Community Management Done Right – Andy “Zwill” Belford of EA’s new studio, Waystone Games

"A key belief of mine is that you must create a personal relationship between the players and the development team."

If you’ve been an MMORPG gamer long enough, you’ve likely played a few of the games that Andy “Zwill” Belford has worked with; among this list are: City of Heroes, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, and most recently Dawngate.

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During my time playing in his most recent project, DawnGate, I was fascinated by philosophy of the Waystone Games team in managing their new and rapidly growing playerbase.  I got a chance to reach out and ask him some questions personally about it.

Online communities have changed vastly within the last few years. As a community manager with such vast experience, what are some of the ways you’ve been adapting your methodology in response to these changes?

Andy: “The rate at which online communities are changing is pretty mind blowing. It seems like every week there’s a new platform, a new technology or a new fad that is taking everyone’s attention. It’s a challenge as a Community Manager to keep up with all of these changes, however that’s part and parcel of the gig ;).

“When I first got into the industry, community was pretty much relegated to the forum and to in game activity, maybe the occasional IRC chat. The most rewarding part of our job was usually at shows, when we actually got to interact face to face with our players.

“These days, we’re constantly in touch, on a personal level, with our communities. Whether it’s via platforms like Twitch.TV or through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or G+, we’re constantly driving conversation and engagement with the players in new and exciting ways. As an early adopter of “official” developer live streams, first on Ustream and then moving to Twitch, I’m all for these changes. Personally, I love these changes and am always looking for new opportunities to utilize emergent technologies to engage you guys in conversation.”

In the past, you’ve mentioned that community management is a 24/7 job- you’ve even shown this through late night discussions with the community on platforms such as Instant-Relay Chat (IRC). Could you walk us through a typical day of work?

Andy: “One of the great things about Community Management is that there is no such thing as a “typical” work day. Each day brings new challenges, each week is a new rush for content and events and every post is a chance to show your players that you care.

“Some things we do on a regular basis? Well, I have weekly reports and tracking that my team puts together and then evaluates. We livestream 4 days a week right now on our Twitch channel, so planning those out is pretty time consuming. Add to that event planning/show planning and handling most of the Marketing responsibilities for Dawngate and I’ve got a fairly packed schedule.

“I also happen to be married, with kids, so getting home at a decent hour is always a goal. Once the kids are in bed, I usually split time between forum reading, Dawngate subreddit reading, IRC chatting, spending time with the wife and getting some actual gaming time in.”

One of the most interesting things done by Waystone Games, from a player perspective, is immediately putting a face to a vast majority of the development staff, through their own frequent interactions with the community; each member almost seems to be doing a lot of their own community management work. Do you believe that assigning a personality to a traditionally almost ‘faceless’ staff position is a direction the gaming industry will be adopting more widespread in the future?

Andy: “A key belief of mine is that you must create a personal relationship between the players and the development team. In order for us to have an open and meaningful dialog with the community, you have to first see us as human beings and secondly as developers.

“I’ve been doing this for years now, so in a way it’s gratifying to see that the majority of the industry seems to be skewing towards this philosophy (although I’m in no way claiming responsibility for the trend :p). If you’re not giving our developers the opportunities to connect with your players, on that personal level, then you’re missing out on what could be an amazing dev/community relationship.”

What do you believe is your most successful moment as a community manager?

Andy: “I’ve got some truly memorable, and trying, moments; things that helped to define me as a community manager. I think that’s part of the joy of this job; everything you do has a chance to be memorable, to make a difference to someone. I look at events I‘ve organized, content I’ve either created or facilitated the creation of and show’s I’ve worked at and anytime I see a personal connection being made, when I see players who are so passionate about the game I’m working on, those are my greatest moments.”

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