Building a community amongst the high seas

Emma Bridle community manager of Sea of Thieves
Emma Bridle social media manager of Sea of Thieves

Emma Bridle is a Social Media Manager at Rare and has an amazing opportunity. The company has been reinventing themselves over the last few years. They are known for not only having a fantastic back catalog, but also their intense secrecy. However, that is beginning to change. Starting with Rare Replay, the company has begun to focus on community and having an active involvement with the gamer. Where does that start though, and how do you even go about changing old perceptions? Through her experiences with the community team for Rare Replay she was able to gain insight on what today’s gamer wanted. Using that knowledge she was asked to transitioned to Rare’s newest title Sea of Thieves. The job challenges her with building a team as well as a community. While it is fun, exciting, and cool; it’s certainly not easy.

Could you walk us through a day in the life of a Community Manager/Social Media Manager? What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

The first thing I do in the mornings is to read through every message and comment sent in to our social media channels overnight. We’re a British studio but the majority of our audience is outside of our timezone so it gives me a good idea of what our community has been commenting on and discussing whilst we’ve been asleep. We reply to as many people as we possibly can, even if there’s not too much we can say!

Throughout the week I meet with various teams within the studio to make sure I’m up to date on what we’re working on and what we’ll be covering on social media in the near future. Once a fortnight I get the majority of the Community team together to plan out two weeks of content, taking into account social media, website articles and videos.

Throughout the day the team is posting content across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with website and video updates several times a week. You can’t underestimate how much time this actually takes! We’ve got almost 200,000 people following our active channels at the moment.

I’m also always checking in on our analytics tools to monitor how our social media content is doing. It gives me a good idea of what content is proving popular with our community and what isn’t so I can adapt our planning as we move forward.

Another part of the job is keeping an eye on what our community and the wider internet are talking about. We’ll always join the conversation on a trending topic if we can!
Our team has been growing for the last year or so. For a long time it was myself and Rare veteran Leigh Loveday doing all the community work. But since our Engagement Manager Bobby joined us last year we’ve been adding to the team, allowing each of us to focus more on individual elements and all pitch in when we’re particularly busy (E3 is a long day for us!). We’ve got a great team.

Launching a new IP can be challenging. Could you give us examples of the successes, or failures, you have experienced as a team attempting to build a brand new community? What have you learned along the way?

The growing community we’re seeing for Sea of Thieves is amazing! It’s not just the Community team who love checking in on our social channels and forums to see what they’re talking about.

I wouldn’t say that we’re building a brand new community for Sea of Thieves, though we are seeing many more people join us! As Rare’s been around for more than 30 years making games we’ve got a pretty wonderful community established and it’s always growing. On the Sea of Thieves channels we see a blend of established Rare fans and new fans who are coming to us through their excitement for our newest venture. We’re even seeing other mini-communities join us, such as groups of pirate fans. We don’t really mind how they’ve come to us, we’re just happy to have them along for the ride!

Launching a new IP is a challenge. One that I’ve not faced in my three years at Rare (my previous titles were Kinect Sports Rivals and Rare Replay). But we’re lucky to be part of the wider organization of Xbox, offering us lots of amazing people to learn from. Another part of it is that social media is still a relatively new medium and so anyone in community and social media is constantly learning as they go!

With the emergence of social media like Twitter, Instagram, & Snapchat, have the challenges for someone in your position changed over time? How do you come up with engaging ways to interact with current fans and hook new ones?

Tales from the Tavern is a podcast the Social team came up with to let the community know what was going on in the game
Tales from the Tavern is a podcast the Social team came up with to let the community know what was going on in the game

Rare has been on Twitter for years. It’s a shame that the platform only lets you scroll so far back through your past tweets! Full credit for our Twitter presence goes to Leigh. He graciously let me try my hand at it when I turned up in 2013 and was very patient with me as I got to grips with running it.

We added Instagram a while after I started. We never start a new social media channel rashly. We take a considered look at it – what will we use it for? What sort of audience do we think we’ll have there? What sort of content will be posted there? How often will we post? The last thing we want to do is to open up a channel and then have it sitting there empty most of the time. Our active channels need to be living so people come back to them! Instagram was started to be a little window into the life of the studio. But I started it at a time where we were being quite mysterious as to what we were working on (between Kinect Sports Rivals launching and announcing Rare Replay and Sea of Thieves). So it ran with a small audience for a while as I tried to keep it active without revealing any secrets! Since E3 2015 it’s been growing steadily. The introduction of Instagram stories over the summer meant I was able to snap things throughout Gamescom for realtime updates.

When it comes to content we’re constantly watching and learning. We look at our own content’s performance to guide our planning as well as looking at what other people are doing for inspiration! It doesn’t mean we copy content like for like from other accounts, more that we see something great and wonder what we could do in a similar vein. Everyone on the Community team is always learning, always adapting – the landscape of social media is always changing and we’re keeping up!

How does your team balance what information goes out to the world, to satiate craving fans, and what stays hidden until later?

We’re working closely with the game team to plan our Sea of Thieves content. From the very beginning of this project it’s been really important to us to be as open and honest with our community as possible. Even if that means telling them that we’re not ready to share something just yet.

Our three video series started over the summer are a great example of this. Each week we release a short video showcasing members of the team giving insight into an element of the game. This gives our community a deeper look at how we’re building the world of Sea of Thieves in short, easy to consume snippets. Those looking for longer content can listen to or watch our monthly podcast where we talk more about what we’re working on and answer questions from the community.

It’s really important to us that we show rather than tell. This means that we hold some things back until they’re ready. We’re building a game unlike anything that we’ve ever done before! I know that anyone watching our videos can see how much care and attention to detail is going into everything we do. We understand that people are desperate for more, we’re delivering that weekly, bit by bit!

What part of your job is the most satisfying?

Can I pick out three things?

Firstly I love getting to interact with our community! Rare’s been around for so long, it means a lot to so many people. One highlight for me was when Rare Replay launched and people would get in touch to tell us why a particular game had significance to them. One story that really stayed with me was a man who tweeted us to tell us that he’d played the older games in the collection with his dad when he was growing up and that he was now able to play them with his own son, after his own dad had passed away.

Secondly I’m working in an industry which is all about creating fun and entertainment. To the point where people don’t really seem to bat an eyelid when they walk past me filming something odd in the studio to work into a Vine or GIF later.

Thirdly is getting to meet our fans in person. Firstly with the fan visit back in May which delivered our Sea of Thieves Gameplay trailer for E3 and then again at Gamescom in August. It’s really gratifying to be able to meet someone in person that you’ve interacted with online for so long.

Do you have any tips for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Working in social media is a funny thing. When I’m asked by a stranger what I do, my answer is often met with confusion and dismissiveness. A lot of people don’t think I do a real job, but in fact there’s an awful lot to it.

I would say that anyone wanting to get involved in Community roles should get involved in online communities themselves. Choose something that you’re passionate about and engage with other people who share that passion! Gaming is a great example. Got a favourite game? Follow the game or developer on social media and interact with their content. See if they have official forums and get involved in discussions. If you’ve got a talent for writing (something every good Community Manager needs) then you could start a blog! All of these build concrete examples for you to show a potential employer.

There’s more to it than simply having social media accounts. A lot of thought and planning goes into professional social media so try to curate your publicly visible accounts to show that you understand that thought process. If gaming is your passion then have your Twitter feed reflect that. Let your tweets and retweets show an understanding of the hot topics in the industry and that you’re passionate about games. Reach out to other fans and people in the industry. I don’t know a single Community Manager in our industry who wouldn’t love to chat to games fans about what they do (myself included)!

Ultimately I’d say that joining the conversation and getting involved online would be the biggest help in getting into the community side of gaming. Make contacts, get stuck into discussions and show that you’re committed. All of these things will mean that when an employer goes looking for you online (and they will!) they’ll find someone who ticks a lot of boxes.

I know that everyone on the Sea of Thieves team has a Pirate name, what is yours? And if not what would you want it to be?

I got mine a little late as I was working predominantly on Rare Replay whilst Sea of Thieves was in its early stages, so it caught me when I changed my name after getting married. I’m Buccaneer Bridle! My pirate name has actually been used on one of the playable pirates that we’ve had in our show floor demo! Seeing people play under my pirate name is pretty cool, as long as they’re behaving themselves of course…

We know Sea of Thieves has your gaming heart, but what is your “main squeeze” when it comes to a video game right now (what have you been playing)?

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (or sits anywhere near me at work) will know that my latest obsession is Overcooked. I’d heard a little about it before launch and decided to download it to try it out. My husband and I played for six hours straight on our first go. It’s the first time we’ve found a couch co-op game that we can play without majorly falling out! The mechanics are relatively simple but the escalating level difficulty makes for some chaotic gameplay. Particularly when the music speeds up to indicate you’re almost out of time. So stressful! I’ve installed it on one of the consoles on our floor in the studio and have played a few lunchtime sessions. I recommend it to anyone as a team building activity. I’ve learned that I DEFINITELY shouldn’t open a restaurant with my team…

The other big love this year has been Life is Strange. I picked it up during an Xbox sale after I’d seen positive murmurs on my Twitter feed and fell in love with it. Any game with a good story has my attention immediately but this one is so beautifully crafted. From the art style to the immersive relationships between the characters. I love that the lead character is a young woman, the writers really resonated with my experiences growing up, but not to the point that it’s alienated any of my male friends and colleagues from enjoying playing her story. I can’t say much more without risking spoilers but I recommend it to anyone. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp with horror. I can’t say enough good things about it!

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TwoWolvzz

Chris, also known as 2Wolvz is no stranger to gaming. Starting from the Atari 2600 to now Xbox1/PS4 he has always had a controller in one hand and an IPA in the other. He is a husband, father, gamer, sports fanatic, and lover of all things NERD. And can be found writing, podcasting, or streaming about games on the Interwebs.