But the company was focused solely on money (yeah I know, super big surprise) and that made my job as link between the players and the company a lot tougher than it needed to be. It was a constant battle for game improvements and fixes in which I had to prove the monetary value of customer happiness. A lot of things were talked about and promised, but when the revenue was behind expectations, or there was a way to make a huge amount on top all of the promises, quality standards were the first thing to go overboard.
With the title “community manager” now being a thing, and a structural change which introduced dedicated language managers for each language, I became the community manager for the number 1 game of the company. I also got a back up community manager who helped me carry the weight.
But the burnout was already in progress. Even though it was great to only work on one game and being able to put all your focus on one community, the revenue expectations on this game were extreme. Money was always above everything and the previous feeling of doing something important that mattered slowly transformed into a feeling of being caught between a rock and a hard place. I was getting constant heat from the community about known issues and bugs in the game, as well as the insane pricing and the continuing introduction of pay features. There was no place to take this heat, everybody knew that money was the only thing making decisions. Even the head of my department had pretty much given up and accepted the fact that we were fighting a lost battle against pissed off players.
There is only so much of that constant pressure a person can take before the negative energy gets the best of you. I started to get seriously grumpy and I started to snap at people at work. The reasons were minor and mostly just related to small questions I had already answered in an email or had just explained to 10 other people in a row. Actually I talked to a few of the language managers a couple of years later when I was already out of the company and they told me that some of them were afraid to even ask me little things, because they thought it would make me freak out. On the other hand they also said that they knew how the situation was at that time and that they understood why I was so tense. I would say that is little good news in the course of someone telling you that you treated people like crap and probably made their work day a lot shittier than it needed to be.
What was really getting to me on top of the situation at the office was the 24/7 on-call status for any sort of major problem in the game. Text messages about crashed servers and all other sorts of fun things would wake me up at 3 or 4 in the morning and keep me busy for around 1 hour. Do that 3-4 times a week and you turn into a very tired human mess. All these things piled up to a point where my job just wasn't any fun anymore. I was constantly angry, tired and had a very short fuse, no matter if it was a private matter or work related. I saw what was happening and it was easy to see what the issue was, I mean in the end I was the one who willingly burned himself out for the sake of doing a great job. Of course there are ways to manage the chaos and nothing is impossible, but some situations just give you the choice of either flying too close to the sun or to doing a bad job, and the second was never an option for me.
Something had to happen jobwise or I would have changed into somebody I really didn't want to be. As a community manager I was always involved in the creation of new updates and items for the game and I had a pretty good understanding of the mechanics and numbers that ran in the backend. Fortunately my game was looking for a new game designer in order to support the lead designer of the project. So I scoped out how my chances would be to switch to game design within the company. I talked to the head of my department and the producer of the game and both of them were very helpful with making this switch happen for me. The only other option would have been that I leave the company for a more sane work environment somewhere else, which at that time also was a really realistic option for me.
As soon as we figured out who should replace me in my current position I was good to go and started my job within the dev team as a game designer. This really was a dream come true and solved a lot of issues I previously had. In community management the single task of shaping, entertaining and informing the community never ended, now when I left the office the problems and tasks didn´t follow me and there were no urgent game design emergencies I had to respond to in the middle of the night. But apart from that I could finally finish a piece of work and get a real sense of accomplishment. It is not like game design was not influenced by a certain revenue pressure, but at least there were ways of arguing for the sake of fairness now. That does not mean they were free, but we always tried to leave a realistic ways of getting them for free if you invested some time (or a lot of time depending on the situation).
My mentor and lead game designer of the game was promoted into a lead position in the overall game design department and for a short period of time I ended up running the show by myself. Which at least gave me the confidence that what I was doing was not total crap. Later a new designer with more experience was hired to take the lead design role for the game. We had kind of a rough start because me who worked on this project for several years took a lot of things for granted or written into stone and it was really hard for me to get confronted with a very valid, but for me still shocking, outsider-opinion about things. But that was really just a shadow I had to jump over and acknowledge that a fresh view on things requires changes in places where you thought it couldn't be done. And maybe the realisation that I myself at the time was not capable of enforcing necessary changes was hard to cope with and made our work relationship not the easiest. Not saying that he was conflict free, but I know where I contributed to the problems of that time.
About a year later the company hit a road bump and more than 100 people got laid off and some major “restructuring” was done. This was definitely another reason in the collection but not the sole reason why I decided to leave the company and try my luck somewhere else. There is a lot I could write about this, but I decided to keep it short, mostly because I dont want to write down a giant rant and get into too much detail.
Things took a turn and got a lot better...
to be continued