From the very earliest days of the studio, from teaching gamers how to get the party started with the DJ Hero franchise, to being responsible for one of the biggest, most beloved franchises in the history of entertainment with Guitar Hero Live, FreeStyleGames has always strived to bring players closer to the music they love in new, innovative ways.
With its latest hire, new Community Manager Stevie Ward, FreeStyleGames will give its fans a never-before-seen, inside look at the studio culture and the masterminds behind the return of one of the greatest pop culture phenomenons of all time.
The following is an interview with Stevie Ward taking from the Activision Blog page:
What’s your role at FreeStyleGames?
I’m the Community Manager at FreeStyleGames working on Guitar Hero Live, as well as managing the studio’s social media channels. I have the awesome privilege of being in that sweet spot between players and the studio—it’s my job to let the community know about all the awesome things FreeStyleGames are up to, and vice versa.
What attracted you to the studio and the role?
Working on Guitar Hero Live kind of sells itself. I mean, who wouldn’t want a chance to work on a series as iconic as Guitar Hero? I’ve been a Community Manager and an aspiring musician for years, but I’ve never had an opportunity to work on a title which melds a love of music and gaming together. FreeStyleGames is a studio full of musicians, artists and creative types so being able to work with Jamie Jackson and the crew really is a dream job, in a dream studio. I still can’t believe it exists. We have a studio dog, too. His name is Gabe. We hang out.
What does an average day at the studio entail?
I’m well integrated into FreeStyle’s Production Team, so I try to talk to people in the different feature development teams about lots of content we think the community will want and then work out how to make it happen. Communication is key. The awesome thing about being a studio CM is that all the FreeStylers, from the guys and girls that created the concept art for the SoundDial Festival to the gang who created the incredible LIVE experience are all part of the same team based at the studio, so if I have a question or want to find out “how that one thing works”—it’s not a problem. Of course, I also get to play a ton of Guitar Hero Live, but we mostly save that for after hours. Mostly.
How long have you worked in games?
I’ve been in the games industry since 2007, in the beginning working on one of the first Internet TV shows based on an online game as a Broadcast Journalist and then slowly moved into Community Management as a specialism. During that time I’ve worked on a persistent world Sci-fi MMORPG, the UK’s biggest gaming festival, a mobile network run by its members, and tons of events work for gaming studios as a specialist gaming Brand Ambassador. All told, I’ve worked in Community Management, Marketing Management, Video Production, Social Media Management, and more. It can be a pretty ‘split skill’ job, depending on the size of the company and title—I’ve learned a lot.
What do you think draws people to Guitar Hero?
I think people love Guitar Hero for many different reasons, be it for the competition, the social aspect, or the challenge of doing something new. For me, I think it’s about a love of music. FreeStyleGames has always said “We want to make you feel like a rock star” and there is something really captivating about a game that helps you feel like you’re a part of the music you love. I also think for some people, it introduced them to new music that they may have never heard otherwise. It’s like having a best friend in a band, who lets you play, and gives you mixtapes. Love that guy.
What’s your fondest memory of playing a Guitar Hero game?
I’m a massive Aerosmith fan, so Guitar Hero: Aerosmith will always have a place near and dear to my heart, but most of those stories just involve me in my pajamas eating chips. More recently, my favorite memories have been from E3, like when Freddy Wong turned up and played the crap out of one of the hardest new tracks in GH Live. It was cool to see him in the flesh after following his antics online.
Afterwards, when we were in between press demos, Gareth Morrison an Assistant Art Director, Mike McLafferty an Audio Designer, and myself worked out a way to play “Cowboys from Hell” by Pantera on Expert with each of us being responsible for two buttons and switching places after every two bars. We’ve affectionately come to call it “Rock-the-round-robin.” We managed to get through the whole song and we didn’t notice until after we finished that there was an actual real life crowd outside the room looking on in amazement. It was my first week with FreeStyle and I thought two things: “These guys are crazy, and this game is great.” I’ll never forget that experience.
How will you be speaking to the community when the game launches?
There’s loads of different ways the studio will be able to speak to the Community and the plan at the moment is to have regular updates about the game and the studio both on the forum and on our new blog, which will have loads of ‘behind the scenes’ content and opportunities to unpack things that have been behind closed doors for a while, like artwork and the original concepts behind Live.
We’re really going to be looking into ways to make GHTV as fun as it can possibly be, and the Community is going to be key to that, be it giving us feedback on shows, coming up with ideas for Highways, or even just simply letting us know which songs are more fun to play. We’re also really excited to meet as many players of the game in the flesh as possible. Basically, if you want to invite us to gigs, we want to go.
What are some of your favorite songs to play in Guitar Hero Live?
My favorite songs? Oh, gosh. “When You Were Young” by The Killers is the first one I really got good at, but I think the game works in a way that different songs and game modes can cater to your mood at any given moment. For example, I’ll play “American Idiot” by Green Day over and over when I want to practice my bar chords. Or when I’m looking to just relax and enjoy new music, I’ll jump into one of the more chill shows on GHTV on a lower skill level and get really good at utilizing Hero Powers. When I’m feeling really competitive with myself, I’ll try and get higher than 82% on Expert on “Bangerang” by Skrillex. There are some songs I still can’t quite master and it drives me to keep practicing. I’m hooked.