Bad days in the gaming industry

I run the community department in the gaming industry and I am having a Bad Day.

But not in the way that you think.

This blog entry is not about tirades, mental break downs, or lapses in judgment. There’s a lot of that in our industry, and people who work in my field are particularly notable examples, but that’s not the kind of Bad Day I’m talking about.

I’m personally having a difficult time in life right now and it’s making me realize how much more difficult that makes the outward facing component of my job.

Okay, let’s take a step back here before I go on: this is not a cry for help. I have put away my tiny violin. I am QQing a little bit here, but it’s not because I want people to feel sorry for me, or make me feel better. I am not looking to change anything, either, but I’ve not seen this talked about and I know I’m not alone in this difficulty.

I’m a public persona within my industry. As such, I don’t really have an online life that is truly personal, or separate from work. This is a fact if you do the kinds of things I do for a living: I don’t mind it. I really love my life and I adore my work. Some don’t love this aspect of the gig (even if they love the gig) but I knew what I was signing up for. When you work in gaming, running the community, you are always on call. There’s always the potential to be working. And for me? I really like it when I see a random thread on reddit or a Twitter conversation that I can help with in an official function, even if it’s midnight on a Saturday. Bring it on. Seriously. I love it.

But there are the rare times when I want to step back, take a deep breath, and not worry that I’m letting our fans down by doing so. I remember being out on Christmas Eve years ago and getting an irate email from a fan who needed some support. He’d received my Out of Office somehow (damn me for setting something wrong on that) and was appalled that I was on vacation and how poorly that reflected on the company. Now, that’s definitely an extreme, but there are rational examples, too: I’m the connection between company and fan. That’s important to people. I’m not irreplaceable, I’m not a super star, but I help people and I’m glad that they need me and can depend on me.

There’s an unfortunate flip side, though, that I’ve been worrying about this week. What happens when a Bad Day happens, but it’s also a bad day for my gaming community? I winced, a couple weeks back, when a legitimately angry fan posted about how my team didn’t seem dedicated to our game and community: we were posting on our personal Twitters about cars, D&D, knee surgery. And while part of me said “no, we get to have lives too, we might always be on call but we’re not chained to a desk” I also said to myself “yes, sometimes things happen and we’re not around and that impacts our fans.”

My worry is two-fold: when we have Bad Days, and need to bugger off early – or we’re having a Really Bad Day and need to be disconnected completely – what happens to the work we’ve left behind? In my instance, I’m lucky: I have a kick ass team and together, we can work veritable miracles. But several years ago, when my mother died suddenly, I was the only community person in the department. There are a lot of folks out there that are perhaps the only voice communicating with the fans – and they care about their jobs, too. It’s difficult to juggle. And that brings me to my other fear: being honest about having a real life. When you are having a Bad Day, it’s a huge risk to level with the people you are communicating with and let them know the score. If a snarky comment about my knee made me wince, what does the ill-thought jab about a bigger problem do to me? I have a damned thick skin, but I am human, and come on – this is the Internet. There will always be the one mean-spirited comment.

Sometimes, we need time off. I’m not the president of the US and I’m not creating world peace: time off can and does happen and it’s not the end of the world. My company is awesome and understands this, so the internal part of the Bad Day time away (mentally or physically) is never a problem. And I’m a dedicated worker to an almost nutty degree – you can probably glean that from this post alone. But that’s only half the equation. There’s a community out there that might see an absence, or a change, and have that negatively effect me, my company, and the games I work for. That’s the last thing in the world I want – but how do you explain what’s going on while still keeping your own personal space and dignity?

And so I come back to the conundrum that made me write this blog post: what to do with a Bad Day when you are a public person and an important link between passionate consumers and the people who make the game they love. How do you juggle the obligation between job and the rest of your life when the nature of your job makes it almost impossible to have a personal life unless you never talk about it? How do you protect against the minority who can and will go for your proverbial throat if you show a soft spot, yet explain to the community you care about that even if you aren’t at 100% it shouldn’t be taken as a negative in regards to the game they play and the company who makes it?

If you have an answer to that, please let me know.

6 Comments on "Bad days in the gaming industry "

Aug 21, 2013 at 7:49pm
I had all of this in mind while reading the Rift forums and it made me especially ashamed to read some of the comments made on it. Take care, some of us know enough about how it works to not be weirdly abusive. :)
Aug 21, 2013 at 8:03pm
Thanks Malcolm. And just to be clear: last week was a long week work-wise but what I'm talking about here is entirely personal and not related to work. Sometimes the shit hits the fan in your family's life and for my job, that's rough. You can't exactly say "hey guys, I'm dealing with some shit, be nice."
Aug 21, 2013 at 8:17pm
I wanted to thank you for this very open post. It is a very good reminder to all of us gamers who can very easily fall into the trap of taking the hard working community managers (and other folks at the game companies) for granted simply because to us, you're just another random face on the internet (with a rock star status). Heck, if you didn't have a personal life then something would be wrong with your whole work / life balance and that's just no fun for anyone. I do feel for you though as I fall into a similar situation workwise - I'm the face to my customer and if I'm not available, oh boy. It's hard to stop caring especially when you love what you do, but at some point you have to make time for you and your own mental health in order to stay good at what you do. At the end of the day, you have to take care of you personally.

Hope you are having a better week this week at least!
Aug 21, 2013 at 10:15pm
Yep, no worries, I got exactly what it meant.
Aug 22, 2013 at 2:34am
You are your own best resource. At least, that was the mantra my graduate school always used to push on us. The issue isn't your bad day situations or your outside of work life(and for those that love what they do, there's never a turn off switch in that regard). What you could reflect on is -how- you develop the resources yourself to better handle those situations. The ole self reflection of what helped, what harmed, etc and then setting forth to alter things accordingly to better adapt.

To that end, because your job entailed a very public face and representation of your company, how you then communicate to others in that capacity that you do have such a life beyond your corporate responsibilities could perhaps be polished. Granted not everyone will still care and vitriol and other things will fly, but you can as well better insulate yourself from such barbs in the process, without encapsulating yourself from having a finger on the pulse of the gaming communities you interact with.
Aug 22, 2013 at 3:49am
Thanks, Sanguine. I agree with your mantra and it's more or less one of the guiding principles for me and my life (and so far it's worked out really well!)

And just in case reading this blog post makes you think differently of the stuff I write professionally, I do want to quell the fears that the difficulties in my personally life are coloring the professional interactions. Being able to know myself and maintain a calm and balanced outlook towards life is absolutely essential to being successful in that regard. That being said, if you want to PM me elsewhere to talk about anything I'm totally game. My tone is something I think through very completely and well ahead of time. :)

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