The Community Manager role takes on many different forms, so what’s the job like with a video game publisher? Here’s a glimpse into the life of Activision’s Dan Amrich.
Continuing with my Community Manager interviews, Dan Amrich (a.k.a. OneOfSwords) was kind enough to spare some time with us to answer a few questions about his job with video game publisher Activision. Here’s what he said (links are my own and added afterwards):
1. How did you get into Community Management?
I was a member of the media for 15 years, and the day I moved from Official Xbox Magazine to the editor-in-chief of World of Warcraft Official Magazine, I got a call from Activision. I was in the process of moving my desk and thought it was a social call so I didn’t get back to them right away — but when I did, they asked if I would be interested in applying for this new role they wanted to create, based loosely on Major Nelson‘s work at Microsoft. So while it was flattering to be considered out of the gate for a position like this — and I definitely was not their only candidate — my CM role is a result of my work and relationship-building from 15 years in the media. Not the quickest path to CM, I think.
2. Although a CM is by no means a straightforward job, can you summarize what your responsibilities are at Activision?
I leverage my editorial background — I run oneofswords.com as a more or less independent website (it’s not hosted by or linked from Activision.com) and I act like the editor-in-chief. I choose the stories, I build the podcast, I sort of do everything on my own terms and following my instinct. I ask for guidance on information internally, but I really am given incredible editorial freedom. So my CM role is really different from, say, a CM at a development studio. I am something of a satellite around the publisher instead. I often think of it more like an official fan site; I am likely to report news that fans want to hear, but I am still at arm’s length. And that is by design, so I can truly retain my gamer point of view and not just drink the Kool-Aid. (That said, it’s tasty.)
3. Where is the best place for a fan to go to make sure their ideas or comments are heard?
So many dev studios now have Twitter and Facebook accounts — I think that’s easiest. I mean, just for Activision, @BeenoxTeam @HighMoonStudios @FSGStudio @BeachheadStudio @InfinityWard @Treyarch @RavenSoftware @SHGames and @ToysForBob are all official accounts run by the developers themselves — and that doesn’t count the independent developers who work with Activision on games like NASCAR The Game (@Eutechnyx) or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD (@Robomodo). A lot of times I simply refer people to those accounts because their feedback is for the developers anyway.
4. Can you share a crazy fan story in your current role?
I don’t know if it’s what I would call a fan story, but it’s crazy. CMs unfortunately become a magnet for negativity, and one guy who hated Blur — one of my favorite Activision games despite its slow sales, and a proper cult title at this point — shattered his game disc, arranged it artfully, put his name on a card in the middle of the scene, took a picture of it, and sent it to me. I don’t know what he thought my reaction was going to be, but he took offense when I suggested that was an immature response and he could have either sold or given the game away to someone who would like it more than he did.
Other fan stories are much nicer. I get to go to PAX every year and I meet a lot of people that I only know online. I usually ask people “Do I know you from Twitter?” when they try to tell me their real name — but when I find out their online handle, I know exactly who they are! I’ve gotten some really encouraging emails and even the occasional gift. One guy made street signs as a hobby so he sent me one that says “SW AMRICH AVE,”, which I display proudly on my desk. I never expect that stuff, and I don’t want people to think they have to do it – but as someone who does a lot of giveaways, I really appreciate the effort when someone goes that far and sends ME something nice!
5. Can you offer some advice for someone wanting to become a Community Manager in the video game industry?
A lot of CMs get their roles because they are a) already in the community and b) enthusiastically being a positive member of it. If you are consistently treating people with respect in forums or keeping things on topic or helping answer questions without power-tripping, those are the kinds of things that developers see and generally want to encourage. More and more CMs are coming to their jobs after having media experience — Brett Elston (@Brelston) was at GamesRadar before going to Capcom, Sid Shuman (@SidShuman) went from GamePro to PlayStation, and Tina Palacios (@Teanah) is kickin’ ass over at Infinity Ward, but she brought with her a lot of experience at IGN, 1UP, and GameSpy. Having media experience teaches you how to speak to the masses on behalf of an organization larger than yourself is a really valuable thing in these cases. But other CMs are just superfans who build a skillset that the developer or publisher likes.
Thanks for taking some of your valuable time to give some great answers, Dan! One of the best insights into the CM role yet! Of course, if you have a favourite CM that you’d like to hear from, just hit me up in the comments.