How can you build chaos into a community?
Victoria Tran is an award-winning community director, as seen in places like Forbes 30 Under 30, Adweek’s Creative 100, and The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
“Victoria‘s an innovator. Plenty of smart marketers and game devs listen to her advice – but those of us who want to really keep up with the cutting edge follow her campaigns to steal ideas.” suggests Ryan K. Rigney, Marketing Director at Odyssey Interactive.
Currently, Tran is the Community Director at Innersloth, creators of Among Us, and a co-organizer for Wholesome Games. Her other game credits include Unpacking, Boyfriend Dungeon, Dwarf Fortress, Pupperazzi, and more.
“I would entrust Victoria to develop strategies around community marketing for any title because she understands communications, the industry, and – most of all – people” suggests Clara Sia, Senior Influencer Strategist at Devolver Digital.
Tran writes about ways to create better game community spaces on her website and newsletter. Victoria Tran sits down with Forbes to talk about her social media and community building career in games.
Goldie Chan: Hello Victoria, thank you so much for joining us to chat. What has your career path been?
Victoria Tran: Definitely not what I had expected it to be, that’s for sure! I grew up in a pretty traditional Southeast Asian upbringing which meant my choices for a career had to be in healthcare, finance, or law. It didn’t even occur to me that games were a career choice, despite the numerous games I played. I went to university for Sociology and aimed to get into healthcare, but to pay my bills and loans, I ended up picking up a lot of (extremely underpaid) social media contract jobs on the side. That’s how I really got into it – I taught myself everything I needed to succeed using online tutorials, from analytics to Photoshop.
After graduation, I fell into that lovely post-graduation anxiety where I realized healthcare wasn’t the career I actually wanted. From there I mass applied to jobs in games because I figured there was nothing to lose. (And I got mass rejections, whew). Eventually I landed a job at a games service outsourcing company as their Community Manager, where I worked for a few months before I saw a job posting on Twitter for a Community Manager at the indie games studio Kitfox Games. That’s really when my games work really kicked off, and a few years later I got scooped up by Innersloth!
Chan: Why have you chosen to focus on a career in gaming?
Tran: Games are something I grew up with, including a ton of mass multiplayer online games that I maybe shouldn’t have been playing at such a young age and with no adult supervision. However, it did mean I got to interact with a ton of different people, and that’s what really kick started my fascination with games, how we interact online, and how we connect with the characters we play as.
I love games, I love the things it can do for us, and because of that I focused my career on it because I want to help make it the wonderful space I know it can be. Games were a place I found a lot of solace in, as a powerful medium for people to tell their stories and connection. Unlike other forms of entertainment, you are not just passively viewing something. You are actively becoming the characters you play! And being at the forefront of technology, games are continually evolving, which adds a ton of dimension to the job that I love.
Games actively create communities that are bigger than any one individual, but nevertheless value and include them, if done well.
Chan: What would you love to see more of in the gaming industry/space?
Tran: Combining humanities into technology A.K.A. considering the well-being of our players and industry as a whole.
Oftentimes we can get caught up in making maximum profits or using new technology without taking into account the effects it may have on our community, our developers, and the industry. When we chase predatory monetization practices, are we considering how that impacts our players? When we encourage rabid fandoms or parasocial relationships, what happens to our developers when that goes wrong? When we create new ways for players to interact, do we also consider the moderation and safety practices that need to come with it? How do rectify and tackle the online harassment our audience is known for? How do we create our projects while considering the impacts of burnout? How do we make space for marginalized developers to thrive?
It’s a lot of questions, but I think it’s difficult to see change in the industry without fundamentally changing our values and outlook on it. It’s pumping humanities into technology so we don’t recreate dinosaurs that eat people without first asking if that’s actually a good idea or not. (I, for one, would like to not be eaten by a T-Rex.)
Chan: How would you describe your personal brand?
Tran: Haha – absolute chaos gremlin with good intentions. I don’t take myself seriously, but I do take my work and community seriously.
I try to align my work and communications with my values. I’m always curious, constantly learning and sharing, and hopefully leaving places better than when I found them. But also? Having fun and enjoying the journey. Not everything has to be a stepping stone to the next thing – you can throw the stone into a lake and see how far it skips. (I am very bad at this and my max stone skip count is like 3, but I hope the analogy lands anyway.)
All that to say, I don’t try to silo myself into a specific brand, as I am human and my tastes and abilities will change with time. But I do know life is ridiculous and only fun when you can include other people in it. So might as well make a meme or two that we can all laugh at.
Chan: What are you currently working on?
Tran: Ooh, lots of things! Currently working on lots of updates and exciting plans for Among Us. (As of writing this, we just released a new Hide n Seek mode for the game! Try it out! Or else. Just kidding. Sorry to threaten you, Forbes reader.) Also in the midst of planning some exciting things for Wholesome Games, which is an organization I’m part of that highlights positive, uplifting games in the industry. In my personal time I’ve been writing articles about community/marketing and working on my Community Dev Newsletter, which you can find on my website. I’ve been doing monthly write ups with all my insight on games in it, so if you’re interested in that kind of thing, please do sign up! As for other things… I have lots more secrets I can’t talk about yet. But I can’t wait to talk about them when I can! It’s very hard to keep secrets so please know that I’m writhing in pain at the moment.
Chan: How do you help your community thrive?
Tran: I think a lot of folks mistake the idea that just because we can connect with each other, doesn’t mean people actually feel connected. Just because we have a game with a ton of players, doesn’t mean they actually feel any sense of solidarity, for instance. So in my work, I try to create and facilitate those connections. I think a community thrives when they don’t need me – that is, they actively work together to create a welcoming space for newcomers, encourage each other, invite others in, and have fun. There are a number of ways I try to make this happen, and one of which is by being directly involved in the community. I’m in the games. I’m taking time to respond to comments. I’m involved in responding to the criticism and creating that bridge between the players and developers. I’m celebrating achievements with them. It’s a huge time commitment, but I think there’s really no replacement for paying attention and being present within a community. I want the best for them, and I’ll do what I can to convey that.
But as with anything, it’s really a team effort. Our success is hugely dependent on our biggest fans and moderators, who help me disseminate information to the corners of the internet I can’t reach. Part of my job is making sure they feel supported, and I couldn’t be more grateful for them!
Chan: Who would you love to partner with?
Tran: Ooooooooooh. Tough question, I’ve been staring at my screen for the past 10 minutes trying to pick just one. AHHHH. Okay, so we already have some [REDACTED] partnerships in the works that I’m mega excited about, but otherwise I’d love to do something with Supergiant Games out of respect for their work, or do something with the Smash Bros franchise because it’d be hilarious and fun.
Also, more personally, I’d love to do a TED Talk or something I’d title “HOW TO SURVIVE AS A F***ING MEME” to chat about my experiences with Among Us. It is more heart-warming than you think it is but also way more wild than you can ever prepare for haha.
Chan: Any branding or career advice for this new year?
Tran: Life is silly and weird, but the part that will make any career or brand “worth it” is connecting and caring about the people you meet. Help each other out. Share opportunities. Share resources. Share the elevator on the way up.
That way, we actively make the world around us a little bit kinder and braver every day.