PSU sits down with Dan Amrich; Activision's Community Manager
Activision's Dan Amrich chats with PSU about how editorial relates to community management, selling out, and breaking into the industry!
PSU: The best place to start would be the beginning. You previously worked at The Official Xbox Magazine. While working there, did you ever think you would end up working with a publisher?
Amrich: I never had aspirations of working at a publisher when I was in the media because I didn't think there would ever be any place for me. Every role I could think of, I was not qualified to perform. Game designer or game writer is a pipe dream to a lot of people, I don't have the organizational skills for a producer, and I didn't want to go into PR. So while a lot of folks in the media at least entertain the possibility of working for a game publisher, I simply didn't know what I would do for one. And then community management became a thing, and suddenly, I was qualified! :)
How closely does your role as Community Manager at Activision mimic your position at OXM? Or, do you see Community Management as an extension of editorial?
I definitely see it as the latter -- that's specifically why I was interested in making the shift, because it didn't seem like I would have to give up a lot of the things that I enjoyed doing in the media. Activision offered me a role where I would still be writing a lot -- I am editor-in-chief of OneOfSwords.com, with a current staff of one.
At the same time I could get closer to the decision-making process, understand it more fully, and be able to explain it to other people when asked. It's not really an extension of what I did at OXM, though I do still plan features and previews and things like that. I just do it all in the context of Activision. Sometimes I think of myself as an official fansite.
When I was interviewing for this position -- which didn't exist yet, so I didn't have a template to follow other than Major Nelson at Microsoft, whose work everyone at Activision admired and respected -- one of the senior VPs asked me if I had any questions as we were wrapping up. I was pretty far into the process at that point and the reality of what I was considering really started to hit me. So I asked, "Yeah, how do I sell out?" I explained that I knew the reason Activision wanted me was because of my editorial credibility over the years; I wasn't famous but I was a recognizable enough name that I would probably bring some readers with me -- but I realized I would no longer be speaking for myself. And he gave me this ashen-faced look and said "No, no -- you can't sell out. You need to be authentic.
That's the whole point. If you aren't yourself, this whole thing doesn't work. We will actually need to protect you from some of the people in this building who may think they can co-opt you for their own needs. But they can't -- we need you to be you." And at that point, I thought, okay, if 70% of what they are telling me this job will be is true, I should do this, because that would be a sweet gig. And it turns out they kept 100% of their promises! Two and a half years later, I still post my podcast without anybody screening it first; I post blogs and tweets without seeking approval for that content. That autonomy makes my position very unusual.
Obviously, I have to respect the same NDAs that the media is asked to respect (I signed a big one the day I was hired), and my fact-checking has to be spot-on before I go public with anything, but other than the "well, duh" stuff like "don't talk about unannounced projects" and "don't comment on lawsuits," I am allowed to do my thing my way. And my way involves talking about and playing other games, acknowledging what's going on in the gaming world, and playing what I personally want to play in addition to being knowledgeable about Activision's games. I still get to be me, as a writer and a gamer.
I'm also asked for my editorial opinion on decisions being considered internally fairly often, "What would gamers think if we did this? What would you want to see if you were still in the media?" My position operates ... (continued on next page)