Massively Exclusive: Interview with Wildstar Senior Community Manager

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s interview with WildStar’s Jeremy Gaffney, we sat down with another Carbine Studios rep: David Bass, the game’s new Senior Community Manager. We stopped David from running around the studio like a madman for 15 minutes, forcing him to let us in on the secrets of why WildStar and Carbine Studios are worth watching. Granted, he couldn’t tell us everything — there has to be a bit of mystery, right? But David did reveal his in-depth plans for the WildStar community and what will set this community apart from any other MMO community you’ve seen.

Massively Exclusive Interview with Wildstar Senior Community Manager

Massively: What attracted you to Carbine and WildStar?

David Bass: I had heard whispered rumors about the fabled secret project Carbine was working on for years, but when WildStar’s announcement trailer was released last year, it immediately hit me in all the right places. The humor, the charm, and the excitement of exploring a new world are the core building blocks that make a game fun and engaging to me.

And then I met the team. Troy Hewitt (Director of Community and now my boss) and I had worked together previously, and he’s probably the core influence in my decision to pursue a career in the gaming industry. There’s no one more passionate about the players than he is, and as much as we’ll make fun of each other mercilessly (did you know the first picture of him you’ll find in a Google search is this attractive one?), I hold an enormous amount of respect and admiration for the work he does.

I remember when I first arrived in California for my interview: It was crazy late at night (like 1:00 a.m.), and Troy was so excited to show me everything the studio was working on and insisted we drive over to the studio so he could take me on a tour. I was exhausted from traveling, but who says no to a potential boss?

We showed up at the studio around 1:30 a.m.; he started showing me where everyone sits, and suddenly we find that two of the artists are in the office. I asked them if they were here because of some crazy deadlines, and they said no. They were just really excited to finish up what they were working on so they could drop it into the game.

The rest of the weekend was more of the same. I walked to lunch with Jeremy Gaffney (our Executive Producer), and on the way we discussed everything from his plans for WildStar to the state of the gaming industry today. He was really excited to show off the project, and after lunch, we sat down as he showed me everything. Let’s just say that what the public’s seen is barely the tip of the iceberg.

Finally, the day wrapped up with a studio outing to see The Avengers. And if that’s what they consider a typical day here, I think I’ll fit in perfectly.

At BioWare, you were the Senior Community Coordinator for guilds and fansites. How does this job differ, and what experiences will you pull from your past work into this one?

Carbine’s strength is that the community team is intimately involved with every aspect of the game’s development. We may not be game designers, but it’s always important to remember whom you’re designing systems for: the players. We sit in on many design meetings to ensure the players always have a voice in the room.

Personally, I’m most excited about having the freedom to try new things as a community team. We’re very interested in experimenting, in pushing the boundaries of what a traditional community team does while engaging the players in ways that have never been done before.

Massively Exclusive Interview with Wildstar Senior Community Manager

What are some of your favorite parts of community management? Any specific stories (that you can tell)?

For me, participating in face-to-face events is the core of why I’m interested in community management. I love the bigger events like PAX and Comic-Con, but it’s even better when you can have small events where you have the chance to speak one-on-one with a player or a fan. It’s so much easier to have a two-way conversation in person than it is online, and the energy you get from speaking with players is something that you can feed off of for an entire year.

More importantly, I think I’ve developed an excellent skill of being blurry in the background of every photo at PAX these past two years. If I’m not running around like things are on fire, then I’m not doing my job properly.

What is the David Bass way of community management? What sets you apart?

The core of my beliefs is that you have to trust in your players. There’s the general notion that Community Managers are “the first line of defense,” but that’s not entirely accurate. It’s really the players who will be the ones to find issues surprisingly quickly, and it’s up to you to listen to them and relay what they’ve discovered to the team.

I also strongly believe in shining spotlights on positive influences in the community. Players who always post thoughtful critiques, guilds that go out of their way to run server events or “teach” raids to newer players, and fansites that release free community tools… these are all things I can never get enough of, and I’ll always take any opportunity I can get to highlight them for their contributions to the community.

Have you set any specific goals for the WildStar community?

I’m extremely fortunate to be working with one of the most top-quality teams in the business (I believe the technical term is “bidnez”). On my first day, I was introduced to Loic Claveau, our EU Community Lead, who immediately shared the most insanely exciting ideas for community projects that I’ve ever heard. If we can do even a fraction of the things he’s come up with, you’ll be in great hands.

And given the great reaction to our Friends & Family gameplay video we released last week, we’re going to try to focus a lot on getting more videos out more often. We’ve got an amazing Multimedia Specialist, Alan Primm, who jumps from one video to the next, and I believe you’ll be seeing the next one in a week or so.

Personally, I’m looking forward to restarting a feature called WildStar Uplink, in which we engage in conversations across the community about MMO philosophies and dive down into what the core of a fun experience really is.

What sets WildStar apart from other MMOs?

Massively Exclusive Interview with Wildstar Senior Community ManagerYou mean aside from this awesome new feature I saw that lets you — Er, wait, what are these security guards doing here?

Well, fine: Of the things we’ve already discussed, I think the Path system is really cool and unique. I like that you can cater the content you experience to the type of playstyle you enjoy most. I played around with the Settler path this week without knowing what it is because I imagined it was a way to ensure I was helping out other players as I progressed. And sure enough, that’s exactly what it did! More on that soon, of course.

Jeremy Gaffney suggested that WildStar is “anything but WoW.” What does that phrase mean to you as a community manager?

What Jeremy actually said was: “Carbine was formed by 20 or so of the seniors and leads of WoW after WoW launched. Their initial mantra was ‘we just crunched for 6 years, we want to do ANYTHING BUT WOW.'” So that was just background, not the point he was making.

What that statement meant is that after working non-stop for six years or more on a single project, designers find it completely refreshing to work on something totally new and different. But Jeremy’s point was this: You don’t want to be different for different’s sake. You just want to be fun.

I’m not sure anything more than that matters, so I’m going to focus on making sure the game is fun, and we’re going to rely on the community to help make that determination when the time comes.

Are you going to be at any shows this year? Anything you can tell us about what you’re going to show there?

We haven’t announced any show presences this year yet, but I’m hearing there may be some interesting things to discuss and show off in a few months.

What do you think of bunny ears? No, not on the characters. I mean on me. Would I look good in bunny ears?

Larry, you look good in everything.