Sanya Thomas no longer works for EA Mythic, WarCry has learned. For over six years, Sanya Thomas has helped blaze the trail of community manager over at EA Mythic (formerly Mythic Entertainment). She began as the Community Manager for Dark Age of Camelot just prior to its launch and eventually was responsible for all their titles as their Director of Community Relations. Today, we have an exclusive interview with Sanya about what happened, her time at Mythic and her future.
[Update: A few minutes after this story was first published, EA Mythic announced the change on the Camelot Herald (story).]
Answers by Sanya Thomas (formerly Director of Community Relations for EA Mythic)
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: You are known to be the long time Director of Community Relations for EA Mythic. When did you and your company of six years part ways?
Sanya Thomas: I got my jungle of houseplants moved out of the office last week.
WarCry: Can you talk about the circumstances of your departure?
Sanya Thomas: We mutually agreed to separate.
WarCry: Typically, when people leave a long held job as a mutual decision, there is an overlap period where they train replacements and take care of affairs. Obviously, this was a lot more sudden. Why was that?
Sanya Thomas: You've been a reporter for almost as long as I've been a community weenie, except for that part where you were leading your own game. And for all that time you've asked the best questions that I can't answer.
However, for the record, my departure could have been abrupt or prolonged, and it wouldn't matter that much. I have long said that my team was so good that any one of them could have been a community director anywhere else.
- Missy Hatch left temporarily for maternity leave on April 30, but she is the heart of the Camelot Herald. She was also my right arm, just a brilliant person.
- Richard Duffek has been the feedback systems designer since he came on two years ago, and he's been doing a lot of the WAR Herald design as well. (I'm fighting the temptation to make a really mean joke here, because sassing me was his favorite hobby; I can't believe I'm passing up the chance to get the last word.)
- Jeremy Dalberg was already a professional community weenie when she joined my little family, but even so wildly exceeded expectations in a situation that anyone else would have found... daunting.
- On of my main regrets in leaving so suddenly is that I won't get better acquainted with Parizad Parav. She has only been on the team since January, but she is a natural community person with amazing instincts for the right word or phrase.
I feel that these talented professionals will do a wonderful job, and that I can move on to whatever the future holds. I loved being the community overlord for EA Mythic, but now it's time for my minions to shine.
WarCry: Your departure became public only shortly after Mark Jacobs announced in his newsletter that Warhammer had been pushed back until Q1 2008. Is there any link between this and your departure?
Sanya Thomas: No.
WarCry: What do you think of the direction of both Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer at this time?
Sanya Thomas: I think that Camelot, given the resources, could continue for another five or even ten years. Despite a number of interesting choices over the years (all of which I, along with most of the developers who attend road trips, have already publicly discussed), the core of the game remains something unique and exciting. And there are a number of things the team is hoping to do that are amazing.
I believe WAR has an innovative, exciting game at its core. The proof of that is in the demo we showed over a year ago. Even with almost no systems in place, the basic gameplay was hugely fun.
It seems to me that a lot of games are designed without that basic hook, and I don't get it. Writers don't sit around going "I want to write a book with this theme." Or maybe they do, but those writers are dull as dishwater. You start with a hook - like, I don't know, "fast-paced PVP with iconic characters in a grim world" and go from there.
Camelot or WAR, there are a lot of people at EA Mythic with limitless potential. You will never hear their names, and no magazine will ever talk to them. Half the time they don't even have a door. They rarely have the opportunity to become known to senior management, let alone the world. But I was lucky. I traveled to different nerd-cons with a different batch of devs every time, and I got to meet the most amazing, talented, and funny people. They are working harder than any group I've ever seen to do the best they can regardless of anything else. They deserve the very best in terms of professional support, creative freedom, and luck.
I will miss them desperately.
Well, I would, if I were leaving the area. Which I'm not. And I didn't DIE, so I'll still see them for lunch and various barbeque situations.
WarCry: When you began at Mythic, prior to Dark Age of Camelot's launch, you were one of the - if not the - first community managers. Now it's a full blown profession people can get an education for. Tell us about how you see community management, its evolution and your role in it.
Sanya Thomas: Oh, I wasn't the first. Jon Hanna was the Ur-CM. And Gordon Wrinn was already famous before anyone ever heard of me. But I definitely have the title of longest-lasting. It would have been six years in June.
Somewhere, I have a copy of a message board post that says "she won't last six months."
Originally, community work was reactive. Something happened, and some poor schmuck was assigned to hit the boards and respond. Or worse, it was considered marketing, and not even GOOD marketing - carefully controlled information leached of all life by someone who wants to "control the message." And either way, the community manager was to blame if players didn't like what they heard. At a lot of companies, it's still no different. Even companies that start well sometimes morph into a more marketing/reactive pose.
I think my greatest contribution was I demonstrated that it doesn't have to be that way. I used my real name, and shared actual information. I felt that a community is a living entity that cannot be controlled, and deserves respect.
If you hire someone off the board who "seems really nice" and pay him minimum wage, you will get what you deserve. Community work is a professional specialty, with standards of communication, turnaround time, media responsiveness, and more. There are known benchmarks for message board personnel requirements, beta cycles, and professional behavior. There are techniques that can be mastered, assuming the basic skills are in place.
Good community is a little marketing, a little CS, and a little old-fashioned mud-wrestling on behalf of your players. It's important to work with the whole team to achieve a consistent message, of course, but at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the community weenie to stand up for players, for player feedback, and for realistic expectations. If that means a few bruises (from all sides), so be it.
I could go on for hours about this. I usually do, when I've been drinking in Austin with my fellow comrades in arms. (Comrades. How cool is that? Back when I was walking to school uphill through the snow, there were a tiny handful of people who knew what the hot seat felt like. There are dozens of us now, and we don't have to inflate our numbers by counting silly marketing stunts as "community.")
I'll just add that the Herald and the Herald's content will, I hope, go down as my legacy. An official place where you could see your stats and the stats of other players, and get first hand news that didn't sound like a shovelful of peppy? In 2001 there was no such thing, not on the scale or tone that we achieved with the Herald. (Originally we thought we'd just use www.darkageofcamelot.com - but it soon became apparent that we needed that URL to be very smooth and professional in tone. Hence www.camelotherald.com.)
What I did on the Herald was professional, in that it was entirely considered and intentional. Every good writer can work in any number of different "voices," and the voice of the Herald was meant to be casual and friendly. But not smooth, not over-produced, not "official."
I wish I could take the credit for the Herald, but honestly, the site design was as much Scott Jennings as it was me. We had similar ideas and feelings about The Right Way To Treat People, and The Importance Of Talking Honestly To Customers. And if we're being honest, Showing Off Your Epeen Is Fun, Admit It.
Little known fact: The original version of the Herald was Scott's blog software. Yes. It was built onto the Lum The Mad skeleton. That cracks me up to this day.
WarCry: What are you most proud of during your long and never dull tenure at Mythic?
Sanya Thomas: I think I made a good case for truth and transparency. It's so... obvious, but there it is. Players KNOW when you're lying, 99% of the time. That extra 1% is what really causes the trouble, because when they figure out that you lied, AND THEY WILL, payback is hell. I never lied. I fully admit I always tried to put the best possible spin on bad news, though.
Also, when my mom asks if her new pants make her butt look big, I give her a sincere compliment on the color of the pants. This is acceptable in human discourse.
My point is, players were able to trust the Herald - every word on that site posted by me or my team was the truth. Sometimes, circumstances forced us into a position where we couldn't keep our promises, but the moment I was allowed to do so, I went out and let people know the score.
That was very unusual for an official website of any kind, and it was really groundbreaking of Mythic to foster that. A personal commitment to honesty and ethical behavior is all very well, but unless the people with authority have ethics, you're just spitting into the wind. Throughout my time at Mythic, and then EA Mythic, I had many people around me that also believed in truth.
I could not have even tried to achieve my utopian vision without the full support of my former boss, Matt Firor, and the product producers that followed him,
I'm going to stop namechecking people now, or I'll be here all day. First, there would be dozens and dozens of people still at Mythic (there are more than 250 people working at the studio, can you believe it?), and then we'd move on to all of the friends I've made
drinking working at E3 and Gencon and AGC and THEN I'd get to the thousands of players I know by name and server, some of whom have been my online friends since I was a volunteer guide for Everquest... and you would be bored. So very, very bored. And I'd forget someone hugely important, and there would be Drama.
WarCry: So for the first time in a number of years, you're a free agent. What's next?
Sanya Thomas: While I confess I am torn between chasing my beagles around the house and learning to play the bagpipes, the sad truth is that I'm a worker at heart, and I am seeking gainful employment. I get nervous without deadlines or people screaming or imminent chaos.
I was and am a professional writer. While the creepy version of fame the internet has conferred upon me is NICE and all that, I have an actual resume. I've written everything from brochure copy to speeches to those "special advertising sections" in the newspaper hoping to convince you that you should really buy time shares in malarial swamps. Rumor has it I know a thing or two about building online communities, so I'm open to working with anyone who wants short term advice. The right long term offer would have to involve allowing me to stay here in Northern Virginia - my husband (Camelot's Art Director, and yes, I met him at Mythic) and I just bought a house last month, and I don't want to uproot the beagles again.
And of course, I once had this, uh, website. Ah, at last, the circle is complete.
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