Insight into the inner workings at Star Trek Online and by extension Cryptic isn’t something we don’t get to know about on a daily basis. Beyond the great podcasts with the executive producers and development team members we see (and listen) to prior to a release, the role of community manager is a bit of an assumption by many.
I had the chance to get to know Morrigan (aka M@laugingtrendy) over the past 14 months and a few weeks before the launch of Agents of Yesterday I asked if she’d be willing to share some insights into her position and responsibilities of her job and it’s impact with Star Trek Online. Who knew at that point her role would be growing (more on that in the interview), and the craziness of the past few days would be consuming the forums and blogs.
The biggest reveal was how Star Trek Online absorbs all of our feedback from twitter commentary and forum tirades to podcasts. That’s right, they listen. Where possible, I offered context before the question.
If you’re a first time reader – yes, the banner is an in-joke, as is the spinning leek references are as well. It’s how we came to know @LaughingTrendy.
Tonight, whilst she finished coding upcoming pages for the console release (very cool), we got a chance to finish up the interview.
A quick note: this interview does not address the T6 Nagus issue. My questions are identified by a bolded Lootcritter, and Trendy’s responses are in Cryptic Purple. I submitted questions in advance, and they evolved over time as her responsibilities expanded.
Beyond that, I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain.
Whom do you serve?
Community Managers role is one that’s clearly not understood by the player base as a whole. From our discussions it’s clear that the role isn’t as defined as some would think, and that you’re more than just a blogger or hammer maiden 😉 Most players associate you with being the gatekeeper of the forums, but that is just a very small portion of your role at Perfect World/ Cryptic.
Lootcritter: Can you give us a rundown of what a typical week might look like for you? Is a week a fair summation of where and what you’re involved in?
Trendy: There’s this image everyone creates for what I do. For some folks, they think I’m in-game playing or investigating live game states. For others, they think I’m in the forums handing out bans. Others think I’m on Twitter, making blogs, etc. The list goes on and on.
Every day is a whirlwind of different events, meetings, and endeavors. It’s hard to even summarize a ‘typical day’ due to the incredible variability involved. But here’s a shot:
All work days start off at roughly 6:30 AM when I begin my morning ritual of getting ready for the day. I woke up later than normal today (6:40 – rebellious, right?). While I’m preparing to head into the office, I’m also going through Apollo. Apollo is my own personal indexer I created that pools together various relevant information to keep up-to-date. It’s a pretty diverse grouping, with a range of Tweets from NASA all the way to the latest piece by Rockpapershotgun. Apollo lasts roughly from when I get up to when I get into the office.
I try to get into the office before everyone else is there, that way I can dance all the way from the elevator to my desk. Today’s featured morning dance song was Ken Ashcorp – Burgz.
I finish off the cup of coffee from yesterday while I cycle up my desktop. This apparently disturbs my human co-workers. While my email starts to populate with messages I received, I’m busy making sure that everything is prepped for today’s content announcements and there aren’t any critical blockers (which can sometimes be the case). A majority of our publications go out early in the morning, that way our happy European friends can still see them before they go to sleep, but I’ve intentionally varied some of the publication times for my own research. We’re usually at about 8 browser tabs at this point.
Intermixed between sending off content announcements and answering emails, I try to find a moment to sneak off to the coffee machine for additional necessary resources. I have my phone with me and am sending off snarky tweets or continuing to email from my phone.
Once everyone has cycled into the office, there’s usually a barrage of questions: how was your day, is anything on fire, put down the lighter, do you want to grab some coffee with me, can you help me make (X) do (Y) properly, etc. At this point, I’m probably up to a good 10 browser tabs.
After resolving all my immediate concerns, I start knocking off my task list. I keep a catalog of my necessary tasks in order to keep organized. It stems largely from SCRUM and has been a blessing. Usually, I have about an hour or two to knock off some serious tasks before the looming meetings start appearing. I try to get another cup of coffee before my meetings. I’m usually working on my phone even at the meetings.
Once all the meetings are done, I draw one more cup of coffee and head back to my desk. I’ve become rather notorious for blaring my music through my headphones, as I get into a working rhythm. Many of my projects are dependent on outside resources like Cryptic, so they can start at any time. However my own initiatives (which I am very partial to) I can jump to immediately.
These can range from all sorts of things. Do we need to update our content delivery network to include a bigger filesize for that wicked new trailer? I’ll take care of that. Do we need to update our page metadata? I’ll take care of that. A third party has some questions about how to handle an AMA? I’ll take care of that.
From there, we have the myriad of lunches, coffee refills, and sporadic meetings. Beyond the morning ritual, there lacks a general consistency as I’m always working on new things. No day is the same.
Since coming on board you’ve not been as active in twitch streams as your predecessor, but you have been more directly involved in mechanics of the game. From hunting down technical issues to coordinating with CBS on everything leading up to the 50th Anniversary to managing the constantly evolving release schedule – you’re everywhere. You have to wear hats we don’t often associate with a community manager. A Fireman’s Helmut is one I often image you wearing.
A good example of this was your involvement with the team resolving the spate of DDOS attacks which were impacting multiple titles including Star Trek Online. A massive technical team effort that impacted everything, resulting finally in a cessation of that activity.
About a year ago you addressed technical issues that were plaguing players in terms of stability and connectivity with a twitch cast more than a few of use saw as a watershed moment in terms of communication. This was followed by the splinter initiatives of the Bug Smashers, the media Corps, and more blog posts (over 2000 now?).
Lootcritter: How would you quantify – or qualify – the success of those efforts? The Bug Smashers have been successful at least in being able to gain actionable intelligence. Where do you see it going forward with the PC version, and will you see it grow with the console role out?
Trendy: I’m happy with the Bug Bashers/Smashers/Trying-To-Prevent-Crashers group and have given the reigns over to Cryptic. Due to the way the console is, I forsee the group could definitely help.
Lootcritter: How has that moment and interaction between the various entities involved changed? And do you see that continue to evolve as Star Trek Online expands to consoles later this year?
Trendy: I tend to be blunt towards my peers. It’s not for a lack of social acumen, but a matter of time. I find myself usually busy (my coworkers have now forbidden me from working over 12 hour days now) so I like to get to the point. I forsee that becoming more apparent as we near console launch. 😛
Lootcritter: One of your goals has been to increase the communication between the devs and the players. How has that evolved over the past 14 months as community manager for star Trek Online?
Trendy: Jesus, it’s been 14?
I ascribe to Robin Walker (Valve) and his mentality about communication. I’m always a proponent that more communication is typically better, as well as developers and players having a strong discourse. My personal opinion is that being a community manager should be facilitating that. I’m not a fan of being in the limelight, considering I think the devs deserve far more credit and attention than myself for their work.
Lootcritter: Civility or the perceived lack of it had a negative effect on everyone post-Delta Rising. The developers felt undervalued and misrepresented in the forums (both official and on Reddit), and the players felt disconnected as their concerns were being underrepresented. How has the environment changed from the developer and companies side as you’ve instituted your changes?
Trendy: This question is the best question ever and Morrigan loves it.
I don’t really think it was just my changes that helped improve things. Ricossa is a great guy who likes interaction and helps foster that as well. Beyond that, I’ve implemented weekly feedback reports. They’re a good way to make sure that issues are brought up, but also the accomplishments and hard work of the team. Also, it helps that since developers are communicating a lot, it humanizes them a lot more than simply being “those devs”. It’s not just a developer; it’s Bort or Maria, or Taco, or Thomas, etc.
Weekly Customer Feedback Reports
One thing that surprised me was when you disclosed you produce weekly customer feedback reports for the team. Many players vocally assume you – the company – doesn’t listen. Rather than expecting the impossible – that the entire development team read and respond to every tweet, podcast, forum or blog post – you provide a summary and present it to the team. From current Reddit frustrations to praise, to things that Timberwolf or The Show may have said to even what crazy idea I have on my blog – the community needs to know our words are not falling on deaf ears.
Lootcritter: How has the reporting evolved over the past year, and can you give us an example of a change (active or pending), and how do you see it moving forward? How does the team react to our questions – or – is there a better way that we can get their attention.
Trendy: My weekly reports are a means to summarize my experiences (both good and bad) looking at the community and filtering through everything on social media. It’s a snapshot that highlights the community and how they feel, including specifics and quotes from players. You’ve been on there Loot. So has a lot of people on Twitter, the Forums, Reddit, etc. The team usually parses this as what it is: a temperature gauge. I strongly advise (not just related to the reports that I do) that if you have feedback you should let folks know in a critical but respectful way. Too often do I see a valid point marred by volatile language.
Lootcritter: Given that we’re a community that never sleeps – in part because of the international flavor of our players and the time zones involved – what are your toughest challenges?
Trendy: That time difference kills me. But my counterpart over in EU is pretty helpful. That and I don’t sleep much.
One area I have seen some dramatic improvements in the past year has been the willingness of the team to engage the community as a whole. Borticus (@BorticusCryptic) has taken it to entirely new levels and the discourse both on the forums and via twitter has been nothing short of… productive? Thomas (@Cryptic_TtC) has generated a great amount of goodwill with the players with his passionate refresh of classic ships; Hector Ortiz (@Sandman979) has stepped out more via twitter. The development team routinely answers questions both on Reddit and in the game. This has been a seed change for the community as a whole. I have to give a huge shout-out to Zeronius Rex (@) for hosting her Sunday night gaming socials – it’s not Trek, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Lootcritter: …and this is a hard question – where do you see it going from here?
Trendy: Making it more about the developers and less about me. I really think that I should be a facilitator and guide for communication, rather than the sole spokes piece.
Marketing coordination and the choreography of a release schedule.
One surprise – and yet not a surprise for marketers – is that you don’t necessarily get to see everything as it’s being produced. You don’t share an office with the development team at Star Trek Online as you are an extension of Cryptic’s marketing support. The release schedule has definitive ‘set in stone elements, and yet everything can be fluid from moment to moment. This isn’t to say you’re not aware of what’s coming, but that what you can actually plan for, can change.
For example, the release of the new STF to Tribble testers didn’t happen as originally planned on the schedule. While at no time did the player base know it was coming – the development side of the game has its own unique set of hurdles and moving parts that don’t necessarily line up as one might expect. From last minute edits to resources needed elsewhere, to staff illness – your schedule is at best a juggling act that you’re not necessarily in control of.
Lootcritter: Can you speak to some of the challenges of managing a release schedule (blogs, tweets, forum posts, content releases) and how you interact with the various departments to make it happen?
Trendy: I can summarize it by the tips that I gave someone very recently:
Keep a schedule. Update that schedule and reference it. Make sure you go through your inbox, no matter how many emails you have. Over communicate and double check things. Take the initiative to become the change you want to see. Seriously, keep that schedule going. Always ask questions and try to improve what you can.
Changing your role at Perfect World.
It isn’t news to many of us you’ve burned the candle at both ends. It’s not uncommon that you’re in the office late at night on a Sunday and that many of the initiatives you’ve driven are above and beyond your day to day tasks. Unfortunately, Cryptic has noticed this as well – and you’ve gotten a promotion!
Are we losing Trendy?!
Lootcritter: We bow to our new Reptilian Overlord! Senior Community Manager for Cryptic or all PWE titles? What can you tell us about your new portfolio that you’re responsible for?
Trendy: I’m the Senior CM for PWE, so now I float around for a lot more than just Cryptic titles. I’m still trying to get up to speed on everything, but that includes some of our new titles coming to ARC. It’s cool and refreshing. Plus that includes Gigantic. IT’S A MOBA SHOOTER. OH MY GODDDDDDDD. ❤
Lootcritter: How / What does this mean for Star Trek Online?
Trendy: Probably that I work a lot more to keep up pace.
Lootcritter: Who hath though passed the Leek-Hammer of Doom to?
Trendy: I wouldn’t say I’ve passed the Leek-hammer of Doom to anyone. I’ve lent some of my former role and responsibilities to folks like Amanda who handles maintenance(s), Malte who’s taken up some blogs, David who helps keep project schedules, etc. I really couldn’t survive if it wasn’t for my awesome coworkers who keep me afloat and motivated. Though I have joked around that in true Sith tradition, Amanda will one day kill me and take her role as Sith Lord. That’ll probably be on a Tuesday. Maybe a Wednesday.
…No definitely a Tuesday.
I really appreciated the time Morrigan took to answer these questions, and for the insight into how Star Trek Online’s team views our responses. More importantly, it gave me some insight into how diverse her responsibilities are, and how often crazy it can be when dealing with ‘us’ the fans.