Administration tips

Submitted by javelin on Sat, 2007-11-03 13:20

Admin Roles (Talek)
A MUSH is not run by just one person (at least, I've never seen one that is). A MUSH isn't even run by one type of person; a wide variety of talents are necessary. The most common roles that I have seen are:

  • Manager
    The manager (most often the God of the MUSH) keeps track of who's doing what and what needs to be done. In some situations, the manager also assigns tasks to people (though a task will often be better done by volunteers than by forced labor). Unfortunately, the manager will often have to deal with admin politics more than anything else that ought to be done.
  • Rule Enforcer
    The rule enforcers make sure that nuisance players are identified and dealt with. This can include everything from lecturing the player to @nuking them.
  • Judge
    The judges mediate conflicts between players and admin (and, occasionally, among the admin themselves). While the jobs of rule enforcer and judge often fall on the same people, it is generally a bad idea for one person to be both rule enforcer and judge for any given situation.
  • Player Helper
    These are (probably) the people that the players see most; their purpose is to answer player questions and help players get started on the MUSH. Never underestimate the amount of work this can be.
  • MUSHcoder
    The MUSHcoders deal with making sure all MUSHcode systems get written and maintained. They also deal with security problems arising from said systems (or MUSHcode in general). It's also good to have an experienced MUSHcoder who is also a player helper; many of the questions asked by non-newbies deal with MUSHcode and how to use it. It is often helpful for MUSHcoders who work on large systems on the MUSH to have access to a test MUSH where they can test their changes without the possibility of crashing the real MUSH.
  • Server Hack
    The server hack (usually one (or none) to a MUSH) adds new features to the MUSH server itself. Make sure you trust your server hack; there are no security protections against what can be done in the server. It is almost mandatory for server hacks to have a test MUSH to try out their changes; a single typo can keep a MUSH down for days.

These roles are not exclusive; admin normally fill three or more roles. The trick is to make sure you've got at least one of everything (with the possible exception of server hack); big problems can result from not having someone to deal with each of those jobs.

I personally have been all of these things (except manager) at one time of another, but I tend to be a MUSHcoder and server hack more than anything else, and that colors my views.

Admin, players, meetings, management, and involvement (Javelin)
In my opinion, it's the people that make the MUSH, and running a MUSH is more about management of people than about hacking, MUSHcode, or building - though all of those are important!

Choose your admin with care, and look for balance. You don't want all psychocoders - you need strong player and newbie-help admin, people who have experience in building and coding, and a few people who are just very trustworthy and friendly and serve to help everyone on the admin team get along.

When I am God, I reserve to myself the final approval on admin and the power to de-admin folks who fail to live up to the standard of admin'ing I expect. Other than that, I prefer to let the admin as a group make all the important decisions, serving as a facilitator and final arbiter as needed.

That's one aspect of my general belief that the more you can involve your players and admin, and give them responsibility and a stake in the game, the more enjoyment they will get and the more constructive and innovative your game will run.

One of the ideas I'm proudest of from DuneMUSH was the "player positions" or "awards" which gave recognition to players who contributed to the MUSH as a whole, through coding, building, role-playing, helping newbies, or judging. The system recognized that there were a lot of different types of valuable player contributions, and as players contributed, they were given inereasing recognition and powers to help them contribute further. It's also a great way to identify potential admin!

In short, I believe that God should treat every player fairly, seek positive and constructive "win-win" solutions to problems, and continually seek to improve the MUSH.

Conflict Resolution for Admin (Javelin)
As God, you may well be called upon to mediate conflicts between admin or between admin and players. You may even have a conflict yourself. Here are my tips for how to handle such situations:
Willingness to resolve
The key to all conflict resolution is for all the parties involved to agree in principle that they are willing to resolve the conflict. Maybe it'll be for their own peace of mind, and maybe for the good of the MUSH, but either way, willingness to resolve is crucial.
If you're in conflict
If you're the admin in conflict, and you've decided that your goal is to resolve the conflict for the benefit of yourself and the mud, here are some steps you can take:

1. Initiate communication. Take the initiative with the other admin, and agree to discuss the issue with an eye to working out differences for the good of the MUSH.
2. Provide constructive feedback. Yelling at another admin is unlikely to result in positive change. Instead, indicate specifically what your concern is and how their actions affect you. This type of communication places trust in the other wizard to see that they address the situation - trust which they will appreciate.
3. Listen to constructive feedback. When another wizard is giving you feedback about your actions, try not to get defensive. Listen actively and be sure you understand and clarify their concern. Then you can take action to alleviate it.
4. Maintain a professional relationship. If you can't resolve your differences, at least agree that they don't have to make it impossible for you to work with each other or to respect each other as people and wizards. The ability to respectfully disagree is the hallmark of the mature wizard.
5. Follow up. Set a time when you and the other admin will evaluate the results of any changes you decide to make, and see if they've rectified the situation.

If you're mediating conflict
Here's a 7-step procedure for mud troubleshooting. It's useful when two players or admin are in conflict, when someone reports a game problem, and in many other situations.

1. Get all the facts. Action without knowledge is bound to lead to disaster in the long run. Before making a decision or taking action, be sure that you've got all the information you need to make the best decision for the long term.
2. Don't take sides. While you may be rendering a judgment which will be to the advantage of one player and the disadvantage of another, it's important to be fair to both sides and consider each one as objectively as you can. Your job is not to take a side, but to take an action.
3. Discuss with other wizards. Constant communication between wizards has many benefits. It gives you the advantage of opinions and options you might not have considered. It also keeps the other wizards informed about your decisions, which prevents players from playing one wizard against another. The only exception to this rule is if the situation is personal or warrants privacy.
4. Encourage responsibility in others. Solving a conflict between players is great. Even better is when the players learn to solve their own conflict. Actively seek to involve people in the solution of their problems. Teach admin the steps discussed above. Making players more responsible for the mud also increases their commitment.
5. Look for win-win solutions. Usually we seek compromise solutions in which one party gives and the other takes. But often there are win-win collaborative solutions which might satisfy both parties and enable them to engage in better future relations. The key to finding these solutions is a willingness of the parties to try to work together, which requires some maturity on their part.
6. Leave yourself an out, if appropriate. Although you're God and the buck stops with you, consider making decisions which leave room for change should new information come to light. However, to maintain consistency, decisions should rarely be reversed, or players will come to see the admin as wishy-washy.
7. Follow up. Explicitly set a time at which you will review the results of the action or decision and make sure that it's really working the way you wanted it to. This is crucial; making a decision and then forgetting about it will give the impression that you say a lot but don't mean it.

Administrative tips (Mephisto)
Being a MUSH admin is, depending on the MUSH, the theme, the codebase, and the phase of the moon, a pleasure and a pain in the neck. The key is patience and consistency. Here are a few things to keep in mind, for both the experienced and the green administrator:

* It's a game. This is the hinge upon which the door to a MUSH's succeeds succeeds or fails. To be honest, I've seen people who "use" MUSHes out of an isolated interest for the particular theme, out of a desire to master the programming language, or to impress a love interest. These people are USERS, not players. Most people, though, are PLAYERS. And as such, your MUSH is a game. Unless you're doing a highly non-traditional MUSH, you should ALWAYS remember that having fun and being interesting and/or amusing should be among the highest priorities of any game that aims for success (depending on your goals, of course).
* Know when to step down. One of the main reasons for MUSH death is an admincorps that has gradually lost interest, ability, or time to do what needs to be done to run a good MUSH. Times like these are the most painful for an administrator. You're torn between giving up your position of power and keeping your activity and creative role. You know that, to be fair, you can't have it both ways. And sometimes, the MUSH is in dire straights and stepping down might well mean its death. That's the part of being a wizard that they don't tell you about in the manuals, but it happens a lot. Sometimes, it's better to step down or close a MUSH than it is to string yourself or your MUSH along. There's a time to nuture and a time to let go, and let the MUSH succeed or fail on its merits. In a way alike to none other, for MU*ers, the journey is the reward. And that is that.
* Communication between admin is the most important thing to be concerned about. Complications that arise from mis- or non-communication are among the most insidious and can have a disastrous affect on morale. Have an email dissemination list setup that everyone can email to. I prefer one list to which all the admin are subscribed, and one list to which all the admin and any players that have the desire are subscribed. Use the @wall/wizard and @wall/royal channels. Set up an online bulletin board or "captain's log" to which any admin can add, or review. These are essential tools: use them!
* Never stop playing. Perspective is key for an administrator: knowing what it's like for people new to MUSH, to the Internet even, knowing what being a PLAYER is like. Once an admin, it's likely your outlook was changed, but always try to remember what it was like to be a player, with the tools and services and toys that your MUSH provides. It's easy to say "I want to make a MUSH I'd play on", but sometimes, it's hard to remember what being a player is all about.
* Remember the magic. When you were just a player, life was different. Remember? The exploration, the wonder, being concerned not with arranging the next meeting, but with getting online to RP. To figure out how to get that text to line up straight, to figure out how to lour the king away from his bodyguard... Being an admin can take you away from all that to the point where you might forget, might lose track of what it was like to PLAY the game. Never forget, though, that the best administrators are they who best understand what makes a game great. When a new Royal or Wizard joins the ranks, you can smell their interest an enthusiasm. Try very hard to not let that sense of play (even in administration) be overcome by the somewhat "traditional MUSH admin somberness" that plagues administrators everywhere. MUSHing - for both administrator and player - should be fun. Period. You won't always succeed, but you should try to remember what it was like the day you first discovered MUSH, and let the measure of those first magical moments be your guide in all you do.