Single Points of Failure and Regions


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Junior Administrator
Oct 25, 2020
Single Points of Failure and Regions
By: Die Kronprinzessin, Guest Writer

Let me preface this by saying that NationStates has many single points of failure. From the nearly 20 year old coding supporting the game, to Max Barry’s paying to keep the site operating, to Discord, to our Forum providers remaining up: there are a lot of single points of failure. What I’m concerned with here is how this affects a region’s day-to-day life.

Single points of failure is a term I’m going to now butcher. At its base, it conveys the idea that within a system there is a single thing that, if it breaks, everything else falls down. Insofar as what I am going to discuss, only a few things are truly a single point of failure: AWOL chief admins and founders. However, the term works well for my broader points about the fundamental weakness of NationStates…

At its base, the single point of failure in NationStates is us, the players. The people who come back to do X, Y or Z, be active and do things. Now, that's not really a single point of failure, right? There's dozens of us, so what if, say in the Union’s case, Thatcher takes a sabbatical every year? If the founder can be gone for months at a time, surely there isn’t a single point of failure? Well, you’re wrong there. On two accounts. Firstly, that understates what one person truly means on NationStates in practice; secondly, that underestimates what a single person can control.

Let’s start with that first point - the value of a single person. Regions like ours, government simulators (govsims), and especially UCR govsims, rely on individuals far more than you would suspect. Nearly every successful endeavour or policy that makes a region run smoother or be more vibrant either takes the efforts of one person in the moment to set up or regular oversight. One of the most critical areas in this regard is regional recruitment, with stamp recruitment and API telegrams being funnelled through one person. In our case we have Phoenix to thank for the former and Kade for the latter. If Phoenix were to go, we’d have to refunnel all the funds sent to the forum for stamp recruitment to another person or, more likely, recognise that we’ve lost a lot of money and set up something new focused again on one person. If Kade were to go we’d have to a). requisition the region specific API key through either contacting Kade or asking the NS Mods and b). set up the same key on another computer that would need to stay on and overseen by another singular person.

This understanding extends to more or less everything. At best someone will be deputised - the basis of things like a Vice President - but that tends to occur for more formalised and general affairs like the Presidency (and as I’ll get into in a bit, can’t work everywhere). Specific programmes or policies are unlikely to receive the same treatment. Let's look at the predecessor to UDSWAP for now, PIG. The brainchild of Dome, it was immensely successful and took full advantage of the first Drew Rush, propelling our region to gain the most from the rush (iirc). When Dome left (I do not seek to blame Dome here, apologies if it comes across as such) all of that, all of his work left and we, subsequently, lost a lot from the end of the Drew Rush. From there, we continued to decline, going under 200 nations in 2022. (Ironically, I believe we also lost the most from the end of the rush.)

These programmes and policies, the lifeblood of what keeps existing players interested and new players joining, are largely at risk due to the action and inaction of a few people. In a healthy region, which is what I would like to think the UDS is, people will keep doing things even when a lynch pin does leave. But even then, we are still at a lot of risk, which I hope the above 3 examples highlight.

In an unhealthy region, the community becomes an ouroboros: complaining at nothing being done as the few people who do things aren’t doing them all the time. Now this, in itself, is not an endemic problem as solutions can be found by other people becoming interested and doing things, new ideas sprout up, and people get reinvested.

However, and this is the second point I alluded to at the start, sometimes people can’t get involved. This is because individuals in NationStates, in the same manner as in any other game, hold different controls and information. Anyone fortunate enough to be in a position of privilege is a gatekeeper. Every UCR has a founder; every forum or discord has its owner. Power within such structures flows from the top, with privilege being given from the founder/owner to those chosen, and so forth.

This is a pretty simple thing to grasp, I get that, and it's an unmoving constant, I get that. But it is also an issue. For example, Thatcher has chosen to not give our Delegate Executive powers onsite during his absence. Onsite, the Executive powers are functionally admin powers only countermanded by the Founder themselves. They allow the Delegate to govern everything a Regional Officer can do and who is a Regional Officer. Thatcher keeping these powers to himself most certainly makes the UDS more stable currently, but it is also a single point of failure; if a Regional Officer is hacked into, we just have to wait on the one man who can fix it. Again, seems unlikely - right? In this case, sure! But that's not the only thing gatekeeping is.

Gatekeeping and how it interacts with single points of failures, in this case, is less to do with existential threats to regional security and more to do with the actual existential threat to a region: activity. This concept has reared its head as of late in regards to our lack of an up-to-date on-site law library, which is inherently gatekeeping, for one, because it hides information from people on our Regional Message Board (RMB). Additionally, despite numerous requests, the power to fix this issue hasn’t been given and seems unlikely to be. If we want to get people on the RMB to become citizens, it makes little sense for our laws onsite to be so out of date. It has most certainly been a pet peeve of mine in other regions - if you’re not gonna update the stupid thing, why have it in the first place? It's why both Zuk and I invested time into updating our Regional Guide onsite. Before I got to it, the dispatch was still listing such fanciful things as Unioncraft Minecraft Server, political parties, and 3 newspapers that were no longer in print.

That begs the question, then, why are these out of date? Partly, it's because few people noticed, Zuk updating my update shows I missed things, and before my update it had been a year or so since the last one. The other problem is access, all of our official content is published by the UDS Dispatch Office nation, controlled by the Administration team. Any non-admin looking to fiddle with those things needs to a). ask the Admins if they can update the dispatches through the nation and b). have the admins actually update it once they are handed the updated dispatch code. This does two things. One, it disincentives non-admins to play around with regional dispatches because they don’t have control and are never told they can just ask - they have to see someone else do so first. Two, it creates a layer of red tape around the whole affair. Between these two things, the chances of someone attempting to update dispatches becomes lower and the chances of successful updates drops even lower.

Now, normally, this isn’t too pressing of an issue. It's just some things, mainly inconsequential, that you’re shut out of and, hey, if you’re lucky you may become an exception to the rule like Dome was for the Dispatch Office or I was for the Law Clerk. However, this sort of gatekeeping can fast become a problem. Activity on the RMB, or on-site activity, is a sort of gold standard we’ve quickly become accustomed to in this region. Members of our Culture Ministry are expected to participate there and theres even some RMB-only activities, like polls a Choose Your Own Adventure, that the Ministry runs. For those last two activities, do you know what you need to be to do them? That's right, one of the most gatekept things in this whole game, a Regional Officer. Unless you are a Minister in our region, you’re stuck asking the President for help (And even then, not all Ministers get appointed as an RO). This returns us to the same problem of asking the Admin Team for help, with all the same conclusions resulting in less likelihood of your objective succeeding. And, I’d argue, for something requiring constant upkeep - like polls - chances of you succeeding frequently divebomb.

This gatekeeping doesn’t just apply to these examples, but also roles in both discord and on the forum preventing a deputy from making announcements on either, or restrictions on posting in particular areas, or restricting who can ping people for something important, or simply limiting the respect formal position’s ought to have.

Now, that was - quite frankly - a lot of words. So, tl;dr: Regions require individuals to be active both because individuals do a f*cking lot on their lonesome, and secondly, because individuals who hold keys to power gatekeep and prevent those on lower rungs of the ladder from doing needed things. Both of which threaten activity, a region’s lifeblood.

The solution? I wish there was one. At the end of the day, better communication between officials is one step, alongside guides and clear documented precedent. The second step for some cases is the creation of shared accounts to do very specific and singular tasks, given out easily and organised neatly by the Administration Team. And the third step is for active encouragement of people to try things.

Now, each of these steps directly undermines gatekeeping and threatens the status quo, among other things, and will draw the ire of longtimers used to certain things being done the ‘correct’ way (myself included). But, think of how things have already changed since our arrival here - the idealised status quo we like isn’t what we think it is. It’s got plenty of errors, and - more problematically - the longer it stays unchanged, the more it caters to just us and no one else. Think of The League here, their leadership reoriented their entire region because their status quo was killing them. We aren’t at a crisis point at the present time, we’re still healthy, but I’ve loved two regions that have died, and I’ll be damned if I let another one reach a point where it could even be threatened by the spectre of death.

Oh and here's another tl;dr (this time for solutions): Don’t gatekeep: Communicate more, create joint accounts for specific tasks, and encourage new ideas and change.