A new community adventure begins

This month I began a new adventure in my career. After working at Petroglyph for an amazing five years, I've moved to Houston to work at Six Foot as a community manager for an upcoming game.

It wasn't an easy decision, as Petroglyph is such an incredible studio to work at. The founders are extremely considerate about your time, and the team is amazing in their work. Many of them come from Westwood Studios and have over 25 years of experience in the industry. I learned so much just absorbing discussions during meetings, milestone updates, and chats around the coffee pot. The studio is quite open to its employees, something that's rarer in this industry than it should be.

It can be difficult to accurately describe what a place is like to work at, so a couple of years ago I put together this 8th anniversary video that I think summarizes the work environment and offline culture at Petroglyph nicely:

Reflecting back, I recall the first week on the job was tasked with rebuilding the community website in preparation for several projects we were working on, including a few board games. Actually, me being the inquisitive type, I just dug in automatically with further needs quickly became apparent. Studio tours, press meetings, and other PR and marketing work were all needed.

Months later with other projects well underway, we began working on a community plan for a MOBA game, the first major IP owned online game by the studio. I didn't hesitate to lead the community facing needs for that project. Since the team was small, it was also great to work with the producer and others directly. There was minimal red tape - a let's just get it done kind of project.

When preparing community plans for a game release, I love talking about the characters and other gameplay content. Seeing the community's reactions, both positive and critical, make me smile with joy. Here are a couple of other videos I put together for the MOBA mentioned above:

It's interesting how studios seem to have a wide range of sensitivity toward the importance of someone maintaining their game's communities. Petroglyph saw that continued need in 2009 when they hired me. I feel just as fortunate to have been picked up by Six Foot this year to continue my work. EVERY company that has an online presence should have a community manager, or community team to lead and grow their online presence. It's a must!

While community managers should focus on their core discipline -- managing communities -- having an understanding of other skills can be invaluable to a project. This is especially true at smaller studios that don't have the resources for a wider marketing team. A community manager there can learn a great deal about how to start a community. You discover all of the intricate systems that go into making a community foundation solid and capable to be built upon, such as:

  • Web development with HTML, CSS, PHP, and adding SQL databases
  • Building social media pages that link to each other via RSS feeds
  • Building videocasts, dev diaries, and other developer facing features
  • Promoting early access phases on press and social networks
  • How to coordinate with community leaders to build fan sites
  • Filtering analytics from services like Ninja Metrics and custom tools
  • Building images and promo banners through programs like Photoshop
  • Analyzing community feedback for the devs with tools like Zendesk

And just as importantly, knowing when to ask others on the team for advice!

In such a constantly evolving industry, we don't often get a choice when or how we want to move forward with our careers, as various forces tend to push us one way or another. I look at my current situation similarly, but in all the right ways that make it worth pursuing. Petroglyph is an amazing studio with people that are focused on their passion. I couldn't have been more happier there, but things must move forward when it makes sense for a change.

Early this year I had to ask myself, “Just how do I best move forward?”. It's an important question everyone should be asking in their careers on occasion. Are you where you want to be?

Since I give my career such weight in my life (some say too much and that I should run to the hills to find a likable someone before it's "too late"...), I end up being very dedicated to the place I work at when a transition does take place. Fortunately, Petroglyph and Six Foot both have been fantastic at helping to make this transition possible. It's a unique situation and one that I wouldn't dare turn down. If you see an opportunity along your career path, take it!

So, this is my next adventure. I'm a little disoriented, extremely excited, and very much relieved to have everyone I've connected with over the years as mentors, guides, and friends. They check my sanity to make sure I don't walk straight off a virtual community cliff, at least without a parachute :).

I can't wait to show you what game I'm working on now! It should make a lot of more sense then as to why I chose Six Foot...

Looking back at a successful 2013, and forward to a hopeful 2014

Every year I look forward to the holidays and heading home to the family back in Wisconsin. It's the time of year where one eats way too much cheesecake, but also where everyone opens up presents in grandmother's living room. What better present in itself could one hope to have? It was a good couple of weeks with the family, going by far too quickly as always.

I look forward to the new year and what opportunities it will bring. Before we know it, summer will approach, another birthday will occur, more games will be purchased (and hopefully played) and the holidays will be as close as they were a year earlier. There is always something to be looked forward to then, so start your 2014 shopping spree now :).

Hope everyone had a happy holidays and will have a prosperous 2014! Game on...

A fun little fan art project

I love games from the family-friendly Monopoly board game, to the dark and gritty Hello Kitty Online Adventures (kidding). While my work and passion focuses on Real-Time Strategy (RTS) and Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games at the moment, I get a lot of excitement out of others genres as well, such as the core of my career in Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG). Turn-Based Strategies (TBS), First-Person Shooters (FPS) and Simulation (think SimCity) are other favorite genres.

As a community manager at work and a guild member at night, I can't stop creating and sharing content for these games I am having a joy at playing. I don't have enough fingers to count how many upcoming games I am looking forward to, but three in particular are striking my fancy with one I had recently created a fan art piece for, Shroud of the Avatar:

After taking awhile to get around to getting into the game again, I've been playing Starcraft II and Diablo III. I am also highly looking forward to Sony Online Entertainment's EQ Next MMORPG. There are others, but this is a blog, not a diary :).

So many games, so little time!

Attending the Largest Game Guild Conference in the World

I recently wrote a post on Gamasutra about my attendance to the yearly guild convention, SyndCon. The convention is put on every year in a different city by the MMORPG gaming guild, The Syndicate. They are the only guild that I know of that has lasted over 15 years and have a consistent member base of over 500 players between Ultima Online and World of Warcraft.

I've attended the last three conventions and am a close friend to many of the guild members. While I am known by the game name, 'Berek', they prefer to call me by my last name, 'Mr. Anderson'. It's stuck for good I think to my place in their history. In getting closer to the guild over the years, I finally made the plunge and officially joined them in a right of honor at SyndCon 2013.

Visit Gamasutra to read the entire blog post and my experience at the guild convention. If you want to learn more, you can signup to the guild at llts.org.


Revisiting China four years later

I had the opportunity to visit China again after nearly four years of being away. While the visit was work related and not to the city I stayed in last time, it would still be a great opportunity to really understand if I ever wanted to return long-term. I would be visiting Shanghai for the game event, ChinaJoy, to write about it for my Events For Gamers website that covers all sorts of game industry events.

Upon arriving in the Pudong airport, I suddenly had this giddy feeling about me. I quietly whispering to no one in particular, “Yep, smells like China.” The smell wasn't bad of course, but just unique enough to recall it from my past trip. The next thing I noticed was that I had no immediate concerns or curiosities about the surroundings, having apparently lost that air of mystery when traveling abroad the first time. Even walking the city streets felt like a walk in the park back in Vegas. Been there, done that, romance over... at least for now.

If you are interested in how the event went, you can read about it at Events For Gamers.

After the event it was time once again to head across the Pacific back home. A year of being abroad, especially when it's your first time, not surprisingly gives you a great urgency to return to friends and family you hadn't seen in that time. Having to pay $1,700 for that return flight and quite vividly remembering the experience gave me the same exact sense of urgency to get back before trouble had a chance to set in, not to mention I seemed to be quickly coming down with the flu. It looked like I wasn't about to pay $1,700 for the flight home, but possibly just as much to stay overnight for another couple of days in some mysterious Chinese hospital, which consequently would demand I purchase a ticket anyway for the flight I missed.

Fortunately none of that happened, except for the additional night stay paid by the airline. We were on the tarmac waiting to take off when the captain came on and announced a "minor" delay (which ended up being three hours long) in taking off while the Chinese airlines got priority to fly out. It was a busier day at the airport than usual. Sensing the plane moving again we managed a few corners on the tarmac and then the engines suddenly shut off.

Damn... that close to taking off.

The captain came on again and announced a mechanical issue with the aircraft. It would be a few more minutes to get the tools to fix it. At this point in 90 degree heat inside of the aircraft and coming down fast with the flu, I began to doubt my decision of returning to the country. Several more minutes passed as everyone kept asking for water that was quickly being depleted. The captain once again came on and announced that we would have to taxi back to a gate because the tools had mysteriously gone missing.

Oh shit.

At this point we were simply glad to get off the broiling aircraft. To no one's surprise as I watch nearly everyone roll their eyes after the airline apologized for the additional delay, we waited in the airport for another hour as we started to form small groups to discuss which hotels were preferable for an emergency overnight stay that was inevitably going to occur. As if on queue, they announced a rebooking of the flight for the next morning and a hotel voucher for that night's stay. I sprinted full tilt down the hall toward the voucher counter to ensure I got that free hotel room, got in the room and collapsed for the night. I prayed for the flu to subside before the next flight. Did they check at the customs checkpoint for sick people? Was I going to show up on some sick-o meter and be banned from boarding the aircraft?

The next morning and not feeling any better, thoughts on the medical scanners were forefront in my thoughts as I pushed the luggage cart back to the same terminal and got my new ticket for another aircraft in supposed working order. Wheels touching down in Las Vegas 16 napping hours later and feeling quite a bit better, I ran to the nearest burger joint and ordered a double whopper with an extra slice of cheese.

I smiled and took a deep breath, whispering to the hamburger in my hands, “Yep, smells like America”.

What are the ways you interact with your community?

For the Rise of Immortals community team at Petroglyph, there are four primary methods we use to communicate with our community - 1) Website/Forums, 2) Game Interface, 3) Chat/Social Networks, 4) E-mail

The website/forums is number one in importance simply because it provides both short-term and long-term communication. You can post a news announcement valid for that specific period of time that anyone can reference repeatedly through a common link, or something that can be archived for review months later.

The game interface is next in importance because we can post news directly on the launcher, in-game ad sections, and send updated messages to those that are playing a game at that time. The downsize is all of these areas, particularly one-off messages in chat are time sensitive and mainly only apply to that moment. This is why I place it second in importance, as you can always regurgitate news via the website/forums.

Then there's all those social networks, excellent ways to spread the word about an announcement after it has been established in the game and main website/forums. Just as important are tools like Skype which we use constantly for those one-off messages and more personable discussion between community leaders. Skype is excellent for active group chat.

And last is e-mail, used sparingly every week or two for key announcements consolidated through newsletters. The best way to reach older community members that may have drifted off to another game. Use this to give them a friendly reminder at how awesome your game still is, especially after that last game update announced in the previous methods.

From previous discussion on LinkedIn.

A podcast for community managers

The game industry is relatively small, and the community manager field is even smaller still. A great deal of community managers know each other, usually by attending the same yearly events like E3, GDC, and PAX. We also have a forum and website where we discuss new ideas on how to best manage our respective communities.

A few weeks ago I realized there was one thing that we could do that would bring community managers together, and allow another avenue of discussion with the community, which was a podcast that talked about community managing. The first steps in kicking off a community manager podcast began earlier today.

Community managers are social people that love to share all they can about the game's their communities love. I particularly love running around the office during seasonal events like Halloween to take photos of decorated rooms and developers to show the community the crazy mindsets behind their games :).

Now we can get community managers from all over and outside the game industry to share what it's like to work in their fields. To share how they go about bringing features and events to their communities. I'm particularly excited in starting this podcast because it's a chance to meet other community managers.

We've setup the equipment, established a website landing page, and have a tentative schedule for the first set of shows. Now we just need a few guests and we're ready to roll!

Shuttle Endeavour gone forever from space station

I read a very interesting article earlier this week about the space shuttle Endeavor and its last flight to the space station, or anywhere else for that matter. With the space station near 100% completion and other more efficient vehicles being designed, the space shuttle is an outdated icon of humanities first attempts to reach for the stars.

It was a moving read to learn more about how about space endeavors, pun intended if I may, have really taken off in the past few decades. The last time I wrote about exploring space exploration, I pointed out the world's reservation of reaching for the stars. We're finally moving beyond some of that skepticism and really beginning to understand the importance of space exploration.

Resource Acquisition

It starts with economics. If there's any reason the average person would want to spend money to get into space, it is to invest in their, or their company's, future. Some may not realize it, but even just an average 1km asteroid has enough metals such as iron, gold, platinum, etc., to last decades at current rates of consumption. How many asteroids of this size or larger are just in the asteroid belt? Millions.

Scientific Discoveries

We've already gained benefits from exploring space. Everything from the comfort of our bed mattress, Kevlar, to our ability to know exactly where we are on the planet while in the middle of nowhere, are just a handful of technologies that began development in space. Telescopes inform us of impending solar storm activity that may effect sensitive electronic equipment on Earth, saving us from electrical grid week-long blackouts.

Breathing Room

This last reason to spread our wings into space is two-fold. On the one hand it is quite clear that we are overpopulating the planet. There are two main choices we can consider to resolve this dilemma. Either we limit reproductive capabilities, which is a morale, economic, and simply practice issue that will likely never be realized, or we live where we haven't before... in space.

On the other hand, we have all of our eggs in one basket right now. As anyone who carries around eggs knows, they can all easily break together if not compartmentalized and secured. Another analogy to this is the breeding of specific genetic crops for food consumption. By doing so we increase harvesting potential, but limit biodiversity that protects crops from disease.

For this very reason, it seems prudent to me to get into space as fast as we can before the next asteroid, plague, or civil war tears apart the planet below...

"Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring--not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive... If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds."

- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Windows 7 and PC gaming

Microsoft pushed the PC as a major gaming platform particularly hard when Vista was released. It has since largely failed in achieving this objective. Microsoft’s head of their Games for Windows Live division was laid off earlier this year, and just before that the ACES and Ensemble studios were shut down. These are just a few key indications of how Microsoft is taking its Games for Windows Live initiative.

How many games have you bought for Vista, specifically because of DX10? Windows 7 isn’t much different than Vista in terms of PC gaming support. DX11 may have a larger impact than DX10 in the long-run, but it will start off just as slow. PC gaming has been in a free-fall in terms of both marketing and support for the past several years. I don’t see Windows 7 solving any of the issues that plague it either, starting with piracy being the dominate concern.

While I feel that the way forward and future growth for PC gaming is clearly through Windows 7 and DX11, I don’t think it will have the impact that some believe it will. Compare Windows XP to Vista and then to Windows 7 in terms of specific gaming support. I’m not feeling the urge to go out and buy a DX11 video card tomorrow. In all likelihood, we’ll see the next generation of consoles succeed in bringing DX11 and Microsoft gaming support, just as Windows 7 passes to its successor.

An uncertain future for space exploration

We have become content in only exploring existence in our immediate bubble of reality, rightfully worried about the future of our families and careers. Has space travel become lost? I truly hope not, but the delays in returning to the moon, setting goals to reach mars, and establishing a general presence in space are all becoming ever distant realities. Why?

NASA has always had challenges getting the funding it needed. Part of the reason is simply the vast cost of exploring space, versus the immediate benefits realized. Another reason is the world's general apathy toward space exploration. The population is not educated enough in the potential of exploring space because the ideas are often quite complex to understand. I don't fully understand them myself.

Humans have always had a hard time seeing beyond their immediate surroundings, let alone in places like space that are well out of reach for most. We can only truly believe in things that actually happen to us, or that we understand from direct experience. This is because chance and other factors often create uncertainty in any outcome. Would exploring space truly help our civilization, and ourselves?

"The American people have no idea what's going on," said congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords, chairwoman of the House of Representatives subcommittee on space and aeronautics. "The average American does not know the shuttle will go away at the end of 2010."

Space travel has been reduced to a back-burner idea, a dream that lights the eyes of those that can afford to take part. To the rest of us, it simply remains a dream with many seeing it nothing more than an expensive experiment.

This is partly due to our societies saturation with fictional media that partly satisfy our interest in exploring the unknown. Telescopes and other tools to observe the universe have provided us a wealth of information about the universe, that we apparently need not visit it ourselves. After all, why should we go to the depths of the ocean, where we'd only find a few interesting species and more water?

Just one example of the benefits of space exploration is revealed through our moon's abundance of helium-3 on its surface. This element is a non-radioactive isotope of helium. It is rare on the Earth, but on the moon it is implanted in the upper meter of the lunar regolith by the solar wind. Mining would provide non-radioactive thermonuclear fusion power to an energy-starved Earth for thousands of years.

Wernher von Braun said once, shortly before his death:

"Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe.

When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of."

People often rely on corporate news sources to tell us what we need to know, what dangers are around the corner, and what Britney Spears was wearing on her honeymoon... all important things to survive in this chaotic world. The problem with this source is the way the information is portrayed. There are so many inconsistencies and political spins, that all anyone sees in the end is distortion.

Let's start building that bridge Wernher spoke about, because right now all of us stand on this single fragile rock floating in space. The vast majority of the universe is dangerous and our earth is more an exception than the rule. I'd prefer having a bridge to somewhere else in case this side goes the way of Venus, Mars, or more likely, via our own ends.