We recently got the chance to sit down with Matt Hilton, Director of Community at Square Enix. We talked about his job, the community and his favorite energy drinks.
Hi Matt! Tell us a little about yourself.
First off, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. I’m not very used to being interviewed, so hopefully my answers are interesting!
My name is Matt Hilton, though players may also know me as “Bayohne,” from the FFXIV community team. My official title is “Director of Community,” and I’ve been working at Square Enix since 2001 where I started as a QA tester on FINAL FANTASY X. I’m an avid gamer, spending lots of my time in Eorzea playing as a white mage (my main) and warrior. I prefer tanking and healing over playing DPS because I can’t stop looking at the party’s HP even when I’m playing a different role. That’s probably more than enough rambling about myself...
What are your responsibilities as the director of Community?
I help to lead the community team and interface with our counterparts in Japan and Europe on all things community related, and make sure that our teams are able to do their jobs smoothly and ultimately work hard for our players. I work closely with our other departments like PR, marketing, our support teams and GM's, and make sure that we’re all on the same page and working together closely for all of our in-game updates and out-of-game events. There is a lot of coordination (and meetings…) in my position.
What does your day-to-day work life look like?
Actually, this is a surprisingly difficult question to answer! The community team is often very reactive, so it’s pretty typical that our work is dictated by the events of the day. Speaking generally for a member of the team, it starts with us looking through the latest feedback from the community (on the official forums, community sites like Reddit, social media, etc.) and compiling a daily report to the development team. Checking over the latest hot topics, all the way down to the smallest quality of life suggestions, is how we work to ensure that player voices are making their way to the team.
Aside from that, we spend a lot of time planning community events (such as PAX East) or contests (like our recent Flowers for All screenshot contest).
As I mentioned before, we work closely with other departments planning upcoming media events or campaigns, work on social media, and check in with the support/GM teams constantly for any issues we need to escalate. One of the best parts of the community team is that we all wear different hats and each day can be different based on what’s needed on any given day.
How involved are you in the planning of the Fan Festivals?
The community team is very involved with Fan Festival planning! But it’s never on the shoulders of just one team. When we start planning, we create our Fan Festival “committee” internally and start assigning tasks and roles to various leads from all of the XIV team, like PR, marketing, community, the events team, etc. We all work very closely for months leading up to the event before we open doors to the public.
One of the fun aspects of the planning is when our teams meet up globally and discuss various plans for the shows that we want to execute, brainstorm together, and leave with a basic roadmap and plan of the shows. The community team gets really involved in things like helping to design and iterate on ideas for ingame activities, floor activities, our contests, and even helping to design goodie bag items.
The shows are a lot of work, but it’s fun to get to be really creative and try our best to create an experience that will be enjoyed by the attendees.
The dev team always seems so lively and goofy when we see them, do you have any fun or crazy behind the scenes stories you can share with us?
Hmm, how can I pick just one? I will say something that touched me recently was during the 2019 Tokyo Fan Festival. A few of us from the NA community team were there helping at the venue the night before day one kicked off. We finished for the night and returned to the hotel when our co-worker asked if we could come back to help with some last minute goodie bag assembly.
We headed back over and got to work on the production lines that were quickly set up. The cool thing was that everyone was stuffing the bags together, from the community team, GMs, PR staff, and even the development team members. I mean, literally the senior staff that would need to be on stage throughout the event the next day— even they were all there.
It’s just amazing to see how much everyone really cares about the players and sometimes it can be definitely be hard to see the passion and dedication that they put in. But that night, at 1:30 AM, we were all shoulder to shoulder working together to make sure that attendees would have a great show. It’s stuff like that that I wish I could put a spotlight on more.
On a lighter note, I remember during E3 (2018, I think?) when Yoshida was logged into the NA Worlds and chatting with players in game between interviews in the media suite. Someone shouted and asked Yoshida about pineapple on pizza (the age-old debate), and Yoshida simply replied “NO PINEAPPLE!” and everyone had a good laugh. “Why would you put pineapple on pizza?” You got me, Yoshida.
What is something you absolutely love about interacting with the fans?
Seeing their enthusiasm and excitement at our events (like Fan Festival, PAX, E3, etc.) is just electrifying. I often talk about how seeing our players and having a chance to interact with them directly is one of the best things for the dev. team to do. It really does recharge them and inspire them to go back to work and do their best. It can be hard to see the impact of your work in an office, so that’s why I’m always glad whenever we can bring over team members to events around the world to have a chance to meet the adventurers that they’re creating a game for.
A lot of work happens “behind the scenes,” so I think community work often is a mystery to our players. We are their voice, and we work hard to share feedback.
Are there a lot of guidelines for community interaction set up for the team or do you count on them to be creative and innovative?
There aren’t any specific guidelines that we need to adhere to. Maybe some that we impose on ourselves or certain ways to do things, but there aren’t many black and white rules. In general, I’ve been doing this so long and working so closely with our counterparts in the other regions that we each kind of know what works best, or knows how to work within our limits (like manpower hours in a day, etc.) when we do.
I really count on our team members to come up with fun things they want to do or propose— then we tweak it, and then we execute. I think I mentioned earlier that one of the best aspects of the job is being creative and trying to think of fun things we can do, or do with players, at events, ingame, or even on streams.
Is it possible to track success in community management? Is there something you feel could go a little smoother than it does now?
I think success for us is making sure that we are doing the best job that we can. We're constantly focused on hitting targets we set for ourselves set for ourselves, and working hard for the community. A lot of work happens “behind the scenes,” so I think community work often is a mystery to our players. We are their voice, and we work hard to share feedback (both ways). So as long as we’re upholding that, then I think we’re successful.
Something that could go smoother… I’d say, maybe trying to help players to understand that there are many, many voices that we hear. Something I’ve been asked before at events is, “Why don’t you answer important questions, like about [X]?” I had to explain that the particular questions that those users asked were the important questions for that person.
I think we all know that Eorzea is inhabited by tons of different players and everyone is playing the game the way they want to. Experiencing the game and enjoying it in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to play and have fun, and that’s something I try to get across to people when we answer X question over Y. We’ve done live questions at shows and people say “you should filter the questions so we get important ones!” We’ve done pre-selected questions too and we get told “you only chose the ones you want to answer!”
There are so many people that play the game and enjoy it how they want to. Finding the perfect way to get this message across to the players is something I wish I was able to do better.
How do you feel about fans being inspired and creating content, like Aetherflow Media, for others to enjoy?
It’s awesome! We’re always blown away by the creativity of the community. Costumes, magazines such as yours, fan art—it’s amazing how much creativity and works goes into creating things like them. I know that in the offices in Japan, they have tons of player creations hung up on the walls, adorning desks, and in shared spaces so that they can admire them. I touched on this earlier, but works like these really help give the team inspiration and show how passionate our players are.
Are there differences in how the US community team operates vs the EU team?
I don’t think so. FFXIV is a very global title, and all of our regional teams work closely together to ensure we’re working the best we can. Aside from the obvious things like “the European team covers different languages than we do,” we are very similar. Same for the Japanese team, too. We have weekly meetings between the teams discussing the important topics and upcoming plans, and we make sure we are all on the same page for major beats coming up and things we’re all working on.
How do you guys process positive feedback and the response from the actual players? And on the flip side, how do you cope with complaints or criticism?
Both the positive and negative are handled the same, and negative feedback is just as important as the positive. Our main goal is trying to take the (many) different voices and distil them down to the key points for the dev. team to review. One of the hardest parts are that passionate players (both on the positive and negative side) can be very verbose. Keeping in mind that feedback has to be translated, one of our important tasks is to try and boil it down to the core.
Yoshida has talked about this in the past, but players that are sharing their negative comments still love the game enough to do so. That said, being constructive is really the most that we could ask for. A lot of times feedback is very passionate, and based on feelings, so we have to work to share the root of the commentary so that the dev, team has a clear understanding of what is being said. The team often asks us: “how do the overseas players like [x new content]? What kind of new [y content] would they like to see in the future?” So players being honest and sharing their feedback is important and it does help the team make adjustments (where they can) to the game.
In general, keep feedback coming! But if I could be selfish, I’d suggest “please keep it clear and concise!”
You seem to be an energy drink enthusiast. What is the very best liquid source of energy out there?
Oh boy. It’s probably not good to admit how many energy drinks I drink in any given week… My favorite energy drink is zero carb, zero sugar “blue” Rockstar! It’s my go-to and what I always look for when we’re at an event (and even in other countries). Sadly, my body probably consists of almost 70% of energy drinks at this point…
A massive thank you goes out to Matt and everyone at Square Enix for this interview and supporting us ever since we started out!
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