Six Questions with Liam Ashley
It was late at night after a long day of Gears of War 2 Horde mode at the 2008 E for All show in Los Angeles. That was the first day that we’d begun handing out the massive metal COG tags to help promote the Gears of War “Last Day” marketing campaign. The website was up, and a few people had already put in their secret COG tag codes to unlock some cool Gears downloadables and story elements. And then there was this guy on the Epic Games forums who was digging through the site’s code and had managed to unlock nearly every single unlockable on the site without a single COG tag in hand. In just hours he had discovered it all, and he was kind enough to keep his methods mostly to himself and not ruin the experience for everone else. Hooligunn was his forum name, but I came to later know him as Liam Ashley. He was a prominent member of the Epic boards, and eventually he founded the Gears Community Organized Nights, or GCON. Today, he’s answering six questions.
1. When you’re not running GCON, what is your day job?
GCON is my day job! Up until April 19th this year, I was studying full time on a software development course (including website design, software coding and development processes ect). GCON got bigger and bigger, and it became clear that if I wanted to go places in the industry (and give GCON the attention it deserved), that part of my life would have to go on hold for now. I still have a fairly awesome job in retail to bring the money in though.
2. How did GCON get started?
Liam: Back in the days where you were the MS Community Manager for Gears actually – your work kind of “inspired” an idea that eventually became GCON. Originally, once you had left, I was working on an idea with some of the MS Gears Team on “Community Representatives” for the forum – a way to give certain heavily contributing forum members more freedom to create content people wanted. However, due to a bunch of potential legal nightmares, we couldn’t do it. I sat down and assessed what the community needed, and how I could deliver it in a way that wouldn’t prove troublesome for Microsoft or Epic. The idea hit me pretty quickly after that, as people just kept complaining they’d never played with people they’d seen post hundreds of times and there were no forum-based events going on at the time.
3. What do you think makes a strong online community?
Liam: There’s a list longer than my arm I could think of right now. In my view, the thing that makes a strong online community is ensuring everyone feels a part of it. It’s one thing to have a forum on the internet where people post their views, but it’s another to create content and events that make people feel they have a real sense of involvement in what you are producing. Just the simple idea of having a weekly event meet-up on a game for your members can create a real “group” sense as people get to know each other. That in itself turns forum profiles into real people with memorable personalities. Treating your community like it’s something to be controlled and monitored, rather than something to be enjoyed and explored, can really damage that strength and group mentality.
4. If you could pick one Epic developer to be on your multiplayer team forever, who would it be and why?
Liam: God, I must sound like either a rabid fan or a stalker to this guy now but it has to be Quinn DelHoyo. He honestly has to be one of the most awesome developers I’ve ever met – he talks a ton of smack for a laugh, he’s actually really good at Gears, and he puts up with my ridiculously long monologues. I hope some people get to meet him in the future, seriously.
5. What is your favorite gaming community site besides the Epic Games Forums?
Liam: Funnily enough, I don’t actually participate in any other gaming community around the net. I read a fair amount of other company forums for other franchises I love, but rarely ever post. As for upcoming communities, I love what 360Junkies.com are doing – they are taking a real social approach to their community site for Xbox 360, and it is turning out pretty awesome. They did a March Madness event where, for a whole month, they gave away swag from TONS of different publishers. It was honestly the most incredible giveaway I’ve seen on any website.
6. If you could have your dream job in the game industry, what would that job be?
Liam: My dream job is obviously a community position at Epic Games for Gears of War. It’s my chosen career path for my favorite gaming franchise, so it’s kind of a no brainer! I adore that community and I’d love to be on the inside to provide as much community content for the people as I could manage without keeling over from overworking!
Six Questions is a weekly Q&A with gaming community site leaders. The goal is to meet the folks who start online communities, to learn about why they do it, and to hear their different perspectives on what makes for a strong online community.