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Building Trust with Your Players


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What active steps do/will you take to build trust with your userbase? What do/will you do if you make a mistake and break that trust? If you're a player, what do you expect out of the admin and staff of the sites you frequent?

Situation inspiring this thread:
Today is the first day back up for a pet site that I've been on for almost 7 years. It was down for two days without warning. It took awhile for the news to be updated after the site came back up too. The news post said "We are currently trying to figure out what went wrong" but that they think it was a server issue, and "[w]hen we learn more we will update you." I read the comments on the news post and 6 posts down was a statement from the owner of the site. The owner essentially said they are absolved from all blame because the coder is now responsible for everything related to maintenance of the site (due to a contract they have written up). The only thing the coder can't do is change the Terms of Service. It's worth noting at this point that the site has been under a redesign and recode for a long time now (probably at least a year -- can't remember for sure). The coder was brought in to do this single-handedly.

The owner also stated in their comment that "it is [the coder's] responsibility to ensure the site he is contracted to run is functional. It is worth noting, however, that [the coder] has not paid for the server payment that was due June 1, 2017. This may be a reason why the game is down, however I could not give you a concrete answer as I am not a coder or a server admin, thus I cannot tell you why it was down. It is the job of the contracted game manager [the coder] to determine that - all I ensure is that the server is paid (despite having not been given a server payment in 9 days, so the server payment is delinquent by 9 days)." The owner added a note at the end of their post saying "[The coder] has stated to me recently that he no longer wants to run [the site], so that may be why he didn't fix [the site] when it went down."

Two final points to add regarding this situation are 1) there was very public fundraising (via the cash shop) to cover the server costs. It was announced and discussed in the news several times; and 2) there was a successful kickstarter 1 1/2 years ago (with over 2x the goal amount raised) to fund the redesign/recode of the game and to fund new features that are are to be added to the site. There has been progress, but not much has been shown to the players. There is a new forum and a new front page layout (not the entire site), but most everything else is still behind-the-scenes with occasional updates in the news. 

So what do you think, TGL? How do you handle trust relations in your game?

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I've been running a mostly admin-abandoned game for the last two years, having brought it back up after about 6 months of the site being too slow to play or not up at all. This was the sort of game being owned, created, and coded by a single person, but I have been involved since the beginning (it's somewhat of a spiritual successor to a game I made 14 years ago of the same name). I am fortunate that I have always had access to the entire backend of the site, being responsible for maintaining the server (but not primary development until it was abandoned), and was given access to the financials to make sure that the server bills continue to be paid. The admin has said that she is working on a complete revamp of the game from scratch, and she is certainly making sure that the domain is secured, but I find the most valuable part of the current version is the players. Very similar to what you were describing, all of the revamp/recode is happening completely out of the view of players or other staff - as far as players are concerned, I feel that this makes those updates seem very distant if not nonexistent.

Free Stuff is definitely my most powerful tool. I hand out credits and upgrade time very, very freely. This is no way hurts the revenue of the game - in fact, it will increase sales almost every time.

Getting in the Trenches is helpful; I spend a lot of time actually talking to users about their issues and concerns about the game, or sometimes just spending time in the chatroom. I try to express that players are the most important part of the game to me, and I want them to feel like that's true.

Updating More Frequently seems a little counter-intuitive since most people are inclined to release a bunch of updates in a huge batch, but I find players are more trusting of a game if you're releasing these in small chunks. It can be as small as adding some items, but it makes it feel like there's something going on. For a lot of games "recode" or "revamp" seems to be code for "closing" or "no longer supported".

I've seen a number of games that have managed to have decent playerbases while having almost no gameplay to speak of for years, I would have to assume that this is due to good community building. I have definitely discovered that players can be extremely patient as long as you're still communicating with them.

I feel like the biggest threat to a user's trust with any kind of website is downtime due to lack of payment, seeing as it is 100% avoidable, and especially if your users have helped to fund your development in any way.

Edited by volka
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I have yet to have had my site go down for nonpayment but i kind of came close to that. I was able to resolve it successfully but my biggest problem is I guess the bots. I believe they kind of discourage users signing up if there is too many of them. One of my biggest advantages to my site is due to the way the code base is structured is that I can take down any feature without affecting the others. This way users can use other parts of the site while repairs or updates are going on. I have a tendency to do a mass update if it is a complete overhaul but most require just one to three database additions.

I also have difficulty in marketing the game due to wording that I use as well as my lack of experience in this field. I am not a market person, more of a hobbyist. The petsite is not for me to make money but for others to have an outlet to play at. :)

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@volka Thank you for sharing your experiences and models! ^_^

@Hare This is definitely already proving to be quite useful and informative. I'm really glad to see people respond and to see that others are glad for this information as well. c:

@Boltgreywing I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean by bots being your biggest problem.

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On 6/10/2017 at 7:57 PM, Navy said:

@volka Thank you for sharing your experiences and models! ^_^

@Hare This is definitely already proving to be quite useful and informative. I'm really glad to see people respond and to see that others are glad for this information as well. c:

@Boltgreywing I'm not sure I fully understand what you mean by bots being your biggest problem.

@Navy: Bots are pieces of programing that are created by a human that can perform a task without human intervention. Bots come in too types of bots good ones and bad ones.

Good bots tend to be helpful to the users and don't get in the way.

A welcome bot welcomes new users to the website kind of like what digital bot does to make the users feel kind of at home.

Point bots reward users with points if they fave, watch or lama certain type of users. These exist in da. Dahub is a known bot that rewards users.

Bad bots tend to be unhelpful or harmful to the user.

Spam bots flood the sites with spams of marketing ads and other noncense. They also can target the forum if not stopped.

Porn bots flood sites with pictures of peoples private parts from rl in either art, journals or where they can get in. DA is known to have been attacked by these in the past. Sometimes they will post 100 submissions a minute.

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14 minutes ago, Navy said:

@Boltgreywing I know what bots are. What wasn't clear to me is how exactly they're your biggest problem in regards to player trust.

@Navy: Well I heard a lot of feedback that a couple of bots were ruining the rps that my users were doing as well as the chatting aspect. They told me in no discrete terms please get these things out of here.

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This is actually something that I've thought about, and dealt with, a lot over the years. Largely due to the fact that a lot of my players started their SIM gaming experience on Horseland.

For those who aren't familiar with the situation, the tl;dr version is that Horseland said "Hey! We're bringing you all a bunch of cool new updates, so stay tuned!", and then they basically changed everything people loved about the game with no warning or telling people ahead of time what was changing or anything. Including reducing their game money across the board, with no regard for how much they had previously had, and removing paid upgrade perks from the game completely, leaving people who had paid for them with nothing, then when people complained they were like "Sucks to suck!" and if anyone asked for a refund for their now missing upgrade, they gave it to them on the condition that their account would be closed forever. A lot of their older players left, and a lot of them still have what I can only think to refer to as PTSD over the situation.

So, flash forward to now, and despite the fact that HP has been open for over 8 years and that I've never done anything to break their trust, my players can still be a little weary of anything new.

Basically, though, I'm just extremely open with them about everything, and I think most people trust me not to do anything that isn't in HP's best interest.

If we are contemplating a new feature, or a major change to an existing feature, I poll the community about it, I get (and USE!) input from players, I listen to comments and concerns, I explain exactly what is going to be happening so there are no bad surprises, etc.

If we're having an issue getting something done, or fixing a bug, or we are going to have downtime, I explain why. I don't just leave players in the dark.

If someone suggests something that we aren't going to do, I tell them honestly why and not just "no". Like people frequently suggest a second breed specialty, which just came up again this week, and I basically wrote a novel explaining why I wasn't in favor, including the financial ramifications, and the effect it would have on the game itself. Which everyone understood and was okay with not having it added because of the reasons I gave.

If I have to suggest something I know they won't like (such as putting up ads), I explain my exact reasoning and how I will go about doing it so that it will have a minimal effect on gameplay.

And if I want to do something that a majority of people are STRONGLY against, then I don't do it.

So that's how I run my game. I'm honest with my players, I keep them updated as much as I can, and I take them into consideration. I also am frequently in chat and on forums and most of the super active players know me, so they're comfortable talking to me about something. I'm not a mysterious person, I don't bite, and I'm easy to get ahold of should they need me. Which also helps build trust because I'm not just "the game's owner", I'm actually present on the game.

All of that being said, I'm not so open that I give my players financial reports or anything. Basically, I always do what's in the best interest of HP. Obviously if we needed a new server and the majority of our players were like "NO!!!1!111" we'd be getting a new server anyway. That's not the sort of thing I'm talking about here.

EDIT: Also, I would never dream of not paying our bills (server, domain, programming, art, etc.). I'm always astounded when this happens with any business. ESPECIALLY when it's actively affecting players, and especially when it's not rectified right away. Not to mention, it takes a lot to have the game brought down due to non-payment. Once, I got a replacement credit card and forgot to update the expiration date for my automatic billing, which caused my payment to get declined. Normally I would have noticed this the next month when I did the accounting, but it was a particularly crazy time and I didn't notice until the following month. So I had 2 unpaid months, plus the current month that I owed, and not only was my server still up, but Liquid Web hadn't notified me that I was late. But AS SOON as I noticed, I fixed the billing info, and contacted them to pay what I owed. Like, that exact second. I would have been mortified if the game had gone down because of my mistake/oversight.

Also also, there have been times when I haven't updated as frequently as I should, or when I make a mistake, but when I do, I publicly apologize for it and explain what happened. People are understanding when they're kept them in the loop and don't feel like anything is being hidden from them. Way back, I accidentally wiped everyone's upgrade expiration dates off the game which meant everyone's upgrade was gone, AND my most recent backup was corrupted (of course). And at the time I was young and stupid (ha) so I didn't have automatic backups set up. So me and the admins spent DAYS manually checking payment records and re-upgrading people's accounts, but it was okay with everyone because we updated them during the entire process, and we gave them all free upgrade time to make up for it.

Edited by hurricaneviolet
Added some things!
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