It takes a great number of individuals working together in various disciplines to make any commercial enterprise function.
The mobile games industry is certainly no exception, offering dynamic and diverse roles to thousands the world over.
As such, PocketGamer.biz has decided to celebrate this with a regular series of interviews where each week we chat to a mobile games industry professional from a different field - be it game design, art, or PR - to learn about how they bagged that job in games.
Obviously every career path is different, but the goal is to give a picture of the sorts of skills, qualifications and ambition one might need to find themselves in such a role - and how we can all learn from it.
This time, the spotlight is on Tara J. Brannigan, Head of Community and Customer Service at German mobile game publisher flaregames.
PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little about your current role and what it entails.
Tara J. Brannigan: I’m the Head of Community and Customer Service at flaregames.
My role consists of two main parts: Managing a wonderful team of Customer Service and Community Development Specialists, and driving the strategy behind how flaregames interacts with our customers.
In short, a mix of relationship management, strategic planning and driving larger initiatives that will benefit the community and company alike.
Plus, a healthy dose of memes and terrible puns (I’m not sure that last part was in the job description).
How did you first get into this job? (If senior, how did you progress into this role?)
Funnily enough, I wasn’t even remotely interested in working in community management when the opportunity first presented itself.
In my early twenties I was dead set on working as an Art Producer on a triple-A title, and had positioned my career towards achieving those goals.
My manager suggested community management, and I said 'Ugh, don’t make me deal with people!'Tara J. Brannigan
When I was working on 1 vs. 100 for Xbox Live it became clear that we needed to build a community. The game functioned more like a TV show, in that you showed up at a specific time on a specific day to participate.
If we wanted to be successful as a team, we needed players to come back every week. At the time I was working as a Tools Program Manager, and had some extra bandwidth. My manager suggested I’d be a good fit for the task, and I think I literally said "Ugh, don’t make me deal with people!"
However, after working with the community, I fell in love with the role and its potential and ended up changing my entire career path.
It turns out that I love working in a role that touches a wide variety of disciplines, and enables better communication between the people who make the games and the people who love playing them.
From there, it’s been a matter of gaining experience, learning new things and pushing myself to take on new challenges.
I have a lot of experience building communities, but learning how to manage a happy and effective team while pushing forward our larger strategic goals is a wonderful and ever-evolving challenge!
Is it something you ever imagined yourself doing?
Hah, absolutely not! I always thought I wanted to work in games someday, but as a die-hard introvert the idea of being in a central communications role hadn’t even crossed my mind.
Every role I’ve had in the industry has added to my experience and knowledge, and being open to new opportunities has served me well.
If I’d never gotten into community it’s unlikely I’d have ever had the opportunity to move to New Zealand, and now most recently, Germany.
I’ve worked in QA, as a Project Manager, Program Manager, Producer, Community Manager, Customer Relationship Manager, Consultant and more.
What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?
I studied 3D modelling and animation for a while, but quickly realised that wasn’t my niche in the industry.
I think that experience was still useful for me when I joined the game industry as a QA Engineer, as it helped inform some of the issues that I was reporting back into the team.
If I were to pitch a set of classes for younger me:
- Creative Writing
You’ll never go wrong with creative writing skills, as you will be writing a ridiculous amount of copy, specs, FAQs and critical responses over the course of your career.
Understanding why people behave the way they do, particularly under stressful circumstances, would be a huge boon to anyone interacting with (often angry) people on a daily basis.
If anything, go read some of Dr. Brené Brown’s great work on empathy and the psychology of shame.
- Game Development
Having a solid understanding of how games are made is fundamental to being a great Community Manager or Customer Service professional.
You are communicating on behalf of the company; understanding how games are made is critical to representing that process in an honest and genuine manner.
Is there anything about the job/industry you wish you would have known when first joining?
It’s completely okay to change your mind about what you want to do!
All experience is valuable, and skills that you learned many years ago may be extremely useful on a new project.
I was so caught up on what I thought I should be that I almost missed out on my real passion.Tara J. Brannigan
It’s really easy to get locked into this idealised version of your career path. I was so caught up on the idea of what I thought I should be that I almost missed out on discovering my real passion in the industry.
Also, this is true of every role in the industry, but having a good team and leadership that has your back is worth its weight in gold.
Look for companies that are going to support not just your day-to-day work, but your longer term goals.
Free soda and foosball are fun, but if the larger culture is going to burn you out it’s not worth it. Look for the places and the people that are going to help you grow.
What other advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?
You’ll never go wrong with levelling up your communication skills. Learning more about conflict management and psychology goes a long way towards how you handle not just community interactions, but working together as a larger team.
There are tons of great resources out there, and most of the folks in this industry are more than happy to share advice if asked nicely!
Also, remember to take care of yourself and learn when to back away from the keyboard. It’s extremely easy to burn out in this sort of role, and damaging your mental health for the sake of ‘just one more response’ isn’t worth it.
A good team will have your back and support you when you need to take a step back.