Bring industrial-strength detergents if you visit!
Turbine’s LOTRO forum has always been a confusing place for me. I can’t well speak of what happened there in the start, since I spent my first years in LOTRO blissfully unaware of them. Back when Codemasters ran the LOTRO EU servers, I generally enjoyed reading their EU forum. Disagreement was allowed, offering critical views of the game and its development likewise, but they cracked down on clear-cut trolling and harassment. As a rule, the EU community team was pretty good at making people play along nicely.
Boy, did things change when we went stateside in 2011.
Fear leads to anger
When I first started reading Turbine’s forums, Sapience was the community manager. Sap’s time at the helm offers an interesting case study for anyone interested in forum moderation. He did some good stuff as CM, but the way he went about on the forum was controversial, to say the least. This meant the forum was in a more or less continuous state of uproar, and the resulting thread locks, post deletions and the steady rhythm of the banhammer just made the unrest spill over to other sites and forums as well. While the number of players reading game forums is debatable, I think it is fair to assume that this approach helped drive a not insignificant number of players away from the game.
When Frelorn took over as community manager in 2014, moderation of the LOTRO forum soon got more relaxed. This was initially greeted as a positive development, and it seemed that the community team was eager to play along with its customer base.
Eventually, though, it was easy to get the impression that moderation wasn’t high on the list of priorities at all. I first noticed this last year myself, when more harassment posts popped up… without being removed. Report tickets weren’t acted upon. Spam kept appearing in the “new player” forum, taking ages to be removed. Posters routinely started controversial topics on a Friday, because they knew that there would be no moderation done over the weekend. Vitriol could reign free for days.
Anger leads to hate
So what’s the current situation on the LOTRO forum? Sadly, the development from last year has only strengthened. It feels like Turbine has given up on moderating their forum, besides throwing in some token locks of threads critical of their own actions (I’m looking at you, threads about the non-happening EU server move…). Namecalling has taken a life of its own. Lewd/pornographic images are left up for days. Threads started to attack other players (sometimes even with their names in the subject) are left up for weeks. Personal attacks are left up indefinitely.
Right now there is one unbelievable thread where a poster has basically been daring (even begging?) Turbine to ban him, while breaking about every item in the community guidelines in the process. Hasn’t been banned yet. Neither has the numerous other violators trolling the thread. The thread was eventually locked, only for someone to start a new thread with the same topic this weekend. And thus, the circling down the drain continued…
Obviously, it doesn’t help that several of the posters remaining on the forums have made an artform out of turning petty grievances into the basis for nuclear war. Currently, the LOTRO forum is more hostile than a pit of hungry snakes fighting over the last remaining rodent. Viewpoints get increasingly binary, positions increasingly entrenched, with no middle ground possible. No matter the subject discussed, some will derail the thread by rehashing old arguments or re-igniting old conflicts, trying to bite the head off each other and anyone unfortunate enough to stand nearby.
Does it really matter, though?
Hate leads to suffering
I think there are at least two problems with this development. First, the forum still offers the best place for what little interaction that is left with the LOTRO team. I can’t be bothered to take part, though, if Turbine won’t do anything to protect the ones who post there from mob justice. I really don’t want to be associated with that sort of thing.
Second, new players sometimes come to the forum to get an impression of the game. If their first reaction after visiting is to take a long shower to wash away the filth and the grime, I’d guess it is a problem for Turbine as well. Why would a customer offer up money to someone who cares so little for their product that they let the mob run havoc on its public front?
The haphazard and sometimes petty overkill approach to moderation before 2014 didn’t work, but neither does the “anything goes” version currently employed. A bit of moderation is necessary to keep a forum constructive. The excesses have to be reined in.
So why doesn’t this happen? Doesn’t Turbine care? They have indicated that they are working on a new website, so they might just let the forum run its course while working on the new site. Not really a grand approach given how things go currently, though.
Or perhaps they just don’t have the resources to moderate their forums anymore? If so, it is high time to close it. Right now, they are more damaging than beneficial for everyone involved.