The cliff between staff and the players

Discussion in 'Player Grievances' started by Nodred, Dec 2, 2018.

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  1. Nodred

    Nodred Potato Taster Nerdfighter

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    For completeness’ sake I’ll fill below out, but… the grievance at hand does not really fit this format very well.


    In-Game Name: Nodred

    When did this problem occur? (time and date): It’s been there forever? It’s really a toad-in-the-boiling-pot kinda thing. I became more aware of it in the runup to the new server, though.

    Other players involved (if applicable): This involves all of us – players and staff alike.

    Description of the problem: see below

    Relevant screenshots: n/a


    ---------


    The grievance at hand further deviates because it is not about specific actions. It is about vague attitudes in style, communication, and relationships, which makes it difficult to word this grievance. However, the issue at hand is important and critical – we must address this.

    Sidenote, I wrote a bit of this before the announcement of the player liaison proposal, but have adjusted the text to be fitting for current events. I deem it not unlikely though that it might still be slightly dated – y’all seem to be at least somewhat aware of the issue at hand, but I feel like this information below may still be crucial to add.


    Extra sidenote, this player grievance was written by Nodred based on his experiences talking with other players. Unlike staff, we players don’t speak up as a group – nor can we, more on that later - and that makes it difficult to come up with a player grievance that works for all – but I hope I’ve written something that other nerds can find themselves in.


    And last sidenote: this is long. Sorry.

    Introduction

    Dear Nerdcrafteria staff: there is a social cliff between staff and players, and it is widening. I wrote that a week or two ago. Many nerds were already aware of this back then, not many said it out loud. Now, Jen and Flaw have already spoken up about this cliff, from staffside’s perspective. No non-staff player has yet spoken up publicly in a similar post yet. And especially not the players that have a problem here. (Should note that the news moves quickly though.)


    I appreciate you realizing something is wrong and I appreciate you taking steps to move in the right direction, like the player liason. These moves fill me with trust in the moderation to work out issues, and have made it possible for me to fill out this player grievance. I also understand that you also have been under much pressure. We’ve been critical of you in the recent past on lots of micro issues. And sure, depending on when that criticism is cast it may even come across as ungrateful. We players can do a lot to improve there.


    But you’re missing the macro issue that underlies the criticism and discussion you feel pointed at you.


    You have always claimed that you place listening to the players in high regard. Players aren’t quite expressing some concerns out in the open at the moment. But that is not (or maybe a little bit, not sure) because they feel intimidated by you. It’s because they feel that it’s pointless to talk with you, that they aren’t being listened to at all. I’m sorry, that’s rough to say, but we have to get through being frank with eachother for a short bit if we want to progress and make our server more awesome.


    In a handful of chapters, I hope to explain what mechanics are at work here that harm player trust in the moderation. I’ll also make a handful of suggestions on what little steps can be done to change the tide and help regain trust, but ultimately a new paradigm, a shift of mindset, may be required.

    The players’ role in the server
    In my profession there’s a lovely little cliché that goes: “cities aren’t made of buildings. They’re made of people.” Well, Nerdcrafteria isn’t made of blocks, it’s made of players. (As a semantics sidenote here, I should note that from this point forward, I’ll refer to “players” as meaning both non-staff and staff players.) Unlike any other Minecraft server I’ve been on, Nerdcrafteria is like a true city. It has player organisations and cooperations, it has side projects, collaborations on lots of small and big buildings and events, all that is wonderful to see and where we’ve found our strength for so long.

    As a result of all that player investment, players will often find ideas on how to make the server even more awesome. Your very invested playerbase is both your strength and your curse. For this is where non-staff players and staff players start to drift apart. You see, especially the non-staff players come up with hundreds of ideas on things they want to do. But they are limited by a rulebook guarded by staff-players. And sometimes, not even a rulebook. Staff players are the players that actually decide on what happens, and they have their own agenda that may be already full or sometimes runs counter to that of non-staff players – or may already be full with tasks valued higher, more on that later (“Running events and builds”).

    This may seem like the natural order of things, but there’s a problem here. When non-staff players want something changed, their expected role in doing such isn’t clear. When any staff member is asked, they will emphasize how much the staff wants to listen to the players, how they want to involve us. There’s a disconnect in actions when players who do have an idea are either ignored or told immediately why their idea is rejected based on the rulebook (that they’re proposing to change.) This disconnect creates false expectations of players, who think that their voice matters but find themselves disappointed when they discover that really… it doesn’t.

    Most obvious case in point is probably the Player suggestion thread, on the forums, whose sole job it is to gather these needs from players. They’re “suggestions”, but what is being done with those suggestions isn’t clear. It seems almost like a place to dump difficult questions that are originally asked in main chat, so that no one needs to actually answer them. Only a handful of suggestions in the thread receive answers (initially at the time of writing, none did). It makes players feel ignored.

    And if your response to my concern is that you can’t reply to everything on there… well, you kinda have to do so anyways, at least by letting players know that you’ve taken their opinion into consideration. If you don’t do at least that, you’re going to lose players’ trust – the thread becomes a graveyard of ideas. I’ve had a conversation with Stormy about this before, but didn’t get a satisfactionary answer on the role of the suggestions’ thread there… and didn’t really want to push him.

    The alternative, although imo much less satisfactionary path to take, would be to abolish player input. This is something I believe neither of us want, as I genuinely do still believe the staff wants us non-staff players to feel our input is valued. But if you can’t for whatever reason actually do something with the input we give you, then maybe it’s best to be honest with the players and tell them you don’t want their input. Whichever you choose, you must communicate that decision.

    Players and congregation
    There are currently 9 staff members on the board (I think? I tried to check to make sure, sorry if that number is off) on Nerdcrafteria. This on about 40ish active members. It’s quite sizable. I believe you have reason for that. But I’m not sure. More on that later, actually (“why so secretive”).


    The thing is that when we talk to you, we talk as individuals against a block. We do not have ways to find common complaints and put weight on them. As of such, it is more difficult for all players to estimate the severity of some of the community’s wishes.


    Since we’ve not been allowed to congregate in a place where we could work on complaints together (see also a previous ruling involving a Discord channel created to chat in voice, which could be its own player grievance, but I’ve only been involved in that passively so it’s not really my case) we can not express wishes we hold collectively, as a group. This player grievance itself was written by me based on things I’ve heard from others, but ultimately it’s my own opinion. And that opinion will be weighed against that of 9 other players (the staff). That’s intimidating, for one, yes, but for two it’s also what some of us feel may be why they’re ignored. Even if it’s not true, they feel that way.


    And this, here, is also why I’ve seen non-staff players avoid voice chat when staff logs on, even though they’re not discussing anything harmful or rebellious. I find that action-reaction to be the most painful fallout of this entire player-admin gap: players are scrambling to find ways to express their discontent without the staff eavesdropping, but they really shouldn’t need to discuss that in secret! Discussing their complaints in secret may make non-staff players even more sour about the initial cause of their concern. They should have a place where they can put their complaints in the open, and actually progress to solving them!


    Player grievances and ban appeals are places where players can lodge complaints, but the barrier of entry is still high and the power inbalance/isolation does still reinforce the feeling of talking to a brick wall. Together with player liaison we may create a chat that’s for discussing micro-complaints about staff in a healthy, low-threshold environment, one that invites discussion, not paranoia.

    Soft rules, hard enforcement
    Now the staff obviously sees to it that the rules of the server are enforced. Let me be entirely clear that I’m not writing this as a de-facto appeal or salty remark to previous rulings or something of the like – that’s not what this player grievance is for.

    You may have noticed that a while ago there was a short burst of “rules lawyering” on the server – since I was involved in this and straight in the middle of this little lawyering burst, I know what this was about. The conclusion of this was a news post by Flaw that called for a change in the punishment system (one that, in large part, I saw as a step in the right direction) (https://www.nerdcrafteria.com/threads/punishments-appeals-and-rules.11782/ ). In this news post was an appeal to “follow the rules in spirit”, which I thought was a wonderful change. However, looking at this from a non-staff player perspective, not a staff perspective, asking to follow the rules in spirit comes along with an obligation to enforce the rules in spirit, as well.

    The Nerdcrafteria rulebook is, by design, non-exhaustive. That’s probably for the best. We’re not actual lawyers and unlike RL the worst things that can happen in Minecraft are fixable. But the punishment system in place works as if designed for an exhaustive system. Upon any violation – no matter the context – warning points are put out. Warning points are real and actual points and they stay on a record. Their message really is that everyone is expected to know the laws through and through. This isn’t possible in a non-exhaustive system, if you ask me, but I accept opinions may differ on that.

    More important to the problem at hand, handing out punishments like that… just isn’t very nice? I have no better way to put this, people don’t like being punished, and people who have the best of intentions certainly don’t like being punished. Even if their actions don’t have long-lasting consequences (ergo temporary bans, mutes, fines, even just warnings) it still feels bad to be slapped on the wrist for something. It’s so easy to just tell someone who misinterpreted the rules “hey, perhaps don’t do that” and call it a day – the players who truly mean no harm will actually stop right there. No need to assign warning points to them like that.

    If you need warning points to keep track of players who modshop or otherwise abuse how different moderators may be watching… maybe just make a little note behind the scenes? And if you’ll say warning points aren’t punishments – well, they count to punishments, and they feel like punishments to players.

    If there’s anything to take from this, punishing players may be the only way some players will learn, but I guarantee you for most of your most active non-staff playerbase it will only make them angry, or feel misunderstood, or unappreciated – so please just speak to them on a more brotherly level instead?

    Beyond this point there won’t be so much complaints as suggestions as to what we can do to normalize relationships.

    Why so secretive?
    Staff, you have a lot of secrets. It is not always clear why. A great deal of resentment from non-staff players comes from not knowing why you make the decisions you make. I discovered this because there were a couple of decisions you made in the past that weren’t clear to me until I learned the reasoning behind them, like why there’s a large locked area next to spawn (I figured out you plan to build something there for events, but no one told me this was the case). This example case has made me be more careful with criticising other server aspects, but other players don’t feel the same way. I’ve heard people, for example, question why Nerdcrafteria has so many staff members? I’m personally sure there’s a good reason, that you need this number of staff members, but amongst other players it drives speculation for the worst. There still are many things that are secret, and you may want to see whether it’s worth keeping things secret when they reinforce the idea that you are unresponsive to the players’ concerns.

    Running events and builds
    Let’s get back at that very invested playerbase with their ideas: they want to do lots of things, organize their own events and such. What would be a great addition, though not imo a loss if it’s not there, would be to allow players to organize events alongside the events organized by moderators. Perhaps have an event calendar that players can slot in. Working together creates a bond – staff players and non-staff players working together as players again might just be magical glue to bond us back together.

    Small things: chat
    Just the small things can make the difference sometimes, so here’s a final suggestion that may help you to remove the distance between staff and players. Staff has italics as an option for their nicknames, and colours as an option for their text. This makes them stand out as staff, even when they’re not in staff-duties. If you want non-staff players to treat staff more like players, it may help to even the field on which they communicate. What you can do is have staff text be regular gray, just like all the other players, whenever staff are just chatting about – then, when they need to announce something staffy, or halt a player, then they can switch that to a colour. This may also just be a good way for players to pay more attention to what staff says when it is concerning something serious. It’s also something other servers do, as well.

    To close off, I have one last remark that will hopefully tie this mess of arguments and complaints together in a way that touches the core of the argument. With it, I can hand this off to you, and give you the freedom to resolve the issues you acknowledge in your way.

    The red thread
    What is central in all of these chapters is the role that staff- and non-staff players hold, which at the moment might not be at its perfect place. Notice how I specified “players” throughout this entire rant: players run this server, all the players. Staff have more permissions, roles, and authority, but it does bear questioning how much of that is needed to run the server. Can you find more ways to let the players run the server – all the players – and have staff do just the bare minimum of things the players can’t do themselves?

    Kind regards,
    -Nodred
     
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  2. PerfectFlaw

    PerfectFlaw Ferocious Cinnamon Roll Head Administrator Lifetime V.I.P.

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    Hi Nod!

    Currently writing a response, but locking this thread in the meantime. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out. :)

    Flaw
     
  3. PerfectFlaw

    PerfectFlaw Ferocious Cinnamon Roll Head Administrator Lifetime V.I.P.

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    Hi Nod,

    As I said above, I really want to thank you for taking the time and effort to write this out. I told you this in pms, but we genuinely cannot know what is going wrong if we aren’t told, no matter how much we have an “ear to the floor”, so to speak. I’m going to address everything you’ve brought up as best I can, but as always further questions are encouraged. I’ve broken it down by “chapter” as you have just to help myself stay organized, and hopefully keep it readable.


    Introduction
    Yep. I agree. When I stepped into the Head Admin role, some of you may know that I had been gone from this server for about 8 months, and when I came back, I was suddenly confronted with a problem I think I had known existed as a prior staff member, but hadn’t understood the depth or severity of. As a staff member I was burnt out, frustrated by lack of direction in my role, and vexed by a lack of guidance. I genuinely don’t believe this was the fault of any one staff member, and I played a role in my own issues as well, but I also think it was a result of a looong history of staff culture on this server. Unfortunately, I think this culture has bled into the playerbase as well, as you all have had to deal with a secretive, confusing, and at times frustrating staff. It isn’t because those PEOPLE were inherently doing something wrong, it’s just how staff had taken to operating internally, and it showed/shows when operating externally.

    When I came in, I really wanted to change this culture, but unfortunately it’s not something myself or the awesome team members I have supporting me can do overnight. When a mac truck has been thundering along at the same speed and in the same way for 5 years, it’s incredibly difficult to knock off course. That said, I am willing to give it my absolute best shot.


    The Players’ Role In The Server
    That’s a good quote, and one I think certainly applies to NCT. You hit on a couple of the key issues I think have been causing some disconnect here, and please correct me if I put words in your mouth or misunderstand.

    1) Player Suggestions. On this point I have many thoughts, but also some confusion. I do feel like, at least since reset, staff have been working really, REALLY hard to take in player suggestions. Even little things like allowing pickup on other islands, to clarifying the rules around religious builds. On the Player Suggestion thread specifically, while it may not have been in the past, I honestly treat it like a “to do” list of sorts. If I haven’t responded, it just means we don’t have an answer yet. In the future, I will ensure that we leave an (Informative) rating on each post we’ve seen, so that you know we HAVE seen it and are considering it. If we implement something, we will leave an (Agree) rating because it looks like a check mark. If we aren’t going to implement something, we will leave a (Disagree) rating, and provide reasoning in a reply. I can’t 100% speak for past staff, because I wasn’t there for all of it, but I do think this is a shift and I hope will make it clearer to players that we are working on the things you’ve suggested (*cough* set emerald value *cough*). I will say, however, that I have heard a few times that staff making a decision on something that goes against what was suggested means they aren’t listening. I do think this is a bit unfair, given all we have done so far to implement suggestions from you guys, and I want to recognize that sometimes our decisions are unpopular for the health of the server long-term. Could we allow hostile mob farming/grinding? Sure. Would it tank this economy so fast we’d have to reset in 6 months or so? Yes. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t listening when we say no if a player suggests allowing hostile mob farming/grinding.

    2) The Rulebook. The rules are the way they are for a couple of reasons. First, what we were tasked to do by Hank. Our mission was to create and maintain a family friendly server (PG-13) that has no PvP, no strong political/religious messages, and no advertisement of other servers as we support a charity. Essentially, a “happy corner of the internet”. Those are the rules we are strictly unable to change. From there, the rules were expanded to include things that allow an economy to function (no mob grinders or block generators), things that allow multiplayer to function (no real-world trading, PvP, or griefing/stealing), and things that allow the server as a “machine” to function (no client-side hacks/bug abuse or lag generators). I have heard from several sources that there are things about the rules that are “broken”, but I really haven’t heard a clear way folks would like them to be fixed beyond “allow swearing generally/in more places” which is a hard no from on high, so our best compromise was Voice-Activity based chat and an NC-17 text chat. I personally struggle to understand what, from a 10,000 foot view at least, is really “broken” about the rules. As in, specifically what needs to be changed.

    3) The Amount Staff Can Do. You mention this further on, but our staff is currently comprised of 15 people. Of that, I’d say we have ~10 who are able to commit a significant amount of time to the server (which is why we divide duties across ranks). We all have lives, jobs, pets, families, friends, etc. outside of this place, and so our time is limited. In addition, we are a volunteer base. All of that said, we do what we can, but our to-do lists HAVE to be limited for the sanity of everyone involved. For example, it was suggested during the planning for the new-now-this server that we use data packs to enhance features on the server. We told those folks not yet because, well, we didn’t even know how to reset explore yet, and whether our ticket plugin is ever going to function properly staffside. We have to prioritize the things that aren’t working over the things that are, and unfortunately at the start of a complete rebuild, there is a LOT that doesn’t work haha. However, we could (and have been trying to) do a better job communicating when we are working on things and what we are working on so that you guys know where we are currently focused.


    Players and Congregation
    There isn’t a “board” here, so I’m not sure where that idea came from but I want to clarify that off the bat. As mentioned above, we have 15 people on staff, and about 10 are regularly active and not functioning in more “back end support” roles. This number has actually dropped quite hard in the last few weeks from where it was, in an effort to bring staff down to a more reasonable level that matches the playerbase we have. Due to the differing time zones, we’re hitting about a “balance point” that allows 1-2 staff members to be on almost always, with 3-5 on at peak traffic times.

    I’m a bit confused about the discord thing. This is something I told Mudkip when he expressed concern to me over it, but I would like to try and gain some clarity here. Players ARE allowed to discuss punishments, grievances, etc with each other. It’s not like we think you all somehow telepathically communicate about these things and they magically appear due to a collective force of will. If anything, we would prefer you talk about them here, talk about them openly, talk about them WITH US so that we can address them. We don’t want you feeling like you have to run around in secret talking about us because, quite frankly, I know I screw up. I like it when people say “Hey, Flaw, I think you screwed up there, can we talk about it?” instead of biding their time and me hearing rumors a week later that they’re upset about something I hadn’t thought twice about. I realize that I am a bit weird that way, but I think communication is incredibly important. I think perhaps part of the issue is a disconnect between “disrespecting staff” and “disagreeing with staff”. You can disagree with us on just about anything. You can’t get hateful or nasty about your disagreement. Hence Jen’s clarification about politely poking us instead of going on a tirade in main chat – it makes a difference in how the entire dialogue goes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we want to hear where we’re going wrong. We just don’t want to be told we’re horrible people at the same time. I like the idea of a chat with the player liaison, and think that would be most helpful (although heads up I will always have access purely because there is an owner-rank on discord in order to keep it functioning, I feel like I need to be transparent about that >.<).

    It’s rare that we view one player’s suggestion as, well, one player’s suggestion. It’s part of the reason we have ratings turned on on the suggestion thread – we USE those! We want to see what ideas you guys think are great, and what are just one person really hoping we add a giant battlestar galactica as its own server (nobody has suggested this, just trying to give an off-the-rails example that now everybody is going to want haha). In general staff don’t “vote” on things except hiring other staff. We talk about whether something is possible, how much resources it would take to implement, and whether those resources are feasible at that time, then go from there.


    Soft Rules, Hard Enforcement
    I think perhaps there’s a misunderstanding about warning points and how they function that’s leading to all of this, so I want to take some time to break that down.

    Step one for staff IS typically a verbal warning. I think many players miss this because, to be honest, they don’t perk up and listen until they receive a formal warning. However, there are times when a verbal warning isn’t feasible (i.e. player isn’t online, or is actively doing something bad) that staff go straight to a formal warning.

    It takes 6 warning points to get to the first punishment level. That means, assuming only minor things like avoiding the filter, you’d have to do it 3 times to get a punishment. The warning points are, primarily, to allow staff to track when we have discussed an issue with a player previously. If we never added warning points to a record, we would have no idea when certain people have talked to certain players about things that’s easily accessible. If we made them behind the scenes, they would still count towards punishments, players would then be grumpy that they “never had any warning”, and we wouldn’t have clear, on-their-account documentation that they received a notification letting them know where they broke the rules.

    Nobody likes being punished. I agree. That’s, honestly, the point of punishment. Combined with the “time out” system, a player has to do things repeatedly against the CoC in order to be punished. At that point, we HAVE to take action, or the behavior would continue as clearly just non-punished warnings/discussions with the player haven’t produced a change. There are three tiers of punishment up to a permanent ban from the server, which is generally reserved for extreme cases of repeated rule-breaking. As I said above, you need to do things repeatedly wrong (or one really bad thing, which is rare for a first warning, but does happen in the case of griefing sprees most typically) to reach a level of punishment. At that point it’s clear to us just talking or pointing out the issue isn’t working.

    Finally, this is why appeals are really important. It is honest-to-goodness incredibly rare we don’t accept an appeal. First because we know you guys do TRY to stay within the rules, and second because it allows us flexibility within the rules that are established. If a player gives a good “this wasn’t explained well” or “XYZ told me something else” we clarify, accept, and move on. Sometimes we even accept purely because someone seems genuinely remorseful and we like second chances around here. To be clear: “I didn’t know mob grinding wasn’t allowed” isn’t okay, because that’s pretty explicit in the rules, but we recognize there are grey areas and are willing to work with people.


    Why So Secretive?
    In general, the only time we keep things secret are 1) punishment appeals – this was a player request to avoid them feeling like a public trial, 2) player surprises – these are fun for the staff to do for you guys, and are generally few and far between (*mumbles something about some people in a swamp*), and 3) server security matters – things like our full plugin list can’t be released because that would result in security issues. Beyond that, we are generally an open book. I think staff potentially used to be more secretive, but in general the 3 things above are the only things we WON’T tell you about. Other than that, it’s just a matter of whether we even have an answer for you.


    Running Events and Builds
    This is why we have kind of turned you guys loose on this map. We were SO excited when we saw things like Nerdrail pop up, and do have plans for the museum project if we can get a few things to function properly. We were also very excited to see Rykin and a few others organizing events like the Ender Dragon battles. You guys are MORE than welcome to do this, and in an effort to be hands off we have been trying to avoid micro-managing the process and instead allowing it to develop organically alongside staff events like Secret Llama. However, if you’d like to see a more formal “Player Event Submission” process we’re totally fine with that too. We just wanted to minimize staff involvement.


    Chat
    I do not think staff chat colors will change. Partially because I do not think it will make much of a difference given that everything we say is still preceded by a staff prefix, but also because at times the colored chat can make ease of reading and screenshots for records better. I will clarify that if all players need to know something that is concerning something serious, we will use [Broadcast], and if only one player needs to know it, we will use pms.


    The Red Thread
    Honestly, I think the staff already are doing the bare minimum. Trust me. None of us have time for more than that lol. There is a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes that require the roles and permissions we have (i.e. creative, access to logs, etc. to help fix griefing, op in some cases for instant damage control, etc). We try to isolate the “bad” from the players, which potentially makes it seem like we have all these magical powers for no apparent reason, but trust me when I say that they get used on a daily basis to keep this behemoth running. Part of our task originally, as mentioned above, was not to become a server of politics. We are trying to strike a balance by bringing in a Player Liaison and creating an open-build town, that allows players to run the, well, “playing” aspects of the server. However, most of those aspects require back end support (we currently have 3 economy related plugins and are working on a 4th based on suggestions, for example) that we simply cannot give players access to.


    I hope this post addresses most, if not all, of your concerns, and provides some deeper context for why we do what we do and how we are trying/will try to fix the issues that are arising. There are some things we cannot change, either because it’s out of our power, or keeps things safe/functioning, but those things we can change we are open to discussions on. Thank you again for taking the time to write this up. Feel free to pm me with further questions about this post, and I’ll come back to make edits/clarifications as needed.
     
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