Today’s VR vs. story isn’t really about virtual reality. It’s more a story about the writer, as today marks a very important day for me. Let’s begin 24 hours ago though.
It was Monday. My phone was ringing.
It was ringing and it was over on the other side of the flat.
Groaning I drop the speaker I’m trying to repair with one hand and break away from the Twitter post I’m writing with the other, to sprint across the flat. Dodging the overly long and overly patched up internet cable, hurdling the two steps up to the, weirdly, slightly higher level which that side of the flat is at. Before pouncing on the phone lying on my bed before it rings off. I knew who it was of course, if they are still there on the other end. Or, more precisely I know what type of call it would be. Someone from Manchester, or Liverpool, or Dublin or Abergavenny – that was a recent one – who wanted to talk to me about either:
a) The amount of money I could claim from the car accident I had. Which I’m reasonably confident is £0.00 since I don’t drive.
b) Have I thought about pensions and life insurance? Answer: Yes, but do they think about me?
or c) Whether or not I had heard about Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) from mortgages or home-buying or something. How it had been mis-sold or misused and how I was due funds worth hundreds of pounds. Have I checked? To which the answer is I have never done anything financially that involved PPI. The last caller on that demanded to know how I would magically know this.They were told forcefully that I think I would remember such a transfer. Also since I rent the likelihood of any of this is rather on the low side.
I was surprised as it was not actually any of these but a number I recognise from an employment agency. I picked up, and a somewhat more masculine voice than I expected wheezed “Hello it’s Derek from Kitten Whisperers!” The names have been changed to protect the guilty. “I was wondering if we could have a chat.” Turned out Derek was after a catch-up on things since the CV they had from me was a bit out of date, and since you never know and it’s always good to have such companies thinking of you, I agreed.
I ‘hmm’-ed and we went through some run of the mill questions. “Are you doing okay?” “Are you still living here?” “Are you still working for VRFocus?” Yes. “What do they do?” Well… Then Derek asked, “So, do you have much experience in Community Management?” And for a brief moment I was stumped. I mean, presumably he had my “kinda out of date” CV in front of him. What was he expecting? That I’d suddenly go ‘well actually I made it all up’ and fill him in with a completely different work history? ‘No, in truth from 2008-2009 I was a matchstick-seller and part-time snowboarding clown and from 2011-13 I lectured at Harvard in Esperanto.’
I pursed my lips together. “Actually it’s ten years on Tuesday.”
“Oh.” He said, a bit bored. I slumped because I was actually telling the truth. On the 28th of March 2007 I was bundled though into an office at SEGA Europe and quickly made to sign an NDA. It was all a bit hectic in the office and I wondered what was going on. I was then told that in about five minutes they were going to announce the fact that Mario and Sonic were going to be in a game together for the first time. and I was hurled into a chair and signed up to the official forum with full on mod powers.
“Track what they say.” Said my new line-boss as the press release for what was Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games rolled out to the press. “If they start getting worked up.” He paused and pursed his lips together. “Well we’ll come to that.” He shrugged and patted my shoulder.
Ten years ago…
After the call ended I thought for a while about that ten years. I’d accomplished quite a lot in that time, not that you’d know it. But the truth of it is most people don’t know what I do, what any of us do. But that’s my career. A ten year stretch during which I had several years at SEGA setting up and managing their social media and working hard to rebuild community trust from the ground up. Which is mighty impressive considering I’ve never had a day’s worth of proper training in any of it before then – or indeed, astoundingly, since. I co-created an world record owning international convention with that community. Wrote blogs every day. Was the first one in and the last one out, and did my damnedest to fix an impossible to fix situation (and took a lot of flack for caring enough to do so) before I left several years later with my head held high despite being left exhausted in every sense of the word by the whole thing. Still, I’d left my mark.
Of course they then erased everything I ever wrote after I left because they were too lazy to keep the European branch’s blogs when they merged them. Which was nice of them.
Whilst I wasn’t well known by name, (I didn’t exactly promote myself as a ‘figure’ during that time) for those in the know I had gained a reputation for hard work (to the point of exhaustion), dedication and became known for my ability to conjure up miracles from essentially nothing. A social media MacGuyver able to put together content plans with nothing but half a screenshot and a second-hand paperclip. I was hired in the short term at Square Enix to essentially rescue a project after the previous Community Manager (CM) disappeared straight after it was announced. I ended up writing a bunch of game lore and cobbling together the foundation of something that could be built on. From there, after some disappointment, I ended up in Belgium where I led a tight-nit multinational team of newcomers to the role, as we dealt with all manner of projects. Instructing them as mentor/teacher.
I worked on multiple projects; I turned my hand to advertising campaigns having never previously been given a dime except for the convention and essentially doubled the revenue being made and halved the cost. In time it was decided one project would be wound up and, again with nothing, I took over the reigns to somehow get a social game people had spent money on to conclusion and salvage the situation for the creators. I became de facto Producer and with nothing in my resources and a product announced to be closing I grew the English community by 50,000 in one and a half months. Sent session numbers through the roof and actually brought the game to a resolution which didn’t involve people screaming for blood. They had their money’s worth and they were happy. I still get messages asking if I can somehow bring it back.
After the Belgian firm turned heel on its own employees, I left and my team joined me as soon as they were able. Unemployment was better than staying at a time when there was a global recession going on. That says more than anything else I could. But that team was good, very good. Two have gone on to work with big companies within the games industry and I’m beyond proud of them.
Life took me back to the UK and I ended up working here at VRFocus. Did you know I’ve been here over two years now? It doesn’t feel it. But I have. I’m still a CM, albeit “Community Manager & Writer” now, I do what I can and that reputation I have is still very much in effect. Although the person behind it is rather more tired and worn looking than his 2007 equivalent.
True story: After Square I applied for a job at a major UK studio and during the interview was surprised to be asked if I wasn’t too old to be a Community Manager. I was then told, dumbfounded, in a phone call that I wouldn’t be progressing further and one of the reasons given was “we think you’re too old for the role”. I also didn’t have “the look we are going for”, apparently. Which made no real sense. Apart from the fact discriminating on the grounds of age (as well as apparently, my face) is illegal, I was 28. They made me sound like Methuselah. They’d probably have a coronary to discover I’m still one at 34! (Before anyone asks I was so shocked at what I was hearing it took some considerable time before I’d really realised what had been said, and by then it was too late to suddenly go “hey, hang on a minute!”.)
It all evolves. Much like VR – which we will come back to, I promise.
In fact this reminiscing is partly due to reading an excellent article on what the job entails by my opposite number (I… guess? Although she has a much better title than me – and she has a electronic fancy follower clock/counter that I desperately want to steal.) from Upload VR, Elizabeth Scott. Who got me thinking about what it is I do here and have done previously. But if you’re unsure what it is I do, I write this and Life in 360 and a number of other posts/features as required. Sort out most of the graphics, the moderation, and am the person you talk to on Twitter, or Facebook or Reddit if you see VRFocus being chatty there. I sort the social media in general when I’m in. I work with various partners and the guests writers we have to produce content, I work on the website itself – now with the new site’s designer. I’m HR, I run the time sheets. I edit videos when required. I run events when we run them but you’ll probably never see me at a main one. I search for stories and allocate them to the writers, with whom I work on their stories as I need. I’m, as my author description says, the unofficial Deputy Editor.
I’m basically a cross between an online janitor and a hatstand.
But the core of the job is you help, and whilst I’m presently more on social than anything else. It’s kind of ironic that a guy who is heavy on the social anxiety made this his career. But hey, I never said I was smart. Ten years, four companies and a lot of projects have passed. The job has changed and evolved throughout those years and some point in the future it will change again – and it might be VR that changes it.
Community Management is part of that family of Customer Relations-type roles in business. It sort-of-kinda sits between everything. It’s marketing, it’s public relations, it’s creative and design, it’s finance and even legal (sometimes) and several of those are already being touched on and altered by other types of technology. The most obvious one being Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). In the same way will there come a time where a CM’s role will also be to respond to discussions on an article using such a system? Will a young wide-eyed fan be thrust into a virtual forum room to monitor reactions to Mario & Sonic At The Lunar 2028 Olympic Games? Appearing as a cartoony Avatar holding up the announcement trailer for you to then step into. All care of Oculus and Facebook’s Rooms system. Perhaps they’ll appear in your office or classroom as a virtual projection, displayed by Microsoft HoloLens to discuss a news story.
Will my career be supplanted by something else, all travel and interaction made virtual? I’m not sure I’d like that, if I’m honest. But that’s a question to be answered by the future – and the future is coming fast. For now I’ll continue to evolve as best as I can. Will I be doing the same role in 10 years? Who is to say.
Here’s to a decade.