We’re pleased to have Justin Korthof, Community Manager for Robot Entertainment, as our first Industry Insight interview. Justin has been in the industry for many years, having worked on some well-known titles, and was a valuable part of the brainstorming process that led to our new site name and logo.
For those of you who are interested in becoming a Community Manager take note because you can learn a lot from Justin!
Marooners’ Rock: Hi Justin, I’d like to first thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. For the readers out there who might not be familiar with you or your work, would you mind giving us a brief introduction?
Justin Korthof: It’s hard to do it brief, but here goes – I have been running community sites online for about 20 years now. Things really got big when I was approached by Warner Brothers about a Superman Returns fan site I was running. I ended up working as a contract Community Manager for that film through my site. Eventually, I met the team at EA who was working on the Superman Returns game, and from that introduction I got a job at EA working as a Community Manager on the Medal of Honor Franchise (and eventually on all shooters at EALA, including the ill-fated Tiberium). From there I moved up to work at Microsoft Game Studios where I worked on the Gears of War and Halo franchises. I took a bit of a break in early 2010 to explore the possibility of opening my own comic shop, but an opportunity came up at Robot Entertainment, so I jumped at the chance to build up a community for a fresh new studio full of very talented, veteran game designers.
MR: What is the first game you remember playing?
JK: It was a PC game, I think. I had an old PC, back when they only took 5.25 floppies. The game was some Huey flight simulator. The PC could only display black and orange, so it was pretty bad. And the PC speaker constantly emitted this ticking sound that I think was supposed to be the propeller.
MR: When did you first realize that you wanted to work in the gaming industry?
JK: I have always been into creative industries. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an animator, then I became very interested in film in general. It was right out of college when I was working as a multimedia designer that I really started saying out loud “I want to make games” to people.
MR: How did you get into the gaming industry? Did you have any friends who helped, or was it all based on your credentials?
JK: It was kind of a fluke, really. As I mentioned, before, I was covering the Superman Returns videogame as part of my coverage of Superman Returns for my site. I ended up having a lot of conversations with Jon Long, who was the CM on that game at the time. We talked a little bit after the trip, and he told me that there was an open CM position at EALA. I applied, and three weeks later I was moving to LA.
MR: When you did start looking around for jobs, were there any companies you were hoping to land a job with?
JK: Honestly, I’ve never had to look very hard. I know that sounds weird, but the opportunities have just always popped up at the right time. After a couple of years on Medal of Honor, my wife and I were looking to get out of LA, so I asked around a little bit then. I found out about the Gears of War job up at MGS and was really crossing my fingers to get that one. It was great that things worked out the way they did. I’ve been really excited to work at all of the places I’ve been. I’m not sure I could do my job otherwise.
MR: If you could give one piece of advice to our readers who are looking to get into the industry, what would it be?
JK: Find what you like to do anyway, then figure out what job in the industry is best for that skill set. There are all sorts of jobs in gaming, from marketing, to design, to programming, to producing. There’s something for everyone, so don’t think that you have to be some superstar game design hot-shot just to get in. But it doesn’t hurt know what you’re talking about with games 😉
MR: Did you have to go through any special training, or obtain any specific degree to help land you your first gigs?
JK: My degree is in Graphic Design, and I was already using that and my own past years of experience building and operating web communities. I don’t think you could say it was any single thing, like my degree, that did it for me. It was a cumulative experience thing, of which the degree was only one part.
MR: Would you mind telling us what kind of duties and responsibilities your current position entails?
JK: Well, one of the reasons I really wanted to come to a smaller studio was because you have the opportunity to do a lot of different things. That’s just the necessity of the situation. So down here I do all the usual Community Management stuff, including managing our official web presence and forums, doing planning to make our online outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and our website more interactive with fans. I also work with our publisher’s CM to help her out with anything she needs. In addition to the usual CM stuff, I also am handling things like putting together our PAX booth and presence, and doing a handful of other PR and Marketing-related items.
MR: There are a lot of people out there who think that industry jobs are glamorous, or that not a lot of work is involved. On average, about how many hours do you work in a single week?
JK: It really varies. I also work in a really great studio that manages work/life balance exceptionally. In general we work a normal work week, but I’m always doing a little more. Additionally, in the community roles, you’re never really “off work.” I’m always checking in on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone needs anything from us. It’s definitely not a 9-5, clock-in/clock-out type of job.
MR: Does that sometimes increase during various times throughout the year?
JK: There’s inevitably crunch times in game development (and in most creative industries) where you’ll work extra hours, but that will always depend on the studio, the team, and the project. I’ve been fortunate enough to never have to work anything insane (like sleeping in the office), but I’ve heard stories from people who have.
MR: Other than what you’ve worked on in the past, do you have a favorite game?
JK: I’m sure this will sound lame, but I really do think that Gears of War is my favorite game franchise of the current generation.
MR: Is there a particular game, or franchise, you wish you could’ve been a part of?
JK: I’ve always wanted to work on anything Star Wars or DC Comics related. In a way, I got to work on DC stuff with Superman Returns, but I would definitely love to really sink my teeth into either of those franchises, as they’re the material I grew up on and have a great fondness for.
MR: Who in the industry to you look up to?
JK: Jon Long, for sure. As a CM, I’m always trying to be more like he is. He manages to maintain an unbelievable number of personal relationships with community people. I try, but I suspect that I often fail at that. I also really admire some of the stuff that Robert Bowling has done at Infinity Ward. He and I started in gaming around the same time, on opposing franchises (Medal of Honor and Call of Duty), so I’ve always sort of watched his work. He’s really done some great stuff with social media and getting the CoD community more involved in the direction of the games. And he’s writing a children’s book on the side. The guy’s a machine.
There are also a handful of designers that I really look up to. Obviously, I really respect Cliff Bleszinksi and what he’s been able to do at Epic. I’m working with some really amazing designers down here at Robot that I really look up to, as well.
MR: What are some of the perks of your job?
JK: Travel, no doubt. I have been unbelievably fortunate in my position to travel all over the world covering events and doing software demos. In my life, I’ve made a single trip to London on my own dime, but my job has taken me all over Europe and the United States, and I even found myself in Sydney, Australia for a Superman Returns set visit. For someone like me who really loves to see the world, it’s been an unbelievable blessing.
MR: Are there any drawbacks to working in the industry?
JK: The cycle is sometimes hard to deal with. People are let go, people quit. Sometimes you find a group of people that you really love to work with, but the industry takes everyone in different directions. I really love the team I’m working with now, but I do often miss the web team that I worked with on Gears of War up at MGS. It was an amazing group of people who all worked exceptionally well together, I thought.
MR: What is one of the most memorable moments in your career?
JK: Fort Bragg. I love holding community summits to show off our games to our players, and I always try to make them contextual. Early on in the Medal of Honor Airborne PR and Marketing process, we talked about doing a Press event at Fort Bragg, where the Airborne actually train. PR decided to back down from that, but I loved the idea so I pushed ahead and did a community event there instead. We took almost 30 people down to live on base, go through jump training, and play Airborne multiplayer against actual Airborne troops. It was an amazing experience for everyone, and a very memorable moment for me, personally.
MR: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers or anything you’d like to plug or promote?
JK: I hate to shamelessly plug, but I will anyway. Jon Long and I actually host a podcast called “15 Minutes of Game” in which we talk about community and gaming stuff. We try to use our collective experiences in being community managers and community operators to give site owners advice about how best to run their sites and get noticed by publishers and developers. We’re really happy with the reception it’s been getting so far, and our small but loyal community is awesome. I should also mention the CM list (www.cmlist.com). It’s a list that I maintain of all of the community managers currently working in the videogame industry. The idea of the list is to help community site folks get in touch with CM’s from their favorite games and companies. I used to always get asked if I knew a CM at so-and-so company. I decided to make the list to help everyone out.
MR: Thanks again Justin. It’s been a pleasure to ask you these questions. We appreciate your time and perspective.
JK: Thank you for having me!
Be sure to check back next week when we’ll have our second Industry Insight interview with Michael Winte, Lead Tester at Neversoft Entertainment!