Community Spirit: WotC Community Managers, and what they mean to us
In early December last year, an announcement made its way onto the the WotC community forums.
I confess that this headline made me somewhat curious. Job titles tend, in the modern age, to follow one of two patterns:
Perhaps it was a function of my own ignorance, but I found ‘Community Manager’ dropping neatly into the second category. I read on a little and realised that the post had been made by Dan Barrett – and that it described him as the UK’s Community Manager.
I’ve had a few interactions with Dan in the last couple of months (most famously when he sent me a free Commander deck to review) but I had never really considered his role within WotC; now, it dawned on me that he was part of some sort of new initiative that I didn’t understand.
I’m a curious little monkey, so there was nothing else for it: I looked up Dan’s contact details and went sniffing for an interview.
A pillar of the Community
My initial questions to Dan were of a very direct nature about his role and plans for the future, but before we hear what he had to say, a little introduction might be in order.
Tell us a little about yourself, Dan.
I’m originally from Bedford. I studied Physics at Oxford, which was when I first started playing tournament Magic regularly. After university, I got my first job as community manager (for a start-up company, bragster.com), which led to a similar position with Guinness World Records. After almost four years, I heard about this position opening up at Wizards – and here we are.
What’s your background in Magic?
I first bought a pack of Magic cards after outgrowing Pokemon – it must have been about the year 2000, as I remember Masques block being the most recent thing in the shop. Sadly there was no one else interested in playing it that I could find in my area, so I gave up. Several years later, when I arrived at university, I heard there were big weekly tournaments very close by. I went along to the next one, which was the Future Sight pre-release. I didn’t win a game, but was instantly hooked.
How have you been involved previously on the Community side of things?
Through Twitter, and my writing. Twitter allowed me to easily talk to other Magic players whenever I wanted to, and they started telling me they enjoyed what I had to say in articles I’d published on local Magic websites. Then the Star City Games Talent Search came along, which I finished second in, and this gave me a much bigger platform to share my opinions on. By this point I’d realized I was never going to be the best player of the game, but could still be entertaining and help others in the community.
The job in hand
We’ve met the man, now let’s hear about the plan.
When I don’t understand what someone does, I tend to opt for the blunt approach; so it was in this case. I asked Dan, Why does Wizards have Community Managers?
In short, because we want players to be happy. Having Community Managers makes it easier for us to talk to the players, for you to give feedback and suggestions to us… The benefits to us are from the Magic community being ever happier, healthier, and more vocal. These attributes not only lead players to continue loving and being involved with the game for many years to come, but also mean they are more likely to encourage their friends to join them in the world of Magic.
Put in these terms, the concept seems simple: If a business listens to its customers, it has a better chance of making them happy and keeping their custom. Wizards has taken the logical step of hiring a few key people to listen properly.
It’s also pretty interesting to see the linkage Dan draws between player happiness and new player acquisition.
For the last several years, Wizards has been able to tell a bullish story of growth. Estimates of a 12-million-strong player base are double those which I first encountered, when reading up on the statistic in the early part of the millennium. Often, the credit for this explosion is laid at the door of Duels of the Planeswalkers, the PC/Console game which smooths a new player’s learning process and has acted as a startlingly effective recruiting sergeant for Magic.
I, however, was introduced to Magic by a friend; since that fateful day, I’ve introduced my own fair share of cronies to the game. I’m heartened that Wizards’ still recognises the strong, slow-burning potential of that route rather than pinning all its hopes on the DotP juggernaut. One of the game’s strengths has always been the fact that it isn’t tethered to digital platforms, albeit it has made good use of them over the years.
If Dan and his team are here to listen, then, what are they listening out for?
I’m here for you to contact about anything related to Magic: the Gathering in Europe – whether it affects all of Europe, or just your country/town. This could be feedback on events, questions, or suggestions. Not everything you bring to me is going to lead to changes (every country in the world wants more PTQs, for instance), but I can promise that your feedback is passed on to those who most need to see it.
So, I asked next, what does a day in the life of a Community Manager look like?
There’s a fair bit going on here, but some particular points stand out as interesting to me.
Firstly, a huge chunk of Dan’s time is going into processing the things that players bring up. He’s reading messages, then summarizing them for various departments, something he wouldn’t be getting paid to do unless his organisation took feedback seriously.
Secondly, he’s in direct contact with some of the people who most closely shape the experiences of Magic players (outside of the R&D team) …in particular, Helene Bergeot, who runs the Organised Play programme.
I know a lot of Magic players who are involved heavily in the PTQ and GP circuit, some of whom have strong opinions about what the future direction of that circuit should be. I’m certain that a few of them would appreciate an opportunity to have their ideas ‘sold in’ to Helene by a colleague, rather than tweeting at her and hoping – or simply sitting on those ideas.
But how big is the pool of active players who are contacting Dan? In the UK, there are a lot of Magic players, even just counting those who get involved in tournaments; one operative can’t read, digest and summarize messages from hundreds of players each day.
What am I getting at? Well, I’ve observed a tendency amongst humans to believe that their voice doesn’t count for much amidst the noise of the crowd. I hear people talking themselves out of raising issues, because they assume that they won’t be listened to by influential people.
The truth is this: people who speak up are usually a minority. That means if you actually do it, your voice tends to have more impact than your percentage share of the Magic player population would suggest – and you are automatically punching above your weight.
I humbly suggest that if you have strong feelings about the game and how it should develop, you should be going out of your way to express those feelings to your Community Manager in the most persuasive way you can. Do it right… and you might just end up with an advocate inside WotC who will fight your corner.
According to Dan, the Community Management have two main goals in 2014:
That’s a pretty cool second goal, if you ask me.
As an English speaker, I’m spoiled for choice when it comes to Magic articles and videos in my mother tongue, because I can access all the American, Canadian and Australian material as a matter of course. The same can’t be said for everyone across Europe, so working to help their communities grow in strength is a big positive.
Going a level deeper, it’s great news as a UK Magic player – because while I might be able to read coverage and articles from Stateside, a proportion of it is very US-centric. I’m intrigued to see whether developing the UK-specific content which is available will help our community to find a stronger, more individual voice; perhaps it might even support the development of independent UK tournaments, or analogs of other things we see emerging from a vibrant American scene?
The Community Philosophy
When I ask Dan what Magic means to him, his response is straightforward and, for most of us, easy to relate to.
It’s certainly the best, most challenging, and most fun game I’ve ever played, and I don’t think I could imagine a future in which I wasn’t pretty heavily involved with Magic.
This is a statement that most of the Magic players I know could have made; moreover, it comes from someone who isn’t an elite player, but a ‘normal’ member of our community.
From what I’ve heard, I think that this quality will be very important if the Community Management programme is to be successful. The concept of a Community Manager, now that I understand it, seems desirable – but crucially, the people fulfilling these roles have to be approachable and sympathetic in reality. Their job title alone can’t knit a community together, but their tone, enthusiasm for the game and outlook on the great commonwealth of Magic players will do a lot of heavy lifting if they can get them right.
Of course, it’s not just the behaviour of the Community Managers which can make an impact. I asked Dan: How can players “help you to help us”?
It’s a grand statement, but “be the change you want to see in the community”. There are many things you can do to help one another enjoy the game even more, always someone newer than you who’d love your advice on his/her deck or how to play, and so on.
When giving feedback (be it to us, or a store), try to make it constructive – why did you particularly enjoy/not enjoy something, and how could it have been different, what would you change in future?
I feel pretty confident, receiving an answer like this, that I’m dealing with someone who understands how communities work. If we all sit back and wait for Dan and his colleagues to deliver amazing things all on their own, their project will fail; but if we join in, share our ideas and spread positive behaviours, good things can start to happen.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers? I ask.
Don’t forget to have fun, he replies.
It’s advice I intend to take every time I shuffle up. Hopefully, if Dan and his fellow Community Managers can gather some momentum, we might all end up having a little more fun as a result.
If you want to contact Dan, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via @wizards_magiceu on Twitter.