Eurogamer Expo 2011: Chris Collins Interview
After catching up with Daniel Erickson and Stephen Reid (twice) at Eurogamer Expo, it dawned on us that we never formally interviewed Chris Collins, Star Wars: The Old Republic's head community honcho in Europe. Since the game hits certain European regions on December 22, 2011, we couldn't avoid him any longer and it was time to talk getting Haters overseas involved in game testing.
For people that missed your introduction, can you elaborate on your hiring, your position at BioWare, and your past experience?
Chris Collins: I am the European Community Manager, so I am based in BioWare Ireland. And over in the Ireland studio we are building a team of European community representatives. Some may already know Tony Marino, who works on the French boards. We just hired Lars Malcharek, and I am sure you met if you are on the forums for the German side of things. They are sort of building the teams to help support the local language players to make sure that they get everything that they need.
Chris Collins: I worked in the games industry communities for the majority of my professional career. I started off at a company working on some major MMOs not long after I finished university, where I studied game development. I specialized in project management and sound foley because I am a bit of a musician at heart. I moved on from that company to a small company up in Scotland, where we released an MMO known as All Points Bulletin, and that went the way it did. I left that for a little while thinking maybe the games industry is going away. Because at heart I am also a gamer, I mean I am a major gamer, and for me it was something I wanted to do when I was a little kid.
Ironically, my mom as a private school teacher would not let me buy a video games console. She would not get me one for my birthday, and it was not until I was ten when I actually got my first console. All my friends had them, all my cousins had them, and everyone I knew had them apart from me. She believed that I would just become some sort of person who hides away and does not do much with it, so ha, sorry mom! Look what happened when you bought me a games console!
Anyway, I got a little bit jaded and thought I wanted to stick to enjoying games and use them for what they are there for, which is kind of a form of escapism and a bit of relaxation. I joined a company as a consultant launching communities kind of doing the same thing: building community teams, helping people launch communities, and understanding really what it takes to have and run a successful community for whatever product you are trying to launch. I worked with some huge brands, and I helped launch their communities.
I thought, "There is something different here. There is something not right." As a consultant, you have to be very professional. And I am clearly a very professional person. I thought, "There is something not right, I am not enjoying this as much as I should be." In the end, I realized that I do genuinely miss the games industry, so I spoke to Stephen (Reid) for a long time, and the rest is history. It is great to be back and I could not be on a more exciting title if I tried.
Now that you spent some time at heading the European community team, what would you like to say to the European community about communication going forward? For example you mentioned you are developing a big team. How big is the team? Are you in full hiring blitz or where is it going with that?
We are going kind of crazy right now. I won't go into sort of exact numbers, but the plan is to make sure that all the languages have all the necessary support to make sure the quality of service is up to the usual BioWare standard. So it is difficult sometimes to get the quality that we need to make sure you have the coverage. But over the next few months and all the way up until launch, you are going to see a lot of new faces in the community especially in the European side. All the German and French players will start to get to know some new people as we bring them online, so just keep an eye out.
The beta test weekends started up, and specifically the European beta test weekends received a lot of attention lately. We already talked to Stephen Reid about testing in general, but we wanted to ask you about the status of the European rounds. Will they be similar in size and infrastructure? How will the goals of European testing differ from U.S. testing, if at all?
Off the top of my head they probably won't differ. The European testing center is very close to coming online -- and I know everyone hates the whole 'soon' terminology or imminent or whatever sort of different word I want to throw in there -- but it is something we need to make sure is ready. I told a little story at Gamefest the other day, and explained Community Management 101: we do not announce anything until it is 110% confirmed. I want to make sure the news going out is definitely happening because people get a little disheartened when things change. Stephen was on the phone to me the day before and said, "It is definitely happening. Things are definitely going forward, and it is fantastic." And the next day it was a different story. So things change very quickly and we need to make sure that we are 110% happy with the way things are working before we get a lot of different waves of people in.
As everyone states, the European players will often be bigger in number because Europe is a huge place compared to America. So BioWare completely takes all the feedback from the European players that we already have in testing -- as well as the guys that we are going to get into testing -- extremely seriously. It is very important to make sure that players get in there and that the localized builds are out there in the hands of players. Localization is very important. European players have a lot of pride in their language. And of course, the BioWare quality standard for language and translation is huge; it is one of the best, if not the best in the industry. We need to make sure that everything is ready and on par, so it is crucial that we get European players in.
After the first videos of the German and the French versions came out, there were a few people who spoke those languages natively that were not exactly happy about a few characters; the voice did not seem to match the character but it matched in English or one of the other languages or something like that. Is that the kind of testing or feedback you work on to try to make it feel as correct' as possible?
That is right. It is very easy for English speakers to sort of turn around and say, "Well, this sounds right to us," but it can be jarring for those who do not know the language. That is not to say the guys working on our game do not know the language. We have some incredibly talented localization experts who are working on the game right now. So this is a prime example. It is crucial we have that feedback because, like I said, we have got that quality bar to hit, and we need to make a hit there. We do not want that experience to be jarring for anyone, so just keep an eye out.
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