Interview with Val “Pann” Massey, Community Manager

Join us as we re-release an pre-launch interview in the spirit of iteration! We hope you enjoy 🙂

A lot of people are either not sure or have some misconception regarding the role of community managers in online communities, specifically in online gaming communities. How would you define your role?

In a single phrase: the communication hub. To the community, I’m the voice of the team. To the team, I’m the voice of the community. Community managers are the front-line representatives of the game company. By handling the exchange of information between the public and the various sectors of the game team – the producer, PR directors, support and devs – it enables the rest of the team to avoid being distracted from the constant demands that you face when you’re the caretakers of a persistent world. The benefit to the community is that they know who to go to with questions or comments and get a quicker response than they would otherwise.

What are your day-to-day activities as community manager for EVE Online?

I answer e-mails sent from game fans, gaming and news sites, arrange interviews and schedule chats, participate in forum discussions and hang out with our community in #eve-online. Once the game launches, I’ll be paying very close attention to what the players are saying about the game and relaying their thoughts and ideas to the dev team and, in turn, relaying information from the devs back to the community.

Do you have a theory as to why, in a male dominated field, so many community managers are female?

It comes down to one of the primary differences between men and women: the difference in how we think. Studies have shown that most men are goal-oriented while women are global thinkers. Being global thinkers is what makes most women good mothers. It’s as important as having maternal instincts. When your kids are quiet, the dog is missing, and the bathroom door is locked, you notice, you theorize and you react… hopefully before Fido gets a mohawk with Dad’s electric shaver.

I see this every day when working with the team, particularly the guys I have the most contact with – Campion, our producer, and the PR guys, Booster and Coroner. They are so focused on the task at hand that their peripheral senses may not always pick up on other things. Part of my job is to make them aware of upcoming issues we may need to address or rumblings from the community that may have been too subtle for them to notice.

That’s not to say that men can’t be good community managers or that women can’t be good game developers. There have been outstanding representatives of both sexes in all areas of gaming, but I do feel that this is probably why most community managers are female.

It’s seems to be the growing norm for women who are in active positions at a gaming company to become idolized. For example, Carly “LadyMOI” Staelin practically had her own cult, heck, she did have a cult, when she worked at Origin for the Ultima Online title. How do you feel about your growing cult status in the EVE community?

I try to be very careful not to take any of it – be it compliments or criticism – too seriously. When I see unkind things that are said about me, they are easy to dismiss. I figure it’s just karma smacking me down for unkind things I said about community managers from games I’ve played. My fear of heights keeps me humble when the acclamations start sounding like hero worship. It’s a long way down when you’re falling off the pedestal someone put you on and I’d rather not be up there in the first place. I’m like anyone else except that I just happen to have a very cool job. People make the comparison of MMOG teams to rock stars frequently. I don’t look at it like that. I see myself more as the den mother for a highly unusual troop of Cub Scouts. =)

The rapport you have with the player base, whether they’ve been long-time participants with the community to the newest of newbies, has been comfortably casual and pretty darn good. What was it like for you when you first came aboard as the community manager and how is it now?

It was rather overwhelming at first. I knew I didn’t know nearly as much about the game as they did. I weighed the pros and cons of trying to BS my way past that with them, but realized that was no way to start the relationship, so I was honest and asked a lot of questions and did a lot of reading. My first love has always been fantasy, so a lot of the science fiction stuff was well beyond my scope of comprehension. One of the great things about my job is that I don’t have to be the ultimate authority on Eve. I have to be the ultimate authority on which member of the Eve team I should ask certain questions. Once I got that system down, I was not only helping the future players learn more about the game, but I got pretty darned comfortable answering questions on my own, too. There were some who were skeptical. I expected that. This was *their* game and I was the outlander who just came in and hopped in the middle of everything. Now, it’s all good. =)

What was your initial response to the announcement that EVE‘s release would be delayed by a few months?

I was glad we were able to do it. We could have made the earlier release date, but we would not have been shipping the game we wanted to send to the fans who’ve been waiting for it. As I put it to Campion and Glamdring, I’d like to see the Polaris program up and running as well as a team of Navy SEALS when we go live. That’s as important to me as having a good, solid build. Eve is the dream project of everyone on the team and we’ve been blessed to have a strong, growing community following for two years. We’re fortunate that the tri-companies’ (CCP, Siminn and S&SI) powers-that-be share our vision and could see that giving us extra time to fine-tune the game will benefit us and the future players.

Regarding the delay, the player base seemed to respond pretty well compared to what post MMOG watchers would expect from this potential doomsday scenario. What was your ancient Chinese secret for allaying the masses?

The key was having the relationship with do with the Eve fans. They gave us permission to do it. When the discussion to move the release to Q1 started, the first question I was asked was, “How will the community respond?” I knew they would accept and support the decision and I said so. The response on the forum over the last delay (from October to December) was unanimously supportive. Sure, they are disappointed that they will have to wait a little longer, but agreed that it was worth it if it meant having a smooth launch. We’d had a weird series of misfortunes that delayed testing but weren’t even game-related: the TransAtlantic cable problem, the misdirected server problem, unusual power outages at CCP… Everyone was aware of the issues and it wasn’t a surprise when we made the announcement. There was no crying or gnashing of teeth. It was more of a collective sigh of relief. They understood. That’s what makes them such an incredible joy to be working with and why I cherish them.

What games are you currently playing, and can I have your stuff?

Currently, in addition to participating in the Eve beta test, of course, I’ve just finished Neverwinter Nights. I’ve had been eyeballing Alice at the store since it first came out and finally picked that up, but I don’t like the interface. I also re-installed Roller Coaster Tycoon in anticipation of the sequel coming out this week. I stink at building my own roller coasters (can you say “crash and burn?”) though I love building the parks and get kind of a twisted kick out of seeing those little guys barfing on the sidewalks. Yes, I’m easily amused. =P

As for giving you my stuff, come into Eve. I’ll give you a few missles. 😉

What feature are you most looking forward to seeing in the game once EVE goes live?

I cannot wait to see how corporations will shape and mold the game world. They really will have the ability to alter the universe. Even now, months away from launch, we’re seeing the establishment of large-scale corporations. They are getting deeply immersed in their own fiction, weaving it around the game’s historical tapestry. To see these take-overs and this political intrigue actually unfolding in the game and impacting the economy and the landscape of the solar systems is going to be awesome.

And, of course, I look forward to forming my own, all-female corporation, Amazon Sky Sirens: ASS. Our slogan will be “Everyone wants a piece of us.”

Will CCP do any events or such to promote roleplaying in EVE?

Yes.

Don’t expect a lot of pre-launch details, though. We’re saving ourselves for the honeymoon. 😉

What is your favorite part of EVE?

Exploring. With complete honesty, I will admit that though I’ve been playing since early May, I still am consistently in awe of the graphics. I love to go from stargate to stargate without referring to the map and see where I will wind up and what’s there. With each new build, we’ve added more systems, so there’s always somewhere that I haven’t been yet. I like to check out the different space stations and see how many asteroid fields are in the solar systems, what kind of resources are there, etc. Ironically, I hate road trips in a car. Maybe if I could cruise around in a Dominix I wouldn’t mind them so much and I’d actually have the desire to go to the Grand Canyon.

EVEmerchandise has been given as prizes for a number of contests on the forums and IRC lately. People are beginning to itch for more stuff, and stuff they can buy. When can we expect to see EVE goods on the market, and have you made any decisions as to what will be available?

Currently, we are working on shirt designs and a poster. The shirts will be available for purchase through the web site but the posters will be probably be used for give-aways. We do plan to have an online store eventually, but it’s not high on the priority list. It will move up closer to the top as we near our launch date. In addition to the obligatory t-shirts, we will have caps, coffee mugs… the standard fare. I’m hoping for some Eve Zippos, but whether or not we’ll have them is not my decision, so I’ll have to cross my fingers along with everyone else who wants one.

Can you fly?

No, but I’m proud to say it’s not from a shortage of happy thoughts.

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