In 2019, Lisa Kolfjord was planning to start her own games company with some friends from her university. Instead, she took a job with a tiny independent game studio in Sweden working on it's very first game, hired to split her time between being a 3D artist and a community manager. The company was Iron Gate Studios, the game was Valheim, and as we all know by now, it immediately became a massive hit that drew over five million players within its first 30 days of Early Access.
As you can guess, Kolfjord's focus at Iron Gate quickly had to shift away from 3D art and into managing those millions of Vikings full time at the five-person studio.
In the video above, produced by Embracer Group (formerly THQ Nordic, the video game holding company and parent company of Coffee Stain Publishing, which publishes Valheim), Kolfjord talks about her experiences and the challenges of managing a game community that quickly blew up beyond expectations.
"It's still a mixture of extreme excitement and a little bit of horror to try to keep everything functioning," she says, laughing. "If I could clone myself, I would make at least five. So I could put one of me that only focuses on Discord, one on Twitter, one on emails. So that everyone can get my full attention."
Before Valheim launched into Early Access, Kolfjord created a number of items in Valheim, like its black metal weapons, the Odin hood cape and drinking horn that were given to beta testers, as well as some of the Valheim food items like lox meat pie and fish wraps. But now she is entirely focused on community management, dealing with between 200-300 emails a day and organizing the Discord community that began as 5,000 members at launch but grew to 100,000 within a few short weeks.
Kolfjord attributes at least some of the game's success to the fact that people have been stuck at home during the pandemic. As a 10-player co-op sandbox, Valheim gives players a way to spend time with the friends they haven't been able to see in person. "And we have a very cozy atmosphere that also has attracted a lot of people," she says.
In the video she also talks about the darker side of dealing with Valheim's growing community, which includes angry and profanity-laced emails from players and the inappropriate messages she's received due to being a woman working in the games industry. "That feels a bit creepy," she says. "I had one person who said he loved me and wanted to have kids with me. That's very… I don't think men get those emails, to the same extent. But luckily they've been very few so far."
Kolfjord also answered a few more questions about her job in an email to PC Gamer. She says Iron Gate has given her additional help, hiring one of its Discord moderators to assist with answering player emails. Kolfjord also told us she hopes to get back to doing more 3D art for Valheim again when things calm down.
As for her initial goal of starting her own game company with her friends? "Right now I'm very happy where I am, and I see myself being a part of Iron Gate for a very long time, but it is of course impossible to say what will happen in the future."