Welcome to Dames Who Make Games, Gamerwife’s interview series with the lovely ladies who make our video games. Whether you’re a QA tester or a company VP, we want to hear what you have to say. And remember to click “Continue reading” for the whole story.
This week I had the honour and the priviledge of sitting down with Esther H., a crazy passionate gamer and Community Manager here in Montreal. We talked about fan engagement, the solidarity of working in QA and Goomba related childhood trauma…
Gamerwife: How did you get started in the industry?
Esther H.: Well, I was studying sciences in Nova Scotia, but as I was nearing the end of my studies I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue in Sciences, so I said “I’m moving to Montreal,” got here and didn’t really have any idea of what I was going to do. I just knew that I wanted to start an adventure.
I saw an ad on Craigslist and the headline was “Become a Game Tester!” And I was like “What? I can do that?!” So, I applied for it, went in for an interview, and got it and started working at [name of company redacted] as a game tester.
My mind was blown! I was so happy to be actually making money working in the game industry. Games were always a big part of my life, and being a part of all that… it was quite an experience.
I worked in external game testing companies for a while, doing Functionality and Compliance testing until I got a job at [name of company redacted], where I worked for three years.
GW: And now you’re a Community Manager…?
EH: Yeah… [name of company redacted] was a tiny company back then. I was Lead QA, but the thing is with that company, is that they integrate their quality assurance into the dev team. Not a lot of companies do this, but they should. It’s really amazing. As a lead I got to learn so much about the whole game development process because you’re not just put on the side and given builds, you’re actually participating in meetings. You’re a part of the process.
GW: So as QA, you actually got face time with the devs?
EH: YES! I mean, you almost are a dev, in a way. I think [name of company redacted], still to this day, is one of the best companies to work for as a QA tester, for sure. On all the projects I worked on, the team was so tightly knit it was a really great experience. So I did that for two years, then I started working as a community manager for a game show game…
GW: And you’ve just moved to another company in the same position?
EH: Yeah, same position. I really love it because you get to cater to the fans and share that fan excitement with the dev team. Show them that the fans are here, they’re appreciating the games, they’re loving what you’re doing. Then I get to hang out with our fans, and get THEM excited about our games. I really, really love it.
GW: So what does your day to day look like, as a community manager? It’s such a new position, I think a lot of people would be interested in what that looks like as a job.
EH: Community Management is definitely a new position, and you have to wear many hats. It’s a balance between PR, Marketing and Customer Support. You have to cater to the fans, and create a place where they meet, rant, and share their love for your game. That could mean a Facebook page, an Official Website, a Blog, Twitter… Whatever form it takes, you have to make sure to keep it fresh. So, update it, create contests or create special events. You want to keep your fanbase engaged, and you want them to keep playing your games.
Now you’ve got your community, so – go hang out with them! You’ve got to have a finger right on the pulse of your fanbase. Know what makes them tick, what they love, what they hate. Ultimately, we’re making games for the fans. So the only way to keep evolving, and keep making better games, is by listening to the people who play them.
There’s a lot of content creation as well, especially at my new position. If you want to get people engaged, you’re going to have to give them engaging content. There’s quite a bit of writing involved in Community Management, so that’s a skill you’d need to sharpen before diving in. But it’s not just being able to put a sentence together, you gotta make sure you get the community interacting with you, and each other. For example, if you’re building a Facebook post, adding: “Like this post if you are a human being…” would help get your post visibility. As soon as they “Like” it it’ll get on their friends’ feeds, their friends will see it, they’ll be like “oh, what is this game that I haven’t played yet? Lemme go check it out…” Don’t do the human being bit though. You have to make it interesting, you have to make it a place where people are going to check it every day just to see what’s going on.
You’re also involved in the game development process on the production side. Recently, I’ve been working on iPhone games, and this is an area where support from production is especially important. On a Facebook game, it’s almost intuitive to go from the game, to the Facebook Fanpage. Two clicks, that’s it. But when you’re working on an iPhone game, it’s crucial to promote the Community within the game itself, and preferably give incentives.
And play your own games! Play your own games, so you know what you’re talking about when you’re out there in the Community. Being a gamer will give you a big leg-up. You’ll be able to understand what you would want from a video game community, cause you’re a part of the larger gaming community. Regardless, you should be playing games. Just, play games.
GW: It’s a quite a bit different from QA. Would you say you like it more or less?
EH: I did QA for 4 years, so I needed a new challenge. I loved QA though, I’ll still always be QA at heart, you know?
GW: There does seem to be a sort of solidarity for people who’ve worked in QA…
EH: There is a solidarity, and I think that everyone that works in games should go through it. You learn so much. Especially in Montreal, it’s such a small community of QA testers. It’s so incestuous, like everybody knows each other almost.
Community Management is different, but I’ve found a lot of similarities to it. You know, in QA you test the game, you write a bug, you give it to the dev team they fix it and they make it better. Community management, you talk to the fans, they give you their issues, you write to the devs, they fix the game and they make it better. It’s all about improving the experience, you just get the information from a different place.
GW: So I guess for you, coming up through QA it wasn’t particularly hard to break into the industry…
EH: Well, I’d say that because [name of company redacted] is such a small company and they integrated the QA team so well, I got to know a lot of different people in the company and we were kind of a tight knit group. QA Lead was a great job and I learned a lot about management, but if I had stuck to QA testing in external testing houses I don’t think I would have gotten that opportunity, to be honest with you.
I’d say that if someone wants to break into the industry, yes, go get some experience in external testing houses because they will hire people with no experience. But after that, when you’ve got the chops, and the will to work in video games, go to a company, work your way up. If you work hard and you show them that you’re ready to do this, you can! [laughs]
GW: As a woman, have you had any issues with discrimination or harassment?
EH: Not more than any other industry, to be quite honest with you. I think you’ll find it everywhere. I feel like, because playing video games is sort of seen as this “guy” thing to do and if you’re a girl who plays games you’re a [expletive] unicorn… people might expect to find more sexual harassment.
I don’t feel like I had to prove myself more because I was a woman in the video game industry. I had to prove myself because I was a person in the video game industry trying to get ahead.
I don’t think that women should be dissuaded from working in the game industry just because it’s seemingly dominated by men. Yes, I’ve been at the receiving end of some inappropriate behavior throughout my career in games. But I also think you wouldn’t get it more in video games than you would any other industry. There have always been ample resources available to deal with these types of issues. Sadly, these situations do in fact happen, and they are always unacceptable.
GW: What do you think can be done to encourage more women to get into the industry?
EH: That’s a tough one. I have a lot of hope for the next generation. I think that if we teach our women that math isn’t just something that men do and construction work is something that you can do and video games is something that you can do, then maybe they’ll sort of discover their interests on their own instead of looking at what they’re “supposed” to like.
But, I feel like more women play games now than ever before. I really do. So I feel like the next generation of women might be more passionate about games than the last one and I think that that will translate into more women in the video game workforce.
I wouldn’t want to work in any other industry.
GW: What’s the best thing about your job?
EH: Oh God. So many things… [laughs] First of all, I get to write. I get to write articles and I get to talk to people about what they love about our games and I get to share that love from the fans with the people that are making the games and make them happy and make the fans happy and help create these games I’m doing something I couldn’t even imagine doing when I was a kid. (all in one breath?)
GW: But there’s gotta be some downsides…
EH: One thing that I think a lot of people working in games can say is that they’re not making the games that they want to work on. You’re making games for somebody else and you’re not making them on your own terms. I’m sure a lot of people would love to just come in to work and think up an idea and then just do it. But no, they have to work for a company and they have to make games on someone else’s terms, using someone else’s ideas, and they might feel like they’re just doing it for the money.
However, that said, there is a lot of room for creativity. You can still find a way to be creative and learn on the job, even if you might not be making your dream game.
GW: What was the first game you ever played?
EH: The first game I ever played was Super Mario Bros. on the NES and I was so terrified of the Goombas [laughs]. My mom gave me my first Nintendo because she was a teacher for kids with learning disabilities and she read this study that playing video games augments your hand-eye coordination so she’s like “Here, play this.” I saw the Goombas coming at me and I was so scared that my mom had to take the controller and be like “look, you can jump on them and they die,” so I took back the controller and I tried it. And I haven’t seen the sun since.
GW: How old were you?
EH: I was really young, 6 or 7 maybe? So I kept playing it. Then I got my Sega Genesis… I never did the Super Nintendo. I went Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstation. Sega, man I had that console for so long… Then I got my PS1, which is when I discovered Role Playing Games.
My first RPG was Legend of Legaia and I thought “Oh my God, this is what I’ve been looking for in a game!” Story based, character development… yeah it’s a little blocky sprite, but it’s your little sprite with feelings and a history… I got so attached to them. I never finished that game because my Playstation got stolen at the airport with my memory card. My save game was like 60 hours in. I had a 60 hour tantrum after that.
Then I got really into Final Fantasy. Big into Final Fantasy. My favourite was 8– not a very popular choice, but I love Final Fantasy 8. The characters were on a real scale! I remember thinking “man, graphics are not getting any better than this. This is the future! The future is here!” I just played Final Fantasy for hundreds and hundreds of hours of my life. The ninth one, I finished three times. Then PS2, PS3. Now I have PS3, Xbox 360… I’ve just built a gaming PC, so I’m starting to get into it… but I was never a big PC gamer.
Since I got into the game industry I’ve been playing a lot of casual games, a lot of Facebook games, a lot of iPhone games that I can just get into really quickly and play a bit then stop.
GW: I think that’s happened to a lot of us as we’ve gotten older and started to have “real lives.”
EH: Noooo, I hate lives. I remember putting in like 80 hours– man, just playing a role playing game the entire March break and just not seeing anyone and just playing that game for 7 days straight. I miss that.
I’m playing a lot of games that I wouldn’t necessarily play just to see how they’re doing their freemium model and how they do the whole social thing in their games, which is also kind of a new thing so there’s no guidelines.. a lot of companies are doing it really differently. I download a lot of free games and play those. But, I do miss my 100 hour RPGs. One day. One day I’ll get back to you… [laughs]
GW: Favourite game of all time?
EH: PaRappa The Rapper! For sure! I listened to that soundtrack TODAY, AT WORK. I love that game. When I played it, it was just so different from any other game that I’d played. It’s like Guitar Hero’s cooler ancestor. You’re a little dog and you have to rap… and he goes to the bathroom, and raps about that. Then he romances this flower girl and he raps about that… the raps are so good and so funny. There’s an onion, he teaches you romantic karate? NanaOn-Sha. Hats off to you. Just take all of my hats. I have to say, for the game that’s given me the most enjoyment throughout my life, PaRappa The Rapper. Still know the Cheep Cheep the Cooking Chicken Rap by heart.
GW: Good answer! And what are you playing right now, if you’re allowed to say?
EH: I’m playing a lot of freemium games like this zombie game that’s location based on iPhone called Please Stay Calm. The thing that I love about it is that they use every single freemium trick in the book. They have FourSquare, Twitter, Facebook, a chat room inside the game. You’re a zombie [apocalypse] survivor, but it’s location based, so you’re killing zombies inside the Cafe you go to every morning. It’s just fascinating the way they’ve done it and the way they’ve integrated– seamlessly– all this freemium stuff into it, which is a tricky thing. On top of that, you have all these amazing community features. It’s an MMO on mobile basically… or an MMMO. The studio, Massive Damage is actually based in Toronto. Within the first couple of weeks they topped the charts and rightfully so. And I cannot stop playing it. It’s gone past the point of “I’m doing it for research,” I’m just addicted to it now. I think they’ve done a really good job and it’s just a really good example of how to integrate the social in your game. Just to see how well that worked is amazing.
I’m supposed to play Dead Space tonight, actually. Bought the first one, but I am freaked out. I will play it. I love survival horror, and I’ll play it, but I’m also the biggest wimp.