The following article appeared in the November 2007 issue of the Oblivion’s Real Estate newsletter (a game modding site). It was my first interview of any kind – and my first piece of journalistic writing – since 2001, and long before I was invited to moderate Beth’s forum. The questions were compiled from responses in an open forum thread, and there were many ‘hug’ requests in the thread which saw their way into the final interview.
It was all going horribly wrong for Bethesda. After effortlessly acquiring the “love brand” status other companies spend millions trying to manufacture, they’d grown too quickly to keep pace with their legion of adoring fans and were increasingly seen as an Aloof, Faceless Corporation that Didn’t Care. The forums were horrible, the DLCs a PR nightmare, and “we modders” were demanding – needing – to feel appreciated and supported. To be hugged a little bit.
Enter stage-right 27 year-old “GStaff”, chief fanwrangler for the past six months. The blog’s up, there’s a free DLC, the forums are friendlier than ever, but we still don’t really know who our CM really is. So, GStaff agreed to take questions from the ORE floor, starting with a proper introduction.
My name is actually Matt Grandstaff. I lived in Des Moines, Iowa until I was 10 years old and then moved to the great state of Michigan. I attended the University of Michigan with a major in watching football and playing videogames. I’ve lived in Washington, DC now for almost 5 years.
What did you do before you were our Community Manager?
I worked for an agency that helped market movies, TV shows, and videogames. Before that, I worked for the National Park Foundation promoting their National Park Pass.
Which three words do people most frequently use to describe you?
You so funny.
Most of the posts Matt makes at the official forums are a tad pauciloquous, but every now and then we get a glimpse of the humor evident in his pre-Bethesda blogs and reviews still scattered around the web, along with evidence of a serious penchant for guitar-based music.
Have you ever been in a band?
Never been in a band, but I’m looking forward to playing Rock Band.
What’s been your best live music experience?
Best live concert experiences were being 15 years old in a Rage Against the Machine mosh pit and seeing Radiohead play live.
So, who’s your team?
University of Michigan – it’s my school. These days I get lots of Appalachian State jokes. I also cheer on the Detroit Lions in the NFL, which can be humbling.
There’s little chance to ponder the Lions’ latest defeat when you’re a Community Manager, though. Come to think of it, what does a Community Manager even do?
I’m actually pretty busy most of the time. With the forums, I try to stay on top of what’s going on and participate in discussion. If there’s a way for me to “clear the air” on something, I try to do that when possible. I also work with the moderators and other admin of the forums to make sure everyone plays by the rules in the forums … you actually wouldn’t believe how much spam we get in the boards. On top of that, I try to keep folks in the office looped in with relevant information in the community. I guess I can also plug the blog that I’ve helped start up, Bethesda Blog. It’s always pretty fun to find interesting stuff that the community will hopefully enjoy. When I’m not doing that stuff, I’m also lending a helping hand to our marketing department. Next year sounds like it’ll probably be pretty busy with Fallout 3 being released. There should be some fun community-related stuff to look forward to. I imagine that my job will evolve into doing other new stuff over time.
How much time do you spend managing the forums? (That’s gotta be a huge job.)
It depends day to day, but generally I try to get at least two to three hours of forum time in – which includes checking in on any issues that the moderators might have. If we’ve made a big announcement that’ll stir up the forums, I’ll try to commit more time to being in the forums that day. Between our Elder Scrolls/Fallout and Star Trek forums, I’d say I’m dealing with around two dozen moderators that participate regularly. One of my favorite parts of the job is interacting with the moderators … gotta give them their due credit. They’re fantastic.
Which three words do you most frequently use to describe your job?
Coolest … job … ever.
It’s a good job that Matt enjoys the job so much, especially when given how demanding we posters can be. I mean, well, there is that small matter of the “hug” that we were expecting. It’s been six months now. I think we deserve one. We’ve been patient. Um.
Please can you give us a hug?
Did you have a rough day? Okay then, it’s hug time.
I think this is a Kodak moment.
We have to stop the interview at this point as Security try to untangle Matt from over 680 people (and bunnies) who have leapt on him to claim their hugs. Miraculously, Matt emerges unscathed, and is still willing to answer questions. Wiping off the remaining floor-dust, the next question is about the blog.
I look at stuff [for the blog] in our forum as well as other forums. If I’m not finding something, there’s always a good chance I can find something on YouTube. Favorite post? Well we did this one called Better Homes and Goblins about this site called Oblivion Real Estate. Actually, my favorite post was probably the one we did about our office’s theater, where Todd and I were playing NCAA Football on the 360.
Obviously the ORE article was the high point of the blog (at least where we’re concerned), and showed a genuine appreciation for mods and modding.
Will Bethesda be releasing editors with some of their other titles?
Well, we worked on one that we released not too long ago for Star Trek Legacy that seems to be doing well in that community. As far as releasing them for other games going forward, we’ll see.
Has the modding community had an influence on Bethesda in the making of new TES titles?
I would say so. The fact that we’ve offered construction sets for games shows that we’re interested in seeing what folks can come up with our games. We even have folks working here that started out as modders. I’ve talked to devs about it and have found they like seeing what people come up with for mods and how creative they can be. It’s a terrific community and it’s great that they’ve taken the TES CS tools and run with them. Talking to Todd, that’s the whole reason we went to the trouble to release them in the first place.
Unusually, though, Matt doesn’t actually play the PC version at home. As a seasoned console fan, he’s surely missing out on all the great mods out there, right?
Yeah, I’m a big advocate of having a huge TV with surround sound around me when I’m playing games. I’m also just used to playing games on consoles. I got started with my 2600 when I was two, and I’ve been playing them ever since. And with games from a first person perspective, I’ve never been a big fan of using the keyboard to control movement. That said, I think I’m ready to make an effort to checking out more of the mods I report on for myself. I just downloaded a program that will make playing Oblivion a little more controller friendly.
Does the Oblivion dev team have any personal or favorite mods?
Hard for me to speak for everyone, but I know that around the office, several people were really impressed by Akatosh Mount Mod from Saiden Storm.
Classic as it is, it’s not a house mod.
What would your character’s ideal house be like?
Lots of crazy art on the walls, different music playing in each room. I always thought it would be cool to have Han Solo frozen in carbonite in my living room.
Matt might not have much of a chance to play it, even if anyone did build his ideal house. You might have noticed that the majority of activity is currently taking place in the Fallout forums, as the excitement builds for the next Bethsoft adventure. Forget any questions of turn-based playing or the importance of VATS – there’s only one question on OUR minds: Will FO3 have a construction set?
Right now it’s TBD. We’d like to, but as Pete and Todd have said it’s a lot of work to get something like that ready for public release and right now we can’t commit to that.
Do you know if anyone on the Fallout 3 development team played the spiritual ancestor to the Fallout series, Wasteland?
Yeah. Talking with some of the guys here, I get the sense that nearly every PC game ever made has been played by at least someone here, if not several of them. I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone about that specifically, though.
Now for the General Questions Round.
Are you telling the truth?
You can’t handle the truth!
Where the heck are our hugs? No lovin’, no peace!
What am I, a Care Bear?
Why is ORE the best Oblivion modding site?
I guess because my Mom might like it, since she’s in real estate.
Do you have a secret username on ORE or any other fan forums?
If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret. Typically, if I’m posting in a forum, I try to stick with Gstaff.
Are you officially signed up to any other forums?
Matt began his Official Forum cat-herding in April. It must have been a bit of a shock to the system to be greeted by such a chaotic crowd.
I don’t care what job you’re starting, the first few days on a new job are always a trip. Since I didn’t take any time off between this job and my last job, it took some adjusting. It was definitely an interesting week though, since we opened the Fallout forums on my third day on the job. I’m pretty well-versed in online communities, I wouldn’t say I was caught off-guard.
The next question could easily throw him a little, as it’s pointed out to the button-cute CM that he’s definitely poster-boy material. Could he and Todd form a boy band?
Todd and I thought of doing the boy band thing, but I couldn’t keep up with all the dance steps he wanted.
Did you have to hug Pete and Todd as part of an audition process when you joined? Who gives the best hugs?
Probably Vlatko Andonov, the president of Bethesda Softworks. He’s trying to turn Thursdays into Hug Day.
Is Todd really Pete?
Todd is actually Tyler Durden.
It’s been wonderful talking to Matt, our very own Care Bear. Since he’s just so darn good at it, I ask if there’s any chance of a hug on the way out.
“My arms are tired,” he sighs.