Game administration: A View From Both Sides


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Introduction

With the multitude of online games springing up, and those that have been with us for quite some time, there is a constant issue, a constant dancing companion, demanding the attention of a developer. like flying a helicopter, you need to be coordinated in all your movements, using your anti-torque pedals to keep the craft in a turn, or keep it from spinning during take off. Everything you do in a helicopter requires some other action on your part, its like a dance. Game administration is like this.
I wanted to take the time to talk about game administration, things I’ve seen that don’t work, and things that do. My experience comes from both the player, and admin side of things. I feel it is necessary, because if someone wants to create an online game, they should realize how much of an investment it is. And I’m talking more of time than finances here, it really is a complete time black hole. I wanted to go over some things that will make or break you, cause you strife, and so forth.

When reading this piece, do take into consideration what is being said, but don’t take everything as law, I didn’t intend it to be interpreted that way. Everyone has their own style, and their own way of doing things. What’s more important is that you can realize when a decision you made isn’t working out and fix the situation before it deteriorates into chaos.

Your Team

I put this part first, because it is probably the most important aspect of all. Your admin team will make or break your reputation. You need to have people on there that you can trust, and no, you cannot always trust your friends. People throw the F word around like its hot cakes, but a real friend is hard to come by. I’m not saying that you can’t have an Internet friend who isn’t a good friend, what I’ am saying is, people, whether you know them online only, or in person, are fickle. They are out for themselves most of the time, and in the gaming world, they see that admin word as a key to the gateway of heaven ,if their idea of heaven is trolling, and lording power over people.

It’s hard to gauge who will be a good admin and who won’t. some people might start out doing awesome at it, but the increased stress over time breaks them. This is why you have to focus on your team, don’t let friends join just because they’re friends, make them apply just like anyone else would, and if they scoff at you, tell them that’s just how it is, but if they do scoff, they won’t be a good admin. They were using their friendship with you to get a leg up, and you don’t want that type of thing going on. If they’re really your friend, they won’t mind having to apply, believe me, weed these people out with a fine toothed comb. You want people who you don’t think will be shit lords, who are generally level headed people. if you have friends who are hot headed, who are a bit reckless, do not let them be admins.

Write up a well thought out application. Ask questions like, “Why do you want to become an administrator on “, “What prior experience do you have in game administration”, “How often do you mastur–” oh wait, sorry, I got off on a tangent there. “How much time would you say you can be on duty per week”, “What do you feel you would bring to the table”, “Name at least one weakness or fault in yourself that either you have noticed, or other people have pointed out”, “What qualities do you believe a good admin should possess”, and so on. Once you do that, review every app, organize them into categories like definitely not, I’ll think about it, and yes.

Staffing

Everyone wants 24/7 admin coverage, but its just not feasible, not unless its a business and you’re paying employees. As the head admin / developer, you should not attempt to slave drive your admins. It will make them sloppy, it will stress them out, they will therefore become less effective, and more irritable. You do not want admins who get snappish with players because you’re trying to fill every hour of the day and stretching their patience thin. You do want admins who can be courteous, professional, and level headed even when a player is being unreasonable. That’s not to say that the person involved shouldn’t act if a disciplinary action should be warranted, what it instead means is that you should not stretch your resources.

You don’t need 24 hour a day coverage, you do need things to run smoothly. People will do what they do despite how well you think you’re running things, so there is always room for improvement. Give people the option of being online when its best for them, and if they need time away, let them have it. Everyone should take time away at some point, months of doing this on end really does ramp up your stress levels, make you more irritable and prone to outbursts.

Admin Powers

I’ve seen games where admins can pretty much do whatever they want to, and I’ve seen games where they cannot do much at all. I think the balance is somewhere in the middle. I don’t see a problem with commands like give, or spawn, where the idea is to hand out items, what I do see a problem with is limiting what an admin can do, so that if a situation does arise, they can’t solve it. Turning off, or just not coding in admin commands that boost the players’ stats and so forth really isn’t solving anything if you think about it really. What is that admin going to do if they really are someone who wants to abuse the position. If they can’t get access to commands they can use to really fuck over the players, or buff them, they will turn to other means, spam killing, yelling, whatever they will do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with an admin being able to modify stats and give items. Log each use of the command and write an external program to watch the log for repeated patterns if you want to, but don’t severely limit what an admin can do, its not helping you, your game, or the players.

That being said, if you do see a situation on your hands where an admin is abusing their powers, get rid of them ASAP. I guarantee you they won’t stop doing it. You might sit down and have a friendly little chat with them about it, but all that will do is make them try to hide it better. People that do that are going to continue to do it. The only real way I would say to trust someone again is if they were a kid, and a few years had gone by, and you see an outward change in their personality, a sign that they’re maturing, growing up. If at that point you decide to trust them, I would still monitor everything they do for a while just to be sure. I would not give admins chances to do better. The reason? They should be exemplary members of your community. If they’re not, they have no business being an admin. Weigh this with the grand scale and see if it really matters. I’ve been accused before of using the ability to teleport too often. My reasoning for doing so was that in each instance, I had to get to a stuck player to untrap them. It wasn’t because I loved showing off the ability to teleport, it was simply me trying to do my job. If its things like that, really try to see the situation, and see if maybe that is what’s going on. Also, pay attention to how the admin worked with the players, if they do boast about being able to do something, I’d sit them down, and start explaining. When you do, pay close attention to how they react, If they seem not to care, or think you’re making a big deal out of nothing, get rid of them. If they seem overly apologetic, really down in the dumps, really contrite, get rid of them. This one might not be so obvious, so I’ll explain. If someone is expressing an excess of contrition, its usually an indication that they aren’t sorry, they don’t regret what they’ve done, they’re just trying to placate you. This isn’t always the case though. One thing you will have to do is get really good at learning to read people, its not hard to do it IRL, but to do it online, it can be. You have to learn to sort of examine their behavior, fit it into known patterns, and based off of that, guess at their intent. IRL, its easier to read people because you can feel the change in the air, its palpable if someone is angry, even if they don’t say anything, its palpable if someone’s scared, the air sort of tastes different. If someone’s nervous, they’ll fidget a lot and you can hear it, two people silently angry at one another, you can feel the tension in the air between them. You can also feel people’s sexual attraction for one another, or sexual frustration between two people. This doesn’t really work online, at least, not until you know everyone you’re dealing with fairly well.

So, if you’re paranoid and thinking, no way do I intend to give my admins commands like give or spawn, or anything of that nature, one thing you could do to be somewhat flexible is code them in using a modular system, such that they could be turned off globally at any time, or turned off per admin, and only enabled by a person or persons you deem able to handle the responsibility. Things like events, or reimbursing players for objects they’ve lost by no fault of their own should not be kept from them due to admins not being able to act on their behalf.

Organization

How you organize your admin team is a big part of how they’ll be able to work on your behalf, and do their duties that you need them to do to keep things running smoothly. There are several options, and I’d like to lay them out one by one. Let’s start out with the obvious bad choice, and I call it that because I really can see no good in this whatsoever.

No Organization

The first choice I’d like to cover is no organization, none whatsoever. All admins are on an equal footing, and they answer to no one except the developers. This will spell disaster unless you have a very extraordinary group of people on your team, and even so, any new members might throw this out of balance. But why would this be the case, since no one answers to one another, this would mean that there is the good chance to develop some camaraderie among your team, right? Not likely, what is more likely is that you will be creating the opportunity to promote in-fighting. People will become hostile towards the other admins over time, they’ll likely start trying to boss each other around, and with no team structure there to make sure everyone is in their place, this allows a massive amount of back and forth to go on among your team. You’ll have them acting like shit lords in no time at all. The alpha personalities among the members, and let’s face it, there probably will be more than one, will start clashing. Now you and your development team will have more problems than just players and moderating the game to worry about. You’ll probably have to get rid of admins, probably more than one and probably in pairs to keep things fair. If Joe and Bob were fighting, it doesn’t really matter who started the fight, the point is, they should either be reigned in or gotten rid of. Unless you can prove that Joe was the aggressor, and Bob was a victim, and not really going on the offensive, you should probably get rid of both of them. Otherwise, you could get rid of Joe, and keep Bob, but watch him closely for a while.

The hierarchy or Tiered System

Next, I’d like to talk about the hierarchy, and a tiered system. I would recommend this overall, the reason being is that it gives each team member a role, a rank if you will, and they will contribute within that rank and within the circumstances it allows. You could design your admin commands and abilities such that you could grant access at a tier level. The most powerful commands should be reserved for the highest tiers, and you spread the load out equally. You might also design a system that would grant a specific person access to a command or commands, that way if they show real promise, but you’re not quite ready to promote them to a new rank yet, you could give them a command to help with something. Let’s say you have several levels of banning available to you, and a boot system. Boot would take a reason and pass it onto the other player, it wouldn’t stop them from connecting again, but might get them to think about their course of action if a warning didn’t work. So it might look like, “You are being booted for the following reason: You need to chill for a while and calm down before you come back online.” Now let’s say you have an admin who likes to be on during the early hours of the morning. Everything’s been OK, but this one player has been acting up. She boots and warns him multiple times, but its not enough, and the other admins are still sleeping. You might give her access to the lowest level ban that you have. Maybe one that limits to banning for an hour, or 24 hours. By doing this, what you are doing is helping to level out any spikes that you may be experiencing when players discover that there is a hole in staff coverage.

So, what would be a good way to set up a hierarchy, and how would you spread the ranks out. First off, and most obvious, new admins should always start out at rank 1, unless you have a very very good reason for making an exception, and remember what I said earlier about friends getting admin positions. I’m not suggesting that you display an admin’s rank to other players, as that would cause issues where the players would try to break the unity of the team, possibly by trying something, then being caught and saying, well, the tier 1 guy said I could do it. You want to come off as a united team, that is the face you should be showing at all times. This means supporting your team members, not contradicting them in front of the players, and so forth.

You also need a series of commands, call it a command set for each tier, that adds progressively more power to their toolbox. I would say three tiers, and then basically developer. Take time in promoting someone, they should be good with the players, the server logs shouldn’t turn up anything weird about their use of admin abilities, and they should generally be well-liked by the players. You can be well-liked and still hand out punishments, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. What causes certain admins to be unliked by the player base is usually unfair treatment, nepotism, which basically means you’re showing favoritism towards someone or some group of people. You can be decent, chat with the players, and hand out punishment when warranted, and if you are consistent with that behavior, they’ll start to open up to you. But, if you act like a power trippy fucking shit lord, its another story.

Staff Anonymity

I do not think it is a wise idea to have your staff represented as a single entity. It may feel more comfortable for the staff member in question, but if they require this to do their job well and effectively, they’re not cut out to do it. But wait, you ask, doesn’t this go against the whole team unity thing you were blabbing about earlier? Not really. You see, when everyone sort of has their own identity, their own name, their own personality traits, this all goes into who they are as a person, and that needs to show through. When you step behind the veil, and do everything through that sort of stage puppet, you lose that personality. Now, to play devil’s advocate, on the other hand, always knowing what you’re gonna get from someone from the player’s point of view isn’t always the best, like if an admin is online, but you know they’re kind of lazy, and afk a lot, so, you pull some bull bull and they don’t catch it, well you used their patterns against them. I can tell you that as a player, I want some sort of accountability, something that I can note down, and say this admin is behaving like a cocknut. Or, if I see another player get treated unfairly, I’m gonna be like yo, what the fuck braaaah. OK maybe not like that, maybe I write to the dev, or something, but I am a witness to it then. The admin veil is like a cloak, and anyone can do anything under it and unless you have very good server logs, the players ain’t gonna be able to tell who out of your staff did it. Team unity on the outside? Maybe, but it ain’t no good on the inside, at least, not to me.

Conclusion

I’m gonna leave it right here, there’s more I could say, but yeah, this is getting mighty big. I just want to reiterate that even though I feel strongly on some of these issues, and you can probably tell that, this is your game, take this for what it is meant to be, a guide. Take out of it what you agree with, and leave the rest. I’m certainly not the end all, be all of game admins. Let me tell you, I’ve done a piss poor job at times, and failed more than I’ve succeeded, which is why I understand this shit. So, before you’re like oooooo, god, I love you ironcross, you wanna be on my admin team, oooooooo, you wanna have my babies? Before you go all nut casey on me like that, just know this, you learn a hell of a lot more from your failures than you do from your successes. Also, you can look, but don’t be touchin’ the nips les’n I say ya can. Them’s is my nips. Oh, and just because you might want to use a rank system, doesn’t mean that the input from all members of your team shouldn’t be taken into consideration. You should, as a developer, treat them all equally in that sense, give them the chance to talk to you, suggest things. Neither you or your other admins should act like shit lords to new admins, or admins at lower ranks.

Contributor

2 thoughts on “Game administration: A View From Both Sides

  1. It would be nice if more developers thought about this when sorting out their admin system and admins. We would have a lot less drama with most games if this was the case.

  2. this is a good posst and some devs deffenetly needs to take a look at it.
    yes, i agree with smoke. We would have less drama in our games if there was a good, organized admin system in plase where everyone doesn’t behave like a doosh bag.

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