Funcom recently hired a Community Manager for Age of Conan. The former Escapist/WarCry staffer Shannon Drake took over in Norway a couple months ago and we had a chance to do an interview with him about his new job.
Answers by Shannon Drake
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: Let's begin with the simple introduction. Can you tell our readers who you are and what you do?
Shannon Drake: My name is Shannon Drake, and I am the Community Manager for Funcom, dealing with all community aspects including AO, Dreamfall/The Longest Journey, Age of Conan, and whatever dark conspiracies we may (or may not) be involved with.
WarCry: As the Community Manager of a soon to launch game, what are your immediate priorities for the community in advance of that launch?
Shannon Drake: My immediate priorities for Conan are contributing to the beta process however I can, especially by getting the community involved with it, and whetting their appetites for new information about the game. I also work with Marketing on promoting the game and letting them know the current mood of the various forums and communities, and I sit in on meetings and bug people around the company as a general voice-of-the-player.
WarCry: In some ways, CMs are of the company, but separate. You're that bridge in between the two. How do you hope to help the community get the game they want?
Shannon Drake: The big thing here at Funcom is access. If there's a problem with Anarchy, it's a short ride in the elevator to bug the guy in charge of it. If there's a problem with Conan, it's a short walk to bug the guy in charge of it. I go to the meetings and talk to them daily, and everyone is usually aware of what the community wants. I serve almost as the empowered player type, synthesizing the feedback of thousands of people into "This is what they want." Now, sometimes, there's a very good reason (technical or otherwise) why they can't have it, but finding that out is part of the "player advocate" side of being a community manager. I also have to balance my knowledge of what the players want with what the company is able and capable of providing, as well as the needs of the business side of things as well, which, again, is all about balance.
WarCry: On the other side, how important do you feel community feedback is to a game's development and evolution?
Shannon Drake: I think community feedback is tremendously important, within reason. Part of synthesizing all the viewpoints represented on the forums and various other places is figuring out how to present that information, and fitting what everyone says into the larger picture. For example, "Funcom totally favors Race X over Race Y" is, on its surface, a silly comment. However, "Race X fighters are significantly underpowered compared with Race Y fighters" is something that merits investigating. Now, it could be as simple as Race Y being the weaker of the two for story or balance or character reasons, but it could also be something someone mistyped in the database.
At the same time, I think staying true to your vision and the game you're trying to make is extremely critical. I think the recent pushback announcement, while painful, is a good example of the way we want to listen to community feedback, making sure we make the game we want to make, but also making sure we make a game that our players are going to love.
WarCry: How have your past jobs helped you prepare for this challenge?
Shannon Drake: Considering all the stuff they have me writing, the writing experience was tremendously useful. I've worked on front-line support as a GM and in events, so I know the in-game side of thing, and other community management work in both pre- and post-launch communities prepared me nicely for dealing with all the games I cover, and the different needs of each.
WarCry: How much of your job crosses over into in-game events? If it does, what type of things do you hope to do?
Shannon Drake: At the moment, I don't have a lot of involvement with in-game events. As we move into the live phase, that may change as we finalize plans.