MO:UL Logo

Since Cyan have chosen to take all the forum moderation activities "in-house" I feel a little freer to talk about my experiences as a moderator of those forums.  But don't expect a juicy exposé of the great moderation controversies of the past three years - that's not going to happen. But it's maybe worth talking a little about why moderating a forum run by someone else and particularly a business entity is a whole lot different to moderating a "fan forum" or site run by yourself or your friends.

A remark I've seen a few times, when someone is making a comment on some aspect of the way a forum is run (and I'm not just talking about people commenting on the MO:UL forums here) is "I've had experience of moderating a forum with several thousand active users and I can tell you..." with some explanation of what they see as the best way to handle some situation.  Well, no disrespect to those people and what they did, but the context is key here, and I generally suspect that those large forums are likely to be more like a fan run forum.  The distinction is crucial because the moderator's job is rarely "fully defined".  For the most part it's a case of "make sure everyone follows the forum rules", but you'll always get the case where something is close to the edge of what the rules allow, or simply isn't covered by the rules at all.  You then have to think "What would the admins want to do here?"

In the case of a fan run forum (or any forum where the moderators are reasonably close friends of the people running the site) then it's fairly easy for the moderators to guess how the admins would react as they're probably like minded people.  That's kind of how it is with me and JW Platt on the forums.  On the MO:UL forums it was harder to put yourself in Cyan's shoes - they're running the forums for the benefit of the fans, but they're also running a business and the forums are part of the image of Cyan that is on display to potential clients and partners.  As a result you can end up trying to deal with discussions that you feel may have value to other fans, but at the same time presents some kind of negative image for Cyan.  We just have to tell the poster that their thread my be better posted somewhere else.

A typical example of that kind of thing would be discussions about Drizzle (it's worthwhile talking about this one because attitudes changed slightly with the arrival of the Open Source Cyan Worlds Engine).  Drizzle, as most of you will know, is a tool that is used in exporting ages created in Blender for use in Uru:Complete Chronicles so it is a key item in the age creators' toolbox.  Since there has always been a real interest from Cyan in seeing players develop new ages for Uru (even if initially that was only for the player's own personal enjoyment) it would seem natural for discussion to be encouraged on the MO:UL forums.  But threads on Drizzle were usually locked or removed fairly quickly.  The reason wasn't that Drizzle helped people create new ages, but that it also contains features that allow content to be removed from other games and ported into Uru.  That's a breach of the End User License Agreement on the other titles and while they were basically Cyan produced they were often published by other companies and I expect developed under a contract that made them "not Cyan's property".  Cyan can't be seen to condone the license infringements on their own site - it'd just "look bad" - so Drizzle was pretty much purged on sight.  Many people, who were used to talking about it openly on other sites struggled to understand why it was taboo on the MO:UL forums or didn't appreciate the implications.

If people had been content to discuss Drizzle in the context of creating new ages, then Cyan would likely have been pretty cool with that. But in most cases where a thread like that opened you could bet that within three or four posts someone trying to be helpful would throw in a comment like "You know what else is really neat about Drizzle?  You can rip all the ages from XXXX and use them on the YYY shard!"  That sort of thing would end up killing a thread stone dead, which is a shame because Uru needs new content creators and killing threads on age creation probably made it seem like Cyan didn't want to see that happening.  Latterly, Cyan tried to make the position clearer firstly by adjusting the forum rules to say that so long as discussions concentrate on learning about MO:UL or improving it then "hacking" discussions are OK provided it doesn't infringe on other Cyan (and implicitly, non-Cyan) retail products.  Later, Chogon posted a further indication that Cyan applauded efforts to bring new content to MO:UL.

Trying make sure that all the forums members get the right message isn't all that easy:  It takes time and Cyan had very little of that to spare and even the moderators, as volunteers, had limited time to make explanatory posts.  Even when we could there was no guarantee that they'd be read - I have always held the belief that very few of the MO:UL forum users ever actually read the forum rules, for example, but maybe that'll be the subject of another post.