Hail and Well Met!
I had no idea what lay ahead when I first entered the world of Sosaria in April 1998. I purchased Ultima Online at the urging of a friend who played the game, hoping to bring the characters I’d been writing about to life. At the time that I bought my Charter Edition, I was writing a (never-published) novel about a young man with the ability to communicate and ally with cats of all kinds. That character, Adrian Ruele, became my first character. He was a fair tamer, although his first large creature (a grizzly bear!) got stuck in the entrance of the provisioner’s shop in Trinsic on the Chesapeake shard, prompting me to tame nothing but horses and small kitties for the rest of his existence. Adrian is gone, supplanted by a mage/inscriptionist and many others, but I still remember him fondly. My characters have moved around a bit since those days, from Chesapeake to Sonoma to Pacific, with occasional forays onto other shards to meet with friends, but Chesapeake remains my home shard. Most of my game-play there has focused on helping new players and developing crafting characters.
In May 2000 I had the opportunity to become a volunteer. I was very excited about the announcement that Ultima Online was actually getting message boards. I was (and still am) a message board junkie—at that point I regularly posted to ten different sites. The stated UO boards purpose, to “provide a forum for communication with novice and veteran Ultima Online players alike,” seemed right up my alley, so I sent in my application the first day they were available. Being chosen as one of the board hosts was one of the biggest thrills I’d ever had—after two years of playing the game I finally had a chance to contribute to the community in a larger way! That thrill still has not worn off, even though the newness of the experience has gone and my job description has grown and evolved. Coming to work here in Austin has only added to the excitement of being involved.
I have seen the message boards grow from 5 forums to 16 since opening. We’ve gone from having a handful of posters to a community of almost 21,000. Just like any community, we have good and bad days, with agreements and disagreements. It can really be a pleasure getting to know people from various shards and facets, seeing funny and touching stories that players share, and learning that your character shares experiences with other characters from all over the world. First and foremost, we are all Ultima Online players and that is what the message boards are all about. Unfortunately, the negatives come with the positives when you have a community. We do have some “hot” topics that will develop into flame wars: discussions on Trammel vs. Felucca, housing decay, and certain play styles can be prone to this problem. I am happy to say that, under normal conditions, these posts are not nearly as common as the neutral or positive ones.
For those of you who don’t know what an Online Community Coordinator does, my job revolves around monitoring the MyUO message boards, and keeping current with other aspects of the community as well. It’s a many-faceted job. Not only do I read hundreds of threads a day, I also participate in discussions, lock/edit/delete threads, respond to Boardhelp requests, mete out board-related discipline, pass player suggestions and complaints to other members of the OSI team, attend meetings, file reports—the list goes on from there. I try to be as impartial as possible as I do these things, using the message board guidelines as a rule for the majority of my decisions on what to do with a thread or post. I like to think that I maintain something of a sense of humor as I do so, and hope that most of the players who post on the forums would find me to be approachable if they wanted to make suggestions or express concerns. As Online Community Coordinator, I try to keep the forums operating as close to their original stated purpose as possible. It’s a big job and not one I can do alone, but between me, Sannio, Cynthe, SilverOne, and Kasper, I believe that the message boards have remained a largely friendly and helpful place for players to come for information about Ultima Online.
There are times, of course, when the boards are not as friendly as they could be. You’ll notice that in the last paragraph I mentioned that I “lock/edit/delete” threads and “mete out board discipline.” Those are two very big parts of what I do. The first part isn’t difficult, on the face of things. (My mother still says, “Now, tell me what it is you do again?” and “you mean you get paid for that?”) The difficulty there lay in learning what I needed to do and when. Some posts that bring up controversial subjects might seem to need immediate deletion, until it becomes obvious that they raise good points and conform to the board guidelines. Others might have a few bad words in them, which removed would allow an otherwise good post to remain. Good threads might be on the wrong boards, while others are obvious trolls that invite dissent. Learning to recognize all of these things took some time; I still make calls that I’d redo differently every now and again, but on the average, I think that I’m doing a good job with it.
Discipline will always be the hardest part of my job. I really am a softy; I’d rather err on the side of caution when sending a warning or giving a suspension. Unfortunately, that aspect of my job still needs to be done. The forums we have up are intended to be meeting places; not just for hard-core players, veteran players, or particular character classes, but for new players or players new to a particular play-style as well. If we were to allow flame wars to take over, it would defeat the purpose of our boards. There are other places where players can post rants. We encourage people to speak their mind, if that is what they want to do, but such posts must be made in a constructive fashion. Any unconstructive post is in danger of being deleted and puts the person who posted it at risk of being warned or suspended. Such posts can even lead to the player getting banned from the message boards and receiving a mark on their game account if they go on long enough. Unfortunately, actions have consequences and not all consequences will be desirable to the players they befall.
Looking at that last paragraph, I really hope that I haven’t scared everyone away from coming to our message boards. On the whole, I really think that we have a great community in Ultima Online. I’d really like the opportunity to meet more of all of you on the message boards.
Online Community Coordinator