[Moderator @Hally ] approved thread
Over the past five years, I've had many discussions with both moderators and normal members of MU around substitution problems. Almost everyone agrees that flaking and substitutes really ruin games, and that they should be avoided as much as possible. I don't really want to get into more detail on this but I will enclose in a spoiler some of the main hit points for those that haven't thought about the issue much.
1. FAIRNESS: Substitutions have huge equity concerns. Whether a good sub or bad sub comes into the game can be the difference between a team winning and losing. More importantly, substitutes can come into a game and result in a team winning or losing in a way that was impossible for them to avoid. Specifically, this is unfair for wolves who have a sub come midway through a game with no possibility to kill them beforehand.
2. SOLVABILITY: 0 posting results in games that are fundamentally unsolvable. Low posting (like, really low posting) results in games where you basically have to kill these posters in case they are mafia, resulting in warped game balance.
3. GAME INTEGRITY: Substitutions result in severe game integrity issues. The most obvious of these is that substitutions are often read into as alignment indicative, whether spoken or not, and whether warranted or not (editing in to see p#872 with the knowledge that wolves sub out at a greater rate than villagers). However, there are more subtle ways substitutions impact game integrity. For example, it is completely valid for players in a game to alter their playstyle in a game for the possibility of a substitute to come in (something that should be completely outside the game). If someone you know can read you well is on the sub list, maybe you alter your playstle if you're mafia in case they sub in! Maybe, if you're town, you'll be less likely to kill 0 posters because you want them to sub in.
4. HOST BIAS: Substitutions result in almost mandatory implicit host bias, unless the host has already designed a systematic way to process substitutions in their game. There is no way for a host to be 100% objective in deciding who they ask to be a sub. It's very likely that a host's unconscious thoughts about how a game is going influence how, when, and who they ask to sub, whether they realize this or not.
For these reasons stated above, I've personally struggled greatly with how to treat substitutions in my games. It's made me want to adopt a no-substitution, modkill-only policy after day 1, which may be harmful but at least avoids these massive game integrity concerns. More importantly, if I do allow subs, it's made me come across a huge dilemma when people request subs in my games:
1) Do I ask people for a reason, and then deny the sub if the reason isn't good enough? For example, "I'm not having fun" "I can't post as much as I would like" or "This person is upsetting me" would not be valid reasons. "I have to go the hospital" would be a valid reason.
2) Or do I just automatically grant any sub?
My concern with these choices is that I don't want to have to dig deep into people's personal lives to determine whether someone's sub reason is "good enough," and I don't think they should have an obligation to do so. But at the same time, I don't want to accept a substitution request from someone that is heated in the moment or is just not feeling the game. And, whether we want to admit it, this is a huge problem on MU- people who sub out because they got slightly busier, who aren't feeling it, who take on another commitment, who got into a conflict, who got into an argument- ie people on MU REALLY don't take requesting a sub as seriously as they should.
I wouldn't care that much, but, again, subs ruin games. I feel like I am put in a really toxic situation, where I either have to choose between asking people for personal details and letting my game suffer, which also isn't fair to everyone else in the game.
Which brings me to my main point: In an ideal world, I would be able to accept all substitution requests with the knowledge that bad reasons will result in punishment from MU mods. But, unfortunately, this is not the case.
1) If a person subs out of a game, they are free to sub in or join a game immediately. This makes absolutely no sense to me- if you need to substitute out of a game, there are very few situations where you should be able to play another game that starts soon. I would propose that there is a 2-4 week automatic signup ban for those that substitute out of games. This will give people the time to get less busy, recover their mental health, etc. And it will at least make people think before subbing out of a game and ruining it. This would obviously be able to be appealed on a case by case basis (like- if you had to go the hospital because a family member was there- you could get removed from this signup list). This policy has worked successfully on other forums and I would heavily be in favor of a trial system of this here.
2) More importantly, flake moderation should be harsher. I'm sorry, but MU is one of the most lenient sites I've seen with flake moderation- even though I'm sure the flake moderators do a good job. Only the most severe transgressions are ever penalized, and then only for a small amount of time. I see only a handful of flake bans per year, which is super non-proportional to the issue at hand: that subs really, really ruin games And they are mostly for 1 month at a time. I think that signup bans need to be much more immediate, much more harsh, and much longer, especially with those that show a pattern. And that flake moderators really need to put up guidelines for what are legitimate reasons to sub out of a game.