The Community Manager Extra Credits Challenge

Posted by Patrick Groome on Nov 22, 2013 9:58:01 AM

4 minute read

The most interesting points on Community Management I’ve seen this week did not come from a Community Manager. This isn’t surprising as I can only presume that most Community Managers are dead-eyed husks like myself, content to merely stumble forward and pray to the heavens for the sweet release of death. No, these points came from the crew of Extra Credits.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Extra Credits is a long-running webseries about video game design and development, broadcast through Penny Arcade. Like all people who work for Penny Arcade, they are extraordinarily physically attractive, but thankfully they don’t appear in the video so it’s much easier to concentrate on their words. The point I’m particularly interested in is their suggestions for a way of testing Community Managers for a job role. They have presented four scenarios and asked how an applicant would handle them. These scenarios are specific to the games industry, so I’ve edited them slightly to apply more broadly. Needless to say, given my endless self-fascination, I’ve followed each with details of how I would handle it. If you have a different take, post in the comments or on The Accursed Twitter (@patrick_groome).

You can watch the original video below:


Here is how I would handle these scenarios:

1. A player has deleted one of their items by accident and is asking for a refund.What do you do?

Another way to look at it? A customer wants a refund for a defect that is their fault. This could manifest itself in a lot of ways, but the gist across any forum is that you aren’t really required to help the user but may choose to. As such, the way I would handle this would depend a lot on the user.How did the user in question come to you?

If it looked like this:

“Hey, I need a refund, I paid for an item in your stupid game then after I deleted it I couldn’t get it back. Give me back my money.”

I would respond with a polite refusal to do so. If any of my mods are reading this, they might raise an eyebrow at my use of the word “polite”.

If it was:

“Hello, I purchased an in-game item and then accidentally deleted it. Is it possible to get a refund or have the item restored.”

I would respond with:

“We don’t normally offer refunds in these circumstances, but I can sort that out for you.”

I see this less as a customer service issue and more of a user curation one. You don’t want the first kind of customer. He’s a terrible customer. He thinks he’s entitled to the world, to be rude and to treat you like an idiot for his own mistake.

2. A player is using offensive language on your forum, how do you respond?

The definition of “offensive” is going to depend on your community, so we’ll assume that it’s something that’s against your own specific rules. I would use a graded response. First a verbal (public) warning, followed by a restriction of privileges, followed by a ban. Honestly, this is an easy scenario, and the only thing that should change from person to person is the precise phrasing. For me, it would be something along the lines of, “You are acting the dick. Stop acting the dick”. Your mileage may vary.

3. Members of your forum are harassing another player, and making sexual or racial comments. What action do you take?

The grading on this scenario is much steeper. As soon as sexual, racial or gender slurs are used I would kick that user off the forum, at least temporarily. I would seriously question the efficacy of any moderator who did not do so. I would not be polite while doing so. The real meat of this question is in the follow up:

4. The same situation as scenario 3, but two of the harassers are two of the biggest spenders on the forum, popular and well-respected in the community. How do you proceed?

Perhaps your community isn’t monetised in this way (mine isn’t), but this will still come up. Instead of big spenders, perhaps it’s just a big fish, someone who posts a lot and keeps things moving. Someone with a lot of links in the community, either online or in real life.

If I were interviewing a candidate, I would see this last question as a test. I would want to know if the candidate would backpedal in the face of financial incentive. Are they more worried about losing the Whale, or by running the community? If your supervisor in a community manager position would expect you to change your tactics, something is horribly wrong. This shouldn’t be difficult. The fact that realistically, many employers would expect this answer to change is why the official forums in the games industry are always horrifying. If you are more worried about losing a user’s revenue than preventing abuse, get out of this profession. You are bad at your job.

There’s a running theme through my answers, that hold a message I consider important. Some people would look at these as customer service issues. They aren’t. They’re user curation issues. You are deciding how your community is defined with every decision you make. A customer service view leads to “Keep The Customer At All Costs”. That’s is not how community management works, and if you think it is you are going to do more harm than good. That racist, abusive big spender from question 4? You don’t need his money. There will be other big spenders, other great posters, other popular ones. You are doing your community, and your brand, far more damage by letting them stay than the short term financial (or otherwise) cost. In communities, poison begets poison. Your community is only as good as its worst member, and if you welcome awful people, sooner or later awful people are the only ones you’ll have.

Patrick Groome HeadshotGuest post by Patrick Groome. Patrick is the Administrator of the Penny Arcade forums. Penny Arcade is one of the most popular and long running gaming webcomics and organizer of the PAX gaming conference.

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