If you work in games, social media, or community management, then you know that running any communications or programming around conventions like E3 and PAX requires intense planning and coordination. Fresh off of his first on the ground activation at E3, Joe King, social media manager for GameStop, shares the ups and downs of working conventions and of working in games community management. He also shares his strategy for engaging with games communities whether he is walking the convention floor for the first time or covering the event on social media from a remote location.
Joe’s career path into community management started with his love of games and quickly accelerated when he got creative with his resume. His advice for those looking to get into community management or any other field stands out: Start small, with tangible projects that can level up your skills.
Joe and Patrick discuss:
- What Joe did to make his resume standout when he was applying for a community position at Gearbox Software
- Why numbers don’t matter when you’re starting out as a streamer
- How landing a “dream job” can feel simultaneously exciting and paralyzing
Authentic content is a must for any community: “I really love [working with] influencers, because the really smart ones know that you shouldn’t get caught up in your numbers for a while. Start your channel and then just start making things. Start streaming. … Then eventually, as your content gets better and better and more people see it, they’re going to realize that it’s authentic, and there’s value in it. It’s going to naturally grow [and] your audience is going to naturally grow.” –@jauxking
Battling imposter syndrome when starting a new career path: “When I left [my first job in gaming], I realized that the amount of fear and anxiety that I was living with every day was crippling. … Then I left, and I realized that it was never about the job in terms of what I was doing, it was about the job in terms of what I had. I was so scared to lose it that I didn’t have the confidence that I used to have. … It took leaving to get where I am now.” –@jauxking
About Joe King
Joe King runs social media initiatives for GameStop. He is the former community manager for Gearbox Software and Gearbox Publishing, and has worked on such games as Borderlands, Battleborn, We Happy Few, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition, and many more.
He recently launched Just Press Start, a podcast in which he chats with friends in the gaming industry and adjacent disciplines about what they do, how they got started, and what advice they can offer others (including him!) on how they can best achieve their personal or professional goals, rooted in gaming or not!
- Joe King on Twitter and Instagram
- Just Press Start –– Joe’s podcast
- Gamestop, where Joe works in social media management
- The tweet that Patrick posted when he first launched Community Signal
- E3, PAX, and Gamescom
- Joe also worked at Gearbox Software and Gearbox Publishing, and has worked on such games as Borderlands, Battleborn, We Happy Few, and Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition
- Brad Williams, CEO and co-founder of WebDevStudios.com, former guest on Community Signal
- Courtney Caldwell, senior community manager at GameStop
- Major Nelson Radio
- More than 1,500 people have lost their jobs in the games industry in three months
[00:00] Announcer: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Tweet with @communitysignal as you listen. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
[00:00:22] Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and welcome back to Community Signal. We took two weeks off and it’s great to be back. On this episode, I’m talking with Joe King who currently works in social at GameStop, but has previously worked community and influencer marketing in the gaming industry. We discuss what it’s like to be a community manager during a big gaming expo, how Joe got his foot in the door, and why he grew terrified of his dream job.
Thank you to our supporters on Patreon. This is a group that has found value in the show and financially supports the program because of that value. This includes Luke Zimmer, Carol Benovic-Bradley and Jules Standen If you’re interested in learning more, please visit communitysignal.com/innercircle.
Joe King is the former community manager for Gearbox Software and Gearbox Publishing, and has worked on such games as Borderlands, Battleborn, We Happy Few, Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition, and many more. He is currently helping run social media initiatives for GameStop. In his spare time, he’s also recently launched a podcast called Just Press Start in which he chats with friends in the gaming industry and adjacent disciplines about what they do, how they got started and what advice they can offer others, including him, on how they can best achieve their personal or professional goals, be they rooted in gaming or not. Joe, welcome to the show.
[00:01:30] Joe King: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:01:31] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s my pleasure.
[00:01:31] Joe King: I’m really excited to be here.
[00:05:01] Patrick O’Keefe: On December 7, 2015, I launched Community Signal and I sent a tweet out saying that I’d done so via my personal account, @patrickokeefe, and you responded to that tweet telling me that you had been looking for something like this for a while. And here we are more than three and a half years later, here we are, full circle with you on the show.
[00:01:48] Joe King: Absolutely. I’d forgotten about that. I’m glad you saved that little anecdote for now because I totally forgot about that. I did find the show really early on. I’ve always enjoyed it. I think it’s a great show and I’m really, genuinely excited to be on it. It’s super cool for me, so thanks for having me.
[00:02:02] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s fun to have you on, so thank you for the early support, obviously. I live in Hollywood and you’re in town for E3 which is the biggest gaming event of the year.
[00:02:09] Joe King: It’s pretty huge. I think that size-wise, the only one that’s bigger is Gamescom over in Germany. That one is mega big, but E3 is huge. This is my first E3 too, so part of my thing has just been documenting my first E3, like, this is what it’s being like for me and it’s been a lot of fun.
[00:02:26] Patrick O’Keefe: You’re in town and I was like, “Why not get together? Meet in person, face-to-face for the first time,” then have you on this show. I was trying to think, I think this is our second face-to-face show. The other one was with Brad Williams. If you listen to the show, you can find that on our website at communitysignal.com.
[00:02:37] Joe King: Yes. It’s really cool.
[00:02:39] Patrick O’Keefe: You just mentioned this is the first E3 you’ve attended, but you’ve worked E3 as a community manager remotely, right?
[00:02:44] Joe King: Sure. This is the first time I’ve ever attended E3, but I’ve done all kinds of community monitoring stuff remotely for it. I’ve gone to PAX and other shows like that, so this is definitely not foreign to me, it’s just my first E3 specifically, so it’s really good.
[00:03:01] Patrick O’Keefe: I bring it up to say that you were, for the company you were working on at the time, like you said or hinted at, you were managing the reaction, the good, the bad, what came in.
[00:03:08] Joe King: Absolutely. From the fire hose, all the community manager clichés. Let’s just go through all of them.
[00:03:14] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, because most of us can spectate, “Oh, this is the reaction to the Avengers,” for example, which was the one I really wanted to see when I watched it. The only press conference I’ve actually watched live so far was the Avengers one, everyone was really interested, so we can watch that from afar, look on Twitter, follow the hashtag and see, but you’ve actually been there with a gaming company when they do something and see the reactions, so tell me about that a little bit. What’s E3 like for a community manager?
[00:03:36] Joe King: It’s busy. It’s busy for everybody. For me, specifically, the way that our team is operating is, I’m now technically– It’s kind of funny that I’m on community signal because I’m technically a social media manager right now, but we know each other pretty well at this point and I have a community background and it’s something I’m passionate about.
[00:03:51] Patrick O’Keefe: You get this stuff in your rearview mirror now, like you’ve done it [crosstalk] in gaming company E3– [crosstalk]
[00:03:53] Joe King: Absolutely, yes, and I’ll do it again. That’s the thing about doing community that I’m sure everybody listening. You probably never really leave community, it’s part of who we are in a lot of ways. I’ll probably do community management again. I mean, I have no desire to keep that away, but to answer your question, the way that it’s working right now for us right now. I’m handling the social side and then, we have a senior community manager, Courtney Caldwell. She is hanging out with our GSTV, GameStop TV team and they are doing the interviews and some of the more video-based content. They’re creating that and then, they’re sending it to me and I can post it on our channels.
Additionally, I’m wandering around. Mainly, the show, but just the LA live area, the downtown area and just documenting, “Hey. This is what E3 is like.” It’s her first E3 too, so we’re tag-teaming it and our strategy, our approach is like, let’s share with our followers and our audience, “This is what E3 is like. You’ve never been, neither have we, so let’s go together. Let’s do our first E3 together and we’ll document it that way and show what it’s like.” It’s been really good. It’s cool.
[00:04:54] Patrick O’Keefe: Take me back a little bit. At Gearbox, so what was in your memory? I’m sure you have one big announcement probably or one big thing that came out of an E3. What was the big memorable thing that came out of your time?
[00:05:04] Joe King: For E3, not a whole lot to be honest with you. E3 Gearbox up until this year with Borderlands 3 now being announced, it’s always been a few people go to E3 and especially Gearbox is a successful publisher in its own right. It was really more geared towards, “Hey, let’s send a few people from publishing and biz dev, and let’s talk to developers.” Let’s have some meetings, maybe sign some deals or talk about signing some deals whatever. It’s always been a more business-based thing I think E3 at least. The place where Gearbox shines when it comes to events is PAX. Gearbox and PAX have a really good relationship and over the years working there, I really saw that first hand.
A lot of the Gearbox community shows up to PAX. We would go to a PAX event and just have some of the most amazing cosplayers and we had fan art and just anything you can imagine. People show up, and they would see us and hang out and all that.
[00:06:00] Patrick O’Keefe: You don’t have that big release [crosstalk] you don’t have that thing where you were like up all night because I’m sure some other community managers are here like– [crosstalk] They’re like, it’s a tough thing. You don’t know, you can predict when you do research and you can think that this is going to work, but you don’t know until I saw that footage.
[00:06:16] Joe King: When you ask it that way, I have a great example of that. At Gearbox, we did a PAX show a couple of years ago and we were promoting Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition which was a game that we published. We published basically the remastered version of it. We went to PAX and we had a booth and everything was going great. The booth had this whole tournament thing happening where you would come in and then you would run a map and if you got the most points, then you moved on. The idea was going to be, we get the top three placers and we put them on a stage at the Gearbox panel tomorrow morning first thing. They duke it out and we see who comes on top. That was the whole idea.
I find out very late in the day that that responsibility had fallen on us to find those people but no one said that. No one told me that. No one told my teammate, my colleague. We scrambled and that was the beginning of a very long night of, “Okay, we reached out to these people, we haven’t heard anything yet. It’s going to be the absolute 11th hour. We are scared.” Then at that point, we also had some responsibilities within the panel, organizing and running the panel itself. Some of those were unclear as to what was going to happen. It was just a very stressful night, of course, and in typical community manager fashion, we woke up the next morning, stuff fell into place and it worked out. I find usually that happens.
Well, I think we all get stressed doing community. It’s a stressful line of work it can be. Usually, in my experience, things work out. That’s something I try to keep in mind even though there are the moments where it’s just overwhelming. It usually works out.
[00:07:55] Patrick O’Keefe: I want to talk about your community profession origin story. You told me before the show that, “In 2014, I was working in a warehouse in Nashville, Tennessee. I was miserable. I was at a point in my life where I knew I needed more out of my work and felt it was time for me to just push start on something.”
Referencing the title. “One day, I saw a post on Facebook from Gearbox Software saying that they were looking for a community manager. As a gamer, I had enough of a sense of what a community manager did to know, I could probably figure it out and make it happen.”
We’ll come back to you applying for that job in just a minute. Let’s stop right here for just a moment. So many people think they know what a community manager does and think they can do this job. Did your expectation of what you thought it was differ from what it actually was once you got into the role or was it pretty much the same? You can be honest.
[00:08:40] Joe King: First of all, you’re totally right there and even so sometimes when I tell that story especially to other community professionals, like I love to add in the part where I’m like past self you’re adorable. Heavy pat. I am the kind of person that, number one, I can figure things out. I can teach myself things. I’ve done it countless times in my life over countless things. My motto and my wife hates it is, “I’ll figure it out.” “Hey, what are we going to do about this? “We’ll figure it out.” “Hey, how are you going to learn that computer program to do that thing?” “I’ll figure it out.” I do. That’s just who I am. That’s what I did. Were my expectations, how did those align?
I think some of it I expected — I think it wasn’t exactly what I expected but it was enough of what I expected to where I knew that as I was learning what was that I could do it. In other words, I don’t think I would have realized how much is involved, like how hard the work is. I probably at the time thought, “Okay, well you go into forums and you talk to people and then you tell the dev team that and then come back and tell them and they’re like, “Oh, great, cool. That’s fine, no worries. Just get us that thing whenever you can.”
It’s until you get boots on the ground and you’re like, “Oh yes, some people are horrible. Some people they don’t care that you’re a human being. They don’t care that the team is doing the best they can and they don’t care about constraints.” On the other hand, some people are great, and they’re amazing and they’re better. I’ve made friends who are in the Borderlands and Gearbox community, they’re more than just like community members, they’re friends now. I think when you go into it, knowing as little about it as I knew, I did have a sense of what it was and I knew that I could do it, I could figure it out, and I would enjoy it. I don’t think I could have ever expected like, what it was actually like until I did it.
[00:10:24] Patrick O’Keefe: That makes sense. To your point and in fairness to you and ask you.
[00:10:28] Joe King: I beat up on him a lot so don’t go easy now.
[00:10:31] Patrick O’Keefe: I tell people all the time, people ask, “How do I get into this work?” I say, well, there’s a few ways to do that and it kind of depends on who you are, and what your learning strengths are. Some of us are book people, some of us have to be trained more visually, some of us just do it and figure it out, lots of different ways. You don’t need to go through a training program to be in community. People sell training, and they do. Some of it’s good, some of it’s okay, some of it’s bad. You don’t necessarily need that, unless they package it in a way that really speaks to who you are, your acumen.
Otherwise, the easiest thing you can do if you want to get into community is start a community. We were just talking about this that I reference to [crosstalk] your podcast. Just before we were walking up here, we’re recording in my apartment, in Los Angeles, and on the way up, tell us about the podcast, just starting and getting the podcast started and refining later. Like community is a space where you can do that. You can do it on the free end but you can buy a domain name for 10 bucks. You can install free open source software, you can pay for hosting for five bucks a month. You can launch a website that looks as good as probably majority of online communities out there right now. Positive, negative, you do well, you succeed, you fail, you learn a lot but if you do have a successful community, you now have a feather in your cap, you have something on your resume, you build something from zero with no money, that is now an influential player in whatever space you chose the start a community.
[00:11:42] Joe King: 100%, and see, I get that all the time too. People will tweet at me and they’ll DM me on Twitter, and they asked me like, “Hey, I want to get into the industry, but I don’t know how to start.” I just tell them, just start. That’s where the Just Press Start podcast title came from. It wasn’t even me thinking, “Oh, I hate where I’m at in my life and my job. I’m miserable. I need to just press start on the next thing,” because I didn’t really know what the next thing was.
It’s really more for people that feel like they have a sense of what the next thing is for them. Then they reach out to me and they say, “Hey, I want to be in community, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to get started. I love art. I want to make art for video games but I don’t know how to do that. What do I do?” Well, I just tell, “Just make art.” Like, “Oh, I like computers and I want to code, I want to program, but I don’t know how to start, make mods.”
[00:12:25] Patrick O’Keefe: Start sloppy. Start with sloppy code, get better, ask the community for help.
[00:12:28] Joe King: When I do these podcasts and do these things, I don’t want to present myself as an expert on anything. I’m an expert in two things. My experience and my opinion, that’s all. For me, the things that I’ve seen in the industry, recruiters look a lot more at the whole person, at least at Gearbox they did. They looked a lot more, in my case, at the whole person. They said, “Hey, look, this guy, you know, he’s clearly passionate, he’s clearly enthusiastic, he does seem to know enough that we could at least benefit from his help.” That’s all you need.
I think a lot of people, they don’t realize that. Then maybe if you tell them that they’re like, “I don’t really know how to quantify that. I don’t know what that means or what I should do. I don’t know how I find…” I think I got lucky because there was this unique in for me where, they were looking for someone, I saw the opportunity and just shoehorned myself into it, I guess. I know everyone doesn’t have that benefit, but it’s just that, it’s just look for it. Look for those opportunities where you can find something to do that will lead to the next thing.
[00:13:32] Patrick O’Keefe: I think, in your case, it sounds like you were a community member who understood something very well. Then, there was an opportunity at the thing you understood, and you leveraged your knowledge and your experience in that community. “You know what? I can step into a leadership role and help people, eventually.”
[00:13:44] Joe King: Another thing I would note too, is that like– you’re exactly right, but I would also note that I wasn’t one of the well-known members of the community. It’s not like I had some fame of some kind in the Borderlands community, like, “Oh, he’s that guy did that thing or made that website or did whatever,” that wasn’t me. I was just the dude, no one knew who I was. I did know the community well, and I was able to verbalize that to them and say, “Look, I know all these people. I know what the dynamic here is happening. I know you do, too. I know you get it, but maybe I can offer a unique perspective.” That’s what I feel like I offer. Sometimes I do things like this.
I talked to a friend yesterday, he wanted to talk to me for like a documentary he’s making, I felt so silly. I was just like, “Are you sure, man?” I don’t know anything about Indie versus AAA. I want your perspective on it.” I’m like, “Of course.” Everyone has a unique perspective and that’s everyone’s secret weapon.
[00:14:34] Patrick O’Keefe: For sure. In my case, I started moderating communities when I was a teenager. I started doing that and then–
[00:14:39] Joe King: That’s the way to do community, just moderate.
[00:14:42] Patrick O’Keefe: Then I launched the community myself in 2000. On January 1st, Y2K, I registered my first domain. January 1st, 2000, on the day.
[00:14:49] Joe King: Nice. That’s awesome.
[00:14:50] Patrick O’Keefe: I [crosstalk] domain name, started this kind of path that I was on. Then, 10 years after I started moderating, I wrote a book because I’ve been moderating communities, managing communities for a decade, wrote a book and then that proved to be an in where I could help companies from the outside. I wrote up community playbook for FedEx and companies like CNN, Dell, Sony’s gaming community used my community guidelines, stuff like that. Then that proved to be an in to finding a job somewhere when I went looking for an opportunity.
[00:15:17] Joe King: The great thing about that is, again, I feel like that’s the thing we have in common. The key here is not the experience we had before we did what we’re doing now, it’s the way that we got into what we’re doing. In other words, you thought outside the box. For a lot of people, it would be like, “Well, I moderate these forums, but if they’re not going to make me the community manager, I guess, this is it, or I guess I’ll just go mod somewhere else.” “Well, no, you can still do what you’re doing and then build on that.”
Again, to use the cliché, think outside the box, write a book about it. Write a blog about community management, and what you’re learning and document that process. I think a lot of people they’re scared to put themselves out there and talk about what they know. Just like I was saying, like I am still sometimes. Again, your unique perspective is everything, no one has the same perspective you do. On top of that, there are probably a lot of people.
If you’re wanting to learn something, there are probably a lot of people out there that want to learn it too. Documenting the process of learning, you’re not putting yourself out there and saying, like, “Hey, I don’t know anything, I have no experience.” In fact, you’re doing the opposite and you’re saying, “Hey, I’m learning about this thing and I want you to learn with me.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s what you build your community around. You start a podcast about how, “Hey, I’m learning to do a thing,” or you write a blog about I’m learning to do a thing, and then you document that process. Then as you’re learning, other people are learning and you’re bringing them value. Then before you know it, you just made genuine, authentic content, and your audience is building because of it.
Also, at Gearbox, I did influencers, that’s what I did when I left. I really love doing influencers, because the really smart ones know that you shouldn’t get caught up in your numbers for a while. Start your channel, and then just start making things, start streaming, just start doing it.
Then eventually, as your content gets better and better, and more people see it, they’re going to realize that it’s authentic, and there’s value in it, it’s going to naturally grow, your audience is going to naturally grow. I think a lot of people, they start out, “I’m going to be a streamer. I’m going to start a YouTube channel.” Then they start watching those numbers. When no one’s watching their videos or their streams, that’s where they’re drawing their motivation from, and then it kills it because no one’s watching. They’re drawing their motivation from an external source, instead of saying, “I’m just going to do me.” Then the people that are into that, and resonate with that, they will eventually come.
[00:17:36] Patrick O’Keefe: Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, no one’s going to be watching for a while, for a long time, years, in some cases to develop into these channels that are now super popular.
[00:17:45] Joe King: Exactly.
[00:17:45] Patrick O’Keefe: Let’s go back to the job posting. Tell us the story of your application.
[00:17:50] Joe King: Like I said, I was working at the warehouse one day, and we took a 10-minute break in the morning. I was on my phone and I saw on Facebook where Gearbox Software, “Hey, we’re looking for community manager.” Like I said, at the time, I was a gamer and I loved Borderlands. I listened to some gaming podcasts, like I remember, I listened to like the Major Nelson podcast a lot. I would hear Major Nelson, we’re having this podcast. “Hey, it’s so and so the community manager from blah, blah, blah,” and they would come on the podcast and talk about the game or whatever. That seemed really cool to me.
To get back to your earlier question about my expectations, I think that might have been part of it. I think part of it, it was like, “Oh, I would get to talk about the games a lot too to people.” That would be really fun. I thought, up until that point, I had been in bands and done some other things like my wife and I, just for a quick second, we did a concert promotion company, where we were booking shows for local bands for friends of ours. Well, it was just the thing we dipped our toe in very briefly just to see what would this be like? Let’s try it out.
I was used to doing entrepreneurial type things where I was having to promote it myself and do it on my own and all that kind of thing. I thought I think I could bring that skill set. I think those are transferable skills. I think I could bring those to Gearbox and be a value. Like, I think I could be an asset because of that approach. I thought ask her, I’m going to apply. I went home that day, and updated my vanilla Word doc resume. I sent it to my brother in law, actually, my wife’s brother Murray works for Raven Software in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s a designer on Call of Duty.
At the time, [crosstalk] I think he was working on BioShock. He was up in Boston at Irrational. Well, I sent him a text, and I said, “Hey, this is a thing that’s happening. I’m going to update my resume tonight because I just want to give it a shot. Will you look my resume over and let me know what you think?” He said, “Yes, sure, no problem.”
I updated it and sent it to him. Then the next morning, I get up and I see I’ve got an email from him. It’s a long email, like it’s two or three paragraphs of info. That immediately struck me as weird because he had two like very small daughters at the time. They were very small. One of them was a baby, brand new baby and so he was a busy guy.
I’m thinking, “Okay. If he wrote me back this much, he clearly has something to say, so interesting.” The gist of this email was, first of all, don’t send them this. This resume, don’t send them this because what’s going to happen is, they’re not even going to bother, they’re going to open it, they’re going to see, “Oh, he has no gaming experience. Bye,” whatever. He said, “This is a long shot for you, so you have to stand out. You have to find some way to stand out.” That was what I needed to hear because on some level, I knew that, but I just needed to hear it, I think.
What I did was I went to the craft store and I bought a wooden box and a bunch of paints and things like that. I came home, and over the course of the next couple of weeks, I painted this box to look like a red loot chest from Borderlands. Then, I went into Photoshop, I redid my resume in Borderlands and Gearbox branding. I had blood splatters on it in Borderlands font and all that stuff. As in aside, you have not done a job hunt until you’ve put blood splatter on your resume.
[00:20:57] Patrick O’Keefe: Everyone feels like probably they have after [crosstalk] job process, but no one has actually done it.
[00:21:01] Joe King: You send them the blood splatter before. Anyway, I put the whole thing together. I threw in some other sort of things that I’ve created in Photoshop that were just fun, just to show them that I had some ideas and some creativity. I packed it up and I sent it in. Then, a week later, I’m waiting for a chip. My brother in law talked again, and he says, “The key is if you can get the team, if you can get the dev team playing with it, like it’s a toy, ‘Oh, this box this guy sent,’ that’s a good sign. You might not be in, but that’s at least you’re making an impression and that’s good.”
I gave it about a week. Then, I called back again. I just called the office. I Googled Gearbox Software phone number, it popped up. I called it. The receptionist answered. I said, “Hey, my name is Joe King. I sent you guys a loot chest resume last week, and I just wanted to call and make sure it arrived. I’m not looking to talk to anybody or bug anybody. I just want to make sure, it came. It’s in one piece. We got it. Thanks. No problem.” Her response was, “That was you?” I go, “Yes.” She goes, “That was really cool.” I’m like, “Okay. Score. The receptionist dug it. That’s got to be a good sign.” She said, “Listen. Our Head of HR is in a meeting right now. Seriously, I’m not blowing you off.” I was like, “It’s fine. I would understand if you did.” She’s like, “I’m going to have her call you, okay? Let me verify your number. Yes. Yes. Okay.” She did.
The next day, the Head of HR called me. We had a quick 10-minute conversation. I think she just wanted to make sure that number one, I wasn’t a crazy person, and number two, I wasn’t looking for some astronomical amount of money that was just ridiculous and unrealistic. Somehow, I passed both of those. Then she said, “Would you like to do a call with our marketing team.” “Sure. Why not?”
Couple of days later, I had a call with the marketing team, that went well. A little bit after that, they said, “Hey, how would you like to fly down to Dallas for an in-person interview?” I’m just laughing at myself at this point. I’m like, “Are you kidding me right now? I don’t know anything. What are you people thinking?” I’m like, “Sure, I’ll come to Dallas, why not?” I figured, this is where this all goes to hell. This is it.
I’m going to go down to the interview. I’m going to enjoy it because, “Hey, weird. I’m at a job interview at Gearbox. Who would’ve thought?” [crosstalk] I’m not even thinking like that. I’m just thinking, “Hey, my favorite game studio is flying me down on their dime to visit the studio.” That’s how I was looking at it. “I’m going to go down and try to not make a fool of myself. I’ll do my best and we’ll see what happens.”
I went down for the interview. Gearbox has a really interesting interview process. They have this thing called the Hot Seat. It’s basically a meeting where — HR sends out an email to everybody. If you want to go to the Hot Seat and ask questions, you can. Anyone is invited, but usually you only get a handful of people. It having been my first Hot Seat. I just heard the word Hot Seat, and they told me, “Anyone is invited. Anyone can ask you anything.” I’m imagining this big theater with thousands of seats and a big curtain.
[00:23:48] Patrick O’Keefe: The CEO stands up.
[00:23:50] Joe King: A stool in the middle with a spotlight. All these people are going to — all these grizzled game devs are going to be like, “You don’t know anything. What makes you think like you could work here.” I’m imagining the absolute worse. It turned out that that was my favorite part of the day. We just went into this conference room. People were asking things like, “What’s your favorite Ninja Turtle?” One of the cool things was they wrote 12 movie franchises on a blackboard, and they said, “Take this marker. Mark two of these off the list, and then number the rest one to 10 in order of your favorite. One is your absolute favorite of all time. 10 is like, this is good too, but it’s 10.” I did that.
Of course, as I’m doing it, people were like, “Ooh,” as their opinions, as they’re beginning to see what my opinions are based on their opinions and compare it. It’s like, “Oh, I can’t believe you made that number two and not number one. Oh, man, what are you thinking?” It was this great conversation starter. That’s when I realized, they’re not doing this to mess with me or freak me out, or anything, it’s just to start conversation, and then to get a sense of my personality, that’s when I’m learning these things. I’m figuring out, “Okay. Now, I’m starting to get a sense of how this all works.” The interview went great. Everything went great. I got on the airplane to go back to Nashville where I’m from and I sat down on my seat and it was instantly fear and terror. “Why did I answer like that, why did I say that? I must be crazy. There’s no way I’m going to get this.” All that ridiculous stuff.
Anyway, I waited and waited and waited for a few weeks. I think that eventually, I bugged HR enough to where they just gave me the bad news. Finally, they were like, “Okay, look, here’s the thing. We went with someone else because he had more experience.” He came from a marketing team and had some experience in the industry a little bit and was genuinely better suited for it. He’s still there actually and he’s a good friend of mine. They definitely made the right call there.
They said, “We liked you a lot and we want to know if you would be interested in doing a contract position.” What that basically means is that the forums that I do so well were moving. They were vBulletin forums and they were going to update them to Discourse. They said, “What we want you to do is come on and be the community developer liaison and you get a sense of what the community wants out of the forums, what they like, what they don’t like, all those kinds of things. Then you will be the community point of contact for the forums. Sound cool?” I was like, “Yes, absolutely.”
I did that kind of thing. Then over time, over the next year and a half or so they kept renewing my contract. I was like, “Cool, alright.” Every few months, it’s like, “Hey, let’s sign another contract,” and I was like, “All right, great.” Every time we sign a new contract, I would bug them a little bit like, “Contracts great, but full-time anything coming up you think, full-time?” “No, we’re working on something. We don’t know it might take a while,” whatever. Then finally January of 2016, they called up and they said, “Hey, can you fly to Dallas tomorrow. We think we’re ready to make this happen.” I was like, “Really? Sure, okay. Cool.”
[00:26:46] Patrick O’Keefe: Tomorrow?
[00:26:47] Joe King: The following day, yes. I’m like, “All right.” I went to Dallas the next day. Went through the same interview process again, but this time, it wasn’t scary at all. I had traveled with the team at that point. I went to PAX South 2015 with the team at that point, gotten to know them really well, we were really close friends. At that point, it was more like just going in for a meeting and reunite with everybody and see everybody and catch up. It didn’t feel like a job interview at all. From there, they made an offer and I accepted and then we started the process of moving. I moved down to Dallas in February, about a month later. Then my wife came down in March with our dogs and that was it.
[00:27:26] Patrick O’Keefe: New life.
[00:27:27] Joe King: Yes. That was really weird.
[00:27:28] Patrick O’Keefe: There’s few things I want to point out from your story and from that whole process. First of all, some folks are going to listen to that story and think, “They gave him the job with no experience because he was good with arts and crafts.”
[00:27:38] Joe King: It feels that way sometimes.
[00:27:38] Patrick O’Keefe: But you didn’t get the job!
[00:27:40] Joe King: Listen, I’m going to be honest with you, guys, listening. It feels that way sometimes. I get why you might think that. I get it.
[00:27:46] Patrick O’Keefe: You didn’t get the job you applied for but you got an opportunity. You got your foot in the door which [crosstalk] it was all that matters. You got stood out, thanks to the loot chest?
[00:27:55] Joe King: Loot chest. [crosstalk]
[00:27:56] Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks to the loot chest in the game. This in game item you made real and put it in the center and it stood out where they, obviously, talked about in the office. They were looking at this thing. Even if they later dismiss you as a crazy person, they talked about you because…
[00:28:09] Joe King: They still had to think like, “That was a pretty creative, crazy person.” They had to at least give me the time of day because I put myself out there and I tried my best to stand out. You bring a good point too. Yes, they didn’t give me the job that I applied for but it led to another opportunity that was actually perfect for me because it allowed me to learn the job that I would later get. I later did get the job.
[00:28:33] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, you did. Do you remember the two franchises you crossed off? You said there was a list and you –[crosstalk]
[00:28:37] Joe King: No, I don’t. [crosstalk] I think one of them might have been Toy Story. I can’t remember what the other one was but I want to say the other one might have like — There were stuff like Aliens, Star Wars, Star Trek stuff like that. There were two that I just weren’t really familiar with. Star Trek would be one. I’m much more into Star Wars so that might be one of them that I marked off. I don’t remember.
[00:29:01] Patrick O’Keefe: One thing that you did that was not without risk, but paid off for you and is more often than not the best way to go is you sent this thing and you waited a week which frankly isn’t all that much. As someone who hires, that’s not a long time and you called the corporate office. That’s not without risk.
[00:29:15] Joe King: No, not at all. When I was going with just based on shipping, [crosstalk] I wasn’t even thinking that traditional–
[00:29:20] Patrick O’Keefe: You were tracking your confirmation code. It’s like– [crosstalk]
[00:29:24] Joe King: I wasn’t even thinking, “Well, I followed up and I should wait a week or two.” It wasn’t that. I’m not going to lie either I knew too that calling them was another point of contact. That was another point of reference for them for me. I knew that when you’re having just again gone through a job search, each job you’re going for, you have this finite number of contacts that you can make, this finite number of touchpoints. I knew that if I called them, number one, I would get info on whether or not the box arrived but more importantly, I did know that it would be a touch point and that the receptionist would then say, “HR director, that guy call with the box, he called.” All of a sudden, now she’s reminded her of me that wasn’t without a strategy, it wasn’t like, I just called to check on the box, I knew full well that would be an important touchpoint yet proved to be it was.
[00:30:22] Patrick O’Keefe: The reason I pointed out is because it’s not without risk but a lot of people wouldn’t do it. More often than not it pays off. Yes, there’s a line between annoyance and persistence, and follow up. It’s tough to navigate, it’s tough to know where it is, but that persistence [crosstalk] got you the job and the persistence got you a full-time job because as you said, you were asking, “Is there a full-time opportunity coming?”
[00:30:41] Joe King: Yes.
[00:30:41] Patrick O’Keefe: [crosstalk] Persistence is a good thing.
[00:30:43] Joe King: That’s where the persistence really came in was when I had the contract job because I’m going to be honest with you, full transparency. I was making 10 bucks an hour doing that, I’m a married guy, my wife and I own a house.
[00:30:58] Patrick O’Keefe: You’ve got dogs to feed.
[00:30:58] Joe King: I have dogs to feed. I have responsibilities. My wife was amazing and has been amazing through the whole thing. There were times where both she and I were getting impatient.
There was even one time I remember where she said like, “Hey, we got to figure something out here.” I said, “I know, I’m starting to get to the point to where the next time they renew my contract, if there’s not some concrete plan or they don’t say, “Yes, we have a role in mind, we can’t do it now, but here’s the plan that we’d like to execute to make it happen.” I’m going to move on to something else, then timing kicked in and it was like, “Okay. Cool.”
[00:31:34] Patrick O’Keefe: [crosstalk] It all worked out.
[00:31:36] Joe King: Right.
[00:31:37] Patrick O’Keefe: Unfortunately, after nearly five years, you were laid off Gearbox in January?
[00:31:39] Joe King: Yes.
[00:31:40] Patrick O’Keefe: You joined roughly 1,500 gaming industry workers who lost their jobs in the first quarter this year, that’s according to an estimate from PC Game Insiders, Alex Calvin, who said that that figure meant that more people had lost their jobs in the first quarter of this year than in all of 2018 in gaming. When those layoffs come down and I know you went from an influencer role to a social media role, you’re obviously [crosstalk]…How expandable is the community manager when those layoffs come down?
[00:32:05] Joe King: I think it depends on the studio. It depends on the company, more broadly like the publisher, the developer I think it depends. In community, as we all know, you do have some people that have a modicum of fame because their community manager from X studio or whatever. Obviously, those people are not expendable for their own reasons. One of those reasons and I don’t want to get off on a tangent, but I believe one of those reasons is because those people are very smart at building their personal brand which then enables them to further build their professional brand, align with that game that they’re working on that studio. One feeds into the other and that’s how that goes.
[00:32:40] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes. You’re often seen as a good guy?
[00:32:41] Joe King: Exactly.
[00:32:41] Patrick O’Keefe: By community, the face of the game is that where when things come down, in their minds at least, like the evil guys with the suits.
[00:32:47] Joe King: Right.
[00:32:47] Patrick O’Keefe: Is that person who represents the place?
[00:32:48] Joe King: Exactly. It’s the person they see all the time, they see them on the stage at E3 talking about a thing or whatever so there’s that. In my own experience, when it comes to the expendable-ness of a community person, I only have my own experiences to base it off of.
I don’t ultimately know why my position was eliminated, but I was just told that I believe that the people that told me that it was just a team restructure, they were trying some new things. That’s fine, I believe that because that’s how I got on, was a team restructure.
[00:33:17] Patrick O’Keefe: Right.
[00:33:18] Joe King: Fine. It’s Okay. I think it depends on the studio. I think it’s hard to blanket say, “Oh, well, the community people are always the first ones to go.” I will say this though that I do think that we can all agree that community and just comms in general, community, social, influencers, all of these things are still very, very misunderstood by leadership, I think in a lot of cases.
I think if there is the perception that those people tend to get the axe first, I feel like that’s why. I feel that could be part of it because the role isn’t fully understood, the importance of it isn’t fully understood by the leadership that makes those decisions sometimes. My hunch is that it’s not even about what you do, what those people do that are laid off, it’s more just about the makeup of the team.
Again, that’s what happened in my case, it’s just the makeup of the team and how things can change. When I was let go that day, there was someone else let go from our support project manager, it’s just things getting shifted and change happens. I don’t know that it’s necessarily a thing where “Community people, let’s get them out first and then we figure out the rest of.” I think it just depends.
[00:34:23] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, that’s fair. You mentioned misunderstanding from those who made the decision. What’s one key most misunderstanding you see?
[00:34:29] Joe King: I think the most obvious one is just generally not understanding why community is important. I think people are coming around on it now, I feel. I get the sense that it’s beginning to be more understood as to why community is important. Community is just like, again, any comps thing that’s not PR, even social media. It can be really ethereal to certain people. Again, just leadership doesn’t always in some places understand what it is and why it’s important.
The best example that I’ve seen, I guess, just hearing other colleagues and friends in the community-community so to speak just sort of talking about the places they’ve been, the experiences that they’ve had where it just wasn’t really, “Hey, I’m the community manager, I heard this thing out in the community. I’m telling you, here you go.” “We don’t care about that. We’re going to do this or do that,” just not listening to them. That’s probably the simplest form I would think, I’ve heard that plenty of times.
[00:35:24] Patrick O’Keefe: Now when you got laid off, I almost poached you out of the gaming industry, almost took you out of gaming.
[00:35:26] Joe King: You did, yes. Almost.
[00:35:29] Patrick O’Keefe: I had a job opening and you interviewed, and went through a series of steps, talking to members of the team, talking to me and you got to the point where I offered you the job. You accepted.
[00:35:38] Joe King: I accepted the job, and you were [crosstalk] onboarding.
[00:35:42] Patrick O’Keefe: [crosstalk] -in background check. We did a background check– [crosstalk]
[00:35:45] Joe King: I failed miserably.
[00:35:48] Patrick O’Keefe: You passed and it’s all good but I’m calling to say– I’m going to set up the call, we’re going to say, “You’re all good, let’s get you on board.” You told me that in that little window GameStop had came back in play. To be fair, you were very forthright about it. I appreciate it. You told me about it. You said, “We need to talk,” and I said, “Oh damn.”
[00:36:08] Joe King: Oh boy.
[00:36:09] Patrick O’Keefe: “That cannot be good.” [crosstalk] GameStop came back into the play and this is a great moment because your current employer obviously wooed you, so you can’t say anything bad about them because they got you. You can’t get in trouble. It’s a perfect opportunity to let me have it which I’m fine with. What was the difference maker? What was the change?
[00:36:26] Joe King: It’s not even about letting you have it, man. It was just one of those things, like I remember one of the first things I said you on the phone, I remember, one of the first interactions that we had was, you said something to the effect of, “What are you looking for? What is your goal here?” Or whatever. I said, “Well I would really love to stay in gaming or something gaming adjacent.” I remember you said, “I can’t give you gaming adjacent, but I can give you like hardcore community management.” If you had to say, I can’t give you gaming adjacent, that’s like the best follow up is like, but I can give you hardcore community management. That sounded good to me. That’s why I went through the process. I was like, “All right, cool. I like the idea of honing my craft.”
You could argue maybe that the game industry is a distraction. I looked at it like that, maybe it’s a distraction, maybe that’s what I need is to go to somewhere that is just, “Hey, look dude, you’re going to manage communities and that’s it.”
[00:37:16] Patrick O’Keefe: You will find sort of people who have been in the gaming space for a while who will tell you that to really advance in community and to [crosstalk] your salary you need to get out.
[00:37:21] Joe King: You have to expand. Absolutely, 100. That was why the role with you was very, very attractive to me and then I mean, as for why I went with GameStop, I think it was a combination of things, but I think that I got the sense that, I did ultimately decide that I wanted to stay in the gaming industry and I felt like that was a really good move to go. I felt good about going from Gearbox to GameStop. I felt like that was a good move for me, that’s basically it I mean, the big advantage that you had there was it was remote. I’d be working from home and now I have a 45 minute commute every day, so joke’s on me.
[00:37:57] Patrick O’Keefe: [crosstalk] I’m glad you found a role to make you happy, more than anything else.
[00:37:59] Joe King: No, I did. [crosstalk] -started recording but I’m also glad that we’re friends and we’re still in touch, I appreciate everything you did for me from even just initially reaching out to going through the process and all of that. Thank you for that, I appreciate it.
[00:38:14] Patrick O’Keefe: My pleasure. I was disappointed we missed out on you. Again, we’re in my apartment, my girlfriend was here when I was talking about it and it was like, “This isn’t good.” I’m like, “Ugh. Again, I have to go through a process with someone else, I found a guy.” It’s okay. I totally respect it and how you went about it. One of the reasons I was interested in you is because I really view community talent as community talent. It doesn’t matter which industry comes from. To me, a lot of the greatest community pros work in gaming. If I can attract that talent and bring them over to work on the company that we work with, like Forbes or Ad Age or ACBJ, then like I want to put community smart people on community projects.
[00:38:47] Joe King: 100%.
[00:38:47] Patrick O’Keefe: Yes, but you know. You never know what happens. Last question I have for you. In the pre-show questionnaire, you said that, you realized at that point that you were laid off that, “I had been living with an enormous amount of fear and anxiety. Even though I had my “dream job” I was terrified of it because I viewed it as a one-time chance and not the beginning of an amazing career path.” How so?
[00:39:12] Joe King: I’m glad you asked this because this is my mantra now. When I left Gearbox, I’ve seen friends from Gearbox this week and I’ve caught up with them. It’s been really great. It’s always great to see them. I still go to the Gearbox office sometimes for happy hour, we still hang out. I left on the best of terms, but the thing is that because of all that stuff I explained earlier about everything I went through to get that role, I had built it up in my mind as, “Look, it’s like a rags to riches thing and just the sense of you were doing nothing and then you went and doing something amazing and this is like a dream. If you blow this, if you mess this up, that’s it. This is your one chance.”
It had never occurred to me and I had another friend this week say, “Yes, it’s your second industry job.” Like that’s when the growth happens. When you get the second industry job, that’s where the growth happens. I think he was totally right. That’s my thing now.
When I left Gearbox and I realized that the amount of fear and anxiety that I was living with every day was crippling. I mean, it was paralyzing, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I just thought it was the typical like every community manager has anxiety. We all have it, it’s a thing. It’s a community manager thing, it’s whatever.
A really close friend of mine at Gearbox also had the same kind of issues and so I just thought like, “It’s just us, it’s our personality type. It’s our tribe.” We do similar things here and like that’s how it is and then I left and I realized that it was never about the job in terms of what I was doing, it was about the job in terms of what I had. I was so scared to lose it that I didn’t have the confidence that I used to have. I wasn’t able to speak to myself enough to really do the best of my ability.
I did fine, I did a good job. I’m proud of the work that I did there, but I also feel like in hindsight that if I had been able to stay at Gearbox and have this mental awakening, there’s no telling what I would have been able to accomplish, I feel like.
It took leaving to get where I am now and I’m okay with it. I would not change a thing and that’s my thing now is really — my big focus with the podcast is getting the word out about fear and how dangerous it can be to your productivity and thinking about your future and how it blinds you to the truth and it blinds you to what’s really happening and that’s the best example for me is, I felt I had this dream job and I was so scared of losing this one thing, but again, thinking outside that normal frame of mind, it wasn’t that it was my one chance at this great thing, it’s that it was my first chance at this great thing. It was my first chance at a great thing.
Now, I’m a GameStop, that’s going great. I’m working with an amazing team. I’m given enormous amounts of freedom to try things and to voice my opinions. They value my experience and my expertise and that’s nice. It really changed my mind on how working in the game industry works. It’s definitely not perfect, it’s far from it, but for me, my experience now is that, one of these days something happens at GameStop, that’s fine, I’m not going to worry about it. If they call me in on Monday, when I get back from E3 and they’re like, “Hi, actually, the Instagram Stories weren’t popping like we’d hoped. Hop on the bus, bud.” I’d be like, “All right, it’s been fun. See you,” and I’ll move on to the next thing. Maybe I’ll call you again, I don’t know. [chuckles]
[00:42:25] Patrick O’Keefe: It’s almost as if that second company helped you deal with the stereotypical imposter syndrome and probably the sense of like you had all this going just like, “I don’t belong here. I got tricked into coming down to Dallas.” I said I’m about [crosstalk] then you fell for it and now you’re living in constant fear of that and now the second company has given you a greater sense of belonging like, “I belong in this space. I do good work, I should be here.”
[00:42:44] Joe King: That’s my mantra now, it’s just in helping people that might feel the same way. I want to just help people. I want to use my platform in the game industry, doing what I do. I want to use whatever platform I might have to just help people make an impact and so that’s why I feel like the way that I can do that is by doing Just Press Start, talking to friends in the industry. Number one, just educating people about how games are made, what the game industry is really like. It’s more than corporate suit walking out on the stage once a year and then making some announcements to applauding fans, it’s more than that.
There are a lot of people that put blood, sweat and tears into these things that they do and your typical gamer and I’m using my quote fingers here just doesn’t understand that. It’s funny actually because on the way over here, my Lyft driver, I got to talking to him and he’s like a gamer. He had a lot of the same sort of — we had conversations about micro-transactions and about crunch and about all of these gaming industry hot topics. I was giving him my take on those and people at large don’t understand what those of us that have been in a game studio that have seen how these games are made and what goes into it and how just enormous the effort is. They don’t see it and they don’t understand it, and so that’s why I feel like to bring the background of community management, that’s why I feel like a good community professional at a game studio is so important because they have to understand the people they’re working for, the community, don’t understand. It’s like you don’t understand, you don’t get it, I know you think you do, but you don’t, but I’m here to do what I can to be the conduit between you and the studio so that we can try to make things as good as possible.
Yes, again, that’s my thing now. I want to put out real content, conversations with people that I know know what they’re talking about and have good insights, it’s pretty simple. Hopefully, at some point, it will catch on and whatever, but in the meantime, it’s like I said earlier, I’m not looking at numbers, I don’t care about that. My podcast is so lo-fi, man, I don’t ever listen back to it. I record it on my phone, I put it out on my phone and that’s– [crosstalk]
[00:44:45] Patrick O’Keefe: That’s why I have my producer, Karn.
[00:44:47] Joe King: I never listen to it.
[00:44:48] Patrick O’Keefe: Joe, it’s been so good to have you on the show.
[00:44:50] Joe King: Thanks, it’s been great to be here.
[00:44:51] Patrick O’Keefe: Thanks for making time for us.
[00:44:52] Joe King: Yes, I appreciate it.
[00:44:54] Patrick O’Keefe: We’ve been talking with Joe King, social media manager for GameStop. We’ll link to his Just Press Start podcast in the show notes. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram @J-A-U-X-K-I-N-G.
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 Carol Benovic-Bradley is our editorial lead. Until next time.
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