Community Service: Devin Casadey

A player's interaction with the game carries well beyond the storyline, and developers like Square Enix invest considerable time and resources into fostering that interaction within online communities. Devin Casadey was raised on Final Fantasy and has turned his love of the game into a career, supporting the ever-growing fan base around the epic series. 

A career in video games wasn’t always the plan. Devin Casadey earned his degree in Japanese Language and Literature from the University of Florida in 2005 and promptly accepted a position as an assistant language teacher for the Osaka City Board of Education in Osaka, Japan. Following his four-year stint overseas, Casadey returned to the United States without many job prospects, but a clear vision of where he wanted to go.

“I had been looking for a job after returning to the United States from living in Japan for quite a bit, and it was a pretty big dream of mine to work for Square Enix,” he says. “I had been checking their job listings quite often, but then gave up at one point because nothing really seemed to fit my qualifications.”

As it happened, persistence paid off. Casadey eventually found an opening for a community position and sent off his application. The process from there involved digging into his credentials as an MMORPG player and his familiarity with the Final Fantasy franchise over a series of telephone interviews.

“They said they wanted to talk in person, so they flew me out to Los Angeles. Parts of [the interview] were conducted in Japanese, but surprisingly I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would have been,” he explains.

Get In Media spoke with Casadey, on the job for more than four years and now an assistant community manager at Square Enix, about his role as a conduit between the loyal followers of Final Fantasy and the company at large.    

Get In Media: Please describe what you do at Square Enix as a community manager.

Devin Casadey: Depending on the company you work for the title and role of community manager differs quite largely. It’d probably take me a full day to explain everything in terms of what I do, but to summarize it in a nutshell, essentially I’m involved with helping players’ feedback reach the development team, creating fun and exciting events for our player base, in-game as well as out of game, all with the main goal of making sure our players stay happy and continue to enjoy our games.

GIM: What is a typical day for you?

DC: Well, every day is different and new things come up, but at the core a lot of what my morning involves is checking out our forums and seeing what kind of feedback is being posted. Also, since our games are run globally and the development team is located in Japan, a lot of what I personally do is translate all the comments left on the forums by the developers and make sure they get relayed to our North American and English-speaking players. After that it all really depends on what is going on. Brainstorming ideas for events and contests as well as executing them are a big part of the day as well.

GIM: Why is it important to build a community around games like Final Fantasy?

DC: MMORPGs are an extremely organic entity, which are constantly evolving, changing, and growing. With the advent of more online modes of gameplay as well as more interactive elements, console games are also shifting in this direction. In the case of MMORPGs, I think it’s important to establish a solid community for people so they feel a part of something really big. The worlds for these games are vast, filled with lore, and elements of discovery, so it’s critical to foster a community where players can talk about this with each other and shape the world they are playing in.

From a business standpoint, it’s very important to have a solid community because these are the players who are playing every day, they know how the game works inside and out, and their feedback is extremely important so that the developers can make adjustments to the game to ensure everyone can play happily for a long time.

GIM: What skills are important to being an effective community planner?

DC: There are a lot of different styles of how to be an effective community planner, but I think one of the most important “skills” is being familiar with your product on the deepest level possible. This goes hand in hand with understanding and sympathizing with the community. On top of that creativity is king. One of my favorite things to do at work is to come up with new ideas for the game that will benefit the players as well as develop fun contests and events that the community can take part in. Being able to write and communicate in an easy to understand way is very important as well, because a lot of what community management is about is communication. Finally, there will be times you are under fire from players who aren’t happy and who will spout off anger towards you when things don’t go their way, so a cool head with the ability to take negative criticism is a must.

GIM: Have you seen any epic community breakdowns, maybe from another developer, which made you cringe?

DC: I’ve seen a fair share of interesting things take place in a number of communities, and I feel for the community managers that are put in crazy positions. I think it’s important for community managers to look at what their counterparts in other companies are doing, study other communities, and get a good idea of the overall picture of the industry so you can learn and grow. Likewise, having a community of community managers to talk to is a great way to gain new knowledge as well as vent about the hardships you are encountering.  

GIM: What do you think are some common misconceptions about your job that gamers might have?

DC: One of the biggest I think is that all we do is moderate the forums. While this is one aspect of the job, for me personally it is quite a minor part of the whole. Again, it differs from company to company, but in my case my days are filled with a lot more duties and tasks than just moderation, which only makes up around 10 percent of the job.

GIM: What are the important steps to building a solid community around a game and fostering that interaction?

DC: I think one of the most important things is to realize that there are different types of people in the community and to try and find ways to reach them individually. Some players are extremely hardcore and only really care about getting stronger equipment and developing their characters to deal the most damage, while others are more into just taking their time, exploring the world, and interacting with their friends. There are a myriad of players and it’s important to establish a wide range of activities, events, and other means to make sure you are getting each and every one active and not just catering to one specific type.

GIM: How do you maintain control of such a massive online community?

DC: Staying on top of what’s going on is critical. I don’t like being away from the game or the forums for too long or else I feel I have a lot of catching up to do. Making sure you know exactly what’s going on, what issues are at hand, and are up on recent community developments are paramount for community management. If there is something I am unaware of, making sure to research and find out as much as possible about it is very important as well.

GIM: What has been your most stressful experience as a community planner?

DC: When players aren’t happy it can be tough. Especially as a player of the games I work on I understand how they feel. A lot of it comes down to when the player’s requests and the development team’s vision of the game do not meet eye to eye. There are of course compromises, but it’s difficult to tell players that what they want is just not possible.

GIM: How do you handle trolls or other disruptive community members online?

DC: Trolls have been plaguing communities forever. The best way to deal with them is to make sure they are dealt with and punished as soon as possible before they affect other players. I think detoxifying the community and keeping it a positive place is very important, especially to make it welcoming for new players.  

GIM: Does social media help or hinder the internal game communities?

DC: Social media is just another outlet for communities to discuss and interact. Again, there are different types of people. Some choose to post on forums; others prefer tweeting, while others just want to read about what’s going on. From a company standpoint, I think it’s wise to use a variety of ways to communicate and interact with players, and social media definitely helps to involve people and get them talking. On the other hand though, those who can post messages through Facebook pages and Twitter are not limited like they are for some official game forums, so it’s harder to moderate and keep negativity away. Overall, though I think they are great tools to foster communities even more.

GIM: Do you have any advice for students who are interested in pursuing a similar career?

DC: Exploring the different communities out there, whether it is for a game, a service, or another product is always a good idea to see what kind of things you will be doing as a community manager. Check out how social media is being used and visit forums. Also, when applying to a certain company, having heavy knowledge about the game or product is a huge asset that will go a long way. Finally, speaking more specifically towards those who want to enter the gaming industry, there is a ton of ways to get your foot in the door, so don’t give up if even if you can’t land the job you had originally targeted. Just be patient and explore all the different possibilities and ways you can accomplish your goals.

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