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Old 01-15-2014, 12:26 AM   #1
MightyK
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Cronyism and Cliques

Hello everyone! As this is my first topic, I would like to discuss one near and dear to my mudding heart: staff cronyism as it relates to showing favoritism to certain players, abusing Imm/mortal character separation, abusing OOC info, allowing select players into secret groups based on secret criteria (that often requires befriending a staff's character), loads of regulations that can be abused piecemeal, etc.

This isn't a post to single out muds by name and say "they are corrupt" as even staff with cliques and cronyism problems can be very hard workers and create wonderful works that can outshine the problem. This is a post to point out or discuss games that show little to no cronyism, if they exist, and discuss the ways to spot cronyism and the deep flaws that can be created with staff corruption.

I have played and staffed on several games over my 12 years as a mudder, and even loved a few and spent years on them, but I have unfortunately found on every single instance there is some level of cronyism and corruption involved in each game, which in some shape or form majorly detracts from the experience for me.

A big red flag for me are the games where the creator or owner has a player character that is at the peak level, has special abilities, or is in charge of a secret "elite" clan/guild/group. I can still play, but it always leaves a sour taste in my mouth when I see the creator's/staff's player walk around in top/unique gear, and ignore or dictate RP simply because he/she knows no one will oppose it for OOC reasons.

Another red flag I keep an eye out for is if the staff's player characters chose to congregate with one another almost exclusively, regardless of the faction or clan/guild/group they belong to, or what RP they should consider.

Ideally, there would be a mud where the operators of the game do not play (except test characters, of course), as I feel this would leave less opportunity for corruption.

Does anyone know a game such as that?

When I find out there are staff-player cliques in the game, it is always a major let down. A lot of the time it can be a barrier to goals or the plain old fun of a game.

I can play a game that is ran by a clique, but every time I am reminded of it I am bothered, and it always makes me think of what a great game it could be if that element were run out. It has even stopped me from contributing financially on a couple of MUDs because an unfair system is not worth an investment, in my view.
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Old 01-15-2014, 01:21 AM   #2
dark acacia
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

I can't say that I've ever perceived corruption in a game, but I have posted previously on TMS about games which seem to have everyone they need and don't want new players.
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Old 01-15-2014, 06:44 AM   #3
PhasmaInMachina
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

Cronyism is generally a problem which is detrimental in any power structure. Naturally there tends to be some cronyism in most of the MUDs I have played too, though as a playerbase shrinks the effects of this cronyism typically become more obvious. I should mention that it isn't just staff cronyism which is an issue, players can also form little cliques which are OOC coordinated and run.

As such a high-level MUD staffer (or perhaps MUD owner) who is genuinely concerned with providing a relatively fair player environment must undertake a decision as to whether they want a transparent staff system at expense of immersion within the game environment, or support an deeply engaging world where there is lots to discover but may allow a culture of cronyism to become the norm.

Both systems have their merits and their demerits. Finding a balance between those two factors is a struggle, but it is notable that with a high degree of transparency and staff oversight, the ability for an unknown fantasy world to develop is also diminished. At that stage players know the staff intimately and can fit a face to the religion, or to the DM who they are questing with and some of the magic is lost.

We have opted for "somewhere in between", it isn't a perfect but hopefully, by screening new staff carefully and retaining people who are community spirited (rather than ultra-competitive) and genuinely feel the urge to do something for their game, we will minimize the affects of cronyism.

-Phasma.
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Old 01-15-2014, 12:53 PM   #4
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

I think accusations of cronyism or player/staff cliques will occur in almost every MUD of sufficient size, whether warranted or not. The best way to prevent them would seem to be ensuring the MUD staff have an air of professionalism in their interaction with players. Obviously since staff on free MUDs are volunteers, the word "professional" is used a bit loosely, but I think we get the idea.

Some things that I think help:

- Staff that clearly publish their policies on interactions with players, so that players will know if certain interactions are out of bounds and can express their concerns for a fair hearing.

- Inability to distinguish a "staff avatar" from a non-staff character... staff characters should be held to exactly the same rules as player characters are, including how they advance and how they obtain gear. (Staff characters here are different from NPCs that staff are using to advance a plot, although if staff play an NPC so frequently that it may as well be their avatar, the same limits should apply.)

- Formal channels for player/staff communication that can be logged and reviewed by other staff. In other words, "official business" about the game should be handled via in-game BBS or some other form of request system all staff have access to, not in IM or private chat between a player and a staff member. The idea here is that staff will help keep other staff fair and honest, and if communication is handled more openly that becomes easier. I'm not saying players and staff shouldn't be able to chat to each other, just that requests like "hey can my character please get a skill boost" should be handled more officially.


One final note, I disagree with this statement from PhasmaInMachina:

Quote:
it is notable that with a high degree of transparency and staff oversight, the ability for an unknown fantasy world to develop is also diminished. At that stage players know the staff intimately and can fit a face to the religion, or to the DM who they are questing with and some of the magic is lost.
OOC transparency between player/staff interaction doesn't need to have anything to do with the level of immersion in the IC gameworld. If you divorce the idea of staff from in-game deities completely, your level of immersion doesn't need to depend on interactions with a staff member at all. This breaks down if every staff member OOCly is also a deity of his/her religion ICly, but nothing says the system has to be set up that way.
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Old 01-15-2014, 05:23 PM   #5
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

I'm happy to find so many others with the same experience and feelings, and have enjoyed reading the responses.

I have been in a clique before as ForgottenMUD suggested I join one, when I was in the staff of a now-closed MUD, and though I never abused the power maliciously, there were great benefits bestowed to my player character by other staff mortals that definitely wouldn't have otherwise been allotted, which even then I felt guilty about. When a new staffer did start to abuse their power maliciously towards a specific player it created a rift in the staff, and an extremely negative effect on the playerbase because it caused other things about the staff that had been kept secret to spill open.

Even on games where RP is not required, there is large amount of goal-oriented and competitive abuse opportunity.

One of the ways I have seen corruption handled well, and the "least corrupt" (with only some cronyism problems) MUD I have seen, is one where there was a heavy tier and restricted abilities among the Immortals, where the most trusted Immortals policed the newer Immortals very closely. Of course, nothing ever stops the Creators from being corrupt themselves, but if the opportunity for a clique to form is very limited to a senior clade that doesn't grow over time, it can help.

I am interested to try out a couple of the games I have heard here. Corruption and cronyism isn't a barrier for me to play, I play a couple games now that are ran by cliques, but it is a negative. I think even the staff members who participate in it will admit that it is a flaw themselves, in games where people should rise and fall on their own character's merit.
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Old 01-15-2014, 07:17 PM   #6
PhasmaInMachina
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

Jherlen, I agree with you that you can divorce these two themes within the game by removing a deity system. The game I staff for has had a deity system in place for two decades now, and I do not think at this point it would even be an option. I don't see anything inherently wrong with a deity system provided that the deities act effectively as DMs.

If I was pressed to make a stand for, or against having a pantheon, I do think I would remain with our current system. It adds a lot more to the game than it detracts in the form of random interactions, quests etc. Having said that I could certainly understand the motivations behind a newer MUD choosing to remove this aspect or not adopt it in the first place. If the system is functional it works but if it becomes non-functional cronyism could easily become rife.

Edit: It is also worth adding that the system MightyK talks about in the post below is in place with heavy oversight of junior staffers by the higher echelons. It also really helps to have a staff and community who are, typically, heavily invested in making the game a better place together. It doesn't have to be every player in the community with that perspective, but if the majority do and the staff skills are there then the game should do well.

Last edited by PhasmaInMachina : 01-15-2014 at 07:23 PM.
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Old 01-16-2014, 01:51 PM   #7
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

What about owners who actually earn every single piece of rare equipment and all their stats by actually playing their own MUD because they enjoy it, like me? I honestly hate people like you who assume that every owner cheated for their mortal. I've had people like you sign on my MUD and cause drama because OMG I actually enjoy playing my own MUD, shame on me. In my opinion, there's too many newbies who sign on MUDs looking for flaws and something to bitch about. Newbies need to play MUDs with an open mind and be willing to accept something different.
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Old 01-16-2014, 01:59 PM   #8
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

I guess I should mention that I've grown jaded towards newbies who come off as trolls because they walked in the front door looking for trouble, even if it's only minor.
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Old 01-16-2014, 02:23 PM   #9
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

Quote:
Originally Posted by PhasmaInMachina View Post
Jherlen, I agree with you that you can divorce these two themes within the game by removing a deity system.
Whether you have a deity system or not doesn't matter; what matters is when the staff members/admins ARE the deities in the IC world, rather than just being able to control them. For example, if Staff Member A is also the God of Evil, and Staff Member B is the God of Justice, and these two religions are in conflict in the game, you've put your staff members in a position where they are ICly in conflict, and the conflict might result in death of their followers, destruction of temples and what have you. This creates a competitive atmosphere among your staff members because of the warring nature of their IC personas. I saw it happen on a MUD once, years ago, and it indeed lead to corruption, cliques, cronyism, and false accusations of all of the above.

A better approach, I think, is to keep your IC deities as a totally separate concept from your staff, and give staff members the ability to animate the deities and their religions as makes sense for your world. Multiple staff members should be able to animate a deity, priests and so on, assigning quests and reacting to prayers and what have you according to your lore. This puts the game world under collective staff ownership and promotes fairness among staff, as they aren't in competition to make "their" religion win, and so have less motive to unfairly help/hinder players.
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Old 01-16-2014, 03:24 PM   #10
PhasmaInMachina
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

Jherlen. This is a possibility without a stringent set of guidelines on how to interact with mortals. Honestly the scenario you described is extremely unprofessional for any staff member. For instance, in the rare situation that staff members choose pop down and rally their followers, or do combat with another rival staff member, they cannot directly influence a player driven battle. It is a balancing act whereby the staff must create unique player experiences passively, and guide them into it just like a dungeon master, but ultimately let the players find their own way through whatever scenario is created.


As to rivalry, just like an office dispute where two individuals cannot get along and it is interfering with standard business operations, the two staff members in question would need to either sort their grievances out and be cordial or lose the ability to have access to a religion altogether. At the end of the day the players and the staff have a symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other. When staff rivalry starts to get in the way of player fun, then the matter needs to be addressed immediately.

Anyhow, as I already stated, there is merit in what you suggest and it removes many of the problems we discussed. I'm just saying our MUD has existed happily for 20 years with the system I described. There isn't any reason to reinvent the wheel. Besides which, removing the public (IC) face of the staff does not remove the possibility of potential favoritism, or OOC coordination. That can still happen.

DarkOzma raises another issue, perhaps unintentionally, which is staff playing their own game with disproportionate game knowledge compared to the average player. If the staff are volunteers then they cannot be expected to not, at least occasionally, enjoy the fruits of their labor. The problem arises though, that they have built large parts of the game, which means they have intimate knowledge of (at least) certain parts of the MUD and animosity is generated between the regular players and the staff member.
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Old 01-16-2014, 05:37 PM   #11
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

I've seen this as a player and a wizard.

I think you want staff that do play, otherwise there are things they just won't get. It's sort of like eating your own dog food, what looks good in code -- when played just doesn't work.

And it happens, people are fallible. I've watched one really great mud with a healthy player base get destroyed by one egomaniac that got promoted to admin that systematically punished/nerfed guilds not his own and chased away long time players.

-Al
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Old 01-17-2014, 11:35 PM   #12
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Re: Cronyism and Cliques

Hello again yall. I wasn't trying to make any Creator feel badly DarkOzma, and though I never played your MUD (I'm sure it's great as I grew up on poorly-subtitled bootleg DBZ tapes) I did preface my post by saying that even where there is instances of cronyism and cliques it can still be a great game to play. Your situation does not sound like wiz power abuse to me, but as Phasma said, having intimate and precise knowledge of game mechanics can make for unfair gaming as well.

That isn't an issue if it is not abused, but I think it's important to recognize it for what it is: a slippery slope.

As Albionite said, failure to distinguish OOC/IC can be a game crusher. I have personal experience with that as well. I think that the cliques and cronyism is, at its heart, an OOC/IC failure spurred on by greed.

The religion/deity idea is interesting, and I think whenever possible NPCs should be shared, to not allow for an immortal to get a sense of ownership or entitlement for their mob. Player biases and attitudes towards staff can also develop negatively, I have found, if a specific immortal is in charge of an unpleasant NPC.
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