In the first interview for Gamers Roundup, Big Bubbaloola and I got to sit down (well Skype chat) with the one and only Jeff Braddock, Community Manager extraordinaire for EA. We asked him about the reasons for doing what he loves, how he got there, and the current state of gaming and the community:
“When I first watched Tron (in 1984), it was the first time I saw and thought about video games and being part of video games. And growing up I wanted to do that – I wanted to work with video games. Then the movie Tron Legacy game out – some people didn’t like it, but I thought it was cool. But, at the end, when Rinzler remembers that he is Tron and he is like “I fight for the users!” – That is me every day. I don’t care what time it is; I was answering emails on my honeymoon – My wife and I had an agreement. When she was in the shower I could check my work emails and when I was in the shower she could check in on her job. But when we’re together we’re eating, drinking, spending time with each other, and walking around.”
TheBullzeyeKK: You’ve now been at EA for over 5 years, and before EA I believe you worked at iengerizer who you did phone support with for EA games. You went from phone rep to North American Battlefield community manager in about 5 years, if I’m not mistaken.
Jeff: It took about 7, honestly. I started October 2010 after working just a terrible, low paid hourly job in a hotel (In Austin, TX). I was like “I want to start working in gaming” and I actually went to apply at an MMO publisher. We did the interview process, I got a letter of acceptance and I was going to start the job the next Monday. Then the recruiter (from a recruiting company) emailed me and she was like “We’ve gone in a different direction”. I was kind of upset because I went to a celebratory dinner that evening and I was like “Awwwh, well, now when I do get this job in gaming I’m not going to be able to have this cool dinner because I already had it… Thanks!”
Anyways, I went to her office, filled in all exit paperwork because she wanted to sign off on everything. As I’m walking out, I get out my phone and I see a craigslist ad “Do you like EA Sports? Do like Madden? Do you like Tiger Woods? Well then, we’ve got a job for you!” And I was like “Hmm…”. It literally read just like that. So, I called up and I got an interview that day. I go over and I do the interview. They started asking me about my gaming history and stuff like that, and the fact that I’ve been gaming since I was 4; been building PCs since I was 12; that I owned my own web-company when I was 16 – I used to build websites – and I’ve played so many games which I love, and I’ve been playing Madden since the original John Madden Football. And so I went through the process, I got trained, and I got on the phones. But time went on and I learned – and that’s the thing. I’ve always wanted to learn more. I was never satisfied.
So, I kept learning and I moved through the different tiers in the support team. I wasn’t the first person you’d call, I was the last person you’d talk to. Because I was given the ability and tools and things like that to handle escalated calls.
Then in April of that year, I was asked if I wanted to become a community admin. It was on the other side of this glass partition. And, they had these huge cubes, so you could have all your cool toys… and lots of nerf fights – not even joking – back in the day.
I then was like, “I’m going on a trip with my girlfriend. When do you want me to come in?” and they were like “Well, you would start on May 16th” and that’s when I’m going my trip; “Where are you going?” “San Francisco”. So I got the see EARS – EA Redwood Studios, before I was even at EA proper. And then I started working on working on the forums. And, my forums were Skate, EA download manager (which turned into Origin), Command and Conquer, Need For Speed, Battlefield of course – I’ve always loved Battlefield – and the Bioware network where I would handle transactional issues. And I was the only one outside of Bioware who was allowed to handle these issues. It was a really fun time of getting to spread my wings and really affect change for the gamer.
At that time, we had picked up Battlelog, because BF3 had launched, and picked up Ask EA Support on Facebook and Twitter –was really busy, I was handling social support, forums, and administration – and it wasn’t as Braddock512, I was EA_AgentX.
Big Bubbaloola: That’s funny. Did you choose that, or was that given to you?
Jeff: I chose it. And it’s funny because everybody had all these cool superhero names and I was like “I don’t want a superhero name” – I thinking more along the lines of Agent Smith, like Agent X; I’m a no name. And then I found out that there is actually a comic book character, which then became my favorite comic book character, named Agent X who is like a cousin to Deadpool – and he is really awesome.
Then the team got rebuilt again, and we joined our Galway partners doing Star Wars: The Old Republic support. Then we had a huge community team with multiple languages.
We grew, and we created a team partnering our communications team and support teams, blending together where we can find what the problems are but also chat with the community; chat with somebody on Twitter: “So, what’s your favourite weapon?”. We started this with Battlefield, Titanfall and the EA channels, then it kind of grew into this amazing group. Then they offered me a team lead position, so I got to pick my team first. We grew from this group of four guys and gals into a team of like 26. It was awesome! We were handling everything; forums, social channels – it was great! And, I kept working on that and I loved it! I was learning more about it, growing my social wings.
Then one day I was in Ireland for a summit with regards to this team when my future boss came up to me and said, “So you’ve been talking to Mitre a lot about becoming a CM?”. “Yes! When?”. “Let’s start you near November.” And then he asked what game, and I said “I don’t care. I want to be a community manager. I want to be able to affect more change. Not that I don’t want to affect our gamers 1-to-1, but I want to affect our gamers 1-to-1,000… 1 to a million”.
They were like “You’re going to have to launch Star Wars [Battlefront]..” And so, in the last two years I’ve been shoring up the Battlefield 4 & Hardline communities, then we launched Battlefield 1 – that was an experience.
I wanted to work in gaming. Whatever I have to do to get my foot in the door, I will do that. Once I’m in there, I can figure out where I want to go. What I want to be, who I am and how I can fit.
TheBullzeyeKK: You clearly love working for EA (it’s literally tattooed onto you), and outside of sharing your time with the meme machine/lord that is Dan Mitre, what is it about EA that you particularly enjoy most?
Jeff: The world is yours. When you step into the doors at EA and you’re a full-time employee – and this is one of the neatest things about this job – they don’t want you to feel like you’re trapped in a role forever. If you don’t like what you’re doing, talk to someone to figure out what your skillsets are; what are your weaknesses and your strengths; play to your strengths and improve your weaknesses. That’s always been my thing – if you’re not learning, you’re stagnating, and stagnation leads to death.
That’s the neatest thing. I wanted to learn more, and so opportunities presented themselves; and no one ever told me “No, you can’t do this”. It’s “OK! Let’s try it out!”. If it works, great; if it doesn’t then that’s ok. At least you got some experience, and understood the bigger cross functional parts of the company – which it has to be.
I love it, because I’m told that it’s not about the dollar ($), I’m told that it’s about the players. And that is what drives every single EA employee. It’s super ingrained in us that we want it to be “Player First”. Sometimes we make mistakes, it happens. But what do we do? We really try to recoup it, we try to fix it so that it can impact our players in a better way.
Big Bubbaloola: After the changes that were brought in just prior to the full launch of Star Wars Battlefront 2, how much power do you think the community has in the development and change in games. More or less?
Jeff: I think the community is a powerful and dynamic “thing” and any company – let’s be honest, this isn’t just about gaming – really, really needs to listen. They are not dollars who are trying to talk to you. These are people who have invested their time and passions.
Companies have to listen to their consumers – and I hate the word “consumers”, I hate that word so much – but at the end of the day its business. If you don’t listen to them, they are going to stop consuming your product. And that goes with any business.
Gaming is a luxury. Let’s remember this. Playing video games for any amount of time, is a luxury that is not afforded by not everyone on this planet. But we have built a culture, a lifestyle around the internet and gaming. So, when that is affected, and you feel unheard or dismissed, it can create a wave.
The power of the community is huge. The power of the informed community is amazing, but the power of the under-informed community is dangerous.
Big Bubbaloola: Do you find that, in the days of social media, this has made your job easier or harder; especially when you have the developers being able to tweet out certain information or details which may or may not be delivered in the final build?
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. You have to have contingencies and you have to understand everything about what you are doing and saying. Just because someone is going to take it the wrong way, and it’s not their fault – it’s because you didn’t do enough research. Reacting to situations appropriately is important.
It’s like a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Well then, let’s be damned but let’s do it right. If it takes a little extra time or if it takes waking people up at 2AM then so be it. And when it’s done right, it will be known. It will be seen. People want to give the benefit of the doubt; they just want to make sure they’re being heard and that there is an answer coming – that something is going to be done. It’s hard on the weekend though, but you have to be ready for anything.
It puts a pressure on any company out there today, because of the intentness of this world that we live in and that you have to be ready to answer.
There have been a couple experiences in my life where I have gone to bed where everything is fine and have woken up to 825 notifications, my phone has been ringing for 10 minutes, and I couldn’t do anything because I was sleeping. This wasn’t about a game or anything, but it was just weird. And that’s basically with this age of instant messaging 24/7.
TheBullzeyeKK: What do you consider the best approach when suggesting game changes and improvements? Shouting not being one of them.
Jeff: I would definitely say that passion is great, when you want to share something. If you love something and you think that it doesn’t work the way it should, or you have an idea for an improvement, it can get frustrating. Sometimes that can bring a whole lot of negativity that doesn’t result in value. I need to stress this: negative feedback does not mean that it’s not constructive. You can be negative and constructive simultaneously.
Bottom line is, if you don’t like it, say that you don’t like it and say what you would like to see different. If you wrap it in abuse and/or insults with zero suggestions then it doesn’t help anybody. The best approach: Make a case for your argument; state facts and not feelings; offer suggestions – perhaps some suggestions may be a bit outlandish but offer them – SAY IT! Because it may get an idea in a developer’s mind. And understand timelines. Nothing happens instantly in game development. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Most importantly – be considerate. Talk to people the way you want to be talked to.
TheBullzeyeKK: How do you sift through all of the shouting to find the nuggets of decent info and constructive criticisms.
Jeff: It’s a challenge. But I would say that it’s all constructive. I try to look past the anger, the abusive words and try to understand what they are talking about. If they are really upset about something, I’ll be like “Look, your approach is terrible. Don’t say it like that.” – I’ll call it out! “BUT! What do you want to say? Tell me, because I care!”
The size of the community, I would say, is the biggest challenge. Because we have so many people post feedback on so many platforms, we have to be everywhere.
When I first watched Tron (in 1984), it was the first time I saw and thought about video games and being part of video games. And growing up I wanted to do that – I wanted to work with video games. Then the movie Tron Legacy game out – some people didn’t like it, but I thought it was cool. But, at the end, when Rinzler remembers that he is Tron and he is like “I fight for the users!” – That is me every day. I don’t care what time it is; I was answering emails on my honeymoon – My wife and I had an agreement. When she was in the shower I could check my work emails and when I was in the shower she could check in on her job. But when we’re together we’re eating, drinking, and walking around.
Big Bubbaloola: How do you respond to the argument that it is not the gamers place to test and improve these games and their approaches especially for games by very large studios?
Jeff: We can’t live in an echo-chamber.
People tend to forget that it’s a video game COMPANY – companies are there to make money, because that’s how they keep people employed and continue making products. People don’t get mad when the price of chicken goes up by $1, but people get freaked out that the price of video games is $60? – AAA titles are $60, that price has not changed in 25 years. But the costs of gaming has increased exponentially. The costs of making a big game costs as much as making a blockbuster movie (if not more when marketing is included).
Big Bubbaloola: Do you expect, given recent revelations around people online faking their company credentials on social media, does that make EA staff more or less willing to engage with the community? Has it done any particular damage?
Jeff: I would say, it’s not going to affect how much we interact with our community members. At the end of the day, it’s not their fault for this situation. A word of advice though, to anyone and everyone who cares is “Be safe.” – it’s the internet. It is shrouded in anonymity. There is actually no true, full on revealing of anyone on the internet until you sit across from them, have a pint, share a meal, and have a look in their eyes.
I’m not saying that friendships and love doesn’t happen. It does. I love a lot of people on the internet!
Be careful. The internet is full of wonderous and amazing people, it is also full of fakes and scammers; people who bode no good will. Do not let one or two bad experiences build up a wall between you and the world. But we alert and be safe. – And that’s all you can do.
TheBullzeyeKK: If you could tell someone who is new to gaming about gaming communities, what would it be?
Jeff: Gaming communities are literally small eco-systems that reflect the world. They are small pockets of humanity – some large pockets – but they are exactly what this world is. There are going to be people who stick by your side, your friends, maybe people you don’t like. There’s going to be trolls and toxic people, good and bad people. Embrace all of it because that is the experience. Not everything is sunshine, rosy and perfect. But also, not everything is terrible and horrible.
In the large gaming community, there are some amazing, talented, and passionate, wonderful and beautiful people. When you find those people, latch onto them. Don’t put them on a pedestal that will shake the core of your foundation when they are knocked off. Because no one can live up to the expectations that we put on them.
So, be aware of the amazing bright stars; these people sitting in your lobby with you playing Need For Speed or Battlefield, or Overwatch. Make friends. Be a friend. Have fun. We forget so much why video games are created – they are created so that we can have fun.
We have to remember that games should be fun. Gaming is fun. Gaming is a community and a friendship that you can build. With anyone and everyone around the world.
I kid you not, being 40 years old in this world, with the abilities and technology and everything that you can do with gaming, blows my mind every single day. Because, 25 years ago I couldn’t talk to someone who lives in Russia – I wouldn’t even be having this conversation with you because it would be too expensive. But with Skype, Discord, Twitch, Twitter and YouTube – embrace it! Have fun with it, at your comfort level. Don’t let anybody tell you what you should play – make your own decisions. Don’t let anybody tell you that you should not play a specific game, or that you’re not good enough to play the game.
And seriously, please, do not let anybody tell you HOW to play the game. If you want to go camp in a tank in Battlefield 4 just to blow down the building on Siege of Shanghai…… FINE! That’s your own thing. Just make sure you’re in your own squad.
Bottom line is, don’t let anybody tell you how to play games, what to play, and when to play. This is your world, play it!
Many thanks to Jeff for giving us his precious time and spending a lot of it chatting with us. You can follow Jeff on Twitter, here!