Video gaming and the office

I left a bit of information out of my response to Storagezilla’s question about how I ended up in a manager’s office instead of writing code.  After talking to him briefly in email I realized there was no reason not to add that information here.  It’s the story of how playing video games made me a manager.  Or something along those lines….

I’ve been involved in a very successful online gaming community for over 7 years now.  I started out as just another gamer, but quickly began taking on leadership and administrative roles as part of a community management team responsible for several thousand members across over a half-dozen different games.  The community is nonprofit and staffed by volunteers.  While it may sound strange, my experiences as a leader within this organization played a part in my saying “yes” when I was asked to become a manager.

You might wonder why that is?  The following list outlines just a few of the “management” challenges faced in keeping this game community afloat.  How many do you think map directly into the corporate world?

  • Derive, clarify, publish, and maintain a list of organizational values
  • Develop and manage over time criteria and processes around community membership and behavioral standards
  • Execute against those processes and enforce those criteria
  • Deal with turnover from the community
  • Deal with turnover from management team, including recruiting and training replacements
  • Gather and take into account member feedback
  • Handle interpersonal conflicts between members whose values don’t align
  • Handle conflict of vision between leaders of the organization, making sure the community doesn’t splinter in the process
  • Decide when to eliminate support for a game due to lack of sustainable player base
  • Decide what new games have enough player base to warrant forming a new leadership team around
  • Form teams to solve in-game and out-of-game problems, and deal with their results

It goes on and on.  It should be no surprise that among those who consistently are involved in leading the community we’ve found many “real” leaders, including military officers, corporate managerial types, community leaders, and entrepreneurs. The leaders are fairly evenly matched across gender, but most are over 30.

Of course, these skills aren’t new.  Twenty years ago, people were developing these skills in volunteer organizations, places of worship, schools, and sports teams.  The ‘net has opened it up to a much wider audience, and drastically reduced the barrier to entry.  Sound familiar?

So when I was asked to change my title from “engineer” to “manager,” I realized that my work would change, but it wasn’t heading off into some totally alien space.  I was already volunteering my time to do a lot of those things … now I’d be getting paid to do them.

An unfortunate side effect, and well-worth noting, is that once I dealt with these things all day, day after day, my appetite for dealing with them as a volunteer was drastically reduced.  I stepped down as a community manager for the gaming community, and had to turn a blind eye to many of the problems the organization faced.  I couldn’t expend the emotional energy on both fronts.  There are those who do it, but I’m not one of them.  I think it would be interesting to talk to someone who is, and see what their secret is…..


#1 Cameron Smith on 12.09.08 at 10:28 am

Its interesting that while I’m not a manager @ EMC I face many of the same difficulties you express in WoW.

Something that worries me is the size of our community, the involvement outside of our core members and the ability to grow when turnover happens.

I dont know if you have ever used a service like Ventrillo (much like Skype) as part of an online community. Being able to talk in real time with voice inflection has solved countless problems versus text.


#2 Dave on 12.09.08 at 11:10 am

Very good point! Dealing with a distributed group of people primarily via text is a poor substitute for face-to-face (but is a management challenge lots of us face in the corporate world too!).

Our community does make use of real time voice communications (via a TeamSpeak server we host), but I think its primary use is still for tactical in-game situations and not larger-scale social interactions.

#3 jfbrown42 on 12.17.08 at 9:20 am

I’m a member of the same online gaming community Dave is.

Dave, over in ABGW we use Teamspeak for management conference calls when we have a time-sensitive crisis to deal with. We’re lucky that we don’t have many of those issues to deal with, but I’d say having voice communication definitely helps tie the community (and the admin team) closer together.

Interesting concept. I wonder if I should add my AB experience to my resume?

#4 Dave on 12.17.08 at 11:04 am

Interesting question JFB!

For obvious reasons being involved in running a volunteer organization with hundreds (even thousands) of members is valuable experience. But once video gaming comes into it, (some) people will look at it sideways.

#5 jfbrown42 on 02.10.09 at 6:01 pm

Yes. I’ve decided that some of the skills/challenges might be appropriate for my resume, but I won’t be listing the gaming organization on it, for the reason you cited.