What metrics and indicators of success are you, your colleagues, and community excited about for 2022? Whether you’re hoping to better demonstrate the impact of the community on your business’ bottom line, foster safer experiences for your members across the communities they are part of, or want to focus on establishing better boundaries for you and your team, this conversation with Jessica Folsom, lead community manager at ZeniMax Online Studios, may provide some inspiration.
Even without perfect end-to-end campaign attribution, Jessica discusses the impact of being a participant in the Elder Scrolls Online community and how certain attributes may lead to different outcomes for community members and for the overall community. For example, Elder Scrolls Online players may participate in official forums, they may be content creators, they may stream the game, or participate in player-run communities on Discord or Reddit. Jessica and her team have learned that the players that can find their connection to the community retain better and drive investment in the game, too.
With such an expansive group of players, Jessica also has to be prepared to help community members deal with toxic behaviors outside of immediate Elder Scrolls Online spaces. While it can often feel like we can’t do much in these circumstances, Jessica explains how she listens, offers guidance on how to block and report the behavior on these parallel platforms, and in some cases, contact local authorities. Do you have a plan for helping your community members handle toxicity on other platforms?
Jessica and Patrick also discuss:
- How Jessica’s team sets success metrics
- Helping community managers prevent burnout
- Why community members are not your friends
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If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Hivebrite, the community engagement platform.
How community connection contributes to retention and growth (8:20): “People who are in guilds, for instance, tend to be much more invested overall in [Elder Scrolls Online]. Not only do they tend to spend more but they also contribute more to the community, which is immensely valuable, to community growth and health. … [Content creators] tend to also be very, very valuable, and not only from a monetary perspective but just what they give to the community. They give us our community culture. They’re the backbone of it.” –@JessFolsom
How guilds unlock connection to Elder Scrolls Online (9:40): “Guilds [drive] all of the positive things that we want. Players can be in five different guilds. Usually, if they find at least one, they find that community that they really want to be a part of … this is cliché, but it’s about the people. If you find a group of people that you’re really invested in, you then enjoy the game more, you spend more time, you invest more in the content, [and] you invest more in the monetary side of things as well.” –@JessFolsom
Helping community managers prevent burnout (11:24): “It’s okay to shut things down at the end of your day. Don’t look at the forums, don’t look at email. If somebody needs to get a hold of you for an emergency, they will, but take your time to decompress, live your life, enjoy your hobbies, your family, your free time, and you’ll come back better to do your job the next day.” –@JessFolsom
Helping players deal with toxic behavior in parallel challenges (26:44): “[When our players are getting harassed or targeted with toxicity in parallel channels], we try to educate players on what they can do and how they can use those tools. How do they block players? How do they use two-factor authentication if their account got hacked? How do they report really awful comments or activity on the various different channels, using the channels’ methods of reporting that they have available to them? Then in extreme cases … we will work with that player to educate them on all the different things that they could do by delaying their stream. For instance, if they’re getting stream sniped, [everything from] putting a delay on their stream to contacting local authorities.” –@JessFolsom
Why there is no official Elder Scrolls Online Discord (26:44): “I know a lot of smaller studios really like Discord but with a community our size, the amount of moderation that we would need, we’ve got a player base of, I think we recently said 12 million or something like that, it’s not realistic to have a Discord community that we run. If we run a community, and it’s an official community, there is an expectation that we are able to maintain a certain level of protection, professionalism, and rules that I don’t think we can.” –@JessFolsom
About Jessica Folsom
Jessica Folsom has been working with gaming communities for 16 years and is currently the lead community manager at ZeniMax Online Studios. She has been working with the Elder Scrolls Online community for about nine and a half years. Jessica got her start in the video games industry in 1999 as a customer support representative at Nintendo of America in Washington state, where she is originally from. After about eight years there, she left and spent time at numerous studios, including NCSOFT, Trion, Mythic, EA BioWare, Big Huge Games, and 38 Studios.
- Sponsor: Hivebrite, the community engagement platform
- Jessica Folsom on Twitter
- Jessica Folsom on LinkedIn
- ZeniMax Online Studios
- The Elder Scrolls Online community
[00:00:04] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Hivebrite, the community engagement platform. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thanks for making time for Community Signal.
We’re talking with gaming industry community veteran, Jessica Folsom. She is the lead community manager at ZeniMax Online Studios, where her work focuses on the Elder Scrolls Online, an incredibly popular MMORPG. We’re discussing metrics, of course, but also why community members aren’t your friends, and the challenge of toxic behavior that is tied to your product, but not on spaces you have any authority over.
Thank you to Maggie McGary, Heather Champ, and Jenny Weigle for supporting our show on Patreon. If you’d like to become a backer, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Jessica Folsom is the lead community manager at ZeniMax Online Studios. She has been working with the Elder Scrolls Online community for about nine and a half years. Jessica got her start in the video games industry in 1999 as a customer support representative at Nintendo of America in Washington state, where she is original from. After about eight years there, she left and spent time at numerous studios, including NCSOFT, Trion, Mythic, EA BioWare, Big Huge Games, and 38 Studios. In total, Jessica has been working with gaming communities for around 16 years. Jessica, welcome to the show.
[00:01:30] Jessica Folsom: Hi, thank you so much for having me.
[00:01:32] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure. As the Lead Community Manager for the Elder Scrolls Online at ZeniMax Online Studios, you are a member of the business management team for that product. You describe the primary function of that group as ensuring that, “All teams within the business are aligned on current and future plans, strategic tactics, priorities, et cetera, and that the business is successful.”
You hear a lot about the proverbial, even clichéd seat at the table. This is a game that is very popular, that generates a lot of revenue, is a successful business and you have a seat, so I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit about that. How many seats are there on that team?
[00:02:10] Jessica Folsom: Yes, absolutely. The teams that are within the business management team all have one to two. The community team actually has two. I represent the global side of the Elder Scrolls Online community team, and then we have another wonderful community manager named Ella who represents the ZEL side, so the ZeniMax European Limited, that is all of the non-North American or “global” as- well, I’m doing air quotes, you can’t see it- community teams, so all the territories around the world that don’t fall under the main North American umbrella, and we work very, very closely together.
[00:02:50] Patrick O’Keefe: How big is the business management team? Is it 10 people, 20 people, 30 people, dozens, a single number? You don’t have to give a specific number. I’m just curious to the size of it.
[00:02:57] Jessica Folsom: Oh, gosh, it’s probably around 20-ish. It’s a pretty good sized team. It’s comprised of every team from customer support to sales, finance, dev, of course, the life services team, whole bunch.
[00:03:13] Patrick O’Keefe: Ultimately, what is that team accountable to or for?
[00:03:18] Jessica Folsom: That team is accountable for making sure that every team of the business is aligned on current and future strategies, making sure that all the different pieces are coming together in a way that makes sense and that’ll be successful for the business. Also looking at current or future risks or opportunities, like looking at everything from the year plan, looking a year ahead, to looking at five years ahead and figuring out what makes sense and what do we think is coming up, as well as what is happening now?
[00:03:50] Patrick O’Keefe: How long have you been on that team?
[00:03:52] Jessica Folsom: It’s probably been about three or four years now.
[00:03:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Okay, so you’ve almost seen a full five-year cycle [laughs] for the five-year plan.
[00:03:58] Jessica Folsom: Yes, and I love it, honestly. It’s super interesting to see all the different pieces come together, and as you said, it’s really wonderful to have the ability to provide that input from a community perspective and also know that the business values that.
[00:04:13] Patrick O’Keefe: For sure. Still sticking with business, in our pre-show questionnaire, you listed certain metrics. These included daily active users, monthly active users, average revenue per user, premium subscribers, new and returning players, and some others, and you described these as, “Things we can only theorize that we’ve had an impact on since there is no concrete direct line between our efforts, meaning community’s efforts, and these values.”
[00:04:35] Jessica Folsom: Yes.
[00:04:35] Patrick O’Keefe: Is it safe to say that you’ve tried to create that direct line? [laughs]
[00:04:39] Jessica Folsom: Yes. Yes. Oh, goodness. We would love to, but let’s say we put out a campaign on social media and it’s intended to drive sales or awareness about, let’s say a new Crown Crate release.
[00:04:54] Patrick O’Keefe: I saw the option to buy crowns and I was like, “I don’t know what that is, but I know it’s something to do with the game.”
[00:05:00] Jessica Folsom: That’s our currency. You can purchase because the game is buy-to-play, so it’s one of the ways in which we do make money. I was looking for the right word. We have loot crates that are called Crown Crates that come out once a quarter-ish. Let’s say we put out social media to promote those and let people know that there’s a new release, if people click on that, we can see how many people clicked on it, we can see how many people clicked through to the article, how many people engaged with the post. We can’t actually see how many people then converted to a purchase. That would be something that would be really wonderful to be able to see, but we can’t.
We can track the things that are actually trackable in the tools that we use, but when we don’t have that connection between the endpoint purchase and what we have put up, we can’t say, “We definitely resulted in these many sales.” I always encourage our team to be really careful about saying what you’re going to commit to as a defined KPI for an effort and make sure that it’s something you can actually track. You can track the other stuff, but you can say, “We are theorizing that we had an impact on this, and here’s the big picture looking at what we did, at what sales did, at what dev did,” and looking at it as a whole holistic picture.
[00:06:12] Patrick O’Keefe: From my perspective, I think that if community, or in this case, social or whatever it is, doesn’t get some credit for that sale, those conversions, then it’s really hard for anyone to get it, right?
[00:06:21] Jessica Folsom: Yes.
[00:06:21] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s a level of conservatism with data that is so conservative, like, we’re not going to even fill in this one blank, even though we know we took these people from this medium, and we know they went to this page, and we know they followed this link, but because we didn’t know that they made the purchase or not, whatever that is, whatever that break in the line is, right?
[00:06:40] Jessica Folsom: Yes.
[00:06:40] Patrick O’Keefe: Then we’re not going to take any credit for that. We’re going to minimize the contribution. We don’t know it’s there for sure. We want to play it safe. We don’t want to over-promise, over-deliver. We want to be reasonable. I think that’s a great thing, but at the same time, that reasonability, that has to apply to everyone. It has to apply to all other teams. Otherwise, your team is going to feel a way about that. [chuckles]
[00:07:00] Jessica Folsom: Yes, absolutely. That’s why whenever we have a big multi-team effort, we look at all the individual pieces that we can say definitively, “Yes, this did this, point A to point B is a solid line,” and then we look at all the other theoreticals as a holistic and say, “Okay, all together, this is what we tried, all the different teams. This was the result. Let’s try it again and see if we get the same result, or let’s change this piece or this piece, or try something a little different.” That’s part of what the BMT does.
[00:07:32] Patrick O’Keefe: Do you have an understanding of like, these are the people who are active in our communities, our own channels, on our own domain, and these are how they play our game, and these are who they are as a customer, so you can see theoretically, one of the bread and butter use cases I love is like, these are people in the community, these are people not. Here’s what they do, here’s what they do.”
Ideally, the people in this corner, which again, this is the air quotes thing, but the community side, waving my hands in the air, are more loyal customers and more into the product in a deeper way, whether that be spending money, spending time, providing feedback, recommending it to their friends, whatever it is, buying loot crates, they would tend to be more loyal. I always find that argument to be as compelling one as you can make in a lot of cases for a community team.
[00:08:16] Jessica Folsom: Yes, absolutely. For instance, we look at people who are in guilds, for instance, tend to be much more invested overall in the game. Not only do they tend to spend more but they also contribute more to the community, which is immensely valuable, just to the community growth and health itself. We look at metrics like that. We look at people who are content creators. They tend to also be very, very valuable, and not only from a monetary perspective but just what they give to the community. They give us our community culture. They’re the backbone of it.
[00:08:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Speaking of those different groups of members, is there a way that you segment players for your data purposes or ROI measurement?
[00:08:55] Jessica Folsom: Yes. We’ll look at a lot of different BI data and cross-reference between the two and build profiles. Not necessarily profiles of individual players but of types of activities that they partake in. So players who are members of guilds, players who participate on our official forums, players who participate in the higher end group content, like our trials, which are essentially raids and dungeons, players who participate in crafting. There’s a lot of different types of content that they can partake in but we look at all those different types of content and then spending patterns and we figure out what are the types of things that players really gravitate towards and keep them in the game, drive the retention, but also drive that investment in the game as well. Guilds always ends up being one of the ones that drives all of the positive things that we want. Players can be in five different guilds. Usually, if they find at least one, they find that community that they really want to be a part of, and at the end of the game, and this is cliché, but it’s about the people. If you find a group of people that you’re really invested in, you then enjoy the game more, you spend more time, you invest more in the content, you invest more in the monetary side of things as well.
[00:10:09] Patrick O’Keefe: I’d like to take a moment to introduce a brand new sponsor to Community Signal, Hivebrite.
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Speaking about investing in people, you told me before the show that you were “very passionate about teaching community managers who are younger in their careers how to prevent or at least stave off the burnout that is so prevalent in our field.” What do you tell them?
[00:10:55] Jessica Folsom: I tell them to shut things down at the end of the day, like turn it off. Community managers are helpers. They’re helper personalities and they want to be there for their players 24/7 but the internet doesn’t sleep and eventually you have to, and if you try to run yourself at both ends 24/7 for years on end, you burn out, so I let them know, “Don’t be afraid. It’s okay to shut things down at the end of your day. Don’t look at the forums, don’t look at email. If somebody needs to get a hold of you for an emergency, they will but take your time to decompress, live your life, enjoy your hobbies, your family, your free time, and you’ll come back better to do your job the next day.”
[00:11:44] Patrick O’Keefe: Do you find it tough to model that behavior yourself or does it come pretty natural?
[00:11:47] Jessica Folsom: It did at first, absolutely. I was like, “My job is my life, [chuckles] which I think a lot of community managers run into as well. I did hit burnout at many points in my career, and it taught me to really take a step back and value that time to disconnect and recharge and how much better I could be if I did, especially after having my daughter who’s now six, that became a must, like I had to do it.
In a way, it forced me to be really militant about protecting that free time and making that barrier, and really modeling it. You can’t force people to do it. Some people are still going to go into the forums and Discord and Twitter at night, but trying to really encourage them to do it and then leaving it up to them.
[00:12:36] Patrick O’Keefe: One of the things that jumped out to me from your questionnaire was just the idea that nothing is really going to happen for the most part if you don’t respond to a message until after the weekend or until tomorrow. It’s something that I’ve come to appreciate but more importantly than I’d appreciate organizations where that is like a committed principle.
Speaking of clichés, people leave managers not jobs. That’s a cliché, but to me, the thing that impacts my happiness the most which at this stage of my career, the thing that I value most, once I’m paid reasonably to a certain extent, is really my happiness and the enjoyment I have in my job, and the person who controls that most is the person I report in to I’ve learned over the years. If they feel like things are an emergency when they aren’t, that adds a substantial burden to me.
In my world, the only real emergency is when someone’s life is threatened. When people are expressing that they might take some drastic action or become a victim of self-harm or suicide, those are the things that are like that is an emergency. Those are things that we should mobilize for. A complaint, a credit card error, this thing, that thing, like someone said the F-word, I don’t want that, I’m going to get rid of the F-word. It can wait it’ll be okay the world keeps spinning. It is such an important thing to recognize that you can leave things aside, come back tomorrow, and if you can’t, there’s often deeper problems there.
[00:14:04] Jessica Folsom: Yes. I completely agree. I feel really fortunate to work for a company where all the way at the top they really enforce like, “Take your time off, enjoy your PTO, don’t answer email or Slack or whatever else when you’re on your PTO. Please disconnect.” They repeat it over and over from the very top because I think even if your manager really values it, if the people above them don’t, it’s also very hard. Especially during this pandemic when working from home, it’s so easy when you’re at your home computer to just slide in at 10:00 PM and do a little work. You start sliding into bad habits again if not making that disconnect and making that barrier.
Matt Firor, the head of ZOS, has been really, really good about just drilling into people, “Take your time off, disconnect, spend time with your family, put your health first.” I think just hearing that over and over from a company really helps instill all the way down to every employee to make that a priority.
[00:15:04] Patrick O’Keefe: Obviously, they didn’t tell you anything about recording professional podcasts over the weekend, so I’m thankful for that.
[00:15:09] Jessica Folsom: No, that’s fine.
[00:15:14] Patrick O’Keefe: You told me that one of your golden rules that you teach every community manager you mentor is that, “community members are not your friends.” Talk about that.
[00:15:24] Jessica Folsom: Oh, boy. [laughs] Yes. I think every community manager at some point in their careers has a point where maybe they get a little too close to a player, a little too friendly. They really like the player and they start talking to them about things that are maybe outside of work, or they complain to another player about somebody else in the community, or they talk to them about something that maybe should be under an NDA, and the player isn’t. That information then ends up slipping, either because the player mentions it to a friend totally innocently, or because the relationship turns sour and that player then decides to spill the beans on everything you’ve told them.
That is why I always tell community managers, just be really careful. Keep it professional. Not only that but because if you get really close to players, they start to expect that you’ll help them at every beck and call. It’s not because they’re trying to take advantage of you, but because they view you as their source of information and aid, better or worse, at the company, and they’ll ping you at any hours of the day. That, again, goes back to the whole, you need to make that barrier for your own sanity and so you don’t suffer burnout.
[00:16:39] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s something that I’ve seen crop up when companies choose Facebook Groups. I’ve seen a crop of my own experience using Facebook Groups when I didn’t really want to but had to because the way Facebook works is technically, you’re not supposed to have more than one account. Sometimes people create a professional account. Technically the TOS, I don’t think, allows that, or at least it didn’t, so most folks use their profile.
Just being in that environment, not only does it encourage people to act like they’re on Facebook, not in a community, which is its own psychological experiment, but it also encourages people to click on your profile and to friend you there, because more than often than not, you’re connecting through a personal profile to this Facebook group. It just encourages this false sense of intimacy or personal connection that really would not have been as easy to infer if you were on your own domain, in your own community platform, or just not on a platform where personal use, where people subscribe to one another, is the first primary function of that platform, and then had a community thing tacked on on top half-heartedly.
Just thinking about Facebook Groups and how I’ve interacted with them in the past, how people that reported in to me had to interact with them, how people would go to their DMs or their Facebook Messenger, because I don’t even know if Facebook has a message inbox now, but they didn’t back then. People would often just go to Messenger and DM the admins or the and the moderator on their personal profile. Then we had this whole process of, how do you take it out of your DMs and put it into our CRM where you can send a message in the right channel?
It’s one of those things that people who decide to use Facebook Groups, which is often not necessarily the person managing them, it’s a burden they don’t always think about, but the burden exists in a very real way for the people who have to manage that group.
[00:18:22] Jessica Folsom: Yes, absolutely. I agree. I think that in the last 10 years or so, the way that you’ve seen a lot of influencers and celebrities connecting in a very personal way on their own social media channels has blurred those lines and made people feel like it’s more acceptable.
[00:18:39] Patrick O’Keefe: Influencers?
[00:18:40] Jessica Folsom: Yes.
[00:18:40] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re really teeing it up for me here. You told me before the show that you encourage community leaders, content creators and influencers to “expand upon our community by building their own sub-community spaces, including their Twitch, Discord, YouTube and social media channels, and that you have established community programs and practices to highlight and reward these players and empower them to be a positive force within our community.” Let’s talk about the last part. How do you empower them to be a positive force on their own channels?
[00:19:10] Jessica Folsom: Sure. I will say that while I set the groundwork for a lot of these programs, our wonderful community manager, Gina, has really run with them, and she runs them for Elder Scrolls Online. We instill within them the values that we have for our own community and just make sure that we choose the right people who are also mirroring those values already in their content.
Initially, we would reach out to people, but now we have a process where they can apply, and we really carefully go through and look at all of their content, look at how they are on their social media channels, and just make sure that they’re aligned with what we want our community to be. Then, in turn, we also keep in close contact with them. They have a one-on-one connection with us at any time, either through email or Discord. They can interact with us on Twitter but they do have a direct line to us in the event that they do need to reach out to us. We try to make it very personal, encourage them, and also encourage them to have their own place in our community.
[00:20:15] Patrick O’Keefe: When we say positive, I can imagine, I can guess from writing policy docs and sorts of those superuser programs or whatnot over the years, we’re talking about the standards of their content. The things they are saying, the things they are hosting when it comes to respecting other players and how you treat other people who play the game and are in the community and not being bigoted or intolerant, there’s some obvious ones here.
It’s those sorts of these are the types of people that we welcome into this group. This is the type of community we want to have, and so it can be content creators, influencers, and Twitch streamers that we choose to welcome into this group, give that direct line of communication, highlight on our website because I saw there was a section for people actively streaming on Twitch on your website. These are the bare minimum things that we require. Obviously, you’re free to be creative, do your own thing, do all these things, but these are the principles of our community that we stand for and that’s what we expect in our Twitch streaming partners or whatever vernacular you use.
[00:21:10] Jessica Folsom: Yes, exactly. When I say positive, I should actually just say constructive because we always tell them, “We don’t expect you to be a cheerleader.” In fact, being a cheerleader is often not super valuable, because we really want you to be constructive. Being just very surface-level positive all the time and never sharing any constructive criticism isn’t super valuable. It’s no more valuable than somebody who is constantly bashing. If somebody says, “You guys suck and I hate this. It sucks.” That’s not valuable. We don’t know why.
[00:21:39] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. You can criticize aspects of the game, you don’t personally attack the devs.
[00:21:43] Jessica Folsom: Exactly. We do allow our content creators and our streamers to be themselves. If they don’t like something, as long as they’re constructive about it and aren’t bashing us, they can say that on their streams. They can go into why they don’t like something. They can contact us and say why they don’t like something and maybe share what their community would like to see instead. We want to have an open dialogue with them and be realistic about hey, we’re not perfect and if you don’t like something just don’t be a jerk about it. [chuckles]
[00:22:12] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, because it doesn’t take much to sort of turn off an aspect of the fan community. Those sorts of ideas, there’s a Streisand Effect to them but they’re just not implementable. A gaming company who says, “You can only criticize us in these channels,” let’s say, or, “You can only do it this way.” It’s just not a standard that you are ready to apply, and if you go out there and you try to apply it, then you’re basically just going to have people talking about why they can’t be a part of your program because they didn’t like how you shaded this bush or something, you know?
[00:22:43] Jessica Folsom: Yes, exactly. I think we keep it pretty clear to just don’t bash the dev team, don’t bash other players, and the really awful terms of service-breaking stuff. If we catch you doing hate speech on your channel or if you’re running a hack program, obviously, you’re going to be kicked off and probably banned from our community, too. I think it’s all pretty straightforward, yes.
[00:23:09] Patrick O’Keefe: Captain Obvious says that there are a lot of spaces to talk about games online. Gaming outlets, fan communities, Twitch streams, Discord servers, just a limitless number of platforms. I played RuneScape myself back in the day.
[00:23:22] Jessica Folsom: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, Ultima Online here.
[00:23:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Got to go trap some lobsters.
[00:23:28] Patrick O’Keefe: Fair or not, if the conversation around your game is deemed to be toxic, even on spaces you have no control over, that can have an impact on your product, on your team, on anyone thinking about playing the game. You expressed frustration with us before the show, and it’s something I think a lot of folks can relate to because it goes beyond gaming.
I think, no matter what your product is, I don’t want to say everyone but most people don’t want their product, whatever it is, to be associated with bad behavior. All platforms have their own private data and they aren’t always eager to share or even able to because of privacy laws and bad actors are smart and they do what they can to evade detection. I once had to ban someone — I think we all have funny stories. I once had to ban the same guy like 50 times. I even once got someone disabled with their ISP for a week. He complained about it on his blog and it was such a great moment. It was like, “Hey, they actually received that email and they took this guy offline for a week? Whoa.”
This is all stuff that’s been going on for a while and people are smart about it or at least smart enough to stay within the lines and avoid detection in a lot of cases. You provided an example before the show. “One type of problematic behavior we often see in our community, particularly among a PVP community, is players harassing or threatening streamers in their stream chat on Twitch. Let’s say for instance one of our streamers comes to us and says, ‘Hey, I’m getting spammed with racial slurs in my Twitch chat anytime I stream your game. It only happens when I stream your game. Can you help me?’ Sadly, in most cases, there isn’t a lot we can do and that’s frustrating,” quoting you there. I don’t think this is a secret problem, I don’t think it’s unforeseeable but I do think it’s something that causes a lot of stress for community pros.
[00:25:04] Jessica Folsom: Yes.
[00:25:05] Patrick O’Keefe: I like to directly confront these things, so I want to talk about it however you want but I think that instead of talking about what we can’t do, one of the things I like to talk about is what we can. What can we do in cases where there is toxic behavior, it’s on a platform we don’t own, operate, control, have authority over, have access to the data. What can we ourselves do to take back a little bit of that good feeling and that power in a sense?
[00:25:32] Jessica Folsom: Sure. I’ll say there’s probably two different sides to this. There’s the people are on whatever various media channels and the comments and bashing our game. Okay. We’ll take note of that if that goes into a sentiment report. Beyond that, unless it’s something that is widespread, we’re not going to look to necessarily address it. If it’s, let’s say players talking about performance issues in our game, obviously, we’re going to raise that to dev and see if there’s something that we can do about it but we don’t try to go out to every single different outlet where everybody is sharing this information and address it. We may put out a public statement or something like that.
Then there’s the other side of it, where our players are getting harassed or our players are being directly targeted with toxicity in what I’ll call parallel channels. There are channels in which our players are interacting that we have no jurisdiction on. Our channels that we have jurisdiction on are our official forums, our official social media channels, but even the social media channels, we’re at the liberties of what that channel has as far as their moderation tools and reporting tools or like Twitter, for instance.
I’ll say what we can do and what we do do in those case is one, we try to educate players on what they can do and how they can use those tools, so how do they block players? How do they use two-factor authentication if their account got hacked? How do they report really awful comments or activity on the various different channels and using the channels’ methods of reporting that they have available to them.
Then in extreme cases, like for instance, we recently have had a streamer who has been swatted a couple of times, unfortunately, it’s really awful, while he was streaming our game. We will work with that player to educate them on all the different things that they could do by delaying their stream. For instance, if they’re getting stream sniped, like putting a delay on their stream to contacting local authorities.
We’ve even worked with local authorities in extreme cases and provided them any information that we could, so it’s a combination of educating players on how they can help themselves and then also helping them as much as we can. Sometimes we’ll even go so far as to have calls with the players to let them know all the different things that they can do and try to help protect them when we can’t directly do so ourselves.
[00:27:58] Patrick O’Keefe: Right, because you really need someone to cross over into your garden to be able to assign a specific action to a specific person and have adequate proof to take action that isn’t a blurry screenshot or a supposition or someone who may or may not be that person. It’s very easy to take a name that someone else might have on Elder Scrolls and what they have the Twitter name and it’s tough to tie people together.
[00:28:23] Jessica Folsom: It is, it is, and while we would love to be able to get the IP address or the email address that somebody’s using on Discord to see if we can match it up with something that they’re using in our game, that just isn’t how it works anymore. There are so many privacy laws these days between the GDPR and the ACCC in Australia and I’m sure there’s going to be more popping up.
Companies can’t share personal identifying information anymore, so we have to do what we can and if players think that they know who it is in-game, we’ll look for ways to connect the dots between the two, asking them to take video, telling them to tell the player in chat to stop the harassing behavior, that way we have a chat log. There’s different things we can do and we do try to go the extra mile to connect the dots. Sometimes we can’t but our wonderful terms of service team is constantly looking for more ways to try to help identify these bad actors as we call them. [chuckles]
[00:29:20] Patrick O’Keefe: I’ve never worked in gaming and my memory might be failing me, but it feels like you’ve been in this space for a long time so if it existed, you probably heard of it. Was there an effort at some point between gaming companies to form coalitions to share data on toxic players? Was that ever a thing that was attempted and is now I assume just like snuffed out by privacy laws?
[00:29:38] Jessica Folsom: I had heard that too, but I never saw anything come to fruition. I know way back in the day, back when all we had was forums and this sort of thing was much easier to track, I know community managers would sometimes share information on bad actors and user names that they would commonly use to try to keep them out of their communities, but that’s the most I ever saw and that was a good 15 years ago.
[00:30:02] Patrick O’Keefe: Do you want to take a crack at defining stream sniping for the layman here?
[00:30:05] Jessica Folsom: Yes, sure thing. Stream sniping is in our game at least, the Elder Scrolls Online, when someone will go into someone’s stream and they’ll start harassing them in chat, and they will also go into the game and kill them over and over and over on PVP and literally follow them around and just kill them over and over and over for hours. Sometimes they’ll do that and then they’ll laugh about it in Twitch chat. They basically make it so that the streamer can’t stream, they can’t play the game, or they’ll follow them around in player versus environment content so not PVP content and just make rude comments and try to make it to where they can’t enjoy streaming the game.
[00:30:49] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s really an interesting modern-day thing as you describe it because I never did player PVP and RuneScape, just to go back to an old example. I didn’t want to lose my stuff. I’m not going in those woods. That’s not a place for Patrick. I’m going to be over here trapping the lobsters and making my money to get my Mythril armor or whatever the heck the green armor was called.
Because a lot of gaming companies once upon a time would probably say, oh they’re in the same space. You stepped into the woods. If they’re stronger than you, they can wipe you out. Now streaming is at such a level of prevalence with not only adoption of broadband, but also the emergency platforms like Twitch where it’s very easy and low-cost capture cards, and everything else that goes into it that people are trying to create this medium of entertainment almost.
You can see them, find them and disrupt, almost DDoS their attempt at entertainment. That’s a form of abuse that you want to keep an eye on because you do want people to be able to stream your game and enjoy it and be entertaining while they’re playing it. Not just be followed around by someone bullying them in-game doing things that you’re supposed to do in-game, just not in this way because if you do it in that pattern of behavior then it becomes toxic.
[00:31:59] Jessica Folsom: Exactly. It’s the severity, it’s the length, it’s how persistent they are about it. If somebody is targeting somebody for hours in PVP, and just following them around and trying to prevent them from streaming, even if they aren’t in the chat, chances are if they are targeting that one person over and over and over and they know they’re streaming and it’s happening during their stream, they’re probably doing it on purpose to try to harass them, and this is so tough to prove.
We arm our streamers with ways to try to combat that by adding a delay to their streams so that stream snipers can’t see where they are by the minute as closely. It helps a little bit but our streamers will sometimes tell us that that has a negative impact on their stream because maybe players want to join them in PVP and play with them and it has some negative connotations.
Then we tell them to call out the stream sniper in chat in the game. “I need you to stop harassing me,” in chat, that way we have a chat log and we have proof that they asked them to stop. Then we can say okay, now we can prove that you were continuing that behavior and harassing this player after they told you to stop. We find ways to try to arm ourselves with ways that we can combat this. [chuckles]
[00:33:15] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s the same exact thing. It’s funny a lot of things change but a lot of things stay the same. One of the things is in-product messaging. If you can get people in the product to have messaging and you can contact people and they contact you through messaging where you know the person logging into this account is sending the message, you can actually do some things, and that’s why to this day with old forums I still make people confirm username changes via PM instead of email because you’re there and you want to change and you’re the person in the account, right?
I found fascinating what you said before the show about Discord. Just that Discord doesn’t give you the tools to create a safe space for your players and because of that, you’re not interested in creating an official Discord server. That’s a space that you’ll happily cede to fans, to anyone who wants to create Discord, go crazy, do it, have fun, but you can’t do it because you don’t feel comfortable because the info you need to identify toxic behavior and take action against it is not there from Discord, and because you can’t create that safe space or players, that’s a deal-breaker for you.
[00:34:17] Jessica Folsom: Yes. For me personally, I know a lot of smaller studios really like Discord but with a community our size, the amount of moderation that we would need, we’ve got a player base of I think we recently said 12 million or something like that, it’s not realistic to have a Discord community that we run. If we run a community and it’s an official community, there is an expectation that we are able to maintain a certain level of protection and professionalism, and rules that I don’t think we can.
We’ve got read-only ones where people can keep up to date with the latest news and things like that, but the things that really concern me with Discord, they have a lot of good tools for their own, but if I needed to find out who someone was, who was sending threats to one of our players, they can’t give me that information. We have to go through their own tools and that makes me a bit uncomfortable, it always has.
[00:35:19] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. Much like Facebook Groups, like we talked about before, like there’s a burden, there’s a cost to it, to your people to the time you have to invest. To me, I understand people use Discord in a lot of different ways. The reason I’m not in Slack communities either, it’s a chat room. Discord is like a chat room to me. It’s like Yahoo chat in 98. I did that. I was there, I participated, it was fun in the moment. Would I have wanted to moderate that? Heck no, absolutely not would I have wanted to moderate a chat room.
[00:35:48] Jessica Folsom: Especially for a business.
[00:35:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. You know you have big game problems basically is what you described there. If your audience is of a certain size, maybe you can get away with having a chat room essentially. Your team and the resources you have are adequate to cover that chat room in a sense at this level, at this stage, with this number of players to put a chat room up, which I’m just calling Discord a chat room, and I know it’s not necessarily 100% accurate or fair, but it’s basically a chat room to me, that’s a serious commitment to manage a chat room in 2021 where people are definitely not going to stay on topic. They’re definitely not going to post in the channels that they’re supposed to post in.
When the game goes down or their credit card has a problem or they didn’t get their crate, they’re just going to put it in every channel or the Gen-channel or whatever. To me, that makes a lot of sense. You’ve got to prioritize the capacity of your people and what you actually have the resources to deal with instead of just throwing up a Discord channel or server because some people want you to do it.
[00:36:45] Jessica Folsom: Right. It’s the same reason we don’t have a Reddit right now. We have a wonderful ESO subreddit and we have a really good relationship with the moderators. They run it very well and they are able to do it. We don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to have the level of engagement that I would want on a Reddit or a Discord channel. I think if we’re gonna have an official channel, we need to be able to support it to a level that is right for the community and the business. If we can’t, we shouldn’t open it.
[00:37:13] Patrick O’Keefe: Well, I have taken enough of your weekend and I think it’s time to draw this to a close. Jessica, thanks so much for spending time with us. I really enjoyed the conversation.
[00:37:22] Jessica Folsom: Thank you. I really appreciate it.
[00:37:24] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Jessica Folsom, Lead Community Manager for ZeniMax Online Studios.
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