Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Sarah Makdad, Senior Community Developer at Focus Entertainment and volunteer at Friendship Garden, a non-profit organisation which aims to cultivate a more inclusive games industry. Read more about Sarah in this interview:
Hi Sarah, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! What are your responsibilities as a Community Developer, and what sets them apart from the tasks of a Community Manager?

Hi! Thank you so much for inviting me today! 
Community Developer isn’t a job that exists in every company: it is a rather new title in our industry. When it does exist, it usually means that the Community Developer oversees the strategy for anything community-related, such as online community work through social media, community focused in-game events  but also community activations during B2C events.

This profile can have a broader approach by working on a studio full catalogue while a Community Manager would be focusing on specific titles, especially during important marketing beats. Depending on where you go, the Community Developer can either be part of the Marketing team or the Production team. It’s due to the fact that one of the main tasks of the Community Developer is to be able to grow the audience, target the right public, and anticipate how players could react to new features or gameplay mechanics. While Community Managers are master at their crafts and have an editorial hands-on approach, the Community Developer can be seen as an expert strategist focusing on data, checking how they correlate with the players’ habits in-game as well as their consumption habits. Both profiles are meant to work and collaborate. Community Developers are also supposed to strategically lead a group of Community Managers and support them in any way they can.

The job desks for both jobs can change quite a lot from one studio to the others. Between Community Manager, Community Lead, Social Media Manager, Social Media Lead and Community Developer, it can be easy to feel lost when you want to start out. Most companies have very long job desks for all these titles, including social media but also customer support, corporate branding, and/or events. This is usually because Community Leads are one of the first Marketing/Production profiles recruited in both studios and publishers. 

My advice for anyone trying to get into the field would be to determine what makes you love the job (Is it interacting with people? Is it working on social media tone and guidelines? Is it the collaboration with the different teams? Is it finding ways to improve your stats every month?). Once you know what you prefer and want to work on the most, you will be able to choose what’s right for you.

Which factors are important when trying to build a friendly and wholesome community for a game?

A lot of factors come in. Initially, toxicity levels can vary quite a lot from a project to another. It can be linked to the type of projects, its target audiences, the approach of its marketing beats, but mostly to how Community Leads are tackling the level of toxicity showcased by its online communities in-game and on social media.
While having in-game reports and auto-ban based on slurs can be a first step, it’s useful to also position yourself as a Community Lead with no tolerance whatsoever for intolerance.

The paradox of tolerance also implies to online communities. 

It’s by focusing on positive actions of your players and becoming at first the leader of your community that you will be able to make it develop into a welcoming healthy place where no players feel left out. 

It also why it’s primordial to trust and support Community Leads. They are not only the one taking care of your players, but they are also shaping their online habits, and creating safe spaces for them. It’s not an easy task and can be mentally taking a toll of new Community Leads if they are not supported the right way. I would advise anyone managing new talents getting into the field to also teach them about toxicity, how to protect yourself as a Community Lead, and taking care of your own mental health when you are taking over a toxic community.

I wrote a small introduction to this subject on this last year during Pride Month for anyone interested.

You’re also an advocate for creating a more diverse and inclusive games industry. Can you tell us more about the organizations you’re involved with that are also working on this goal?

Sure! Right now, I am volunteering at Friendship Garden, a non-profit organization based in the United States, which aims to cultivate a more inclusive games industry. We aim to empower developers and newcomers trying to get into the industry by providing support, feedbacks, portfolio reviews, but also by sending devs each year to events like GDC. We also have a resources master list and are in touch with several other non-profits.

 For anyone struggling, I would advise to contact us with the issues you’re facing, and we will do everything we can to support you.

I also help when I can as a volunteer at Women in Games France in the “Experts/Speakers” Team. The goal is to promote speakers who happen to be minorities to events so that they can have diverse expertise for panels and pay everyone the same for offering their time and knowledge. It is also a way to fight back having only men speaking at Tech, Games and University Events.

Being part of the Game Awards 2021 Future Class, I am trying to connect with all the talented people part of the 2021 class to collaborate on a few projects. It’s been incredible to meet so many crazy amazing people and having the chance to interact with them and I am very thankful for it. We are all volunteering on a few projects and attending Q&A sessions with Industry experts in order to help us gain a better understanding of the industry.

If you happen to be a marginalized developer trying to improve your skills and get into game development, I would also like to encourage you to apply to Code Coven, a games industry-focused classroom and accelerator. I am very honoured to reveal that I will be attending their Introduction to Game Making focusing on Unity in a few weeks. It’s an amazing initiative at zero cost for all students and can be followed part-time. The only thing asked to all students is to give back in return by supporting other marginalised profiles.

I hope to see other similar initiatives like these ones flourish everywhere, not only in North America and Europe, but all around the world.

Thanks for your time, Sarah!

Sarah’s Links: WebsiteLinkedIn │ Twitter

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Jessica Hackenbroch