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Ep7. Creating Thriving Communities: Insights from the Gaming Industry with Michelle P

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In this episode, I’m talking with Michelle P., a UXer, product marketing researcher and former community manager at Fatshark Games. Michelle shares her unique perspective from her community-building experiences in the gaming industry. We will draw a lot of learnings and parallels to more standard/web product and service community building. As well as explore the user research nuances and the differences between healthy and performant communities.

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Also available on all major podcast platforms and Youtube.


The following transcript is automated and raw; thus will have numerous mistakes.

Vy: Hey, welcome back to Experience Designed Podcast. I’m V and today having a chat with Michelle P, who’s a community manager at Fatshark Games. Now, community management in immersive experiences or gaming world is very different. Or also actually, sorry, not to spoil a few things, but also very similar to building product communities.

Vy: However, how do you… Spark that engagement and loyalty, which could span decades or years. how do you actually design the products in these immersive experiences, 

Vy: which effectively extend the life of a person, right? Like it becomes like an extra life to live on and how important are the communities there.

Vy: So there’s going to be a lot of learnings, which any product or service design, or, you know, just. Generally tech leader can take away. If you enjoy this episode, make sure to share it. It certainly helps. And without further ado, do enjoy it. So let’s jump into it. How did you end [00:01:00] up with game communities?

Vy: And because I guess you started as a, and still are a brilliant. UX designer, but gaming community seems like a foreign world for a lot of people, especially like community management. But like, what was your journey? Like, I don’t know 

Michelle P: about brilliant, but I’m definitely of the subset of designers that started when web design was the thing, you know, so that evolution, but I started in communities, I guess I’ve always been a part of communities in some way, but not necessarily like hardcore.

Michelle P: I’m playing the game communities more like I’m going to. Read this fanfic or chat with people on Tumblr or find a group on Skype, whatever, whatever it was at the time. But for FatShark in particular, I started by moderating their Reddit on an open call, which is community run. FatShark didn’t really have any control over that.

Michelle P: Got selected as a moderator and started interacting with the communities, other communities there a little bit more. And people just started handing me moderator [00:02:00] privileges and stuff like that. I, somehow I started handling subreddits and discords and. Forums and all this kind of stuff. And it just kind of steamrolled from there.

Michelle P: I, you know, organized events and tournaments and stuff, just because I like seeing people get excited about things. I like seeing people be passionate about things. And then a position opened up at FatShark. At the time I knew the community manager who was working there and applied and got the position.

Michelle P: There was in my cover letter explaining that I do do UX as a community manager, a large part of. Your job is combing through all that feedback that gets posted on your platforms and reporting that back to the developers and having a UX background kind of allows you to approach it with a little bit of a different eye in a way that, okay, this isn’t just community.

Michelle P: Sentiment or whatever, but this is, in its own way, research and how users, for lack of a better term, are [00:03:00] perceiving your game in a way that you don’t necessarily formally ask for. That’s kind of the beauty of a gaming community. They just do it on their own. They’re very keen on telling you when they like something and when they don’t like something.

Michelle P: And what more could UX research want, right? Instead of poking at them. Tell me what you like, please. No, no, don’t be nice. Tell me what you like. They just do it, you know? 

Vy: So yeah, is there like a, it’s very interesting. Is there like a unique angle to the feedback you get in, you know, most immersive experience communities as a UXer in particular?

Vy: And I’m guessing UX research maybe is much more prominent in like web experiences or like, you know, standard product design, but like, how does that kind of gel? Okay. So 

Michelle P: kind of a two prong question. I’m going to start with how it’s different. So it depends on the maturity of your company. Gaming studios are, I’m sure someone in the industry is going to like slap my head.

Michelle P: No, that’s not true anymore. But in general, gaming industries are [00:04:00] kind of split into like three different areas. You have the big studios, which are known as triple A studios, right? So that’s like BioWare, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, giant, giant studios. Usually they have multiple IPs and then you have, you know, small indie studios.

Michelle P: I don’t think I’ve ever heard them called single A studios, but usually when you say indie. People perceive that as it’s a small kind of studio doing its own thing, it’s not owned by anyone. Indie companies can be huge, it’s just not common. By the time your game gets popular and running, usually you are picked up by a…

Michelle P: What’s the, uh, a holding? A holding company, basically. But independent, generally, in the context we use it, means it’s usually starting out, or it’s small, and it’s… The boss is no one but themselves, they report only to themselves. It’s generally small, it’s generally how, how it’s perceived. And then you have the less-spoken-about double A studio.

Michelle P: I think it’s called [00:05:00] double A sometimes, but this is your midsize studio. They may or may not be independent and they’re somewhere in between the two. Uh, I work at a midsize studio. I work at a double A studio. We’re about 200 employees or something like that. And depending on how large your studio is, can be how mature it is, right?

Michelle P: Because you can’t have a large number of employees. Without the successful revenue to support that amount of employees. Right. So generally larger studios will be more likely to segment UX out. This is UX. This is UI. This is research. And they’ll have their like own research studios. Sometimes they’re set up like a living room or like this with a nice TV and a nice setup and that two way mirror.

Michelle P: And they’ll just be like, I believe I’ve seen it used as. Use the jetpack. Jump with the jetpack. You know, stuff like that. No really context outside of use this thing and try to do that and then they’ll watch and stuff like that. It really depends on that. So that’s a more [00:06:00] formalized play test. A to AA, or excuse me, Indie to AA, is kind of variable.

Michelle P: Sometimes they will have their own UX researchers. Sometimes it is a UX designer and when I say that, Gaming as an industry is still a little bit in the UX equals UI mindset. So a lot of the time UX designers work specifically on the user interface and designing that and that interaction. Game design is somewhat of a little bit of a related, but separate discipline that’s splintered out into all these things, but they might double dip into UX research or sometimes they’re like, oh my gosh, I’m so busy working on the interface.

Michelle P: Someone else needs to do it. And sometimes that can land on the community manager or stuff like that. And then they’ll help facilitate play tests and stuff like that. That’s also very common. So that’s how it’s a little bit different maturity. Like tech is a little bit variable, but it is more [00:07:00] common to see UX is user interface.

Vy: That’s also quite similar too, because as you were just, you know, explaining this, what ran through my mind was, Oh, it sounds like a lot of startups, or it sounds like a lot of scale ups or mid sized companies, or like very large big tech enterprises who have resources or talent basically to do like proper research, right?

Vy: In a 

Michelle P: way it is like that. I mean, you think about it, how many people or small studios start with a game that doesn’t go anywhere? And how many make it big? So in a way it is very much the 

Vy: same. Yeah. But I guess the community itself is nothing like that, right? Like it’s, as you mentioned before, it’s a lot of loud people, but like, you know, since you worked in both worlds, I guess, what was the learnings that you started with, you know, gamers as a loud voices?

Michelle P: So one of the things as a community manager that all community managers will tell you is. Even the [00:08:00] most vicious, awful comments, so long as it’s not like, Your face is ugly, I never want to see it again, that’s useless, right? But, even the most vicious feedback that at first glance would be Not useful. Like, your game sucks.

Michelle P: Dying of fire. I hate it. I can’t believe I paid, you know, 40, 60 dollars for it. That’s still valuable feedback, and they care enough about your game to feedback. 99 percent of the time. There is that 1 percent that’s just gonna be negative because they like to troll on the internet. That’s not the norm, I would say.

Michelle P: Generally, people leaving feedback are passionate about your game. Their game. So that’s the first thing I had to learn. The second is I’m in this very position of, I don’t want to say that I, you know, I’m in a unique position that I play the game and I do community management. That’s kind of the baseline for any community manager.

Michelle P: Every community manager wants to work on a game that they love and play. I’m in the interesting area of being a community. Well, I was a [00:09:00] community manager. Now I work more in product marketing and research of being one of those. Lifestyle players, as in I have thousands of hours in the game I work on.

Michelle P: That’s a little bit more unusual and it’s very hard to separate my own thoughts on how the game should be in the subset of the players that I’m a part of from what’s actually happening. And that leads on to the other question you ask is how are things different? So one of the things is. You have to balance between the feedback you get from the community.

Michelle P: These are people who care enough to leave feedback. What percentage of players that is? You will never actually know, you know, and then balancing that feedback with what you see or rather in this case the data analyst sees Hey Community says they don’t like this map because the events are too hard and then seeing in the data analyst Area then we have our [00:10:00] own dashboard that we can see stats in the back end that we can track You know win rates Uh, career picks, uh, level completions, what difficulties it plays, all that kind of data and seeing what links up, because those are everyone who plays your game, most of which are not leaving feedback.

Michelle P: They go in, they play games, they leave. Yay, I bought a game, you know? A game did what I was supposed to do. I had fun with my friends. And then seeing, okay, are the levels that we’re seeing in qualitative feedback making sense in quantitative feedback? I’m going to use a very… Extreme example, that’s not quite UX, but it, it gives a kind of a good idea of the link up for context.

Michelle P: When there is a backend error or a crash or something like that, I can go into the, our backend provider platform and see the error rate when it happened and where the spikes happening and what error it is. So if I go into discord and I get maybe five people saying I’m meeting this backend error number, whatever, [00:11:00] why haven’t you fixed it?

Michelle P: And I’m seeing in the backend that there’s no spike. That feedback doesn’t match up, right? So, you know, usually I’ll be like, let’s wait 30 minutes and see what happens. And then, you know, you know. Yeah. If something, if I start seeing a spike, then I’ll hit the big red button and be like, fix this. But sometimes it’s like, you know, it’s a very, like, small portion of the subset is getting a back end hiccup.

Michelle P: And there’s nothing we can do and nothing we should do because it’s not a large portion of players that… Are experiencing that issue. So not quite a UX example, but a good example of how that disconnect can happen. 

Vy: But how do you sift through that feedback? Like, this is one of the biggest things which I wanted to pick your, you know, your brains for is, let’s say I’m always, you know, again, I’m trying to immerse myself in, in gaming as well.

Vy: And as a casual gamer, I might, you know, let’s say Baldur’s Gate 3, it’s all the, all the hype right now. I bought it, but I bought it because I’m not really part of the D& D [00:12:00] community. I enjoy it, you know, playing here and there. Like maybe once in five years or so, but I’ve seen a trailer on IGN, the YouTube page.

Vy: I seen a lot of reviews on Reddit just randomly, basically. So it’s kind of like the community signals bled outside towards people who might kind of engage with the title itself. So, you know, I played maybe three hours so far. Probably going to play another few hours here and there, but like, you know, it’s going to be very long, slow burner, but I feel like it, but I would never engage with a community.

Vy: Or I think I never engaged before. I never left feedback. Like, how do you, how do you sift through at valuable feedback, I guess, because there’s certainly going to be some segments or variations in behavior or, or like attitudes or something like that. Like, what’s your kind of thinking about it? Like what’s worth capturing.

Vy: So 

Michelle P: I can speak about what we do. Credit to Larian. Larian did a very unique, [00:13:00] well. Gaming as an industry is starting to lean towards this, where you do early access and you develop your game in early access with players who have paid for early access and then take that feedback and iterate on it. That’s starting to become more common, and Larian did that with Baldur’s Gate for a long time.

Michelle P: What they do internally to gather this feedback, I don’t know, whatever they’re doing, it’s working. They’re doing very, very well, so credit to Larian. What we do on our end, at least on my game, is it’s going to be a mixture of instinct, Knowing your product and using assorted tools. So, starting from, let’s say, instincts, kind of, and also knowing your product.

Michelle P: Again, this is where I have to be careful as I’ve played this game so much. Sometimes my bias can kind of feed into that feedback. That makes sense. It’s like, oh, you know. This level is difficult. And then I’m like, I don’t see the difficulty. I beat it in two tries. [00:14:00] What’s the problem? I can’t do that. Right.

Michelle P: So kind of knowing like what the issue is, like, for example, it takes a long time for me to get into this game before it gets challenging or something like that, like sentiment for Vermintide is generally the game doesn’t really start until champion or legend, and that takes time to level up to get to there.

Michelle P: Cause we have difficulty locks behind, we have difficulty behind level locks or power locks. And if we get that feedback, instinct wise and knowing my product, I know enough that I can say this is because this grind startup takes a long time, and players might fall off, and, or the game isn’t challenging enough here, and community says they think this, and I can back it up by this thread, this thread, this thread, this thread.

Michelle P: So there is some of that, some of best judgment, some of knowing the game and some of like, okay, I’ve seen this just anecdotally enough times in the past 30 days that this is [00:15:00] common, but with all human nature, and this is in some ways why I believe UX research tries to distinguish itself from marketing research.

Michelle P: UX, I’ve been told, is not as fond of focus groups of market researchers. Because when people interact with each other, whether they want to or not, they’re influencing each other. So people can be like, you know, if you have four people and three people say, I don’t like this, the fourth person might actually like it, but feels unconsciously pressured to agree.

Michelle P: So they fit 

Vy: in. Yeah. Or they’re going to be silent. Right. Or, and, and kind of 

Michelle P: whereas marketing, it’s like, great. You’ve been peer pressured. You’ll buy our product anyway. We don’t want that in UX. So you have to kind of be careful with that. So that’s kind of why you have to take the qualitative feedback you get from community platforms a little bit with a grain of salt, because if you see an opinion enough times in your brain, it might start [00:16:00] becoming true, even if you didn’t believe that in the first place.

Michelle P: So we have tools that allow us to kind of crawl our platforms. So the forum, Reddit, discord, steam forums. Stuff of that nature. It collates them into different categories in word clouds, and it uses artificial intelligence to gauge the sentiment of whatever that topic is, and then uses some proprietary formula.

Michelle P: These are usually third party tools, this isn’t something that we develop. Uses, at least ours, has a sentiment score of negative 99 to 99, with a zero being true neutral. So, we use tools like that, and that will allow us to see these are the trending topics that are spoken about. We click into that topic, and it just gives you this giant word cloud of like, connected topics.

Michelle P: And, in theory, you should be able to see kind of the most relevant points of discussion. And sometimes there are specific threads it links to and stuff. [00:17:00] Sometimes it’s a little hit or miss, and this is also where you have to use your instinct and best judgment. Because… AI is still developing. And I would say one of the big things about AI is reading tone.

Michelle P: Yeah. You know, it doesn’t know you’re being sarcastic, right? In Reddit. So someone could be like, yeah, this is really helpful. And they’ll be like, that’s great. But in the context, it’s actually, you know, they’re actually saying something’s not helpful at all. So, but in theory. That kind of helps us, gives a little bit of a bigger picture without combing through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of threads.

Michelle P: Otherwise we’d be able to do nothing else with our time. So we also use tools like that. And then every 30 days our community support and community managers pull a report with the trending topics, how our sentiments change, areas that we might need improvement or attention, things we might need to mitigate, things that are doing really well.

Michelle P: And then the team uses those. And then every month we send those to stakeholders. No, every quarter, every quarter we send those to stakeholders. This, 

Vy: I guess applies for existing title, right? Like, which is already in [00:18:00] motion with some community. And, you know, I’m probably not going to be told off if I say that communities take a lot of time to develop, like if you, as a community manager, and I think this is going to be a big learning for, you know, everyone who’s listening, it doesn’t matter what world we represent, but if you were to start to create a community.

Vy: What would be your approach, I guess, like what strategy would you take? Because to me, it’s, it’s, it would be, not to go back to the marketing would be so heavily marketing influence, but what are your thoughts? Well, in some 

Michelle P: ways we, I mean, and this isn’t just industry, this is in general, any, I would say technology, not even technology, any product that wants a community around it, this falls under marketing.

Michelle P: We still haven’t really gotten. Community outside of the marketing communications umbrella, when in reality it’s kind of straddles between marketing communications [00:19:00] and UX, I would say. 

Vy: Yeah. And it probably, you, you wouldn’t want to decouple it anyways, right? Like if it works and the community is heard, but yes, 

Michelle P: but going back to building community, I would say have a product that you firmly believe in and is in a good state to start building a community with.

Michelle P: With, with games, it can be somewhat of a double edged sword because if you promote your game too early, communities will tend to form organically around it, particularly once you start creating hype, or you have something like, here’s a beta, here’s early access, and people will start talking about it. So you have to be very careful on where that timeline is, but outside of that, I would say, know your product.

Michelle P: You can’t be a good community manager and you can’t manage your community if you don’t know what they’re talking about. And if you’re typing up, you know, announcements or notes or whatever, and if you don’t know what they’re talking about. So that’s one thing, know your product, get in, play it, play it with people, get to know how it works just at a baseline level at minimum.

Michelle P: I don’t think you need to go full [00:20:00] balls to the walls with it, but you need enough to know what you’re talking about and to get excited about it when people are excited about it and to kind of. Champion efforts of critique and improvement when people do give that critique and improvement and then prove why it’s important.

Michelle P: The other part is be human and treat people like they are human. And my experience, people don’t like being treated like they are the product. A community is not a product. It is, it can be a promotional tool, but it should not primarily be your promotional tool. You shouldn’t start a community. To be like, okay, they’re going to speak good things about me because then you’re putting people into this position where they are saleable and that’s not something people like understandably.

Michelle P: Right. Um, in some ways it’s also customer service. You also have to do good customer service skills, no matter how angry someone is at you, you can’t give that back to them. Right. [00:21:00] So, yeah, you have to really kind of hone your voice and know how to handle conflict. A lot of the time it can be like de escalating things, a lot of de escalation skills.

Michelle P: And I guess the third is get in and just be yourself. And I say this as in like, you don’t want to be that community manager. Who comes in, posts something, and they’re never seen again until the next update. Because you want to be seen as human, you want to be seen as, I’m gonna get, using gaming as an example, you want to be seen as a player of the game as well.

Michelle P: You don’t want to be seen as the community manager, because if something goes wrong, and you haven’t built that reputation of I play the game, I know the game, You know, I understand where you’re coming from very easily. Once you start, you know, getting in every community manager has to give [00:22:00] bad news at some point.

Michelle P: If you don’t have that reputation and you don’t have your tone of voice and you don’t frame it well, you can come across as just a public relations piece, basically. And that’s not something that an effective community manager. wants to be seen as. Every effective community manager I’ve seen has their own tone of voice, their own persona, and really isn’t afraid of getting down in the weeds and being like, talk to me, help me understand, or, you know, if someone’s excited about it, yeah, you beat that level, yeah, nice cosplay.

Michelle P: Then just acknowledging that these people are playing your game and interacting with them. Otherwise, it’s You’re, you’re some just amorphous entity that puts out announcements 

Vy: basically. And you do on, on that note, which I wanted to kind of, you know, go back to the topic of you do the game streams too.

Vy: So you, you said yourself that you try to separate your own bias and you know, you, again, like every, every human is going to shape their own kind of opinions immediately, you know, when you play that. [00:23:00] But like, is, is that one of the tools? For you to engage with a community and, and, you know, I’m also trying to draw some parallels of like learnings as well, because.

Vy: That’s what a lot of product managers try to do in a web based, you know, quote unquote, standard products and apps and things of that nature. But like what, why, why did you kind of, why are you doing ultimately, is this kind of like a gaming standard ultimately, or like, what are you kind of getting out of that and how does that benefit community?

Michelle P: It can be, I haven’t done one in a little while, just because my role shifted. I guess I got a promotion in a way. So we have a new community manager now. People will see her soon, but in terms of doing streams when I came on we hadn’t been doing them and as a player I kind of liked sitting and listening to them at work It was just a way to sit down talk to the devs watch them play see what other people were saying It was kind of like cozy comfy campfire hour for me It can be a way to [00:24:00] communicate with your community and talk to them There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think the best streams come at with a goal And, in some ways, it’s like what people say when you start, Oh, I want to be an influencer on Twitch, or I want to be a career streamer, is to, when you’re first starting out, not to pay too much attention to the numbers.

Michelle P: Because, depending on your game’s popularity, its age, how it’s doing right now, what other games are coming out, like, when Baldur’s Gate came out, I can’t remember if we released anything around that time, I don’t think we did, at least not on my end, but, I can assure you, all the other games, You know, not just our studio, but all the other studios were like, okay, Baldur’s Gate comes out around this time.

Michelle P: We can’t release anything around that. Otherwise we’re going to get drowned out. That’s, that’s the thing that happens is you keep track of like, what’s being released. And you know, you’re like, okay, this game has a lot of hype right now. If we launch something around this time, it’s not going to get any traction because people are going to be playing this game.

Michelle P: You know, you can’t release [00:25:00] something, you know, when A new call of duty drops because like, they’re just at least on our studio. There’s no competing with that. Right. We’re a much smaller studio, but that that’s a very common industry thing, but, you know, come at it with a goal. When I did streams, I wanted to do a little bit of informational and mostly just hanging out high on the community manager.

Michelle P: Let’s play some games, poke fun, laugh at me. It wasn’t meant to be anything huge in marketing. Um. For some studios, it can be. I think a studio that does these really well is Ubisoft, for honor, where they did Warrior’s Den. And I’ve watched that since launch, I played a little bit of it. And I’ve watched Warrior’s Den evolve from this tiny little thing to, you know, large production scale things to having their own studio and stuff like that for it.

Michelle P: And it still gets a pretty good turnout. And they have a mixture of, hey look, community memes! Here’s fan art. Here’s our developers talking about stuff. Here’s some things we’re talking about upcoming. [00:26:00] Here’s some fight battles that we want to highlight and we thought they were cool. Here’s some new executions.

Michelle P: So they have a good mixture of everything in there. I think the downside with streams… Is sometimes you have periods where there’s just nothing to talk about. So that’s why a lot of, a lot of studios will do just these hang out with community managers and play with us social hour streams for people who do like that.

Michelle P: But for the new streams, it can be a lot of pressure. You know, if you have, if you’re doing a stream and people are unhappy, you’re going to be hit with hundreds of questions and comments of people who are unhappy. And you may or may not be able to answer them. And that puts you under the gun. So you have to be kind of prepared, depending on where your game is, and where community sentiment is, and what your plan is.

Vy: So it’s all quite strategic, right, in terms of how you approach that and where, but do you, I guess, yourself, you mentioned that this is, I guess, and I, what I got from it is that [00:27:00] it’s kind of necessary, I guess, if you want to kind of manage communities or, you know, engage with communities to have a bit of skin in the game.

Vy: And maybe I’m over simplifying, but is, is it something like what you, you know, for example, myself in any given UX project, if it’s a brand new thing, I’m just going to read blog posts. I’m going to, you know, use the product as is I’m going to try to engage with communities of people who might be doing the same jobs.

Vy: As the user is for, like, I’m just gonna basically, you know, intentionally drown myself in noise and signals and information about the subject matter. Is it kind of the same here or? 

Michelle P: It depends. Like all answers in community management, it depends. When I started this, my partner plays a lot of CSGO and I remember being like, I don’t know, I feel a lot of pressure.

Michelle P: And he’s like, you could be the community manager of CSGO. And I’m like. Do they have one? He was like, none, I’ve [00:28:00] seen. So, but it’s a successful game, right? So it depends, it depends on what the community manager wants to do and what your goals are. So I do think it helps that people have a face to put to the community manager.

Michelle P: Sometimes that can be a disadvantage because people can be like, pretty privilege is a thing. Let’s just put it that way. You know, if you don’t look a certain way, people have judgments about you, good or bad. And then you have to find like, okay, how do I repair this immediate reaction? And I’m not saying that to be like, you know, oh, this person’s pretty, this person’s ugly or whatever.

Michelle P: It’s more like. People do have unconscious reactions to how people and how people speak. I can tell you I definitely got a subset of comments before I got my cochlear implant asking what my accent was or, you know, why was I slurring my speech? Why do I speak this way? So and then that can influence how people see your competency in the job.[00:29:00] 

Michelle P: But on the other hand, I do think it is helpful for people to realize you are a human being. You know, it’s not a name on a page and there’s a human, there’s a human behind it. A lot of community managers do develop a mixture of what is a character and what is their actual personality. So, I, I’m not really afraid of saying this, I think most people know it, but I wear this, like, leather jacket with studs and stuff when I’m on stage.

Michelle P: Studs and spikes and people are like, oh yeah, she’s like totally punk. I’ve maybe worn that jacket like three times out in public. Like, it’s, it’s somewhat of a character, right? It’s still me, but it’s just more confident, I guess? A little bit more okay with being silly and making fun of myself. I met someone.

Michelle P: Who happened to live in my town. And they’re like, Oh, you’re actually, and I’m like, yeah. And they’re like. You don’t act anything like I expected you to act like on the streams, you know, [00:30:00] the streams, I try to be high energy when in my, my real life, I am a complete potato and just want to stay home and sleep.

Michelle P: Yeah, like 

Vy: all of it. But that’s very interesting. So and you know, like that cosplay, which you I guess, brought up is To me, it’s also an extension of, of, of gaming in a way, like of the community. Like they say, I would never do that because probably not to attach, but people are. And to me, it’s kind of like a signal that the games are not just a product.

Vy: They’re almost like an extension of a lifestyle of a life. And for a lot of people, that’s. You know, it’s not just a user you’re going to test with or give value. They’re actually living it, I guess. 

Michelle P: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s, that’s kind of the joy of gaming is you, you’re not just like, okay, here’s an app and these are my users.

Michelle P: For a lot of people, gaming is a lifestyle. It’s a hobby and it’s a social platform. If you think about it, [00:31:00] like even single player games like Tetris. People may have Tetris tournaments, and they will talk about them. Yeah. It’s a social platform. It’s an extension of social interaction. It’s another way to interact with people.

Vy: Yeah. And if you take something like a title of a Microsoft, you probably know more than this. I’m, I’m just kind of, you know, shooting from the hip around the communities, but the same, well, it was Mojang, right? Uh, with a Minecraft, but now Microsoft Minecraft that has been, you know, there is literally millions of players, hundreds of millions of players worldwide.

Vy: And you have the merge and you have cons for it, you know, conferences and gatherings and things of that nature. Everyone basically involved are living it. And. You rarely see a person who would have a shirt of like a Google, a search or something, or like a merge of a, like a, like a big tech, but you’re definitely going to see on the street, someone wearing like Minecraft, because this, this is to me like an extension of living in a way, but, but in your community, I guess, did you find any of that [00:32:00] kind of, you know, interesting notes of people just, just living it or, or being very involved?

Michelle P: There’s almost like, I wish I could like. Find a graph that proved this, but sometimes the more hours you play The lower your sentiment about the game is going to be because you’re like so wedged into it Versus like, 

Vy: you mean the more negative, the sentiment, 

Michelle P: sometimes. Yeah. They’re the first to get excited, but they’re also the first to tell you they’re unhappy about something.

Michelle P: Or, you know, I’m tired of this gameplay loop and they’ll leave a negative review. And it says, and Steam tells you how many hours they have. It’ll be like 5, 000 hours in game. And it’ll be like, I want to stop playing this. I hate it, but they’re still playing. And it’ll be like last played two days ago. And it’s like.

Michelle P: Okay, because you get so tied into it, you’re more likely to see the flaws. It’s kind of like looking at your own face, right? You know, it’s like, oh, I have this freckle that I don’t like. And your friend goes, what freckle? You know, so [00:33:00] the more they’re, they’re, they’re more critical of seeing things. And sometimes it becomes such a part of, you’re not like, not just like you like playing the game, but your friends are playing it.

Michelle P: So it goes back to it being a social platform. Maybe you’re burned out on the game, but your friends are still playing it every day, and you want to hang out with your friends, so Disconnecting that can be very difficult because it’s good for people to take breaks from the game And I tell people this in their post, you know, when they post something I’m like, I think you just need to take a little bit of a break, come back, nothing bad’s gonna happen.

Michelle P: But it’s like, Hey, stop texting your friends. You know, that’s, that’s, that’s people’s way of socializing and interacting with people or, you know, whatever else area it fills and brings joy into their life. So once you’re at a certain threshold, it can be very hard to disconnect and that can change your feedback a little bit.

Michelle P: That’s not necessarily bad feedback. It’s not useless feedback. It’s just, you kind of have to look [00:34:00] at certain feedback in 

Vy: context. Interesting. And if you compare that to, let’s say product adoption, people, if they’re just going to use your app or your tool in like web experiences, if they don’t like it, you might leave a review.

Vy: If they’re very invested into it, like time or, or, you know, money, or they have no choice, we might have a license like with. Let’s say Adobe, sweet. 

Michelle P: Yeah, I was thinking of Adobe where it’s like two things happen. Wow, I hate this new pricing model Adobe’s done. You either use it because work forces you to, or you move to something like GIMP.

Michelle P: So, you know. In gaming, it can be that way. It really depends how many competitors are in your area. Like something like first person shooters, very hard area to get into because it’s so saturated and there’s so many competitors. So if someone doesn’t like your first person shooter, they’ll move on to something else.

Michelle P: Versus, Vermintide is in a very unique position that we do [00:35:00] four player melee combat. We do have range aspects in it, but it’s four player melee co op. And I, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say there’s not many studios that do melee like we do. We were known to have very satisfying, very high skill ceiling, always something to learn melee mechanics.

Michelle P: So in some ways that sets Vermintide and Darktide in a very unique position that there aren’t that many competitors in our area. Um, but for other more saturated things, like, you know, people who, Oh, I don’t like Destiny, so I’m going to just play Warframe for a bit until Destiny figures something out or something like that, they’ll just move to a different competitor in the next new game that helps satisfy that need.

Michelle P: And that’s, that’s a good, you know, a good area of game design when you design a game. It is a product in the end of doing that SWOT analysis. Where is that area of opportunity that, you [00:36:00] know, our game hits that sweet spot that people want to come back and play that no one else does. That’s like the product dream, right?

Vy: And now I guess, you know, we, we spend quite some time discussing about the communities, but what does a good community look like to you? A good 

Michelle P: community is a happy community. That’s, that’s like, that makes your job easier as a community manager. It’s much easier to engage with a happy community than a community that is upset.

Michelle P: But, outside of, hey, everyone’s happy, people love what we’re doing, they’re sharing the game with their friends, you know, they’re representing at conventions through cosplay, they’re making fan art, fanfic, they’re just doing that whole word of mouth thing. More than that, you have a community that respects you as a studio and can give you feedback on, um, a back and forth basis.

Michelle P: So in, in ideal world, the process is player feedbacks. Community manager collates that feedback, gives it to developer, developer acts on that feedback [00:37:00] or decides we’re going to act on it or not act on it, community manager goes back and goes, Hey, here’s the decision and here’s what’s happening and community goes, okay, I like that or no, I don’t like that.

Michelle P: And that cycle generally shouldn’t have any breaks. So when that cycle doesn’t have any breaks, you generally have a happy community. Now a healthy community. It is somewhat tied to it, but also not. You can have a healthy community without having a happy community, if that makes sense. For example, think of a cyberpunk or something like that healthy community.

Michelle P: But wasn’t very happy when that came along. So in some ways they did get a lot of feedback, but then, you know, they have to deal with the unhappy community, but the community was healthy. It was thriving. People were playing it. People were talking about it. People are getting feedback. It’s healthy. The thing that can make it difficult as a community manager, when you’re [00:38:00] dealing with a healthy community, that’s not happy is trying to.

Michelle P: Relay that information without people kind of stepping on you if that makes sense because a lot of the time when studios course correct it can be a little bit of experimentation and this is in a middle ground of this is what players want or Having perceived what players want and what our game design intent is and sometimes don’t Those don’t always merge and as a community manager, it is your job to communicate that.

Michelle P: And sometimes you have to give news that people aren’t happy with or give news. Hey, it’s been two weeks. I still don’t have news. Hold on. They’re working on it. And if you have a healthy community, that’s not happy. And when I say that a large enough community, it can lead to more negative sentiment because people aren’t happy and they’ll keep expressing displeasure until things get.

Michelle P: So, in general, when we talk about healthy communities, we talk [00:39:00] about large communities that are talking and spreading the word and playing ga gam a and are, but also are happy. With the game. 

Vy: Hey there. Sorry to interrupt your listening. We ran into some technical issues while recording the first part of this video or session.

Vy: Depends if you’re listening or watching, but just in a few seconds, we’re going to resume. So meanwhile, take a break, get some tea, get some coffee and enjoy the rest of the show. But there are instances out there, and I’ve been part of some of it where. Some communities are just unofficial where you know players or people who experience different things They just become like self governing in a way.

Michelle P: That’s more common than you would think it would be some Studios don’t go out specifically to build a community Which is fine. Sometimes it totally works out to their advantage, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. And as I said, it goes back to those times where [00:40:00] communities would build themselves because gaming companies didn’t really have that immediate connection to interact with the community.

Michelle P: You just put out the product and the community would build itself, you know, whether through I’ve created a cheat guide or here’s a strategy guide and Sharing tips and tricks, that’s like old school kind of stuff. I think it’s actually kind of refreshing. And it’s something that I try to encourage. And that’s part of why at our company, we do not have moderation over Reddit or anything like that.

Michelle P: It’s completely like community built because we don’t want to have people feel like they need to censor themselves. And in some ways, having that organic unofficial community can. Net you very genuine, unfiltered and unvarnished opinions, because reactions can change as soon as a developer shows up, whether that’s a community manager, and [00:41:00] sometimes it depends on the community manager.

Michelle P: Sometimes if a community manager has enough of a rapport where it’s like, Hey, you’re one of us. You know, they can just chat with you like another, another community member, but it definitely like changes. If like, you know, Bob, the combat developer is like, Hey, I’m the combat developer, how are you liking our game?

Michelle P: You know, all this feedback comes in, you know, good, bad, but it’s, you know, very rare that, you know, a combat developer will come in and people will be like, I hate your game. Why did you do this kind of stuff? Rather than here’s some very measured feedback and it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s very, you have to be kind of careful because people’s personalities will change.

Michelle P: Not necessarily of this is how I, you know, not necessarily, Oh, this bad thing is now good. I’m trying to figure out how to describe it. It’s like, it’s that they’re filtering themselves. That’s what it is. Sometimes you get a more genuine understanding if you watch [00:42:00] someone play and they’re screaming CDs over the mic because they can’t finish something or they can’t beat this level versus, you know, developers that are like, Oh man, we didn’t finish it.

Michelle P: Better luck next time. You know, you don’t get that. Genuine, I’m really frustrated and this is upsetting me kind of understanding. But 

Vy: to me, like it’s, it’s so many things which come out of the community as, as a very good, like a knock on effect, like the loyalty, let’s say, because you, if you have a community, then you can imagine if, if it’s, you know, let’s say Bob and, and he’s massive fan of this game or of this product, he lives it, he has merch, he has everything, he, he ultimately participates in the community, it’s so much easier to launch something.

Vy: To those people, or, you know, how we like marketing one on one is like, Oh, if you build a platform and a following, but you can sell anything, or you can introduce a product so much easier. I guess that there is some thinking in that too, right? 

Michelle P: I’m going to debate this because it goes back to how, [00:43:00] how well, or how ingrained someone is.

Michelle P: So for example, we can always say that if you’re in marketing or something like that, what’s the say? All press is good press, or something like that. So, someone can absolutely dislike what you’re doing, but because they’re, you know, a core player and they’re completionist, they buy your product anyway. Is that a success?

Michelle P: Because you made money? You know, maybe from marketing it is, but from a development perspective, if they buy your product, but they’re leaving a negative review, because they don’t like it, but they don’t want, like, a hole in their game, so they have to complete the collection, That’s not necessarily a success.

Michelle P: And I actually find it’s much harder for me as a community manager to, I don’t want to say sell, but explain certain reasonings or positionings to someone who is a core player, because they’ve been there for so long and have [00:44:00] a certain thought process of how they see this game. That might be different from, you know, 80 percent of the demographic who plays on a weekend with their buddies.

Michelle P: So I actually find it more difficult. They are the players that are more likely. To feedback because they’re so vested in the game versus you know A lot of people will play this game and like you said I will play it I will enjoy it and I will move on with my day or I’ll play it and I don’t enjoy it and I move On with my day.

Michelle P: Yeah, 

Vy: but that’s maybe because I’m probably not a true player Not a true gamer 

Michelle P: People, people, it’s like it’s if you play games, you’re a gamer. Okay, like you don’t have to be involved with the community in order to enjoy a game I will tell you I don’t leave Feedback on games because it’s just not something that’s like important to me for me I’m more like a word of mouth person if I like a game.

Michelle P: I want people to play Yeah, but I’m not vested enough to leave, you know a steam review of I didn’t like this [00:45:00] game or something like that It’s just like I didn’t like it. Okay, that’s 20 down the tube or 60 down the tube. Whatever just sit in my library 

Vy: Prime example what I wanted to kind of fire back was that Behaviors and attitudes, you know, it’s this simple behavioral science where it’s like, which we use in UX anyways, I’m very used to, I guess, casual gaming, for lack of a better term, where my behaviors of how we interact with experiences are, I’m used to it.

Vy: That’s like, you know, that’s who I am. I know who I am. It’s like, I’m going to use a product. To complete something to entertain myself, but it’s very time boxed. It’s never kind of like a part of life, if that makes sense. It’s like task oriented. I just need to complete something. Granted, there’s always exceptions to that.

Vy: Like I had back in the day, let’s say months of, you know, MMORPG obsession. And, and then, you know, wow, he used to be a big title and everything else. Like, like you would just spend, like, that was basically [00:46:00] extension of your life. But that isn’t, but I feel like, you know, as you were describing the things, like how you go and your appreciation for anyone, absolutely gaming, but it’s, you know, it’s good.

Vy: It’s, it’s almost like based off. How you, how you approach any other products. And that’s where I feel like, you know, not, not to make this like a very long essay, but if, let’s say if you’re introducing a social network tomorrow or an app, which is for sales, like a SaaS solution for sales or like marketing funnel, like random bits, right.

Vy: You’re likely targeting the users who are used to using stuff like that, you know? So it’s kind of like, but I guess with gaming, you, you’re almost like maybe Unless you have the data, you don’t know, like how big is your target group? Like, if you, yeah, yeah, you 

Michelle P: hit the nail on the head. Exactly. And this is the problem with, this is like the kind of the overarching problem of when you give feedback as a community manager, as a [00:47:00] community manager, the feedback you see are from the people who care enough to feedback, which is a smaller portion of the player base that are actually playing the game.

Michelle P: How do you get the feedback on the people who aren’t telling you anything? And that’s the number one challenge of being a community manager. And some things, this is what you get challenged on. If players are saying this and they ask, okay, what percentage of players are saying this, then you have to go in and figure it out.

Michelle P: And sometimes the answer is, I don’t know, because how do you know, how do you know how many people are feedbacking if they’re not feedbacking? So it’s not like, you know, in general product UX, you can run a test and use your interview five. Seven people or something like that and be like, okay, this 7 percent is representative of this target and 20 percent had this outcome.

Michelle P: It’s harder to do that in qualitative data in games because most of your qualitative data, unless you’re running some level of [00:48:00] representative sample in a user test. Or a gameplay test, play, play test, excuse me, that’s harder because all your qualitative data comes from these platforms that most of your core player bases are in, but not necessarily more casual people.

Michelle P: You really have to go digging 

Vy: for that. Tangential question, but what’s your favorite game to date? Outside 

Michelle P: of the game I work on? 

Vy: Yes, you know, just to unbias it. 

Michelle P: I wouldn’t even say, you know, it’s unbiased, but like, like, I just play Vermintide too. That was the running joke in my company. Like, oh, what game are you playing this week?

Michelle P: Like, don’t ask her. She’s, she only plays Vermintide. I would say right now Baldur’s Gate. I actually wasn’t interested in playing it. And then my friend was like, hey, let’s all play together. I didn’t really play much D& D or anything like that. I just knew about Baldur’s Gate because they were running early access for a long time.

Michelle P: And so the game came out, I didn’t play any early access, and I think even my partner was [00:49:00] like, It’s nice to see you play a different game, even though you’re neglecting me

Michelle P: for the game. I just, I’ve always enjoyed that kind of, like, adventure RPG branching options. I think it’s really well done, and I think the way… Larian has been handling a lot of their communications is really well done. Maybe, maybe the hardcore players might feel it’s a little different, but as someone who is, I wouldn’t say I’m a casual player with how many hours I have in it right now, but I’m not feedbacking.

Michelle P: I’m not really interacting with the community, but I see what they do with their communications of, Hey, here’s all the things that we fixed and here’s some fun little things like this is the most. This is what the character would look like in the character creator of like, if we chose, did you see that one?

Michelle P: No, I haven’t. Oh, they basically took the data from like the most common elements of people making custom characters. It was basically like generic looking. Like what you would do in Agile, right? 35 year old man, and they’re like, you made the basic [00:50:00] Vault Dweller. So I just thought that was like, just, just great.

Michelle P: It’s a great use of data and a great use of Um, engaging with your community in a not so serious way or communicating. They also communicate more serious information in a way that is just fun to read. I think that’s a lot of it. You can put up community, you can put patch notes up as a community manager, but how do you get people to read them?

Vy: And, and you have to do it probably authentically because I’m just kind of like the things which come into my head, which is usually not done right is podcasts and they talk like very dry about subject matter. And it’s very clear that maybe someone listened, but it’s likely someone who was part of the company and, and not so much like someone who was like a true, you know, diehard fan ultimately.

Vy: You have to be 

Michelle P: careful about it. And the reason for that is. If you have a brand that already exists as like, I don’t know, let’s say [00:51:00] McDonald’s. Or something like that. And McDonald’s wants to, like, create this community. In some ways, they do have their own community. Like, some people are hardcore McDonald’s eaters, and they have the rewards stuff.

Michelle P: Like, in some ways, you do have that community. But if you want to create something like, a little bit more of an interactive community, or something like that, you have to be careful. Because it’s not going to mimic game community one to one. Game communities, in general, will always have some level of…

Michelle P: Their own content creation, because it is an interactive entertainment medium, right? Whereas McDonald’s is a food company, but also companies will have to break out of this or figure out how to break out of this mold of, okay, I’m going to start interacting with people. How do you break that mold of I am a big giant company conglomeration.

Michelle P: And now I’m talking to you as a person one to one. Kind of thing. And this is something [00:52:00] actually where it’s a little bit more to social media management. This is something what Wendy’s has done right. If you’ve seen how they respond to people, like yeah, they kind of drilled that in really early and people like, Oh, this is fun to interact with.

Michelle P: Arby’s as well. Like they would make little cutouts and art of their like. Out of their, like, boxes and cartons and stuff like that. And people would interact with those. But I think it’s, it’s, it is a challenge right now. How do you go from company to genuine, authentic interaction? I think that’s difficult.

Vy: Yeah. And, and I don’t know if you remember, maybe it’s just me being old, but I remember in, in the early nineties or late eighties, there were games which were like very 2d games. I think it’s even pre PlayStation one. Era, and we were branded by like restaurant chains. And if I remember correctly, there was an IHOP game [00:53:00] and it was like, there, there is a whole, maybe it’s something, you know, which gonna interest you to look into, but it’s like, it’s, it was kind of like a fascinating era where.

Vy: That’s where I’m coming from. There might be that again, uptick in demand for companies who are very physical or very 2D or very simplistic in nature to then kind of try to, you know, to, to experiment with things. Because I remember playing games, which were a brand game for something which has nothing to do with, you know, subject matter, that’s a lot.

Vy: I do kind of 

Michelle P: see it, right? Like maybe to, I guess. Variable extent of success, but you see when NFTs were a big thing, you’d see companies get into NFTs and try to gamify that with varying modes of success. But, you know, kind of creating like when I know when NFTs were big, people would start looking for community managers to manage their NFT community and stuff like that.

Michelle P: And a lot of them would somewhat fall flat, not just because, you know, mismanaged of [00:54:00] launching an NFT, but also like. I think one of the important things, if you’re going to build a community with a new product is build a good product first and then make sure your product is solid and then try to build the community.

Michelle P: The community can help shape and be, you know, kept abreast of your developments, but you always want to be careful with building up too much hype before you, you, Launch your, you know, make sure your product is solid because you, a lot of things get in trouble by, I’ve built so much hype and people build it up and then it releases and it’s not to their expectations.

Michelle P: And then that it falls flat. So you have like super engagement, super high sentiment, it releases. It’s not what they expected. And then sentiment drops and then people fall off. So you can, a good, a community is integral to your success, but it’s having the product solid and. Ready to go is, is, is the most important 

Vy: thing, I think.

Vy: Yeah. Unless of [00:55:00] course the community is the product. Let’s say if you take something like Majorny, it’s discord, right? Like it’s, it started as a chat, which I didn’t know, by the way, before I engaged with their product back in the day, I didn’t know that Majorny was discord chat. Literally something you would do with interactive comments, but I guess it’s an exception, right?

Vy: It’s, it’s a. Poor game or immersiveness example, because it’s still just a bot you interact with. Oh yeah. That’s awesome. One of the things, which I know we, we probably gonna run out of time and it’s probably a bigger topic. 

Michelle P: My battery is complaining, so I gotta be careful. Okay. 

Vy: If it cuts off, cuts off, it’s fine.

Vy: Accessibility. You have a lot of skin in the game. I don’t know how much you can share about it, you know, on, on a, on a session. How does that kind of impact, you know, how you approach game development, I guess, like how, and as a follow up, not like, you know, like front loader question much, like how important is [00:56:00] accessibility overall in, in gaming?

Michelle P: So in web application. We, there is certain laws, at least for government websites, surrounding use and accessibility. So, at least in the United States, you have ADA, you have, uh, 508. Basically, your website needs to be made accessible to everyone if you’re, you’re in the government. And there are ramifications if you don’t do that.

Michelle P: Same deal with events and stuff like that. If you host a government sponsored event, if someone needs an interpreter or, or anything like that, you need to provide it. Needs to be in an accessible location. Needs, you know. The wheelchair ramp, all these kinds of things. Gaming hasn’t gotten there yet in that there’s, it’s starting to, but there’s not as heavy regulations and gaming and accessibility requirements yet.

Michelle P: So in some ways it can be seen as less important. Now studios are kind of catching on because if you have accessible games. More people can play them, and the more people can play them, the more people can buy them, and enjoy them, and leave good reviews, and all this kind of [00:57:00] stuff. It just depends on where the studio is at in their level of maturity and understanding.

Michelle P: And I think some of the part of that is hiring people who are diverse, and have disabilities, and need accessibility to help put those measures in place, because I’ve always described it as people live in a bubble. They don’t know what they don’t know until someone tells you they don’t know it. And as someone who has a cochlear implant and is deaf, someone who is hearing will never, they can empathize, but they can never really quite understand what it’s like.

Michelle P: So having those people in your company, or at the very least playing your games and feedbacking and playtesting them. Is one of the best ways to kind of start getting people to understand, because sometimes there’s still a sentiment out there that this is a minority. And because it’s a minority, we don’t need to add to this.

Michelle P: And this isn’t [00:58:00] just, you know, me talking about any specific company. This is still somewhat of a general mindset. It’s changing a little bit, but like, if you look at restructures and stuff like that, when people flipped out and all these UX layoffs happened, where did a lot of these layoffs happen? Not just in UX, but in the accessibility departments, because it’s seen as disposable.

Michelle P: It’s not, so we still haven’t quite gotten to the place where this is a mandatory thing we need to do, because in some ways, people with disabilities who use accessibilities are a small 

Vy: portion. Yeah, no, I definitely agree. And I have, yeah, we probably maybe need to schedule another session. I have a video coming up on accessibility lawsuits in particular, picking up there’s thousands of them.

Vy: I mean, if anything, that’s going to be a big, you know, stick, I really appreciate you being here. Is there any, like, one place where we can direct the viewers or [00:59:00] listeners of a session? I kind 

Michelle P: of try to keep a low profile, like in social media, outside of that. But if you’re interested, go play our game. Go play Vermintide 2.

Michelle P: We got new content coming out on October 19th. Um, and I hope you guys enjoy 

Vy: it. Awesome. All right. Well, thanks, 

Michelle P: Michelle. All right. Thank you.


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