Steve Talks With Josh Allen, aka ‘Lore’

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Josh Allen, AKA “Lore” is currently a Community Manager for Blizzard but he’s been an important member of the World of Warcraft player community for as long as I can remember.  Former site director of the late, great Tankspot raid strategy site, host of his own shows including The Weekly Marmot and PST, and former co-host of Gamebreaker’s weekly show, Legendary.

In many ways Josh is living the dream of many Warcraft players.  His career path has taken him from fanboy to working directly for Blizzard as a Senior Community Representative.

Steve: Was working for Blizzard something you set as a goal, or was the opportunity something that surprised you?

Josh: It’s kinda funny how that worked out. Shortly after the launch of Burning Crusade, I saw a job posting for a position in Community on the Blizzard website. I thought to myself, “Hey, why not?” and put in an application. At the time I was posting regularly on a site called Maintankadin (which is still around, btw – great resource for Paladin tanks). I figured it’d help my chances if I acted there like I thought a Community Manager would. Never heard back on my application to Blizzard, but I did find my way into a moderator position on Maintankadin.

That was my first real step into the WoW community. After I’d been on Maintankadin a while, Ciderhelm approached me to co-host the Tankspot Podcast, which then led into authoring video guides, which led into creating the Weekly Marmot, which led to PST, etc. I didn’t apply to Blizzard again for quite some time. Not until the opening came up that I ended up being hired for, in fact. I loved doing all of that stuff so much.

However, I also had my future to think about. That’s sort of the struggle of YouTube as a career – you can do alright for yourself in the short-term, but it’s very difficult to get into the position where you can start saving up for things like retirement. So, when this job popped up, I thought “here’s an opportunity to keep doing what I love with the community I love, but give myself some stability for the future. So I applied, interviewed, got the job, and moved to California.

Steve: Let’s go back in time a bit.  Can you tell me about how Tankspot got started?

Josh: Although I kinda ended up as Tankspot’s “face”, it was Ciderhelm who founded the site, along with Satrina. Both were Warriors who were very heavy into theorycrafting and guide writing – in fact, it was Ciderhelm’s guides on the official forums that I used to learn to tank on my Warrior in Classic. I didn’t come into the picture until the Burning Crusade, when Blizzard started to let other classes try their hand at main tanking. I played Horde, and so we were just getting Paladins, and I thought it’d be fun to try and main tank our raids as one. It had mixed success, but I earned a name for myself as one of the furthest progressed Paladin tanks at the time. Tools like WoWprogress didn’t really exist back then (at least not in the state that they do today), so it’s hard to say exactly where I fell, but I believe I was one of the first few to tank Illidan.

So, when Ciderhelm started up the Tankspot Podcast, he approached me to co-host it to get a Paladin perspective on the show. I’d been lurking around the site for a while, but that was my first real “work” with Tankspot. When Wrath released, after Ciderhelm started doing video guides for Naxxramas, I put one together for 3-Drake Sartharion. It must have been decent enough, because he asked me to assist with guides for Ulduar.

That sort of led to an issue, though, where we would get tons of traffic while everyone was progressing through raid tiers, but it’d drop off dramatically once we ran out of videos to produce. So we started looking into ways to produce more regular content that wasn’t necessarily tied to WoW content releases. That’s where the Weekly Marmot came in. After the first couple of episodes did pretty well, I quit my job to start focusing on producing Tankspot videos full time. It was definitely a gamble, but shortly thereafter, Tankspot became part of the ZAM network, who were extremely supportive and gave some much-needed stability. As time went on and the show became more popular, I added PST and PST Rapid Fire as a way to field the hundreds of questions being sent in every week.

Steve: Did you have a day job when everything started?  What were you doing in the “real world” before the web stuff took center stage?

Josh: Officially, I was the IT manager and web developer for a small plastics recycler and distributor. However, the company was small enough that I didn’t really have much IT managing to do on a given day, and I was decent enough at web development that I was able to automate most of my day-to-day tasks there. So I ended up doing a lot of QA testing on the plastics as well just for something to do to earn my paycheck. Basically, my job was to burn bits of plastic and smell the fumes to determine what kind of plastic it was. Not the greatest (or healthiest) job. That was definitely a major factor in my decision to jump into producing videos full time. I had the opportunity to do something I loved and stop killing brain cells with toxic fumes, so I went for it.

Steve: You were obviously a very active player in your guild.  How did you manage your time between playing WoW and creating strategy guides for raiding?

Josh: They were both kind of part of the same process. I was either GM or Raid Leader (or both) for the majority of my time as a hardcore raider, so it fell largely on me to determine our boss strategies. So I was already doing pretty much all of the research that was necessary to create a video guide. All that was left at that point was to record our attempts, write a quick script, and read it back over top of the kill video, at least initially. It was pretty low effort in the Wrath days, as there really wasn’t much in the way of competition. People watched Tankspot guides because really, that’s all there was at the time.

Before long, however, people like Learn2Raid or FatBoss came along and started producing their own guides, which to be completely honest, were a lot better than the stuff I was putting out. Initially I tried to just focus on speed and just getting our guides out as quickly as possible, but both of their guilds were much better at progression raiding than mine, which made that pretty much impossible. So, later in Cata we tried a different approach of just putting as much production value into them as possible, which was a great idea and all, but required a TON of extra work. ZAM actually brought in Mike Schaffnit to help with the workload during that time. Unfortunately, even with the two of us working tons of extra time to create those guides, they were coming out so late that people generally didn’t need them anymore. These awesome guides we were putting together became more of an embarrassment than anything when we finally pushed them out 3-4 months late.

When Mists launched, I was pretty burned out, so I decided to take a break from raiding for a bit. That meant I needed other authors if Tankspot wanted guides. Again, a few good ones came out, but it wasn’t really up to the standards people wanted. Eventually I came back to serious raiding (not just because of the guides, mind you – I’d had my break and was ready to get back to it), and went back to what worked in Wrath and early Cataclysm for the video guides. That put Tankspot back on the map in terms of video guides… and then I got hired by Blizzard.

So in answer to the question of how I managed my time, the answer is… kind of poorly, lol. 

Steve: As a Community Representative you get a lot of player feedback.  How do you sift through all of that information to find the appropriate comments and questions to answer?

Josh: There’s sort of two approaches to community interaction with player feedback. One is to try to get as many responses out as possible, regardless of whether you have anything really useful to say or not. I don’t really like that approach. Aside from the fact that it leads to a lot of disappointing “Thanks for your feedback”-style responses, it also creates the expectation in the player base that any question that doesn’t get such a response has been completely ignored. That is emphatically not the case – not only do we spend a lot of time on the forums, Twitter, etc. gathering player feedback, but the development team regularly reads them directly. I’d just rather not get into a situation where every blue post I make gets followed up with 10 “why are you ignoring _________” replies.

So, I tend to focus on providing information when I can, and passing along feedback when I can’t. When I get time to poke around the forums, and see something that I know the answer to (or at least feel like I can provide something of value), I’ll post. When I see something I don’t know the answer to, I’ll pass it along to the appropriate developers. Sometimes I can get a response relatively quickly and still post it, and sometimes it’s the sort of thing that the devs need to talk about first before they can decide how it should be handled (if they agree that it needs to be handled at all). Sometimes the answer to a question is the sort of thing that needs to be addressed in a more visible way than just a tweet or a forum post. Blogs, developer interviews, marketing promotions – those are all tools in the Community Manager’s shed. And there’s definitely a lot of noise mixed in there that doesn’t merit a response at all, either because it’s not clear what the actual issue is, or it’s just good old-fashioned trolling.

So realistically, it’s more of a question of approach. It’s not so much that I’m looking for the appropriate comments and questions to answer, it’s that I’m looking at all of the comments and questions and determining what to do with them from there. Do I answer this myself? Do I hope for a quick reply from the dev team? Do I just compile all of this feedback and pass it on to the devs for them to consider? Or do I even need to do anything with “RLY BLIZZ JUST DELETE WARLOCKS ALREADY!!1”?

Steve: Ha, ha!  So, how do you and your Community Relations team stay “on message” ostensibly as the voice of Blizzard?

Josh: I think the biggest thing is just to make sure we’re thinking as players ourselves, and not as mouthpieces for Blizzard. We have a rule that we don’t argue anything we don’t believe in ourselves. Not that we won’t inform the community of upcoming changes – that’s a huge part of our job as well – but if we personally don’t agree with a decision, we won’t argue on its behalf. Again, while informing the community is part of our job, another huge part is being their mouthpiece in internal discussions at Blizzard. In order to do that effectively, we have to avoid getting into the mindset of “Everything Blizzard does is right because Blizzard did it.” That can certainly be a challenge sometimes – you obviously want to believe that the company you work for is always doing the “right thing” – but it’s important for ensuring we can do our jobs properly.

I personally find the title “Community Manager” to be kind of a misnomer. We’re not really here to “manage” the community. To me that sort of conjures the image of some big executive sitting in a big comfy chair saying something along the lines of “Ugh, that damned community is whining again. Manage it.” That’s just not how Blizzard operates. Even though it’s not always apparent, we take what people are saying and how they feel about our products very, very seriously. I know that’s going to sound like standard corporate “we care, really!” garbage, but it’s the truth. We’re not here to manage or placate the community. We’re not really even here to make everyone happy. We’re here to make sure that when the community has something to say, the people in charge hear it. And if and when the reply isn’t satisfactory, it’s our job to make sure that’s made clear as well.

Of course, our developers do a ton of that themselves as well. We’re certainly not the only ones at Blizzard who are listening. We’re just sort of here to facilitate that interaction as much and as often as possible.

Steve: Thanks a lot for talking with me, Josh.  I really love WoW and games in general, but the players and their personalities are in some ways more important to me.  I wish you well in the future with wherever your journey takes you.

Josh: Absolutely! This was a lot of fun. Thanks for the opportunity!

 

Follow Josh here: @CM_Lore

Josh on Twitch:  http://www.twitch.tv/devolore