At the recently concluded Indian Gaming Show hosted by CII, we got a chance to talk to Meagan Marie, the community manager for the Tomb Raider franchise at Square Enix. In our assigned 15 minutes with her, we talked about how they revived a dormant icon, what are the challenges one faces when building a community as huge, diverse and old as that of Tomb Raider, the future of Lara Croft and how she unwinds during her free time.
When did you start working on the Tomb Raider franchise?
I started working with Square Enix in 2013, around the time when the Reboot started. Before that I had been working with Game Informer for quite some time.
Before the Reboot, Lara Croft had been reduced to Isometric 2D games and token Anniversary releases. How much effort was it to revive the icon?
Before the reboot, Lara Croft was defined by the original Triology and the movies. Which showcased her as this strong, independent woman who was willing to fight her battles. But with the new Lara Croft people saw someone who is not perfect, who is not sure of what she is doing, and they were able to relate with it. Which I think helped in reviving the icon as being more relatable.
With the times being different now than when the original Tomb Raider launched (where Lara quickly became a sex symbol for many). And with topics such as feminism and sexism holding much more importance in today’s time. What challenges did you face when Lara Croft was presented to the world again?
You know its actually interesting that you cannot in any capacity separate Lara Croft from the sex symbol she was during the 90s. But in the games, the gender had actually very little to do with what was happening. The actual gameplay never took into account that Lara was a women.
As a young woman growing up, (she was obviously beautiful, but) I didn’t see her as a sex symbol. Instead, I saw her as a strong, powerful and amazing woman towards which I could aspire to. With the reboot, again not trying to separate here from the icon she was/is, we tried to focus on Lara more as a person. We wanted to focus on her weakness, on her moments of self doubts and her journey as a true Tomb Raider which kinds of comes to fruition in Rise Of The Tomb Raider. So that was kind of the first goal, to make Lara relatable to everybody.
Did you face any opposition to your vision from the community?
Of course. I mean it comes with the territory. Especially if the territory is so big. And it is a symbol of how vested the fans are into the franchise. We get people in the hundreds telling us we like this and we don’t like this. So its really about listening to everybody, and then getting a vibe of what they want.
Fortunately with Tomb Raider most people were on board, even though it was not the ultimate Tomb Raider experience (since it was an origin story). The response of the community was that, “We get what you are trying to do, but we want more tombs, we want more traps, we want to see more traditional Tomb Raider mechanics. We want to see Lara getting stronger and more proactive.”
And the great thing about it was that this aligned with our vision when it came to Rise Of The Tomb Raider, which was great, both as a video game and as a community.
So what’s next for Lara Croft?
Obviously, we can’t talk specifics (and a day later the movie reboot pics were leaked). We have already seen how Lara has become more pro-active and action oriented in the past 2 games, and now when she sees something that she cannot explain, it piques her interests and curiosity. And she is more ready to put herself in danger, which shows that she has overcome her mortal fear. I think we can see that coming through in the future too. And I am excited for that. She is never going to be the exact same Lara that we have seen earlier.
What are the some of the DOs and DONTs when you are managing a community so big and diverse and so old as the Tomb Raider one?
One of the most important aspect is that there are no blanket answers. You cannot answer all questions the same way, in the same place. You need to know what they are talking about, and where they are talking about it. Its also very important to treat some sub communities with the community to maintain a healthy balance.
So which platforms do you focus on the most for these sub communities?
In our case its so huge and diverse, that we cannot focus on a single platform. We are at least a 20 year old franchise, so its not super common to have such fans, I mean these are people who grew up with Lara Croft. We have forums which are 18 year old and people on them have 10s of 1000s of posts. and then we have a very active community on FB, where we actually have around a 100 official fan pages. Fan sites on the other hand, are something which are not as popular now, but these are sites which were established 5-10 years ago. I mean there is a fan site which was established 19 years ago, which is an year after the first game came out. So its about how do we reward the fan sites, how do we reward the forums and figuring out what makes them special.
So how do you reward these fan sites?
Well for fan sites, we give them press like status. They have access to assets like images and PSDs so that they can set up their websites. We send them exclusive interview opportunities. We have a official cosplay program which has an ambassador cosplay program which picks cosplayers from different countries and rewarding them with special badges etc. So it normally comes down to identifying these sub communities and recognize that they are doing something special.
And I think that’s important. In fact the most important part for any fan is the recognition for his efforts.
Absolutely. And I think we are very lucky in getting the pool that we did. I mean its a 20 years old community and there is an immense amount of talent inside the communities. And as a community manager, one of the most important part of the job is to make sure everybody sees their work.
So being the community manager most of you time is spent with Lara Croft. But when you do get the time, what other games do you spend your time with?
I am very excited for Mass effect Andromeda. I am big fan of the Gears Of War series, and I recently got into the Witcher 3, which is great. Apart from that I like to play a lot of indie games which I can finish in 3 hours or so. I play most of my games on my PS4, because I am at office working on my PC all the time, so at home its just relaxing to sit in front of the TV for a change.
To know more about Megan Marie, you can follow her on Twitter, Instagram or her official Facebook Page. Do let us know what you think of the Tomb Raider franchise and the rebooted Lara Croft (both the video game and the movie) in the comments.
Plus we would like to thank the awesome people at e-xpress and Games The Shop, for giving us an opportunity to reach out to Megan Marie.