Until I stepped down about a year ago (also known as February 8, 2019), I was an admin on the site. I served in that role for about seven years - which is quite a good long time, especially in Internet years.
I think I did a decent job of making sure the place didn't implode. But while hindsight is 20/20 (especially in the new year), there are some things I could've done better. Since it's a new decade and a trendy time to reflect on the previous ten years, I decided now was as good time as any to write my own self-assessment.
Not everything I did was dumb! Really! I promise!
Maintained fangaming focus...
MFGG is, at its core, a site for making, sharing, and discussing fangames, especially Mario fangames. I was wise to not deviate too far from this successful formula. Nowadays, there's a greater demand for online communities that fill a niche (like Mario fangames) than for those that serve as unspecialized hangouts.
...without going overboard
Black Squirrel, the admin who came before me, did a lot for the community, but he was a little overzealous around the time of The Split. I was wise to restore some institutions on the periphery of fangaming (like Drawing Competitions and the badges associated therewith). The community also proved itself capable of handling a General Chat board (at least for a while) and a Gaming board, and I'm glad I brought those back (especially Gaming).
Stayed active and visible in the community
I wasn't active 24/7 on MFGG, but it's also true that I was in college/grad school or had a job (or both) my entire time as an admin. Yes, I could've spent more time on the site, but I struck a healthy balance of devoting a lot of hours to the community and maintaining my own sanity.
Engaged members of the community
I wasn't everyone's BFF every second of the day, but I made a lot of friends just chatting one-on-one over IM or forum PMs. This also had the nice side effect of making people feel good about the staff and community as a whole.
Made games and stuff
MFGG is a site for making creative things, especially games, and I think the leader of the community should be involved in those activities! I was pretty good about that.
Didn't cuss like a drunken sailor
The Mario series is generally squeaky-clean, and it's reasonable to assume that the content of a fansite for the franchise would not be radically different from the content in the actual games. I'm glad I kept MFGG safe for work most of the time. There were a few folks who complained that they couldn't disable the swear filter, but the small number of people who would consider leaving a Mario fansite because they couldn't cuss are probably not people you want on your site.
He went data way
Relatively few online communities have been in continuous operation for almost two decades - but MFGG has! That's given us a massive archive of data we can use to help us make better decisions. It showed us how activity has fluctuated at different times, helping us dispel misconceptions (like the dumb idea that MFGG's userbase has gotten younger over the years) and make better decisions about how and when to promote events. I also recognized that data is a complement, not a replacement, for good ol' common sense - and that some data is fascinating but not terribly useful!
Made more good staff decisions than bad
The Village PeopleNo man does it all by himself
While I was the most visible admin during the better part of this seven-year period, I certainly wasn't the only staff member - I had plenty of other people who contributed a lot. After a few years, the majority of staff members were people I had chosen. Not every staff member was a home run, but I made more good decisions than bad ones. I think I did a pretty good job of building a staff with diverse backgrounds and skillsets, and not letting the group swell to excessive size (we didn't have a hard cap on the number of staff members we could have, but having "too many cooks in the kitchen" can be a problem if you get carried away with promoting all your friends).
Didn't get wrapped up in dumb Skype drama
MFGG had a bunch of unofficial Skype groups (and later Discord) during my time as admin. These unofficial groups were sometimes fun, but they tended to get dramatic after a while (although the Coconuts IRC stayed pretty chill). Toning down the "discord" was part of our motivation for creating an official Discord channel, although that wasn't very effective.
I find fast-paced chat groups to be a distraction. You can be active in a forum if you check once or twice a day. With a chat group, it's easy to get wrapped up and check every few minutes when you should be working on a game or finishing a Great Big Team Project. I usually ended up leaving these chat groups after a few weeks, and I have no regrets.
Had some semblance of a life outside of MFGG
Leaders are most effective when they have some semblance of life outside of the place they lead. This is especially true in the online world, which can be isolating and disorientating if you're not careful. My social life hasn't exactly been riveting, especially in the first couple of years of my tenure, but I was pretty good about having interests outside of plugged-in things. Sometimes I even moved my body and went outside and stuff.
Went out on my own terms
It could be argued that I stayed on board too long - I wasn't quite as active and engaged in the final year or so, when I got a full-time job (and, unfortunately, when MFGG drama reached a high). However, I'm glad I didn't cave in to the pressure of a couple of rather toxic folks* who clamored for my departure. Instead, I left once I'd done everything I wanted to do as an admin and felt it was time to pass the torch to a new generation.
* Thanks for pushing me to step down - you actually had the opposite effect, and staying on board for a few more months was a valuable learning experience for me!
Whether by omission or commission, I also did plenty of dumb things.
Let things stagnate
When I first become a staff member of MFGG, I saw myself as the caretaker of this awesome place I'd enjoyed using for years. I was reluctant to rock the boat (for I might sink the ship!). I also tend to be more of an "incremental changes" person rather than someone who leads radical transformations.
However, I was a little too slow to make changes that would have benefited the community. In particular, I stuck with some really outdated forum software (yes, that means you, phpBB version 3.0.12) that made it next to impossible to add new functionality. By 2017 or so, I was realizing that we had stagnated. We made a lot of changes at once, although this transition was sometimes painful.
Didn't embrace social media
MFGG first got big in the era before social media had become a major influence on the world. In fact, MFGG was getting close to a million posts per year at its peak despite getting no advertising or organized promotion outside the community!
The MFGG administration of the early 2010's viewed social media as something that's a little flaky - a poor use of time, and something that could attract copyright problems or sketchy new members. I see their point. I was also concerned that social media could cannibalize the actual forums if implemented badly. However, it took us too long to get a Twitter going.
Didn't anticipate the way copyright issues would happen
MFGG is a site that makes tributes and parodies based on material owned by other parties (in most cases, Nintendo). None of these fangamers earn money off of these derivative works (in fact, we work for free and give Nintendo a whole heap of free advertising!). I've been a tiny bit concerned about DMCA takedowns in the past, but I didn't anticipate the way copyright problems would affect the fangaming scene.
In the past handful of years, there were a few takedowns of high-profile Mario fangames hosted elsewhere (usually because they're almost 1:1 remakes of games that Nintendo still sells, or games that were earning revenue for their creators). Then people started hyping the idea that if you make a fangame, it'll quickly get taken down. By now, some people are afraid to make fangames - even really simple projects - because of fear of takedowns.
I'm not sure how big a difference we could've made, but maybe we could've had some positive effect by sharing our side of the story - that we make nonprofit games for fun, and that the games getting taken down are making money off other people's properties.
Made a couple of bad calls with staff
There were one or two staff promotions I never should have consented to. There's one that happened in 2018 that was a very bad idea - he contributed a lot of good things at first, but once he got a colored name, he had a really hard time getting along with the rest of the staff and stirred up a lot of drama. There was another person who was very articulate and made an exquisitely-crafted case for his promotion, but he was a bit too eager to make drastic changes without having any understanding of the community's purpose or history. (This one didn't do much damage, though, since he lasted only a few weeks and didn't hold much power.)
Was probably too easy on inactive/jaded people
At any given time, MFGG usually has a few staff members who are barely active at all. This is understandable - no one's getting paid to watch over a Mario fansite, and people can get busy with school/work or have other more important things that prevent them from participating regularly. However, I think I erred on the side of being too patient with inactive staffers - it may have been good to demote a few of the inactive staff members earlier and replace them with people who had the time and willingness to serve. That said, I caused a few hurt feelings when I demoted an inactive staff member who wanted to stay active - fortunately, he came back not long afterwards.
Didn't build rapport with one subset of the community
Don't hurt me, but I've never been a fan of Minus World - the community that was split off from MFGG at the end of 2010. It never seemed to have a purpose or goal, and it seemed like a negative and toxic environment. (To use a recent example, their annual awards show had a category where the members voted on their least favorite former member!) In 2017, a bunch of people who primarily hung out on MW joined the MFGG forums, and misunderstandings and drama ensued. I still probably could've done a better job of building rapport with them.
Didn't pull the plug on the Discord experiment
This might be a hot take, but I think having an official Discord group did more harm than good, and we would've been better off retiring it.
Didn't play any of the recent games
I still don't own a game system newer than the original Wii! I would've been more engaged and "in the loop" if I'd owned one of them. I was in college/grad school most of the time I was on staff and didn't have much cash flow, but buying a 3DS or something wouldn't have broken the bank.
Specifically, we never really embraced Mario Maker, which was a missed opportunity for us. Maybe I would've pushed harder for more Mario Mania support if I'd actually played the game!
And that's all, folks
I'm still thankful that I got to contribute to my favorite Web site as an administrator, but I'm also glad I don't have to worry about online drama anymore! (Instead I have plenty of real-life drama to keep things interesting.)
Perhaps someday I'll write a longer reflection piece about my life, MFGG, and online culture in general. Perhaps I won't. You never know!
Edited by: Bibby , Jan 8th, 2020 @ 3:11 am