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HOW TO FIX THE SUPPORT PROGRAM – A MODEST PROPOSAL [Author: wirehead]

Never let it be said that I didn’t offer constructive suggestions.

First off, a post-mortem on the weekend’s events. Unfortunately, the story ex-SRC Zaronia sent in and added on to by another ex-SRC rapidly entered the realm of Jerry Springer, with tales of whom boffed who for what. I edited out most of the names invovled. I didn’t edit out enough.

Americans in particular have a problem when it comes to sex. We pretend to be moral and prudish about the subject, but whenever it comes up it tends to overwhelm everything it touches; including here some very real issues that have been raised about the support program. There are more than a few similarities to the Starr Report here; another example of the prurient nature of its subject matter overwhelming any actual fact-finding it may have done regarding wrongdoing by the Executive Branch. No one cared that Clinton warped the Presidency to protect his own perjury; they were too busy tut-tutting over Monica Lewinsky’s creative use of Altoids mints. Thus Clinton remains and Starr is gone. Welcome to the 90’s.

So let’s get away from all that (and no impassioned defenses from Clintonoids, please). What we’ve learned this weekend:

– There is no way to prove anything. Short of staking out OSI and going through logs, the only way we conclusively KNOW of wrongdoing is when, as with Nighthawk’s tower being deleted earlier, there is conclusive, concrete evidence that cannot be otherwise explained.

– There are serious problems with the Support program. Blind defenders aside, I have recieved far too many reports from far too many people for them all to be sour grapes of those cast aside. Believe this or not at your leisure.

– The responsibility for cleaning up this mess lies largely with Origin. We as a community can demand change; we cannot actually enforce it.

– Philisophical disagreements that I may have aside, the Support program is not going away.

Well then. To quote Lenin, what is to be done? Here’s my suggestions. Take them, leave them, laugh at them, whatever.

COMPANIONS – This seems to have been originally a bone thrown to those too young to enter the Counselor program. I would question whether or not it is really needed. Do we truly have a massive influx of new users, at least on the American servers, to justify an entire group of people dedicated to hand-holding them through the game.

I really think Companions should be folded into the Counselor program. It adds a layer of bureaucracy which is not needed. If they do remain, they should have NO powers whatsoever. They are, as advertised, advanced players willing to be Big Brother to a newbie. Nothing more, nothing less.

COUNSELORS – Counselors were advertised as an Online Help System for Ultima Online. Then they were made into something more, sort of a Bright Cheerful Blue Anti-Macro Police Force. This is unnecessary and in fact very harmful to the Counselor program. Counselors should, again, be viewed as a means of obtaning help on game mechanics and a conduit, through the much-maligned Origin IRC system, to higher-ups should intervention be necessary in a given situation. They should not be able to interact with players save speech. I. E. no jailing players, no teleporting players, no otherwise affecting the game environment. They are the UO equivalent of selecting “Help” from the main menu.

To avoid the appearance of favoritism, Counselors should not have any characters on the shard which they counsel on, without exception.

SENIOR COUNSELORS (SRC’s/ASRC’s/SLC’s) – These should, in addition to their administrative role within the volunteer system, be the lowest level in the hierarchy with the ability to effect the game environment in a limited fashion. They should be able to teleport players from point to point (“Help, I am stuck” calls), telestorm out players who are being disruptive, and jail repeatedly disruptive players pending a visit from a GM. There is no need for any further interaction with the player environment.

SRCs and above should not have ANY characters save on Volunteer or Test Center. By dint of their accepting an administrative role in the game, they give up being a part of it as a participant.

CUSTOMER SUPPORT REPRESENTATIVES (GM’s) – These are the first (and only) level of paid online support provided by Origin, and as such the only ones entrusted with the ability to radically affect the play environment.

They should be the ones handling the majority of player-interaction-gone-bad calls. When doing so they MUST appear in person. They MUST always remember and ACT as though they are SERVING the CLIENT, aka the player. They are not gods. They are not parents. They do not appear from offscreen and deliver lectures to their errant children. They are Technical Support Representatives. This requires a paradigm shift from what we’ve seen in the past. It is necessary if faith is to be restored in Origin’s ability to maintain its own system.

Needless to say, GMs should not have any characters in game except for Volunteer or Test Center.

GM’s should not during the ordinary course of the day have to ever affect the game environment (creating gold, deleting and/or placing houses, changing character stats, etc). Those abilities should be locked out of the GM client, and only activated by the lead support representative on duty when such actions need to be taken. It would be the lead support representative’s duty to log each such occurance and be prepared to justify each action taken. The virtual worlds represented by the shards have real-world value to the players within, and the responsibility for making changes to them must be carefully controlled. GM Darwin should NEVER have had the opportunity to spontaneously generate houses and gold for resale. The fact that he was actually able to, much less the other alleged abuses we’ve seen this weekend, bespeaks a profound lack of supervision within Origin. It is hoped that this is in the process of being rectified.

Will all of these prevent abuses like we’ve read about this weekend? Of course not. They are confidence building measures. And confidence is what is sorely needed right now. It’s my opinion that the above would constitute a sound building block upon which to start.

As for the current members of the support program. It has been pointed out that all the main players in this weekend’s little melodrama are all EX members of the support program, and not without reason. It is my opinion that in fact, currently the Counselor program is more professionally run than the GMs. We are seeing changes. I expect we will see more.

There is one group that I haven’t touched upon in the above – the Interest/Seer program. They have the ability to totally destroy the game. And there’s no way to avoid it without destroying the Seer program. What can we do about this?

Another subject, for another day.