How Players Are Your Best Staff

Adan from FiranMUX gave this presentation during FidoCon on Sept. 8, 2006:

Adan says, "Let me get out of the way first the introduction and shameless promotional portion of my talk. I'm Adan, and I'm from Firan MUX, the game that's been around so long we have our own Wikipedia entry. We're an original-themed Greek/Roman/fantasy hybrid game run by Adam and Stephanie Dray. We've got an active player base of literally hundreds of characters, are located at 5000."

Jon whoos with no bias whatsoever.

Adan says, "Jon, here, is one of our mindless code slaves. We largely ignore him."

Adan says, "Firan is a /big/ game. Because it combines the elements of a traditional tabletop roleplaying game (such as a White Wolf-esque dice and sheet system) with the heavy-code elements of a MUD-esque setting (such as coded combat, item creation, even child birthing), we essentially have the worst of all possible worlds. :) We have roleplay questions that need answering, that would be handled by your typical GameMaster in a tabletop setting, and we have tons of code bugs and questions to shoot when the softcode gets out of line. That translates into a /ton/ of work for our staff."

Adan says, "For a sense of our /volume/ of questions, Adam Dray, the head wizard, sent me statistics of the amount of @request's that Firan has processed. As of last Tuesday, the wizard staff has processed 7,794 inquiries just this year."

Adan says, "The year end for 2005 was 10,882. That doesn't include the various questions that wizards get on channels, paged, and so forth."

Jon says, "Or more long-term goals like new code."

Adan says, "Right. That's just staying on top of the day-to-day fires, so to speak."

Davion says, "That's like... 30/day. That doesn't seem like all -that- much."

Adan says, "Now, even with this volume, inquiries are handled pretty quickly. The average turn-around YTD is about two and a half days. Thankfully, Firan also has a playerbase, part of which is quite loyal and knowledgeable about the game. Therefore, they've deputized fifty five of us to act as what are called PlayerHelpers. I'm one. I think there are a few in the audience. And we handle a lot of the routine sort of requests that come along. First, we handle the sort of duties that many sorts of newbie helpers do: We man the Guest channel, help break new players into roleplay, man the 'Questions' channel, and so forth. A lot of these duties should be familiar, since more than a few games have them."

Adan says, "What sets Firan apart is what /more/ its PlayerHelpers do. A lot of it is Firan-specific, and I won't bog in the details, but I can give a taste. We update our pre-generated characters that have been played but whose player has decided to give up the character. We set people up with a vacation flag to get them idlenuked. We process routine attribute adjustments when someone grows older. In fact, year to date, PlayerHelpers have handled 3,638 that would have had to be done by wizards otherwise."

Adan says, "So to answer your question, Davion, that number I gave would be a bit higher if it weren't for the PlayerHelper corps."

Davion nods

Adan says, "Recently, though, we've branched out. And I'm glad I'm following the Wiki session, because it's sort of a different approach to the question."

Adan says, "We've recently appointed our PlayerHelpers to be, in a way, mid-level gatherers and editors for new and proposed news and help files on the game. For example, there was a complaint that new players in the IC priesthood weren't sure of the rituals and canon associated with their faith."

Adan says, "So the wizards put a REQUEST in our nifty little HELPREQ system (Starfleet's +job system is somewhat similar, for those who know it, in interface and purpose, if not under-the-hood design, which I can't speak to) asking PlayerHelpers to go forth and collect information to make a guide for our priests and priestesses."

Brody nods. "Sort of like our +str (staff request) system. Very cool."

Adan says, "And, actually, Kate, if I can pluck you out of the audience, can you talk a little bit about how you gathered information for the Guide to Uf clerics? How you worked with players and then edited it into a file?"

Kate says, "I sure can!"

Kate says, "Basically, I asked our playerbase for thoughts on ideas about the temple, as well as drew upon the news files we already had. A lot of people stepped up to the plate very willingly and gave up RP hooks they used (IE, one player made up a game in which he prays to Uf with a yes/no question, incubated an egg, and depending on the sex of the chick, gets an answer). I also gave them something called CP (community points) as a 'thank you' for helping us, staff, and the game out. After I had as much as I was going to get from players (via the message board off-game and on channels ongame), I edited it all up into a comprehensible file and sent it to our wizstaff, who edited and gave the eventual 'okay!', at which point it debuted to the world all sparklyclean!"

Kate says, "So, really, our players -not staff/players, just players- helped out enormously there, too."

Adan is going to talk about Community Points later, since they are a big part of our new push.

Kate nodnods! "Lil intro. ;)"

Adan says, "So this is sort of a different take on the Wiki issue. A lot of concerns were raised about, 'who edits it?' Well, in this system, the players /contribute/, a PlayerHelper /compiles/ and a wizard /edits and reviews/. Thus, it still draws on player experience, but it's a bit more controlled."

Adan says, "Also, it helps because a player doesn't need to know everything about a given topic and give a full article. He can just say, 'well, what about this?' or, 'I remember that Bob did Y once, and it really worked' and it can become part of the bigger article."

Adan says, "And I'll pause here for questions/comments/what not before forging into Community Points."

Adam says, "Random comment: Firan has converted its web pages to wiki and should release that to the general public pretty soon. Public can read, and staff will have read and edit permissions."

Brody says, "Oh, neat. :)"

Brody will have to check that out.

Adan says, "Oh! I would be remiss if I didn't mention another way this system works. As I mentioned, we have a 'roster' of pre-generated characters (which is why Adan/Adam is not my fault). When a player gives up a character, a PlayerHelper will ask people who roleplayed with the old player of the character to send in 'updates' so that the new player knows what happened with the character. The PlayerHelper will compile all the updates and edit them, and a wizard will finally add the updates to the character's sheet. This lets us make sure new players are more comfortable with their character."

Adan says, "But since it seems like the floor is pretty quiet, I'll forge into what I really love about this player-participation system: Community Points. Many games have really dedicated players that might have been around for a while, but don't have the time to become staff or even Newbie Help staff. Yet they help out around the game in really important ways. How do you reward them? XP is one answer, but it's essentially giving an IC reward for OOC help. What Firan did was implement a new system: Community Points (CP). It's /like/ XP, but how you gain it and what you spend it on is totally different."

Adan says, "Since our help file on community points puts it pretty well, I'll just quote:

"The best thing about Firan is that we've developed a community of players who help each other out, and make Firan a virtual home. We have a large staff who put in enough hours on Firan each week to qualify as a part-time job. We have an even larger group of Player Helpers. And the players themselves are eager to pitch in and help make Firan fun for everyone. It's for this reason that we're able to keep Firan from being a pay-to-play game and its time we start rewarding people for pitching in.

"One ways we're going to do this on Firan is a system called 'Community Points'. If you're a good mush citizen, and you help out, we think you've earned the right to a few perks. If there are going to be perks on a game, they shouldn't go to someone because they know the right people or happened to ask on the right day--we believe in meritocracy. Players who give a lot, should get a lot.""

Adan says, "Community Points, then, are our systematic way of saying, 'Hey! Thanks for being a good player!' Thanks for, well, adding to our sense of community. So if you help a new player get settled into a character, you might get one community point. If you chip in with good information for a news file we're working on? Maybe 2 Community Points. And so on. Full disclosure? I'm getting Community Points for giving this talk today."

Adan says, "What, might you ask, can you /get/ with Community Points? Well, as I mentioned in my intro, Firan staff is /busy/. There are a lot of things that a player might want, such as having his or her child NPC made into a playable character, or a custom quest, that isn't essential to the game, but would be really nice to have."

Adan says, "Community Points are how you get those things. You spend them to have staff do a little bit 'extra' for you that isn't essential for the plot or story, but is their way of saying, 'because you went above and beyond for us, we're going to do a bit of work for you'. So building a room that isn't essential (since we want to keep our database size down) is 10 community points. Getting a child NPC make into a playable PC is 50 community points. Your very own custom quest is 200 CP."

Adan says, "It's not that staff wouldn't make characters or run quests otherwise. But they might not be the child /you/ want, or a quest tailored to what you want your character to do."

Adan says, "And as the news files point out, CP is a quantifiable way of passing around these sorts of perks. No one can say, 'Hey! Because you're friends with Adam, he ran this special quest where you're the star!' Instead, Adam can say, 'No. Adan busted his butt doing all these things to help the game, like helping new players and giving a talk at FidoCon to spread word about the game. That's why he's getting his special quest where he's the star.'"

Adan thinks, though Adam and Jon can perhaps back me up, that since we've had Community Points, well, player participation with these sort of things has gone up. It's a tangible benefit, and can have good application on a lot of games since the design itself is modular: How you earn them can vary, as well as what you spend them on. It can be changed to fit your system, just as much as XP can.

Adan says, "And /wow/, I've talked a bit. So that wraps up what I had prepared."

Javelin has a question about that when you're taking questions;

Adan will throw the floor open for questions and such.

Adam says, "We've seen a pretty large improvement in the attitude of player ownership of the game." Jon nods to that.

Adan says, "Go ahead, Javelin. :)"

Javelin says, "I think it's philosophical, but you tell me. Psychological research suggests that when you take people who are intrinsically motivated to do something (like contribute to a community in positive ways) and you add an extrinsic reward, it actually reduces intrinsic motivation (and so if you ever drop the reward, you're in big trouble). Do you think that applied to the CP concept?" Kastaprulyi has a comment on that...

Adan says, "I don't think so, necessarily. We had a wonderful staff and PlayerHelpers before we had community points. And I'd help out if I got CP for this or not. But I think what you're getting is a few things: First, you're getting those on the margins, who were on the fence about helping, more involved, because suddenly it's more 'worth' their time. Second, it makes them, as Adam said, feel more like the game is 'theirs' rather than staff's and that they're getting /noticed/ for the work they do for the community."

Adan says, "But I'd love some other comments on that."

Adan says, "And sure, Kast. This is open floor now, since I'm fresh out of prepared material. :)"

Ianootz says, "I'd like to vouch for that last point about players feeling noticed. I see that sentiment a lot with the CP system."

Kate says, "It also helps, I think, take characters who might otherwise be "unimportant" (for lack of better term) and really give them SOMETHING. The quests jump readily to mind. You can be a Joe Schmoe, but still save the day doing something awesome with your saved up CP."

Kastaprulyi says, "That's true, Javelin, but there's another psychological principles involved. For example, the one that says that when you're rewarded at random intervals for constantly doing something, you become very interested (or even addicted) to doing that behavior."

Javelin nods. "And Firan may well be large enough to maintain the resources to timely provide those rewards."

Adam says, "Javelin, the research is what it is. It's probably the case. We may 'disincentivize' some people from helping for the right reasons but we're way making up for the lost help with a huge increase in people doing stuff for CP. The nature of the CP seems to have a weird intrinsic reward feel to it, too. Like, 'the staff is recognizing my contributions,' not 'the staff is paying me in points for this work.' I do see a lot of the latter but I think the former is fairly common, too."

Kastaprulyi adds, I know that on OS the equivalent to those CP is, for most players, more of a pat on the back than a back than an actual payment.

Adan nods to Kast. "We can also hope that the CP system will make people more helpful when they aren't getting CP for it. That it will make a habit of helpful behavior. And personally, I can really speak to how good it feels to be recognized. I've actually taken to saving the automated @mails I get which contain the /reasons/ I've gotten CP. And it really does feel good to read, 'Hey, Jon really appreciated when I took half an hour to help him test this new code.'

Adam says, "And in the end, the work they do removes a huge burden off the staff and we have more time to do fun stuff for players and make them happy, and that stuff gets focused on the /right/ players in the community."

Moroko says, "I think one thing to note on the matter is a lot of the events and activities are part of leadership on the game. People who run events or do playerhelper things, are going to do them no matter what because it's in part what they feel their responsibility. I think like they're pointing out is that some people who might not be interested will do things for the rewards. I will say that I personally have reservations and am waiting to see (and it's a point I've brought up) If people are going to now rely on OOC activity to launch projects ratehr than IC forces to launch an IC project."

Kate agrees with Adam, actually. "I hadn't really thought of it that way, but yes. The recognition is much cooler than the points themselves."

Javelin says, "That seems quite important, Adan, yeah."

Javelin is concerned that such a powerful hedonic treadmill might not be sustainable on a smaller game, though.

Ianootz says, "Oh, can I add something to the value of CP vs. XP, from a player's perspective?"

Adan says, "Let me actually Cut and Paste one reward @mail I got that I saved, so you can see what players see when they get CP. This was before I was a PlayerHelper:

"You have been awarded 2 community points for the following reason: For helping above and beyond the call of duty, assisting players on channel with things not known to Ladonna. You taught a player helper something today! Thanks Adan!""

Adam says, "There's not much of a treadmill effect though. The rewards are predictable, and thus not as addictive. There's no levels to earn with the CP."

Javelin also shares Moroko's reservations to some degree, but that's a different question (and probably an empirical one, rather than the kind of moot point that's unlikely to be tested that I was asking about. :)

Adan says, "Sure, Ian."

Javelin thought Kasta was indicating that the rewards weren't predictable - that it was random or variable reinforcement?

Moroko says, "Please do Ianootz."

Adam says, "I'm not sure I agree with that though. You do something small for the game, you can predict you will get a small Community Point reward."

Kastaprulyi says, "Yep. Variable interval is the psych term. It means something like fishing, where you don't catch anything when you're not fishing, but you don't get a fish for every line cast."

Ianootz says, "It differentiates between exhibiting good IC qualities (good roleplaying = XP) and good OOC qualities (helpfulness, attentiveness) and rewards a player accordingly. Being good in the IC world will get you IC perks, like skills. Being good in the OOC world gets you OOC perks, like staff support for tinyplots, character level upgrades, and other odds and ends which would reasonably be unfair to grant to players who may be excellent roleplayers but otherwise completely drag down the game."

Adan says, "It is and it isn't, Javelin. We rely on player nominations for CP-awarding. So if someone doesn't nominate you for being helpful, you won't necessary be awarded. But we are predictable in that if it comes to our attention, we're consistent in awarding."

Adam notes that we had started to award XP for IC and OOC stuff, both, before we instituted Community Points.

Jon says, "We make every attempt to reward CP for good behavior. Sometimes it gets missed in the shuffle. If we know about it (that includes PlayerHelpers), we give them points. :)"

Ianootz says, "I took a two year leave from Firan, but when I came back, one of the things I was most impressed with was the new Community Point system. I thought it was a wise choice and in good taste."

Ianootz says, "And you can clearly see the difference in the game and player attitudes from one system to another."

Javelin nods re: Adan's player-nomination point. "Thanks, it sounds like it's working out quite well."

Riyad recalls the first time he got CP. A fellow player had nominated me for taking time to help understand something that was frustrating about the game, and helped the player deal with it. It was good to know I made that kind of difference. So, on the back end, the CP system has that "Golden Rule" reward behind it.

Kastaprulyi says, "I'm not sure I agree with it, but that's interesting that you separate good roleplaying skills from other kinds of good behavior." Adan says, "It's definitely a system that won't be for everyone, but it's modular and has a lot of applications, which is why I (and we) wanted to share it with a broader audience."

Javelin is mostly interested in what factors are likely to make a system like that more or less successful at a MUSH, you see. It works at Firan, where else would it work or not, and why?

Moroko says, "Adam, there are plenty of unsung heros with CPs. :) And it's something to consider, "I think in a smaller game CPs isn't needed." Where activity is it's own rewards. On a large game like Firan which consistently has like 40+ players logged even in the dead of the night. Being able to reward for OOC activity is very useful especially for like collating information and things. The trouble in my book is partly whether you do or don't reward for 'duty'."

Jon says, "We value CP a lot more highly than XP. RP is why we come to these games in the first place, but you stay because of a community. You stay because you enjoy playing with these people. So in our minds, being a good game citizen is a lot more important than being a good RPer. :)"

Kate says, "What would you consider 'duty', Moroko? It's a game, everyone is offering his or her time voluntarily.""

Adan says, "I think, Javelin, it would work on games where the 'staff' - that is, the wizard staff, can't necessarily have the same level of direct contact with the players that it would like to."

Javelin grins at Adan. I didn't mean for you to have to answer that question. Just telling you where I'm coming from.

Adan says, "I know. But I wanted to take a stab at answering it."

Moroko says, "A military character going over OOC combat code at a training event? or A General leading his people to war. Which HELL of a headache on an OOC realm trying to deal with personalities and lead them. Is that his responsibility or is he being a good OOC player by doing his 'job'?"

Kate says, "We awarded CP for that."

Moroko will point out most of his examples will be military specific because that is the part of Firan that keeps him playing. :)

Kate says, "For that sort of stuff, we had ...God knows how many noms. And we awarded/wizzed them up as we got them."

Adam says, "What happened is that the wiz-staff got so overworked that we were about to break. Steph and I insisted on pushing more responsibility to the player helpers and we created the Community Point system so that we could recognize and reward the people who deserved it. When you've just worked 8-10 hours at the day job and you log into your game, you DO want to do fun things for your playerbase. You just want to make sure you're spending your valuable staff time on the /right/ people. The CP system lets us measure -- mostly objectively and quite transparently -- who deserves our resources the most."

Kate says, "It's not your OOC job to teach people code or gear up for war. ICly, sure. But OOCly? that's an awesome extra step you took."

Adam says, "We don't /punish/ people who have no CP. We treat them like any other player. But when a player asks for something unusual or in the 'favor' category, seeing that they have 200 CP makes you way more likely to say yes."

Javelin is very interested in respect-based economies.

Brody says, "There's a good question: How *do* you make that transparent? Is there a grid somewhere showing a standing?"

Adam says, "Well, staff can see the CP totals and a player can see his own numbers."

Moroko nods, "I'm not saying something it's done bad. I just wished to point out. It's somethign very careful to consider on any game, Kate." :)

Brody nods. "But no community-wide viewing to see where someone stands?"

Kate says, "I think that's been discussed?"

Brody might have missed it.

Adam says, "We're going to be implementing a series of @topten commands for various things in the game, and a '@topten citizens' command would be sweet."

Ianootz says, "I don't think it'd be wise to have any charts or other way of seeing other players' points. Part of this system is the personal gratification. It's a personal satisfaction, not a point for competition or jealousy."

Kate says, "Er, on our game. :P On Firan, Brody."

Javelin says, "Although I don't think that objectivity should be a goal by any standard. Equity, yes. Fairness, sure. But determining whether someone has contributed to a community is inherently a subjective determination. IMHO, of course."

Ianootz says, "Lord, I could just /imagine/ the jealousy."

Brody nods. "Jealousy, maybe. But also competition. Still, that could detract from your goal and intent."

Adam says, "Yeah, we'd have to consider it carefully."

Jon says, "A subjective determination made by the players, for the most part, not staff."

Javelin nods to Jon.

Kastaprulyi says, "Personally, I'd think of being a good player, roleplaying and helping other players, as different aspects of the same thing. Making things fun for the other players, whether it's including them in your storylines or helping them with commands, seems like a responsibility you agree to when you join the game."

Adan says, "And we've gotten pretty good at assigning standard point values to the same sorts of helpfulness that come up time and time again. Like, 'help new player settle in' is generally 1 CP, to pick an example."

Kate says, "Not everyone agrees, Kast."

Adam says, "The other thing our CP system does for us is codify what we consider good citizenship and make people aware of it."

Brody says, "That's an ideal, Kas. It doesn't hurt to have the carrot to dangle too."

Kastaprulyi nods.

Brody says, "Here, we think it should be enough to just RP - but we *do* award XP for +votes. So there's really nothing wrong with what Firan's doing, in my mind."

Adam says, "The thing is, the 'goodness' of a player can be imagined as something of a bell curve. Most people are average player-citizens. Some are great player-citizens and some are crappy player-citizens. We're trying to push the curve to the good side."

Ianootz says, "And I'd like to add that, if you look at time spent on helping the community as a currency, it only makes sense. You *gave* more time to the game than the next person, beyond what is required of you as a normal player/character. Logically, the game would owe you a greater debt of special attention like that which you gave to the game."

Walker says, "Ask not what the game can do for you. Ask what you can do for the game, and the first shall take care of itself?"

Ianootz noddles.

Adam says, "Again, I draw from our infamous Living Room philosophy. We've invited you to a role-playing party in our virtual 'house.' Some just come for the beer and the fun. That's cool. If you also take out the trash, wipe up the spills, and hold Jon's head out of the toilet when he's throwing up, you're something special. When you want to stay an extra day or two, we are happy to say yes to you."

Brody tsktsks at Jon.

Adam says, "As far as I know, Jon has never thrown up in my house."

Kate pats Jon. Poor Jon.

Jon says, "Dude. Nobody offered to hold my head."

Ianootz says, "And I'll add they've done it a few times at FiranCon. ;)"

Kate holds his hand. Not head. Ew.

Riyad sniggers.

Adam says, "Does the system apply to smaller games? I don't know. If you're throwing a gathering of a few friends, do you really need a system to keep track of who washed the dishes? Probably not. A simple 'thank you' might be enough."

Ianootz says, "And staff would have more attention, so there'd be less of a demand for it."

Adam nods to Ianootz.

Ianootz says, "more time, rather."

Adan says, "But I think I'll wrap it there, since I've pretty much had the run of our one hour slot, unless anyone has any final thoughts or questions. Again, we're at 5000 and our PlayerHelp staff is all over the Guest channel, as well as Adam and many of the wizards, so feel free to drop by and join in."

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