Making Room for Newbs in Competitive Gaming
But gaming communities aren’t always known for being the most thoughtful. That’s what Gabe Graziani, senior community developer at gaming giant Ubisoft, hopes to see in the communities he works with. After spending six years building out the Assassin’s Creed community, Gabe is now working on Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, a title that features a much more competitive community.
How does that affect the age-old community problem of making new members – or, as a stereotyped gamer might say, newbs – feel welcome? Plus:
- Ubisoft’s community structure
- The community leader approach to measuring the value of community
- Inclusivity through removal
“What I like to say, about this community work that we do, is there should be a good-sized portion of it that’s observation, where you’re not necessarily saying anything. You’re just paying attention to what other people are saying and making sure that you understand the core of what people are talking about.” -@UbiGabe
“When I started working on a brand that had people [in the community] who were producing art around it, I was like, ‘Well, we can’t use this without some sort of payment being involved.’ You pay for the art. … The thing is that we’re also creators, so we want people to pay for our games so that they can play them. It only makes sense to be on the side of the creator, from that perspective.” -@UbiGabe
“Just because someone is really passionate about the game and really loves the company, and really has a lot of great things to say, doesn’t actually mean that they have the skills that translate to what community does.” -@patrickokeefe
“The older a community becomes, the more it tends toward insularity, with members defending their status by wielding their knowledge or experience in negative and insulting ways designed to make newcomers feel intimidated.” -@UbiGabe
“You never need to introduce negativity into a community. There’s going to be plenty that just arises on its own.” -@UbiGabe
About Gabe Graziani
Gabe Graziani started in the gaming industry over a decade ago as a graphic design intern at GamePro magazine, but has been working in community development at Ubisoft for the last eight years. Roughly six of those years were spent helping to build the Assassin’s Creed community from a budding new IP into a welcoming and creative juggernaut of cosplayers, artists, livestreamers and content creators of all varieties.
Since leaving Assassin’s Creed, Gabe has sought new challenges in the emerging virtual reality market, helping to launch Ubisoft’s first games in the new medium including Eagle Flight, Werewolves Within and the soon-to-be-released Star Trek: Bridge Crew.
Now, Gabe has returned to triple-A with Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, which introduces new challenges in the esports field to this veteran of narrative-heavy action adventure titles.
- Gabe on Twitter
- Ubisoft, where Gabe is a senior community developer on Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
- Wikipedia page for GamePro magazine, where Gabe started in the gaming industry as an intern
- Assassin’s Creed, a game that Gabe spent around 6 years working on, in community
- Eagle Flight, Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew, other games that Gabe has worked on at Ubisoft
- Discord, a text and voice chat service focused at gamers
- Assassin’s Creed on Twitter and Facebook, both efforts that Gabe helped build out
- Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, a game in the Assassin’s Creed series
- Li Kuo, who worked with Gabe in community on Assassin’s Creed
- Overwatch, a game that Gabe played with friends that led to him first discovering Discord
- Eagle Flight‘s subreddit, which launched a Discord channel for the game
- Yves Guillemot, president and CEO of Ubisoft
- “Unconventional Wisdom on Creating a Passionate Community,” Gabe’s talk at the 2015 Game Developers Conference
- Community Signal episode with Trella Rath, where we discussed salaries in the gaming industry
- Stephanie Pecaoco, a community developer at Ubisoft
- “I’m Not a Role Model” by Newsweek Staff for Newsweek, about Charles Barkley’s claim that he was not a role model
- Wikipedia page for Ty Cobb, a baseball player with reputation for dangerous behavior on the field
00:03: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet as you listen using #CommunitySignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:20 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello, and thank you for joining me today for our conversation with Gabe Graziani, senior community developer at gaming giant Ubisoft, to talk about the community structure at the company, how to make newbies feel welcome in competitive gaming environments, and why community leaders inform community ROI at Ubisoft.
00:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Gabe started in the gaming industry over a decade ago as a graphic design intern at GamePro magazine, but has been working in community development at Ubisoft for the last eight years. Roughly six of those years were spent helping to build the Assassin’s Creed community from a budding new IP into a welcoming and creative juggernaut of cosplayers, artists, live-streamers, and content creators of all varieties. Since leaving Assassin’s Creed, Gabe has sought new challenges in the emerging virtual reality market, helping to launch Ubisoft’s first games in new medium, including Eagle Flight, Werewolves Within, and the soon-to-be-released Star Trek: Bridge Crew. Now, Gabe has returned to triple-A with Rainbow Six Siege, which introduces new challenges in the esports field to this veteran of narrative-heavy action, adventure, titles. Gabe, welcome to the program.
01:23 Gabe Graziani: Thank you for having me, Patrick.
01:26 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a pleasure. So, when you moved from game journalism to game-brand community–is what I’ll call it–you told me that Ubisoft put you through a “ridiculous number of interviews”. How many was it?
01:39 Gabe Graziani: I think it was actually, like, six, which, at this point, does not sound like too many.
01:44 Patrick O’Keefe: It doesn’t sound too bad.
01:45 Gabe Graziani: Yeah, no. Not at all. But I think part of it was that there were a variety of in-person interviews. So, it was more like eight. It was four more phone interviews and Skype interviews. I had to talk to a lot of people from a variety of different, as they call them nowadays, cross-functional teams.
02:01 Patrick O’Keefe: Over how long of a period of time were those interviews?
02:03 Gabe Graziani: Oh, gosh. So, the funny thing about it was I didn’t actually get hired the first time I’d applied. They went with another candidate. So, I had some amount of interviews at the beginning. Like, six of them had happened for that first job. And then the second one, they only had, like, two interviews with me to confirm that I still wanted the job and was going to be a good fit in Montreal. So, it was probably like … over the entire course, it was probably about six months.
02:30 Patrick O’Keefe: Well, thank goodness you had that first six in the can that you didn’t have to restart for the second one. [Laughs]
02:34 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. Yeah.
02:37 Patrick O’Keefe: So, your job title is senior community developer, and you told me that community developers at Ubisoft “set a strategy for the rest of the community team but don’t directly manage them. They have their own bosses and work out of offices centralized in Europe and North America, while community developers sit with the development teams”. That leads me to ask, what does the community structure at Ubisoft look like?
02:58 Gabe Graziani: So, we have a broad community group that focuses on things like customer support, is one pillar of that. Then we also have what’s called CRM, which I believe is customer resource management. So, basically, they’re the ones in charge of sending out targeted emails and stuff. So, if you are a fan of a specific brand, they know that you have played those games, so they will send you an email about the next one. So, anything that has to do with anything that you have opted in, information you’ve opted in to provide us to our database, they will use that in order to target messaging to you, to try and put you together with games that you might like.
03:33 Gabe Graziani: And then there’s also the community side of it, which is more of an engagement side, which is a part that I work on. We work with community managers and community representatives who are more of the direct interactors with community members. At its core, my job is to serve as a bridge between the players of the game and the developers of the game, so that they can talk to each other.
03:53 Patrick O’Keefe: So, you have people who are focused on those players, those community managers, those community reps. And then you sit more on the development side, so you kind of filter through what comes from the community and helps bring it back to the developers? Is that a fair way to describe it?
04:08 Gabe Graziani: That is exactly it. That is exactly it.
04:10 Patrick O’Keefe: Perfect. And then, so what does your average day look like as a senior community developer?
04:15 Gabe Graziani: Well, it’s actually one of the things that I love the most about this job, is that there isn’t any such thing as an average day. Because I will spend an inordinate amount of time looking at social channels, like Facebook and Twitter, just not even necessarily things that are directly relevant to the brands that I’m working on, just because I need to be aware of the overall zeitgeist of the gaming community. What are the hot topics among games? What should we be looking towards in terms of memes? Because it’s a form of communication these days and a form of interacting with our community. So, I do spend a lot of time just sort of surfing the web, to use an old term.
04:55 Gabe Graziani: But I also have to interact a lot with our developers and our community managers. I get a lot of emails from our community managers that are raising issues from the community to my attention, so that I can go ahead and work with my fellow community developers to figure out how we can approach the development team in order to create messaging and communication so that we’re always keeping that communication flow churning between the two groups.
05:21 Patrick O’Keefe: So, it’s almost like, in a traditional agency environment, you have brand side, client side. At Ubisoft, you have developer side, player side. You have representatives on each side working to make that relationship work.
05:33 Gabe Graziani: Yep. Absolutely. And I mean, there is also some interaction that we have directly, as well. I mean, I’m in the Discord for a variety of our titles, just so I can keep an eye on what’s happening. What I like to say about this community work that we do is that there should be a good-sized portion of it that’s observation, where you’re not necessarily saying anything. You’re just paying attention to what other people are saying and making sure that you understand the core of what people are talking about, what that sentiment is like, what the major issues that are facing players, and the major issues that are facing the developers, in terms of sometimes there are issues that arise where you have to manage expectations, and it’s important to be right there alongside the developers, so that you fully understand the challenges they face and can advocate effectively for the community when you understand what challenges the community faces.
06:27 Gabe Graziani: So, it’s funny, because you have to be diplomatic on both sides. It probably helps, too, that we have it split a little bit, so that where the com devs are mostly focused on developers and the community managers are mostly focused on the community. So, we service these intermediaries who can discuss and argue and bicker amongst ourselves, so that nobody else ever has to.
06:54 Patrick O’Keefe: I like the structure, because it’s a fact we know, but in practice, it shows that we’re talking about these big titles: Assassin’s Creed. These are big, big gaming titles that sell a lot of copies, that have a lot of players. The idea of a singular community person for that title would be hard to fathom, with a community of that size. And yet, that’s not such a crazy thing. Even now, but I would say at least a few years ago, where that might be the thought or the expectation, is we’re going to put one person on community, where here, you have an acknowledgement that it takes more than that. It takes multiple people because of a community at this size and this scale, and it takes someone on the developer’s side to kind of help them work through those issues, as opposed to just one person or two people, who were sort of running back and forth like crazy between this mob of players, and then the people actually working and developing the game.
07:46 Gabe Graziani: Yeah, absolutely. When I first started out, I was assigned to Assassin’s Creed with one other community developer, and then we had a manager who was going to sit with us and help focus us, because it was becoming a bigger brand at the time. This was around … right after Assassin’s Creed II had launched, so three years into it, and two titles, so that now we’re at a point where I think there are 11 Assassin’s Creed games altogether, including spinoffs. So, we were at number two, and there were two of us assigned with one sort of boss. And even then, it was very challenging with just the two, because that was before we had community managers to sort of do any of that direct. So, we were doing everything ourselves.
08:28 Patrick O’Keefe: And Assassin’s Creed wasn’t some slow bubbling series. It was hot from the start. It was a hit from the start, so you had this massive community right from the jump.
08:36 Gabe Graziani: For sure. But it was funny, too, because it was aligned really closely with the rise of social media, as well, because we started the Assassin’s Creed Twitter. We started the Assassin’s Creed Facebook page. Those things didn’t exist, really. So, when I arrived on the brand, the Facebook page had 164,000 fans, I believe. And was looking at the growth and was like, all right, well, let’s be a little bit ambitious. Let’s do 500,000 by the launch of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. That gave us an eight-month campaign window or whatever. My boss was like, “I don’t know who set these goals. This is crazy. We’re never going to do this.” We didn’t. We made it to 480,000, I think, at launch. But by the end of the year, we had 500,000. So, I was sort of vindicated by that.
09:18 Gabe Graziani: From then on, it was just an exponential growth that I think was very common of social media at the time. Once you get that snowball going, we were really helped by having a very strong and beloved franchise. But yeah, it was a lot of work for just the two of us for a while, and my partner Li Kuo, who was working with me at that time, actually moved into writing shortly after the launch of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, the game that came after ACII. So, then I really was by myself, and that was sort of weird because I’d get people who would message Assassin’s Creed Twitter and then Assassin’s Creed Facebook asking the same question as … Like, I’m the same person. You’re just talking to one guy.
10:02 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s just a different tab. That’s all it is.
10:05 Gabe Graziani: Yeah, for sure. For sure. It was exactly “it’s a different tab”, yeah.
10:09 Patrick O’Keefe: So, you mentioned some platforms, and you work with platforms we all recognize: forums, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat, but you also mentioned a moment ago Discord, and I wanted to ask you about that, because Discord is not a platform I’m really familiar with. It’s a voice and text chat service focused at gamers. So, when it comes to community work, what are you doing there?
10:26 Gabe Graziani: One of the main pillars of how we operate is that we deal with channel separately. So, one of the main things that a com dev will do is just decide on the tone and the frequency and the character of the community that we want to create. So, we start there. Channel strategy comes a little bit later, because it’s evolved so much in the last five years, last decade, as to which channels are going to be the most appropriate, and they change depending on what brand you have. Like, you always want to go where the people are already, like where they start congregating. So, to a degree, you sort of just watch what your community likes, like where they like to be and where they’re having their conversations. And you go there and you work with them there. So, that’s kind of how I came to Discord.
11:13 Gabe Graziani: I noticed that some of the other brands were working with Discord, and I didn’t understand it very well, because I had only ever used it to play Overwatch with my friends and chat with them. But when I arrived on Eagle Flight, I realized that the Reddit community that we had that was in charge of the subreddit had created a Discord channel and had sent me an invite. And so I was like, “Oh, I don’t … What is this?” And it’s very similar to like a WhatsApp, where communities can use it as a tabbed conversation tool that works in real time. So, it’s like a persistent chat that is always there. You can separate it into categories, and it’s really pretty robust. So, the way we use it is we just use it to interact and monitor the conversations, really. So, we have a presence there. We usually will have a little officer badge so that people know that we’re developers and that we’re speaking for the team.
12:04 Gabe Graziani: But for the most part, it’s just to stay informed on what the community is talking about, and so they can ask us questions directly if they encounter issues or things like that. So, yeah, that’s more or less how we use it.
12:16 Patrick O’Keefe: Sounds like it’s really a matter of being present. You know, when you talk about a chat app, WhatsApp, I’m guessing there’s private chats, public chats, chats you can access, chats that you can’t. So really, it sounds like it’s more of a matter of just being present or being accessible, where people are who are playing your game.
12:29 Gabe Graziani: That is exactly it. It’s all about accessibility.
12:33 Patrick O’Keefe: When it comes to community ROI, Ubisoft, you told me, used to focus on engagement metrics, but in recent years, has shifted to, in your words, “community leader programs and more grassroots methods of conversation management”. Walk me through that.
12:46 Gabe Graziani: We used to have some very detailed equations that we would use for finding our engagement metrics, especially when our main platform was Facebook. We would often do reach divided by the total number of interactions — so, likes, comments, and shares. And that would give us an engagement rate. So, there’s a total number of people who saw this post, versus a total number of people who actually had some kind of interaction with it. And the higher that percentage was, the better, because ideally, everyone that sees the post is going to be like, “Oh, yeah. I like that,” right. But over the years, first of all, we have other channels besides Facebook that have a variety of different methods for tracking those interactions, and a variety of different interactions.
13:26 Gabe Graziani: As you’re saying, we have a Discord channel now for a number of our different games, or we have Reddit threads and things like that. How do we quantify that? How do we look at that and see … How do we measure what’s successful versus what needs improvement? Or how do we know if we’re doing a good job or not? So, we’ve had to evolve our approach to monitoring those channels, and the best way that we found to do it so far is to focus on creating community leaders. After you’re focusing on a channel, you can see people who are interacting a lot and who are displaying qualities that you would like to see more of in your community, that are, like, emblematic. They’re really displaying the qualities of leadership, in terms of showing the community how you would like them to behave.
14:11 Gabe Graziani: So, what we’ll do is we’ll go ahead and reach out to them, and start a more personal conversation with them and invite them into this group of community leaders that we have where we might create a WhatsApp group or a Discord or a Skype chat or whatever it is, however they’re most comfortable. Facebook group. There’s all kinds of different ways to do it. But we’ll basically like a little cabal of our more or less ideal community members and focus on making sure that they have everything that they need to support the community and be good actors in our community and more or less help us out. That can involve trips to E3 or the studio. It can involve some goodies if we get some schwag around the office or something like that. It can involve merchandise, all kinds of things.
14:57 Gabe Graziani: But it provides us also with a good way of being able to monitor the community health, because we tend to choose leaders who are positive, sure, but are not afraid of being critical, so that we can get the information that we need the most, which is how we can improve. So, yeah, there’s a lot of focus on …
15:15 Patrick O’Keefe: Kind of a qualitative approach.
15:17 Gabe Graziani: Yeah, because it’s funny. There’s all kinds of different equations that we can come up with to try and … You know, there’s time on-site. There’s number of views. There’s uniques. There’s all kinds of things that we can point at to say, like, “Oh yes, the graph is trending up.” But the most meaningful interactions that we tend to have are these one-on-one interactions, or interactions among community leaders. So, we try to foster those as much as we can and create more of a quantitative story of how the community evolves and what the sentiment is like.
15:45 Patrick O’Keefe: So, you know, when you don’t look at community ROI as a number, when you don’t look at it as a hard number, and you look at it more as, okay, we accept this exists. We accept this exists and we are committed to investing it because we believe in it. And you go on feedback and say, like, okay, so these people have these concerns. They are emblematic of the community as a whole. I could totally see how that works. But how about when it comes to figuring out when you are not devoting the right number of resources, or maybe when you need to deploy more people, is there something that you look at when you say, “Oh, this is clearly growing. We need to hire more people for this title”, or …? How does that work?
16:20 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. So, I mean, I think part of it, too, is com dev needs to focus on monitoring the community size. That’s one number that … Like, I don’t want to make it sound like we don’t pay any attention to numbers, because for sure … [Laughs]
16:31 Patrick O’Keefe: [Laughs] We hate math!
16:33 Gabe Graziani: For sure. It’s a thing that we use when we’re discussing issues that arise with a game. Like, we rely on customer support very heavily in order to figure out how many people are having this problem to begin with, right. So, yeah, it’s not like we don’t ever look at any numbers. But for sure, we have an idea of how many people are interacting with a brand overall, and we look to support them in that way.
16:58 Patrick O’Keefe: You’re post-proving ground. [Laughs] It’s already been proven. You’re a believer.
17:04 Gabe Graziani: Well, to some degree, yeah. I mean, I don’t want to make it seem like we never have any discussions or even arguments about what we should do or what our focus should be, because for sure, we do. I mean, even in the community team, we discuss a lot about what our best practices are going to be, and they change all the time. That’s one of the things I think that excites me the most about the field, is that, even in the years that I’ve been in it, it’s drastically different than what it used to be, and it changes all the time. So, I never have a chance to get bored, and even being in it for a while now, it seems like some of my experience is honestly a liability, because I’m used to the way it used to be done, and we don’t do it that way anymore. So, when I am thinking about, like, “Oh, well, if we want to do a Facebook post like this … ” and it’s like, we don’t even do that anymore. It’s fascinating. I don’t want to make it seem like all the work is done and we’re 100% committed to staffing up community at every chance, because we can always have more people. We can always have more talent on the teams that we have.
18:00 Gabe Graziani: But yeah, it is nice to have a commitment from up top. Our CEO, Yves Guillemot, is all about the players, very much committed to our players and very dedicated to making sure that we have the resources that we need to make our players feel special and have a good time with our games.
18:17 Patrick O’Keefe: In your presentation at the Game Developers Conference in 2015, you talked about how, when you were building out the Assassin’s Creed Facebook page, you wanted to share YouTube gameplay videos, but you were uncomfortable paying people in exposure, because you felt that if people did work, they should be paid, and you didn’t want to take advantage of your most dedicated community members. In the end, you were assured by people inside of the YouTube community that they wanted you to share their videos, because it led to increased views and opportunities for them to make money. But I do think that your stance was uniqutely thoughtful, with something that a lot of people, or that is normally being taken as a given. So, first, I want to commend you on that. [Laughs]
18:56 Gabe Graziani: [Laughs] Thank you.
18:55 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s the whole setup, right. Get ready for the punch. No, I totally commend you for that, because it would be something that I think the majority of people who work in brand community total, gaming included, would simply take for granted.
19:10 Gabe Graziani: It comes, I think, from my upbringing. I grew up in Northern California, and during the height of the techno music boom. So, everybody I knew was a DJ, and I was used to going out to shows and stuff, and like, “Oh, I could put you on the guest list,” or, “Here’s my new mixtape,” or whatever. It’s like, “Well, how much is it?” “Oh, no, no, it’s fine.” It’s like, no, I want to pay for the art. That’s how this is supposed to work. For sure, when I started working on a brand that had people who were producing art around it, I was like, well, we can’t use this without some sort of payment being involved. You pay for the art.
19:44 Patrick O’Keefe: Creators loved you. [Laughs] Creators must love you.
19:48 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. I mean, the thing is that we’re also creators, so we want people to pay for our games so that they can play them. It only makes sense to be on the side of the creator, from that perspective.
19:58 Patrick O’Keefe: Definitely. I totally agree. But I wanted to follow that train of thought, to talk about something that is less about Ubisoft and more about the gaming industry in general. Because really, I want to talk about salaries and gaming, especially in community roles, because I have heard about companies who take sort of a … I don’t know. It’s your industry. I don’t expect you to be negative. My word would be “parasitic” approach to this, where they recognize an applicant’s passion for gaming and use that to pay them below market.
20:25 Gabe Graziani: Yeah.
20:26 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, for example, I had Trella Rath on this show, and she’s worked in community at Raptr, Fandom, which was formerly Wikia, Wargaming America, and currently works in social at WB Games, and she said something to that extent. What’s your take on that?
20:38 Gabe Graziani: Oh, boy. I mean, coming from video game journalism, I would say it was much worse there. [Laughs]
20:43 Patrick O’Keefe: Mm-hmm. Interesting. Everyone wants to write about games, right?
20:47 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. Like, I wouldn’t say it about any specific outlet, but for sure, like, I had had a boss tell me to my face, like, “You could get three high school kids in here to come and do exactly what you do for a lot less, so what are we doing here?”
20:58 Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve got to love that boss, right. I feel a great sense of loyalty.
21:01 Gabe Graziani: Yeah, did not hang onto that job much longer after that. But yeah, I think that’s a tough question to answer, because I certainly am very pleased with my compensation here at Ubisoft, so I wouldn’t say necessarily that it’s an issue that I have encountered here. But community managers can be members of communities themselves, and for sure, we have our own community management communities that we participate in. I think it’s an industry-wide question, where you really want to make sure that people are getting what they’re worth and what they deserve for the hard work that they put in, and it’s really been a struggle, I think, but one that we are succeeding with in convincing companies the value of community management and the importance of it. And I think that’s where that battle occurs the most, is just making sure that your organization understands that what you do is valuable, that it is valued not just at your own company, but throughout an industry, throughout that specific job function, right.
21:59 Gabe Graziani: Like, community management is an important thing not just for video games, but across a number of industries. And so, I think it’s important that we share all the information that we have regarding its importance and what its value is and what you can bring to the table in order to make sure that we’re all being compensated appropriately.
22:17 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s a shame that that exists in gaming, where people do feel that way. You know, I personally totally believe it, because gaming was always a space where gaming got community.
22:28 Gabe Graziani: Yeah.
22:29 Patrick O’Keefe: Right? I mean, as someone who has been managing communities for 17 years now and involved in moderation for longer, gaming communities, that was one of the areas that’s always been strong.
22:38 Gabe Graziani: Yeah.
22:39 Patrick O’Keefe: You know, going back to the dawn of really serious online mainstream community in the ’90s. Gaming, sports … Like, these are pivotal cornerstones of the community world, for obvious reasons: People love to talk about them; people are very passionate about them; there tends to be at least a relatively low barrier to entry. And so, you know, it’s an area that totally gets it, and maybe that leads to being taken for granted in some ways. And I wonder if that is … You know, you talk about convincing people, educating people, and this happens in a lot of places, but I can see it totally being true for gaming, at least previously, and probably a little bit, but less so every day, is just the idea that, just because someone is really passionate about the game and really loves the company, let’s say, and really has a lot of great things to say, doesn’t actually mean that they have the skills that translate to what community does.
23:25 Gabe Graziani: Yeah.
23:25 Patrick O’Keefe: Because, you know, you definitely hear of–still do, but I would say less so–you still hear of companies, gaming, non-gaming, who say, like, “We’re going to hire a community person,” and it’s this personality from the community, and maybe that’s great. I have volunteer moderators myself. They always come from the community. You know, as you kind of talked about earlier, they’re always kind of like community leaders, as you describe them. They’re modeling the behavior that’s ideal and they’re really setting the standard already. but when it comes to hiring a community manager, or hiring a community professional at all, the job takes you away from your passion. Like, that’s how I describe it to people.
23:56 Gabe Graziani: That’s true. Yeah.
23:58 Patrick O’Keefe: Like, yeah, you love gaming? Okay. Well, guess what? You get to game less now. [Laughs]
24:00 Gabe Graziani: [Laughs]
24:01 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s like, welcome to community management! You get to game less, but you’re still around the topic. But I mean, it’s a totally different set of skills.
24:09 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. Absolutely. You’re 100% right. Companies that encounter that have to learn from those mistakes. I’m sure that … Like, here at Ubisoft, I know that, as I said, I wasn’t hired the first time. But I got hired shortly after they had filled a previous position because of an employee who didn’t work out. And part of the reason was because they were a little bit too much on the fan side and not enough on the realistic, like, understanding the necessary organization practices, like being able to communicate clearly with developers, and also the marketing teams and things like that. And I think that’s one of the things that helps an organization to value a very good community manager, is seeing community managers who are maybe not that great. [Laughs] As terrible as that might sound.
24:55 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. No, no, I mean, it happens. Like, I love this space. I hate to sound like Donald Trump, but there’s no bigger proponent for community than me. Like, I love this space. I represent this space everywhere. But yeah, I mean, I think if we can’t say to ourselves, like, this is not good, or there are newer people to the space or people who aren’t as good as X, then you know, we’re not being honest. I call out organizations for bad community behavior and bad management behavior somewhat regularly, and I get why some people don’t feel comfortable doing that, but I think we have to look inward if we want people to trust us.
25:26 Gabe Graziani: For sure. For sure.
25:27 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. And it’s a good thing you got out of journalism before you became fake news. You made a good career choice, because now, you would have been fake news. [Laughs]
25:35 Gabe Graziani: [Laughs]
25:38 Patrick O’Keefe: So, before the show, you told me that you are really fascinated right now by community leader programs, and we talked about that, about community leader programs and on boarding as it relates to “how veteran members react to influxes of newcomers and how those interactions can be predicted and managed”.
25:57 Gabe Graziani: Yeah.
25:58 Patrick O’Keefe: In my experience, you say, “The older a community becomes, the more it tends toward insularity, with members defending their status by wielding their knowledge or experience in negative and insulting ways designed to make newcomers feel intimidated.” And this is really a dawn-of-time community problem, and one that every long-running community that grows faces. What’s your answer?
26:19 Gabe Graziani: Oh, man. So, I think, in my case, I try to make sure that I’m setting up the community to be a welcoming place from as early as I can. I use Assassin’s as a model, because it was the main community that I worked on, and I feel like the work that we did in those early days was what paid the most dividends ultimately, because it was a community that was founded on embracing and celebrating creativity. And so, that meant new things all the time and new people and new personalities, new works coming into the community. I can’t take any credit for it being, like, a good idea, because it was more or less dumb luck and more or less driven by the community. What they wanted to do was create this artwork and videos and all of these different things. So, I just kind of went with the flow on that, and it seemed to turn out really well.
27:07 Gabe Graziani: Now, I’m working on Rainbow Six, and it has been around for a year. It is a very competitive multiplayer shooter game, so because its focus is on competition, there is very much built into that idea of hierarchy and the idea of veteran versus noob. And so, it’s a fascinating challenge to look at as we enter the second year, how we can ensure that people who are new to this multiplayer competitive community aren’t immediately intimidated, because it’s also not a very simple game. There’s very deep, nuanced meta, as they say, in terms of, you know, we have a bunch of different operators, or the different archetype players that you can choose.
27:54 Gabe Graziani: So, there’s a lot of information to chew through right off the bat, and it’s important to work within the community to make sure that those players who have been there for a long time … And this is a thing that I do routinely, is if I see someone acting in the community, as I said, wielding their veteran status, their knowledge, as kind of like this weapon to defend their status in the community, I will reach out directly to that person and say, “Hey, look. I saw you make this comment and tell this person that they’re not very good,” or whatever. “I would ask you to try and do that another way, because you can … ”
28:30 Patrick O’Keefe: [Laughs] Tell them they’re not good in another way.
28:34 Gabe Graziani: [Laughs] Well, see, the opposite of that, though, is to help, right?
28:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. You don’t have to say “you suck”, right? You don’t have to say you suck.
28:39 Gabe Graziani: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Exactly. You know, another way of approaching that would be to say, “You know, there’s another way of approaching that.” Do you see what I’m doing? I’m doing it to you right now basically. [Laughs] Is, you know, approach you with some education that will reaffirm your status in the community while not making the other person feel bad, basically. It can be a synergistic activity where it doesn’t have to be, you know, some game where this person and this social interaction is going to lose so that you can win. You can both win and still your status is maintained. In fact, that can actually increase your status, as well. I think having those discussions with individual community members, if you can convince a community member that that is the way to go and that is the way to be, then they become a good actor within your community that can spread that message of positivity, because you never need to introduce negativity into a community. There’s going to be plenty that just arises on its own.
29:35 Gabe Graziani: So, my objective is always to try and get people to spread positivity around and sort of understand that negativity doesn’t need to be met with more negativity. My focus with community has always been more of an organic one, where I used to work with another com dev on Assassin’s Creed. She’s extremely talented, Stephanie Pecaoco. She’s currently managing the com dev team on Assassin’s now. And we worked together for a couple of years, and it was interesting because we have very different approaches. She’s extremely organized, very into project management, whereas I’m way more of this creative free spirit that can’t create a schedule and doesn’t understand how Excel works.
30:15 Gabe Graziani: So, we always look at our two approaches as she constructs a building. She is an architect. She will build this very structured, very sturdy thing. And I grow a tree, where I’m not exactly sure what direction it’s going to go necessarily, but it’s going to go and it will be organic and it will … you know, at some point be a whole tree.
30:38 Patrick O’Keefe: You need architects and you need growers. You know, you need both. It’s very much old-school community building, like when you talk about reaching out to people, modeling behavior. One thing I liked about reading about your work, because I spent time to look at things you’ve written, presentations you’ve given, things you’ve said, is that you sort of have basically said that removal of bad behavior, of content, of comments is necessary for inclusion. To be an inclusive community, you have to have something that represents non-inclusivity, and then you have to take action against that. And that seems to be a really consistent theme, and the things you’ve said about inclusivity is recognizing, you know, when certain behaviors are bad and taking action. And that’s something I certainly believe in.
31:23 Patrick O’Keefe: And another thing I wanted to pull out from what you said was just the power of being there at the start, the power of laying the foundation. Because a lot of times, when people call me or email me or talk to me, it’s after something has gone wrong. [Laughs] And it’s, like, three years down the line, and it’s like, I love the martial arts community I talked about earlier. I’ve run that community since the start at 16, 17 years old. It doesn’t take much to moderate it, but the reason it doesn’t take much now is because of the work we did in the first ten years. And it’s like, it’s so beautiful, but it’s, like, the most non-secret hack for doing community, is just to start it right and do it for a decade, and then boom! You’re in the good place. But yeah, I mean, I really kind of like your approach to inclusivity.
32:08 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. Oh, no. Absolutely. I mean, I look at it as, you know, like you’re responsible for a party. Basically, you’re hosting a party, and that means that you need bouncers. Because if somebody’s going to start a problem that’s going to impact everyone else’s ability to enjoy that party, then they need to go. Like, I mean, you can do your best to try and bring them around, but at some point, you have to draw a line and say, like, “Look, this is obviously not the place for you.” I think that’s very, very important. Fortunately, if you are diligent with that at the beginning … And I mean, anyone that works in community management is familiar with the drama that occurs inevitably in communities. But if you establish early on this compassionate, empathetic method for dealing with conflict within your community, that’s infectious, and people learn how to deal with each other in a way that enhances the positivity there. And, you know, they can manage their issues and have disagreements and not have these great, big old fights about it. So, that’s nice.
33:06 Gabe Graziani: I would say, like, you grow a tree … Trees have to be pruned. They have to be tended. So, you can’t just let them grow, like, willy-nilly. I mean, you could, I suppose, but then you get what you get.
33:17 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah. Well, where I live, we have really strong winds. So, if you don’t put some ropes on that tree and have it pulled to one side, it’s just going to grow sideways onto the ground. So, yeah, it won’t really work. But one thing that I thought of while you were talking about a competitive gaming environment, how that differed from, say, Assassin’s Creed. Obviously, esports, huge deal, but some of the top … like other sports, like the NFL or MLB. You know, Charles Barkley once said, “I’m not a role model.” Right? Some of those top athletes in esports are maybe modeling bad behavior, right? Maybe they’re acting like tough guys. Maybe they’re nasty. Maybe they have a bravado about them and it’s part of their allure, like a UFC fighter or a boxer or any other athlete. And that behavior is objectively rude, maybe.
34:01 Gabe Graziani: Yeah, for sure.
34:02 Patrick O’Keefe: And then people see that in the community with other competitive players, and maybe not at that level, but you know, you have this portion of the community that’s very competitive, and then they adopt that behavior, possibly. Is that at all a concern? Is that at all something that you’re seeing?
34:14 Gabe Graziani: Oh, it is absolutely a concern. It is definitely, definitely a concern. But I think it’s also, like, a very ancient concern, and I think, to some degree, it’s outside of the realm of community management, in terms of what you can rationally expect to be able to have an impact on. I mean, I am immediately reminded of the baseball player Ty Cobb, right?
34:36 Patrick O’Keefe: [Laughs] Horrible.
34:38 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. He used to slide cleats-first into these other baseball players, and because it was not in the rules that you weren’t allowed to do that, he was just going to be a jerk about it, because it helped him win. And I mean, we certainly encounter people who are … you know, they’re dedicated competitors, and their dedication is to winning. If there isn’t a rule to stop them from doing something, that’s what they’re going to do. So, we work very closely with the different agencies that we have in order to ensure that those rule sets are designed to benefit sportsman-like conduct, basically. There needs to be a concept of sportsman-like conduct, I think, in any contests. Like, that’s the thing that you can lean on, is, sure, we’re competing, and sure … But you don’t necessarily want to burn bridges with people socially, just because you have had a victory. There’s the idea of being a good winner, as opposed to a sore loser.
35:29 Gabe Graziani: There’s that concept of having grace in defeat, and for sure, the idea, like, when we get to an esports level, where all these players are playing at peak proficiency, where the team that comes in second place is still the second place team in the world and would probably kick your ass if you were to play against them, right? I think there’s something to be said for that. Whenever we have a competition, we often get the concept of zero sum mixed up in that, right? You see it with the platform console wars, right, like where it’s like, “Oh, well the Xbox is great and the PlayStation is terrible.” Well, that doesn’t say very much about the Xbox necessarily, right. It says a lot more if you’re like, “The PlayStation is an excellent machine. It’s super top-notch. The Xbox is just better.” Like, that says a lot more about the Xbox than if the one is garbage, right?
36:20 Gabe Graziani: So, I could use that example the other way. I don’t want to get any first parties angry at me. It could be that PlayStation is the Xbox and the Xbox is pretty good, too. And I think that’s the kind of thing that you sort of instill, is the concept of honor among warriors that is sort of the direction that we try to go with it, and for sure, when you have somebody that distinguishes themselves, that doesn’t display those values, it’s unfortunate and you don’t like it. But if they’re going to win and they’re abiding by the rules, then they can choose to act however they want to act.
36:50 Patrick O’Keefe: And you’re a community. So, you’re a community. What are your guidelines?
36:52 Gabe Graziani: Yeah.
36:52 Patrick O’Keefe: I like that. You don’t have to burn bridges just because you had a victory. Something that I feel like the U.S. political landscape could really use right now! [Laughs]
37:00 Gabe Graziani: Yeah. I’m baffled by what’s going on there. It’s the worst community management. [Laughs]
37:06 Patrick O’Keefe: [Laughs] Well, Gabe, it has been a pleasure to have you on. Thanks so much for taking some time for us.
37:10 Gabe Graziani: And thank you for having me on, Patrick. It has been super, super fun.
37:14 Patrick O’Keefe: We have been talking with Gabe Graziani, senior community developer at Ubisoft. Follow Gabe on Twitter @UbiGabe — that’s U-B-I-G-A-B-E. For the transcript from this episode, plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad. And we’ll you next week.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be grateful if you spread the word.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.