The Evolution of the Community Manager

In the process of reading the GamePro article I linked yesterday, I missed some critical information.  Specifically, I seem to have glossed over this damning paragraph:

To be fair to Amrich and to explore why so many community managers find themselves in these “blurry” situations, we should look at how the role of community manager has evolved over the last six years. Before Xbox Live’s Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb — who holds the ambiguous title director of programming for Xbox Live — community managers were mostly forum moderators, people whose job entailed monitoring message boards and weeding out trolls.

Now I’ve only been a community manager for about three years.  But even as a relatively fresh face in the industry, I can tell you that community management industry is older than Major Nelson.  MMO studios have been focussing heavily on community management for ages, and I believe it’s played a significant role in the explosive growth of the MMO Industry.  Early MMOs were built on the subscription model, and that means that you need to do more than market your game—you need to support it after the fact.  Your game needs to evolve, it needs to constantly add new content—and the only way to do that is to listen to your players, to get to know them, and to develop your game accordingly.

The fact is that every generation of game developers is learning and studying these lessons on their own, reinventing the wheel over and over again.  What mainstream game companies are learning now about the risks, dangers, and ultimately the value of community—these same lessons were being learned (the hard way) by MMO community managers several years before.

But that’s not where it started.  Before MMOs were managing their own communities, the fansites were doing it for them.  That’s where this all began—with the fans.  This is also why the best community managers don’t come from marketing or PR backgrounds—though a degree in marketing certainly can’t hurt (I’m studying for one myself).  The best community managers, if I may toot my own horn, come from fansites.  It’s been very heartening to see friends (like Tamat over at NCSoft) who made the jump from fansite to community manager.

This whole process has marked the very shift in focus that community management is based on from the very beginning—listening to your fans.  The very reason why community managers exist is because game companies, slowly but surely, are starting to understand that their fans are the heart of their business, and forming channels and conduits through which game studios can adopt their ideas into the games—and the game studios—only means good news for all of us.

Published by Malgayne

Community Manager at Google. Formerly at Sourcebits, Spark Plug Games, Zynga, and I like chiptunes and hefeweizen.

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