This was probably my biggest learning curve as often I have been limited as to what I can say about “X” at a given time. Another big side of the industry were the trade shows and getting to meet all of our fans in person. For those that don’t know, Trade Shows are a ton of work, from making sure all the equipment arrives, negotiating space and budget concerns, to being on your feet for the duration of the day.

Working at Gamescom in Cologne Germany was a ton of fun and very loud!

Working at Gamescom in Cologne Germany was a ton of fun and very loud!

While working with Trion Worlds I got to expand my skill set and learn even more. One key piece of advice I got from my time at Trion was to just slow down. There’s no need for a community manager to constantly be everywhere all the time. Being committed and working hard are one thing, but as an employee and someone who already somewhat works 24/7, Community Managers need to know when to take a break and when to step away for a little bit. It’s far too easy to get pulled in to arguing matches and take things personally.  I will say it again (and make the text large/clear) as I’ve noticed it happen time and time again:

  • SLOW DOWN
  • THINK BEFORE YOU TYPE
  • TAKE A BREAK

After Trion Worlds I got the opportunity to step in to a great role with Versus Evil as Community Director and Producer. What does that mean? Well, I get to help indie developers build their communities and finish their games. I’m constantly surprised by developers that we work with and how much eager they are to build communities and involve their communities. Indie games are a whole new side of the industry where at times it feels like every day is a struggle. It’s often hard building communities for brand new games and unknown developers, but one thing I’ve come to understand throughout my journey is that there is always something to learn!

Thomas was playing The Banner Saga and I reached out to him via Twitter and Twitch. Led to him coming to visit our booth at E3.

Thomas was playing The Banner Saga and I reached out to him via Twitter and Twitch. Led to him coming to visit our booth at E3.

How do I get people excited about our games? Share! Share! Share! I’m grateful to be able to share things more openly than ever before and I think this really resonates with our fans and our gamers. Often times I’ll include our developers specifically on the forums, at events, and other places to ensure our community is hearing things directly from the source. We can’t spill all the beans, but having the ability to share more openly has worked wonders within the indie scene and I’m eager to continue pulling back the curtain on our world and the industry.

This career—Community Management—is amazing and full of really great people. Like most fields, it’s ever expanding and continuing to evolve. Events like CMAD are key in keeping the profession growing and moving forward. I highly suggest you get involved, ask questions, and above all else keep learning.

Have questions? Want to know more about something I said? Want to get involved? Fancy a chat about something? Feel free to ask away on Twitter @Myll_Erik! Thanks for allowing me to share my story and for taking the time to read it. Honored to be sharing my adventure!

I’m still a Texan at heart, but loving SoCal!

I’m still a Texan at heart, but loving SoCal!

Lance James

Community Director/Producer at Versus Evil
Lance works as the Community Director and Producer for Versus Evil and is currently helping Indie Developers fight the good fight. Lance has been building communities and around the gaming industry for 10 plus years. Lance is also an expert marksman, loves pie, and has an obsession with League of Legends.

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