Determining Staff Policy, Part 3

As in my last post, I’m going to continue discussing some of the questions that tend to come to the fore during staff policy debate, such as whether or not (in games large enough to warrant it) staff should rotate between spheres, or be permanently assigned to one sphere.

Rotating assignments vs. permanent positions?

Shadows of Isildur was, and continues to be, a prime example of permanent positions among members of staff. On SOI, you were generally hired to do a particular thing, in a particular area, and were expected to remain in that area for the duration of your administration. You might move within that sphere, from trainee to senior leadership, but you never generally left that sphere. Those who did leave often only did so because that area of the game had been closed, or because another area had lost all qualified staff and required immediate, emergency oversight. Meanwhile, Armageddon is an example of the opposite principle at work: staff rotation. Staff are hired on and rotated among the different areas of the game, spending a scheduled amount of time in each area before being cycled elsewhere. While they are hired on to perform certain tasks, they are not hired on to do them solely in a single area of the game.

Both positions have their advantages and drawbacks, but the obvious edge goes to, in my opinion, rotating staff assignments.

In permanent positions, it is easy for a staff member to become too endeared to their own specific sphere. This endearment can cause friction between other members of staff, in separate areas of the game, and friction between players outside of that sphere – especially if they are antagonistic to that sphere. Everyone, after all, wants “their side” to win. And while one of the obvious benefits of permanent placement on staff is that the staff member in question collects a wealth of knowledge about their own sphere, and understands its intricacies intrinsically, that same staff member, taken outside of their sphere, knows nothing. If they are the only soul online among administrative staff, and a player comes to them with a question, and it is outside of their sphere, they will often inform the PC it is outside the scope of their ability and then wash their hands of it. More times than I can count, as a player in Shadows of Isildur, I was told there were no staff online who could help me with a simple request because “it was outside their sphere” – despite there being three or four staff members online at the time. Rotational staff positions at least force the individual staff member to familiarize themselves with other areas of the game, in addition to also limiting some over-familiarity with any single sphere, and allow the staff member to assist in resolving more issues among players than they would have been able to do otherwise.

How do you fairly investigate complaints about staff members?

Another question that crops up from time to time involves formal staff complaints and how they are handled among members of staff. Do you allow the accused staff member to prosecute themselves, do you appoint a jury of their peers to judge them, or does one head staff member personally investigate the claims? And what constitutes a legitimate claim? Are all claims of abuse investigated, regardless of the source, or are some players less reputable than others, and are their claims then less valid?

There is no easy answer to any of the above, and regardless of how you decide to handle complaints against staff, there will always be players who cry bias against themselves and corruption elsewhere. And they will always be half-right; there is always that potential for abuse, even if it goes unrealized. In many cases, speaking as a former indignant player, the potential for abuse is enough.

The most ideal situation is probably impossible. In my opinion, the best solution would be to contract out the investigation of complaints against staff to a third party – a group that is unfamiliar with both the players and staff of your particular MUD, but has experience with MUDs in general. It would allow them to be as impartial as possible, limiting the accusations of bias, while still remaining familiar with how MUDs work. Given how small the MUD community, and the RPI MUD community specifically, is, however, I doubt this would be realistic.

What may be more feasible is a triumvirate of investigators – one appointed to lead the group by the game owner, and two others to weigh in on evidence for or against the accused: one, appointed by staff as a whole, and the other voted in by players. These three individuals would be players in that they would have no admin privileges – they would not be able to log into the game as an admin, would have no access to staff forums, etc. Or, at least, not until a complaint is raised. Then the lead investigator would be given the ability to browse certain staff forums and to, with discretion, browse game logs pertinent to the issue. They would gather evidence, and detail that evidence to the other two investigators in a forum dedicated to such things. The three would then come to a conclusion and present their findings to head staff – punishment would be meted out based on predetermined rules and regulations. The triumvirate would return to being players solely, until a complaint is raised again.

All complaints would be investigated equally, but there would be clearly stated punishments for players who submit repeated, blatantly false reports. And there would be transparency – players would be informed of major infractions by staff members, should they be found guilty, and when/if a staff member is fired for a major infraction, players would be made aware. There would be no graceful exit for staff who have broken the rules. Those staff members who do not break the rules, however, and are being fired for other reasons (such as generally just being useless) would be allowed to step down gracefully.

Perfect solution? Certainly not. In fact, I’m still not certain I like the setup, and have no idea if it would work in practice in a game. But until I find something better, that’s where my thoughts lie.