PAX West: SimGuruDrake Talks About Managing The Sims Community

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SimGuruDrake along with other community managers in the gaming world, have joined a panel at PAX to talk about Community Management. Transcript below the video.

Community managers play a huge role in creating safe spaces where players can be accepted without fear of discrimination (race, gender, religion, sexuality, age, ability). They set the right tone by celebrating diverse community members while managing trolls and finding a way to push out harmful behavior.

Join experienced community managers from Twitch, The Sims, Rocksmith and Life is Strange as they share their stories, wins and challenges in building inclusive online communities for everyone.

So how do you guys balance between what you’re doing that you have the big releases you have the big pushes that you’re doing, but you also have to work it in every day. What does that look like, how do those conversations work, and is it a struggle? Or is it pretty easy to maintain that balance.

SimGuruDrake: Well, for me, it’s actually a little difficult to maintain the balance. I found with The Sims even though we’re all about life and and it’s life simulation, a lot of the people that I want to reach out to kind of hide behind an avatar that doesn’t exactly show who they are, so it makes it really hard for me to diversify, you know, when I’m working with creators, trying to bring those people in to talk to studio to share their experience, and how we can take those experiences and translate it into something for the game, so others can share their story. But a lot of what I try and do is through events that I have, you know, normally for The Sims we have a big event we call Sims Camp and it’s normally to allow people to capture content for our newest big product, but the big thing for me is that actually having the studio get direct access to people who play their game, who are passionate about their game, and come from diverse backgrounds, and I make it a point to always make sure that I bring new people in, allow them to talk to wide diverse group.

And our game, I don’t know if you’re aware, our game is targeted mostly at teenage girls, which is an oddity in gaming, but they’re and they are very much for inclusion and they don’t like bullying, you know, but we can’t always talk to teenage girls, so we talk to the people who talk to them, and through them sharing their stories and the promotions on social media, you know we’re always highlighting new ways, like this creator has a great story going on with this series that’s talking about a very tragic moment in their “Sims” life, but it’s actually based on their real life, so how do we highlight that to allow people to feel comfortable to talk about those things. So sometimes it’s a little difficult  depending on what I’m trying to do, but we at least try and promote things on social media all the time, and make sure our lists are diverse of people we reach out to, and I encourage people constantly, whether you’re a storyteller, or you know, you’re just a let’s player, I’m like, share things with me, I can’t see everything, but please if you see something fun, or you see someone’s bringing up an issue where they don’t feel like they’re represented, share it with me because I can share with the studio and make that something that they look at and say, how can we do this right and how can we include this in the game as a natural fit and not feel like we just shoved it to shove it in. We want everyone to feel  comfortable, but I need the help of my community to do that.

 

Do you guys find that when you do the things that are subtle that people tend to not notice it? Or do you think that it’s the slow everyday things that start engraining in people’s minds that like, this is just how it is.

SimGuruDrake: Well definitely for us people have noticed, cause the way our players are they noticed all the subtleties, they also like to look for hints in everything, so anytime they see, like, in one pack they’ll  see clothing with a city skyline on it and they’re like, “I know the EP is City that’s the focus because look all of this content here is this”. We’re like okay well there is no subtly in The Sims apparently. But for us they never make it like a negative thing. It’s always a celebration. So whenever they pick these things up in the community, and they’re like “oh that cover is all minority Sims” and they’ll just shout it out and be proud. For us we’re never going to go onto social and say “yup our cover was all minority Sims” because that feels like we’re trying to sell something, right? For us it’s just that’s just every day. Of course, why wouldn’t we? So we never want to make it a big deal unless it’s things like the “Love Wins” where we’re like no this is important for us. This is something we stand behind for inclusion in our space. For Sims it’s..everyone picks up. You know especially since you’re part of that community how they pick up on things.

*another community manager speaks*

You actually reminded me something that does come up in the community when they see us do things to help with diversity and inclusion, is they get really in depth with “okay you did this, now we’d like to see more representation for disabilities and here’s exactly how we think you should do it and here’s all the cool items that you can add in” and they’ll just post long form threads on everything that we could do, what companies we can look at working with, what organizations would be good to partner with, and I’m like “uh can you join our team?.  You did the work for us so can you just come join us?” It’s just for them like adding on to that, like okay, this is great you’ve done this. I mean for us it’s a little harder cause we are life simulation so, we don’t get to have it where it’s just normalized, cause they always want more. They’re always hungry for more things, but I enjoy that. To them they’re like “yes we want more diversity, we want more inclusion, and here’s how we’d like to see it, so they’re helping us figure out the things they are really interested in, and that way we can continue improving upon what we’ve already built.

 

Can you guys think of something specific that, other than, and it could just be the answer like I know for us it’s just like, we just want everyone to feel welcome. We just want everybody to feel okay, and there is no hidden message there’s nothing behind it, it’s just we want everyone to feel good when they visit our platform or our game.  

SimGuruDrake: For me it’s really just us wanting to create a safe space for people to tell their stories and the more we add on it’s not, yes we obviously would like more player to come and play The Sims, but that’s never like the point of doing it. It’s just, how can we help people tell their stories in a space that’s safe for them to be able to hopefully get the courage to share those stories with a wider group, until it becomes a normal thing.

 

As someone who has more than dabbled in community management and group administration, I wanted to know if you guys had any specific metrics, for lack of a better word, that you guys who have been hired and potentially have experience with the hiring process, what kind of group management success do you think is most valuable in looking to support yourself and your career in community management? Is it the numbers? Community engagement? What do you feel makes a community manager great and able to market themselves to become a community manager for a larger title or just more?

SimGuruDrake: I also measure KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) as well , but mine are a little different. We do track sentiment and how people are engaging on our social channels, but I’m actually more in charge of the core community and overall what are they looking for. I have a social media manager who tracks all social analytics and track the conversation happening around, but they can’t always get to the nitty gritty, so I’m the person that helps the studio get to that nitty gritty. If somebody are saying they don’t like this thing, I’m the one who goes in to investigate and ask “why don’t you like that thing?” I have to bring it back to them and I have weekly meetings with the studio, like, that we just do a status report, and they are very much the type of studio that wants to know why people are upset. They don’t want to know “everything’s great, it’s golden”, they want to know, okay, what are the builders feeling like they are missing, what are the Create-a-Sim players feel like they are missing, what do the storytellers feel like they’re missing. Why didn’t they like this thing? Or do you think this is going to cause a red flag, and why. How do we mitigate against that?

And it’s constant a conversation, they’re not afraid of negativity, they actually want to find out how to do better, but I do still have to measure my own KPI’s and ROI’s (Return on Investment), especially if I’m doing an event. You know, I have a budget and I gotta show that “hey this is why we did this thing”, but it definitely when you are passionate about the product that you’re trying to work on, it’s definitely how I got into the industry. I was very passionate about eSports and headsets and technology, and I just got in that way. I got lucky that I was passionate about The Sims and it opened up and they’re like “yes”. Also I can understand teenage girls. On one of those figures(?) we did a study on teenage girls, and we were all in a meeting and everyone was like “okay here’s some identifiers in teen girls, and one of the things listed on there was purple hair, and I’m like “yep” I’m good.

 

I actually work as a community manager on a global scale for marketing analytics, and so one of the most interesting things about that is some of the stuff you just talked about. It kind of just resonates and I get how having the passion for the product and growing it, but the thing I’m interested in understanding is, how do you connect with all the other parts of the organization that you guys are a part of, and really try to pull that story together?

SimGuruDrake: For me I’m literally a floor above the Maxis Studio and I’m downstairs every day, I go talk to Legal, I go talk to the HR team, I talk to the brand team, I talk to the producers and game designers, like, I honestly spend 3 hours of my day every single day, just talking to people in studio and building those relationships. I also have to think about a global scale because I am the global community manager, and a lot of it is setting up phone calls either weekly or bi-weekly, speaking with each individual team, saying “what do you need from me, how can I help you? What is your community talking about?” and getting them to know that I’m a go to person wanting to help them.

It means I’m the first point of contact when they think about something they immediately funnel to me and I funnel to everyone else. It’s just literally going to talk to them all the time, whether it’s online or in person, and I’m very much an in-person type of girl so I will physically go to someone’s desk to talk to them and be like “I need this answer now”, like help me. If you don’t answer my email within 10 minutes I’m going to go downstairs. I have no problem doing that.

 

I also work at Microsoft and in part work as a community manager for a large open source project, so one place that I sometimes get in to, and I imagine you do too, is that the product can’t necessarily keep up to the pace of the community and there might be a product decision that you don’t think your community is going to agree with, and you actually agree with your community, and so how do you represent these decisions to your community since you are on the front lines, so how can you be respectful to the community and also not get fired?

SimGuruDrake: You know, I have a scapegoat, I actually have a group we call “SimGurus” that are members of the studio across all different backgrounds, producers, designers, engineers who actually talk with the community and engage with them, and so is the community finds something that they don’t like, they will hear about it directly. So I get so somewhat escape from that, but not completely, like when we know something is going to make them upset and I’m like “look this is going to make them upset, you know it’s going to” and they’re like “well it was because of this technical limitation”, I’m like okay well I’m upset for them but it’s all about communication.