Hey Tumblr, I didn’t see you there. Oh wait, I DID.
Today I said a thing on Twitter, and lots of people talked with me about it.
If you’re running a server and charging money to un-ban people, you are a terrible server admin.— Marc Watson (@Marc_IRL)February 7, 2014
Upon review, the directness of the statement is a bit cringe-worthy. It’s my fourth most popular tweet, and I’d really rather those top slots be more positive things. I still stand by the sentiment, though, and I wanted to say where the feelings came from.
A brief aside: I realize that in my position, my opinions are often taken as official policy. It’s frustrating that I can’t turn it on and off, and with a single Twitter account go from talking about official support business, to talking about Minecraft as a player, and the realization that I can’t turn it off has greatly impacted what kinds of topics I’ll discuss publicly. I joined Mojang as a hardcore player, and I’ve been playing regularly since 2010. I’ve admin’d several servers, and today’s sentiments came from the position of a server admin who attempted to foster a collaborative community, and weeded out the malicious players. But yes, I get that I no longer get to pick and choose when I’m on or off.
So why did I think that charging for an un-ban made someone a bad server admin? Let’s say that you have a local community dodgeball league. Most people get along, but one player exhibits malicious behavior: they throw the ball at their teammates, they scream obscenities while playing, they cheat and break the rules, and for some reason, they won’t quit building dicks out of the outfield dirt.
In most places, this would warrant some sort of an infraction, based on the established rules system. There might be a warning, or a suspension, or some kind of appeals process. Consider though, if each time the player was suspended, they handed over $5 and continued playing. The disincentive for playing is financial, but if banned permanently, the disincentive is social: you don’t get to play with other people. (I’m sure some will point out that this is true in professional sports, but the fine is usually some astronomical sum of money)
With this player paying per infraction, they get to modify their behavior based on how much money they have available to spend. Meanwhile, the player’s misconduct is impacting their teammates and how much they want to play in the same league with the player. At a certain point, if coaching the player proves ineffective, I believe that it’s better for the team and the league to be rid of that person, and to carry on in a less toxic environment.
That analogy holds up fairly well, though there are other elements to consider, such as the fact that a Minecraft player could buy another username, or in the case of a malicious player, be using compromised accounts to continue playing.
Anyway, if we’re talking in general terms (and completely ignoring the potential implications of charging players to use a feature of the game; I don’t even want to try another EULA conversation), I still maintain that it’s bad for a server community’s well-being to allow a player to buy their way back into the system. To me, it feels cheap and it feels greedy. Not all servers that offer to let you buy your way back do this indefinitely; some have a cap on it, and some apparently even donate that money to charity. However, I think it puts a price on their misbehavior, and cheapens the server.
At the time of writing, almost 200 people have retweeted, so clearly many feel similarly. It’d be easy to stop right here, having had many people on the internet agree with me, but we already live in an environment where we can all pull up a Huffington Post or a Fox News article that “proves” just about any point (for the non-Americans, this is very liberal and very conservative media, respectively), and it’s lazy.
So here’s the other point of view.
I had a conversation with one of the owners of a large server that allows paying for un-bans (just twice). I asked, server admin to server admin, if he might be able to let me know the reasoning behind this kind of policy. Here’s the points I was given:
- If you ban someone forever, and they want to keep using your server, they’ll come back under a compromised or newly-purchased account.
- It allows you to monitor malicious players, instead of having them use a new name and you start from scratch.
- It takes a ton of support resources to manually process ban appeals (assuming your server isn’t hardcore and bans you once, forever).
- Over time, people who were given a second chance could turn into valuable members of the community.
Having the conversation gave me some contrasting viewpoints (though it could be argued that all but the third weren’t only an argument for paying to come back, but for an appeals system in general), and I’m glad I had it.
Regardless of which viewpoint you agree with, I hope we can all agree that with advancements in servers and various plugins, we’re faced with an increasingly wide array of tools that will let us deal with malicious players in more creative ways. Some server networks toss all of the cheaters in one server to play with each other. Some force you to slave away in a rock quarry breaking thousands of blocks before you’re allowed to rejoin society. Some mute you and make you invisible for a certain time limit, which increases any time you rack up offenses. These methods change the way that bans work altogether, and provide various social disincentives for misbehaving. Instead of being able to buy “get out of jail free” cards, I’d like to see servers put more thought into it, for the benefit of their community.