Brian Green,

I enjoy MUDs. As a player/coder/administrator, I have always taken an interest in the leadership capabilities of the administration on different MUDs. What trends in MUD leadership are there and how do these trends affect the MUDs? The answer to this question is very important to administrators who wish to attract and keep players.

I fear the growing trend is for administrators to reduce interaction with players. In my opinion, this is very detrimental to the MUD. Not only do administrators lose touch with the players, but they also lose touch with the MUD as a whole.

When I first started playing MUDs, I noticed that many wizards had very little idea of what it was like to be a player. Many did not know how quickly a player could advance his or her standing, or simple questions that new players may ask. I vowed that when I began to code, I would not lose touch with the players as many other wizards had.

However, the reality was different. When I began to code, I lost touch very quickly. Without the interaction with the players, I found myself not knowing simple questions that new players may ask. This disturbed me, and I strove to answer the question: Why did I lose touch?

I evaluated the goals of the players and the goals of the coders and administrators. I compared my goals as a player to the goals of other players on the MUD at the time. Most players wanted to play a game and to have fun. They wanted a consistent world in which to challenge themselves. They wanted everyone to have the same advantages, with no one person or group having more advantages than another.

The goals of the administrators were very similar. They wanted to the players to have fun, to recognize their MUD as superior for various reasons including fun, flexibility, social atmosphere, etc. They felt they should provide a fair and balanced system for the players to interact with.

One might ask, where is the problem? Obviously both groups are working toward a common goal. Both groups want a fun and memorable environment to enjoy and share with others. Although these statements are true, there is a fundamental problem that causes problems is the lack of communication between the groups. Without interaction there is no understanding and therefore no system for both to enjoy.

There is a problematic belief in MUDs today that ruin true, meaningful communication between players and administrators. Many believe that administrators cannot and should not interfere with players. Although it prevents many potential abuses, it prevents true interaction and understanding of each group by the other.

This belief is absolutely untrue. Since MUDs are generally dynamic in nature, thus giving them a big advantages over packaged computer role-playing games, administrators must make changes to the system, usually on a daily basis. These changes will affect players, thus altering their playing environment. Although certain changes may be minor, each change alters the form of the system, changing the way players view and interact with the system. Therefore, administrators already interfere with player actions in an indirect way due to necessity. One must then realize that the administrators may also constructively interfere with the players in a direct method.

When administrators do not interact with players, they lose a valuable asset: player feedback and opinion. Although a proposed change to the system seems numerically balanced and fair, players can often see the unbalancing effect of such a change due to their practical experience with the system. If administrators test the new change before it is put on-line, they can learn of these problems. Administrators should learn that there is a difference between the views that each group has of the system of the MUD.

To solve this problem, administrators should strive to open the channels of communication. Administrators should try their hand at the games they design and code, to get a more practical feel for the game. They need to view things through the players eyes to really know what the game is like. Often, when administrators view the game solely from the abstract, numerical, or code point of view, they lose touch with the players they wish to attract and entertain. Only by playing within the system using the given rules can administrators truly understand what they have created.

There are some issues that need to be addressed before this can be advocated as the best solution. Administrators must remember that they have much more information about the inner workings of the game than the average player does. Due to their limited time, administrators often use "above character" information to achieve whatever goal they want. This gives them a false perception of the system they have created. In addition, many administrators lower themselves to the realm of cheating and abusing power in order to give themselves a better character. A good administrator must avoid these traps if he or she wishes to truly learn more about his or her system.

It is unfortunate that administrators lose touch with the players. Without a good knowledge of the game, they cannot make good decisions to keep the game fun and balanced. If administrators were to become better acquainted with the game from a practical as well as a numerical standpoint, they would be better able to make a game everyone could enjoy. As a player, coder and administrator, I have made encouraging interaction between the players and administrators a personal goal.

[Editor's note: Green's Comment suggests a number of interesting research directions. The transition from player to administrator, with all the concomitant changes in activities, goals, and views, has received little attention in the literature. In addition, the general issue of how a MUD is perceived by different player groups may offer intriguing opportunities for further study.]