I joined the Grinding Gear Games team almost six years ago, but four years ago today I was lucky enough to become the Community Manager for Path of Exile. These have been among the greatest years of my life. I have learned so much about life, the gaming industry, and myself over this time and I can't express enough how grateful I am to be in this position. To celebrate this anniversary, I wanted to answer some of your questions about what my role is like and my time at Grinding Gear Games.

How and when did you start working for GGG? How did you become the community manager?

I started working at GGG in March of 2013, shortly after we entered Open Beta. At that point I had heard of Path of Exile as this cool game being made by kiwis just up the road from me but I hadn't played it. I heard through the grapevine that they were looking for some help in customer support. I had done some similar game work in the past (albeit badly) so a family member who had heard about the opportunity reached out to me and let me know in case I was interested. At the time I was happily working as a house painter so when I first heard about it I was like, there's no way they'd want me. My previous experience had been years prior at that point and I was certain I had nothing to offer. I decided I may as well find out more about it and see if I would fit in there. I'm so, so glad I ignored my first reaction.

During my time in customer support I put a particular focus into forum moderation and communication. It was something I really enjoyed doing and was the beginnings of my rapport-building with the community. As the team grew and we had more need for an official community manager, Chris considered me because of a combination of my work ethic and my rapport with the community. He decided to test me to see if I had any other skills that would complement the position and also taught me a bunch of new skills like video editing, voice-over work and insights into understanding the Path of Exile community! After a few months on trial, I officially had a new title!

Can you elaborate on what your role involves?

Broadly speaking, this means that I monitor the flow of information to the community and back to the developers. More specifically, this means making sure I'm communicating ideas and feedback to key members of the development team, making sure we post a response to key issues whenever possible, overseeing the planning and execution of our news schedule. I also manage our social media, manage our community team and staff interactions with the public. This also involves a certain amount of production work, especially leading up to an expansion. For example, I already have our teaser and news schedule planned out leading up to our March expansion. This means I'll be working closely with the development team to make sure that tasks are completed by these deadlines so that we can showcase new things to the community.

How has your role as a Community Manager changed over the course of the four years?

It's changed hugely! You'll notice that over the years my title has changed from Community Manager to Head Community Manager to, more recently, Community Director and Producer.

When I first started out I was just writing some of the more simplistic news posts. My role mostly involved doing this and some rudimentary video work with this TERRIBLE video editing software we were using at the time. Back then, we also had an incredibly small team of around 30, so one of the biggest challenges was having ideas that could be fulfilled with the small amount of resources available. Now the Community Team includes four people working on community stuff and around twelve translators.

My responsibilities now include so much more. I suppose an interesting transition is also that I went from exclusively asking other people for information so that I could do my work. These days lots of people ask me questions so they can do their work.

Did you define it with your ideas or did the company give you more direction?

Initially, my objective was simply to thoroughly learn the ins and outs of what Chris was already doing. Once I had a solid understanding of this I started to suggest more improvements that we could make and over time many of them started to come into play.

For example, this is the first news post I ever wrote. We still regularly post community showcase news but the formatting of the posts has changed significantly. We have banners for every news post, use the wider format, embed images etc. These changes came slowly as we figured out ways to improve the news without slowing down our daily news process.

What is a typical workday to you?

There isn't really such a thing. Everyday is different, however, I suppose there are some constants. Because we post news five days a week, each day is spent working towards the next news deadline. This might mean making sure we have tomorrow's post prepared, or looking further down the week to see if there's something that needs to be started on now. Generally speaking it starts with me checking my emails and PMs across many platforms. Then I'll check in on the forum, reddit and social media to get a feeling for the mood of the day and see if there's anything urgent that needs attending to. Then I'll be working down my to-do list based on what's urgent for that day and what needs to be started for further down the road. Some days this includes looking at plans 3-6 months ahead which makes it seem like time is passing way too fast and makes me feel instantly old and mortal. Through these tasks I'm in constant communication with many of my coworkers to make sure our various projects are in alignment and to provide information or assets to each other as needed. I also continuously check on the community throughout the day.

What's the hardest part of your job?

That tends to vary, although at this point I've been doing this for so long that there are few things that catch me by surprise which makes even the challenging things somewhat "easy". It's probably hardest to make sure I balance things and don't burn myself out. I've gotten 20x better at this over the years but sometimes I still need to remind myself to switch off and go outside. It's tricky because my role is so enjoyable that it's really hard to see the line between working hard and working too much. You can, in fact, have too much of a good thing.

What do you love most about your job?

The people - both the Path of exile community and my coworkers. There are people in the Path of Exile community I've been following for six years now. It's been such a privilege to watch as people evolve and share changes in their lives. The community never ceases to make me laugh and bring me joy.

My coworkers are an eclectic mix of people and talents. I've learned so much from being around them. Additionally, people have moved to New Zealand from all over the world to work in the studio which means there are a lot of awesome and varied perspectives being shared.

How much of a concern is it to not misrepresent the company, accidentally offend people, or otherwise damage GGG's reputation, considering how much of your job is, for lack of better term, posting memes?

This is a little misconception about what I do. It's not one I'm begrudging of because boy do I have a lot of fun posting memes, however, it bears clarifying. Part of my role absolutely involves posting memes. It was never really discussed or decided on, it just started happening and there's just some milk you can't unspill. However, most of what I do happens behind the scenes. I'd say that what you see from me publicly is representative of only about 10% of what I actually do.

To answer your question, it's a constant concern. When it comes to memes and gifs there's certainly an element of my selection process that asks 'How could this upset someone?'. Sometimes I come across some gifs that are total fire and would be perfect for the occasion but would be much too controversial so I skip them.

In general, I'm in constant communication with my team to double check what I'm saying and posting if I have any doubt about the response it might have. However, at this point I have a relatively intrinsic idea of where the line is.

Did you do any PR/CM work prior to your current job? What was that like?

Yes, around five years before I started at Grinding Gear Games there was a game I played for around a year. It was small and had only around 40,000 users total and around 500 concurrents. I played it so much that I ended up having the highest level character on the server for a long time (there was no level cap). Because I was spending so much time in the game, the main developer invited me to be a GM.

I performed TERRIBLY. There was already a lot of animosity towards me because I was the highest level and was able to ban people. Additionally, I was in a particularly unhappy place in my life at that time and I was an absolute jerk to that community. I would antagonise them to break a rule and then I would ban them for it. It was disgusting behaviour and I'm honestly still really ashamed about it.

It wasn't until a few years later when I looked back on it and was like 'What have I done?' I have apologised profusely to the developer who was involved, but I've lost touch with most of the other people who were part of the server and haven't been able to apologise. If I search the internet with my GM name, I can still find examples of people talking about me in forums about how terrible I was.

I never thought I would have the chance to redeem myself so when I landed a role with GGG this urge for redemption was the fuel to my fire. While I can't take that behaviour back, I can channel this negative experience to use it to create positive experiences in the future. I use it as a constant reminder of what I do and do not want to contribute to the community. After six years, I am glad to say that I remain proud of my contributions to this community and can hold my head high knowing that I have not repeated those mistakes.

Are there any responsibilities and difficulties in managing a highly-vibrant community that people might not expect?

I think one of the toughest parts is the misunderstanding that us not addressing something publicly means we didn't notice or don't care about the issue. There's many reasons why we might not be able to comment about something yet but we're always paying attention. I am actually lucky in my position that I work alongside such an engaged development team. Of their own volition, most developers keep a frequent eye on community feedback.

Both PoE and Warframe have fantastic community leads that happen to be female, have you experienced any misogyny in the male dominated video game industry? Have you ever felt looked down upon working with programmers and other highly technically trained people?

I have never experienced misogyny in the studio. New Zealand's culture by default is relatively decent at considering men and women equal - at least in my experience. I have also never felt looked down upon by the other people here. We each have skills in our individual areas and work together to communicate relevant information with patience and compassion. Having said that, there's a few developers here who are unusually adept at selecting memes and I think I might have to fight them soon.

In regards to the industry as a whole, no, not in any serious way. There are a small subset of people who think harassment is socially acceptable, and another subset of people who like to proclaim that any success I might have is strictly as a result of other people's desire to harass me. There seems to be a lot of that ideology going around for Twitch streamers as well. That's not so fun but I don't find it very difficult to brush it off.

You're well known to be very engaged with the community. Is this just natural charisma or are there any tricks you had to learn to develop these skills?

Part of the secret here is that I work alongside a team of developers who are very happy to be transparent about their work. What I do becomes impossible if that were not a key part of the dynamic. I have always been passionate about working and communicating with groups of people. Even as a barista, I used to get a real kick out of talking to regular customers and making sure that they had good coffee every day. It might sound cheesy, but you don't have to perform great acts of heroism to improve the world you live in. You can do it in small ways; it still counts.

There are definitely elements that I had to learn, or at the very least, push myself beyond my comfort zone to engage in. While I am relatively goofy once I'm comfortable with people, I am actually naturally very shy and don't typically enjoy being the centre of attention. It took me a while to own being in the spotlight in the community and to really embrace it. It's still frequently scary but that fear has always pushed me to be and do better.

In addition to managing the community you also maintain the Build of the Week series. Can you tell us about those? How do you select the right builds?

I really enjoy working on the Build of the Week series! It's an interesting way to sort of show the Path of Exile community a mirror of itself. Here's what y'all are doing at the moment - how do you feel about it? It's a pretty interesting way to collect feedback about the game.

For build selection, one of the game designers will put together a shortlist of interesting looking builds that are up to date for the season. We'll then go over this list together and discuss the pros and cons of each build which mostly ensures that we have a variety of build types across the season. For example, we generally aim for one strong but simple build, one meta build, one weak but funky build, one melee, one ranged etc.

The Build of the Week bloopers are also very popular and often referenced within the community. When did you decide to release blooper videos? How do you feel about those?

I can't remember when we decided to release blooper videos. I think it would have come about through a combination of players suggesting it and knowing how much I personally enjoy watching them.

I always have mixed feelings about them. On the one hand they're terrifying to release. I always get nervous days before they come out. They're definitely embarrassing! However, seeing how much joy people seem to get from them really warms my heart and makes it worth it. I've had a bunch of people reach out to me and say that they like to listen to them when they feel anxious or need to be comforted and that is honestly one of the most flattering things I've ever heard in my life.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I still see myself at Grinding Gear Games continuing to work on whatever this evolves into over time. Not only do I love being part of this team, I'm passionate about making sure we continue on the path that keeps us connected to the community.

I've heard rumours that GGG has a monitor in the office that is designated purely to repeat viewings of Baeclast. Please can you confirm?

What's a Baeclast?

Do you actually play Path of Exile yourself? What are your favourite builds?

Yes - I'm not sure I have a favourite build but I do typically default back to some comfort playstyles. 80% of my builds have been Rangers, the other 20% are some variation of Arc or Blade Flurry.

One of the most important moments in Path of Exile are the expansion release days. Can you tell us a bit about these events?

Each release day I wake up around 3.30am and make it into the studio by around 4.30am. I always make a note to observe the darkness and its novelty. It's only every three months I have to get up that early and so I try to relish that aspect of the experience since I don't usually get to see the world at that time.

I then sneak past Chris' office where he is typically sleeping and get set up at my desk with coffee and all of our social media accounts. When the sysadmins get in I check in with where the build is at and ask for a rundown of any potential problems we might encounter.

The rest of my day is a blur of stoking the excitement of the community, monitoring feedback, answering questions, communicating with my coworkers about intended/unintended game behaviour and making sure communication is flowing well.

By around 1pm I'm typically able to head home and continue watching the community from the sanctuary of my bed with the company of coffee.

What's your favorite League launch memory?

I don't know if it's my favourite memory but it's certainly the one that stands out the most. I remember in the lead-up to launch while we were all in the hype waiting room, someone posting a picture of the bucket they intended to use as their toilet and I remember thinking, 'Damn, people really like Path of Exile.'

Most of the expansion launches blur together as one ball of excitement, nerves and tiredness.

What's your favorite meme?

This is like trying to pick your favourite child. Right now, Lord of the Rings memes are consistently making me chuckle. Particularly, the Frodo 'Alright, keep your secrets' one. I can't even explain why. It's not objectively good, it just tickles my brain.

What hobbies or interests do you have outside of Path of Exile?

I enjoy creating digital art. The art on my Twitter account is also work that I've done. I also love music, hiking and cooking! When I was younger most of my hobby focus was on music - I was once even in the orchestra for a circus which remains one of the highlights of my life. Generally speaking, I'm always on a quest to become a better version of myself and keep learning. That manifests in many different ways but remains my main focus.

If you could say one thing that every Path of Exile player should hear, what would it be?

The people who make the parts of the game you don't like are the exact same people who make the parts of the game you do like. Please don't yell at these people.

How hard is to not spoil the next expansion?

It's extremely hard. Have you ever stood near a high drop-off and felt like you might involuntarily decide to jump? Leading up to our announcement of Incursion I couldn't stop visualising myself accidentally saying the league name. I would dream about it. I'd be talking to people in Twitch chat and constantly telling myself, 'Don't say the league name. Don't say the league name.'.

It's also hard not to spoil it because I'm just so eager to tell you about it once I know. It's the same as when I buy someone a present. I hate waiting until a particular occasion to give it to them. I want them to have it right away!

Do you have any upcoming news on the horizon you'd want to tease to the community?

Blue and yellow. It's not on the list.

Once again, I wanted to say a huge thank you to the Path of Exile community and the Grinding Gear Games team for keeping me in your company. I can't count the number of ways these experiences have blessed my life. I am six years in and have tremendous excitement for the six years ahead.

Thank you.
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Grinding Gear Games
Happy Anniversary Bex!
Please excuse me if I come across a bit rambly, incoherent or completely off-topic. Fibro fog is a motherfucker.

"May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house."
Congrats, Bex!
Last edited by Manjii on Feb 10, 2019, 5:11:06 PM
Happy B :D
Congrats
The news banner is awesome! Hopefully you'll still be here in 10 years ;)
I could be foreign forever to your hastenland
I could be foreign forevermore to your neverland
One little brick, then another And I will build that wall anyway
You can find me there Rested and calm, without mask
This is where I will stay
Happy Anniversary Bex <3

May there be many years to come.
POP goes the anniversary ♥
TwitchTV: http://www.twitch.tv/braindead_gaming
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/HirntotZocken
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/AkumaNoTsubasa
Ty for all your hard work on this amazing gmae
Oh baby four years! Congratulations!
Last edited by aneruok1 on Feb 10, 2019, 5:24:54 PM

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