“The hardest decision is knowing when and where to draw the line on slippery slopes and spam without upsetting people. When am I (are we) ready to become the villian(s) in this scenario?” – Joe on being a moderator of a large Facebook Group.
Continuing from Part 1, we focus on Joe and Brian’s role in creating The Transformers Trading Card Game Facebook group, arguably the biggest hub for talk about the game, and how they manage to keep it from getting out of control. Plus more on getting your local community off the ground and keep it running!
Beyond the channel, Joe and Brian are also moderators of the largest Transformers TCG facebook group. Did you envision the group as being the main hub for TFTCG talk on the internet? What made you want to try and run such a large group?
Joe: Envision? No. Hope, yes. I tried to join a group when I first learned about the game and I couldn’t find one. So I just hit create group, did a few things, and crossed my fingers. The users came. After about 2k people and no other group gaining enough ground, we knew we had to keep this orderly. Then WotC started showing up. Then we knew that this was going to be the go-to group.
There were a few reasons why I wanted to spearhead this task. First, I was pretty much dumping all my other games and going all-in on this one so I wanted to be sure it didn’t bomb from a social toxicity standpoint. Second, I’ve seen how some admins/mods handled other groups and quite frankly, I didn’t understand it or didn’t understand how they couldn’t keep up with it. Lastly, now that the game developers, artists, tournament organizers, etc are interacting with us on a regular basis, I want to make sure we keep the ship sailing in the right direction and avoid the icebergs.
Brian: The minute the game was announced, Joe and I were simultaneously creating Facebook groups without the other knowing, although Joe was making the “big” one and I was making our local one. We also basically simultaneously made each other a fellow admin in those groups. Personally, I think it clicked with me that we needed to codify certain policies and procedures once we saw folks like Drew and Ken were interacting with us.
How much work is required to keep such a group active?
Brian: To be honest, the group doesn’t need any support to be active. Early on, I did some recruitment by posting in some of the major Transformers-focused Facebook groups or online forums, but the vast majority of new members find the group by simply searching for it on their own in Facebook. In terms of having to step in to more actively moderate, there are a few trends that seem to cause people’s tempers to flare up while discussing or debating something. The first has been access to product, namely when the SDCC packs were hard to find. The second was when OP was first announced and we seemed to get an influx of players from other card games, who seemed to have arrived from discussion groups where moderators were more permissive of abusive or problematic language toward other users. Finally, there seem to be arguments that spring up after major events, often focused around whether or not a certain character/card is overpowered. Even then, the work mostly involves pruning comments and replies where people go off the rails and posting a public reminder to discuss things in a civil manner.
What are the most challenging aspects of running the group? Do you have to deal with much in the way of problem individuals?
Joe: *shakes fist* For me personally, it’s people going off-topic. Transformers Trading Card Game. Nothing else should be in the group. Period. Way too many times have I seen a topic that doesn’t need to be posted and 50+ people are giving the topic more attention than a topic actually about the TCG. The challenge here becomes what topics do you delete or disable comments in and are you ready to be attacked for censoring someone. Sometimes you need to let certain topics have their time in the sun.
Problem individuals… no comment.
Brian: I’m a lot more relaxed than Joe when it comes to things that are Transformers-related, but not necessarily TFTCG related. I think with the amount of crossover between being a Transformers fan and being a TFTCG player, you have to allow some overlap there, especially since the goal is to build a community. In my experience running a business, then later being a teacher, you need to sometimes do “off-topic” activities in order to bring people together, or let them blow off some steam.
One of the biggest challenges is to try to maintain a degree of professionalism in moments that seem ridiculous, like when someone calls you a fascist because you ask them to keep discussion of the availability of Cliffjumper to one of the handful of existing threads rather than making a brand new one. It can also be a tricky balance to maintain that professionalism when someone is criticizing your handling of an issue on social media OUTSIDE of the group itself.
In terms of conflicts with individuals, the biggest problems usually pop up when people are unable to separate their own desires/goals with what’s best for the group. There’s also a fundamental misunderstanding in that some folks believe freedom of speech applies EVERYWHERE, without realizing that non-governmental entities have the ability to restrict communications in a way they see fit. We generally try to allow people to express themselves, as long as it’s not problematic in terms of their interactions with other individuals or in terms of the overall climate of the group itself.
What’s been the hardest decision you’ve had to make as a moderator of the group?
Joe: The hardest decision is knowing when and where to draw the line on slippery slopes and spam without upsetting people. When am I (are we) ready to become the villian(s) in this scenario? Is it 1 topic? 2? 5? 10? Is this topic even remotely funny? Is this topic an inside joke? What does this post or meme have to do with the Trading Card Game? Is this topic progressing conversation about the TCG? Sometimes I just don’t get it and making that choice is my biggest hurdle. Sometimes people need to remember that this is a group of over 4000 people, not their personal FB page.
Brian: We set some guidelines in terms of content creators posting in the group that we thought were fair. There was a bit of vocal pushback about those guidelines from a small segment of users that thought the guidelines were overly restrictive, so I checked out a number of other Facebook groups dedicated to specific game lines and hovered there for a bit, checked out their rules, and ask questions to the moderators there. Ultimately, from those experiences, it turned out that we were roughly in the middle in terms of being overly accommodating vs overly restrictive. It was a lot of work, but I got some good feedback and ideas along the way.
Have there been any mistakes along the way?
Joe: Meeting Brian.
If we do make mistakes I would hope the users in the group reach out to us to let us know what they feel is a mistake we’ve made. That of course becomes subjective. What’s good for the user isn’t always good for the group.
Brian: Yes, absolutely. There have been posts that were deleted because we misunderstood the intent. Sometimes we catch that on our own and reach out to the person to get the situation figured out, but sometimes we don’t realize what was going on until the issue is brought to our attention later. Like Joe said, our inboxes are always open and folks are welcome to message us.
How much of your local community also participates in the big group? How inter-connected do you feel the the two are?
Brian: I’m pretty sure that most of our locals are in the big group, but generally don’t jump in and comment very often.
RJ: I’m generally a lurker in most things in life. Facebook, Reddit, etc. I’m in the group but don’t comment much. Locally, we will talk about things going on in the group in person. I think most of us prefer it that way.
Looking back over the last year and a half, What’s been the most rewarding part of running the facebook group?
Joe: Knowing the group isn’t currently in a downward spiral and that WotC is still interacting with us! Thanks guys!
Brian: Yeah, I’ve played a lot of games and I’m in a lot of fan communities for different games. It’s extremely rare to have the developers, designers, and managers for the game interacting with us in a relatively open way. More importantly, when one of our faces pops up in a meme, I always get a kick out of it.
If anyone were to try and do something similar for their national TFTCG group, or even a facebook group for another game, what advice would you give?
Joe: Utilize the announcement feature. Important links and FAQs should be answered and slammed to the top of the page. Pretend you are a new user and you just joined a group. You should be able to click an announcement and have more than 85% (made up number) of your questions answered.
I quite often see people struggling in small towns or cities where the game hasn’t taken off. If you were in that situation, how would you go about trying to get a local community off the ground, having been through similar experiences now?
Joe: This could be a population issue or just a general lack of interest for the Transformers IP. It’s really hard to force people to like something. If caught in that situation, we would just keep beating the drum, keep reaching out with social media, and keep showing up at the weekly and hope new people would walk in the door. People like R.J.
Brian: I think the most important thing is to set a consistent meet-up day/time and make sure you’re always there. It doesn’t matter if it’s only you and one other person. Show up, be on location, and play. When folks are considering getting into a new game, they want to know they have other people to play the game with. Take pictures, share them to your local gaming groups, and just keep banging that drum. Two will become three, which becomes four, which jumps to eight, etc.
Once you’ve got several people interested in a game, what should people do to keep things going?
Joe: Mix it up, don’t play the same decks every week or you (they) will get bored. If they see I’m going to play orange bugs every week, I expect to not see them show up much longer.
Brian: Joe has the right idea there. To add to it a bit, a good way to even the skill gap is to encourage the established or more active players to run experimental decks at their weekly events. In that way, if newer players (or players who are just more casual in general) want to play a “meta” deck, it’ll hopefully even the playing field a little bit.
… and what would you recommend for groups that have perhaps been around for a while, but might be feeling a bit stale with the game?
Joe: Do what we did above for our local. Mix up the weekly with some challenges, get creative. If Tom, Dick, and Harry keep bringing Bugs, Blaster, and PrimeBL every week, people are just not going to be interested in showing up. I fully understand the need to play tier 1 decks at a local to get practice in and those are certainly agendas that need to be respected as well. But if people have no big event coming up to practice for, hey, take a break and have a fun night, you’ve earned it!
Is there anything you think WOTC can be doing to further support the game, or do you think the future of the game rests more on player initiatives?
Joe: WotC’s direction is their own. Of course some people want to see this and others want to see that and Joe Schmoe wants this character and Suzie Q wants that character and that’s really their final decision and they can’t please everyone.
I think WotC is doing good so far, especially having gone from no OP to full blown OP with cash prizes in less than 12 months from launch. They just need to be careful about gaps. If there is nothing official going on from the Energon Invitational until Origins, they might see players drop due to boredom.
Brian: I think it needs to be a little bit of both. TFTCG is never going to be the juggernaut that Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokemon are. WotC can throw all the OP kits in the world out into the wild and run big events with cash prizes, but none of that really matters if the local players aren’t out there banging the drum to keep people coming out week by week to their FLGS. I’d like to maybe see two (different) OP kits sent to stores to cover the period of time between new set releases.
Finally, and to wrap up the interview, what do you hope to see from the community as we start to move into Wave 5 and beyond?
Joe: Nothing. This community has been excellent so far. Maybe play less orange bugs at your weekly?
RJ: I just hope it stays the course. Everyone who I’ve met and come in contact with has been nothing but great. I’ve met countless people who I will continue to keep in contact with and hangout with even if this game is no longer around.
Brian: I’m going to echo both of the statements above. If you haven’t had the opportunity to hit one of the big TFTCG events (like Origins, GenCon, or PAX Unplugged), the general vibe of everyone hanging out and talking about the game is remarkable. The online community is also generally excellent. I’m a big fan of articles, so I’d love to see more people doing what James is doing with Flip Flip Bang Bang.