Are we effectively being censored in discussions on cheating in Zwift? Let’s have a look at a recent development.
I have been away for some time, too busy with real life. Usually, when coming back to Zwift from a break, short or long, there has been little to no change with regards to Zwift racing. But this time I think it may have been even worse than usual. Instead of progress I now hint regress. And of a disturbing kind. I will go through my thoughts, step by step, as they developed. And then you can draw your own conclusions, whether they are the same as mine or completely different. I don’t really care. I just wanted to make sure you got a few things pointed out to you in case you hadn’t noticed yourself.
First, we have seen Zwift take greater control over community created content as of late. First there was the absorption of ZwiftPower. This was some time ago. But since then it seems Zwift has made contact with several content managers of various sites and forums resulting in changes towards a higher degree of Zwift control over how their brand and service offering is used to create community content. Zwift Insider is one such example, with Eric Schlange no longer able to create Strava segments. And the common denominator in all those cases is that there is a lot of hush-hush regarding the true nature of the contact (or contract) between the content managers and Zwift.
In some cases it seems having had contact with Zwift can be a good thing, because Zwift might throw a little money your way to make sure you can keep the quality up by spending more time on it. But in some cases it rather seems like the content managers got handed the hard end of a hard bargain. They have been restricted in some ways without any actual compensation from Zwift. Still, these content managers, and I have listened to a few of them on ZwiftCast and elsewhere, were all very reluctant to give up much detail on the discussions with Zwift and all their answers to questions about these discussions have been, how shall I put it, very diplomatic. No open display of dissatisfaction. Merely a quiet whimper here and there.
And to me, this gives off more than a whiff of NDA’s and corporate pressure.
Well, what about it? Wouldn’t you want a certain degree of control over your own brand if you ran a company with a strong community surrounding it? Yes, it is understandable from a business point of view. But it is also a quite unusual move and you should be aware of that. Even in the gaming industry, which always had to deal with pesky community members creating content that at best borders on copyright infringement or who are furious over nerfs that made them win less against noobs. Game companies still rarely interfere. They moderate their own forums, of course, or these forums would quickly explode under Godwin’s Law. But otherwise they rarely try to control the community by suppressing discussions, creation of tutorials, fan sites etc etc. Hell, some of these companies even go as far as to welcome and encourage user mods, probably figuring it will somehow boost sales or prolong the product lifespan by letting the community tamper with their software a little. If you can’t fight them, join them, sort of.
Second, I noticed something new a while ago, in the most active discussion forum in the Zwift community. I am not referring to the ZHQ forum. I hang out there myself while I am still allowed in there, but I suspect few Zwifters ever find their way into it. No, rather, it’s the Zwift Riders FaceBook group.
As a funny sidenote, I should perhaps add that there is also Zwift Racers FaceBook group, where racing is discussed, whereas Zwift Riders is more of a general nature. And I got kicked out of Zwift Racers without motivation already a long time ago. No, I never used abusive language in there or anything. But now that I think of it, it may have had something to do with me criticizing ZP. Actually, I might even have encouraged people to cruise… (as an implicit critique of ZP of course). That didn’t sit well with the admins apparently. You just don’t criticize ZP in there because, as you know, ZP is “DA TROOOOF” when it comes to race results. (This was before the Zwift takeover, by the way, when ZP was still run relatively freely by the community, so I likely stepped on some vulnerable toes in there.) Now, since I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club who wouldn’t have me as a member, I haven’t tried to rejoin of course, although it was definitely my kind of arena.
Back to the Zwift Riders group. I noticed recently a sudden and quite drastic increase in admin activity in the Zwift Riders group. Suddenly, threads that got derailed or where people didn’t keep their tone in check were quickly getting locked. Yes, they acted on forum rules already in place, but we have never seen this level of admin activity before.
Seeing this, my immediate conclusion was that not only had they increased the total time spent moderating the group but they may also have staffed up. There must have been an increase in either the time each admin spent moderating daily or the number of moderators had gone up. Or both. After all, it is a quite active group and it must be rather time consuming to go through all the posts daily.
So why would they staff up? Or perhaps even spend more time moderating per admin? It could be a mere coincidence, but isn’t there also another possibility? What if Zwift has been in contact with Zwift Riders too recently? And what if the increased moderation was a direct result?
Third – and here is where it gets really interesting – I saw a thread where the discussion swayed towards the topic of cheating in Zwift. And then it got locked by an admin with the motivation that discussions about cheating were not allowed in Zwift Riders but should be redirected to Zwift Racers instead. Wow… I have seen millions of threads on cheating in Zwift Riders, none of them previously locked. This was definitely something new.
You might want to argue that discussion on cheating don’t belong in Zwift Riders quite naturally, especially not when there is already another FaceBook group better suited to such discussions, because cheating relates to racing. But there are also a lot of other “off-topic” threads posted daily in Zwift Riders – people posting pics of their outdoor rides, questions about what kind of aero wheels one should by at the local bike shop, etc. And they are typically not getting locked with a sour comment from an admin. No, I think the reason why you would lock an “off-topic” thread on cheating while keeping other off-topic threads open is that threads on cheating tend to stir up negative feelings among the thread participants. So then the question is, who is it that wants to make sure that there is no negativity in Zwift Riders. Is it the admins? Or could it be Zwift?
In either case, now there is only really one place left where I (and you too, if you also got kicked out of Zwift Racers) can openly discuss the racing rule set and the cheating it creates. And that is the ZHQ forums. To be honest, I have been expecting to get banned there too even before these recent events mentioned above. It is probably just a matter of time before it happens, and the only reason I can see why it hasn’t happened already is that ZHQ is a margin forum that most Zwifters, especially the all-important newcomers, don’t find their way into. So the damage you can do in there by criticizing Zwift racing is more limited.
Fourth, curious about the sudden change of climate in the Zwift Riders FB group, I decided to seek out answers as to why. Or rather, I decided to test the waters a little, because I was sure the admins would not give me a straight answer to the implicit question. But how would they react if I asked rather? Judge it for yourself. I was satisfied myself, no further questions.
I started out with this post:
The thread triggered a cascade of not very constructive (read: stupid) comments from the yea-sayer possee of course. Slightly more civilized than the “cry more n00b!!!1” and “L2P” you would find teenagers write in the average (moderated) game forum, but I won’t quote them here. And then – BLAM! – there it was. The lock. No motivation though.
Just to make sure, was the reason for the lock that I brought up the forbidden topic of cheating, i.e. I “broke the forum rules” albeit on a meta level? Or was it just because of the somewhat unpleasant tone and all the memes the question generated in the comments? Or was the question simply too uncomfortable to deal with?
So I tried again, with a slightly different approach this time, now only implying the forbidden topic, the Satanic Verses of Zwift Riders, yet still quite a bit more direct as to what I really wanted to know:
Insta-locked. Not even a tiny little comment slipped past. HAHAHAHA!
Ok, I get it. We don’t talk about Fight Club in here. Not anymore. And, above all, we don’t mention the war.
Draw your own conclusions and meditate on the implications for the future ahead. Happy zwifting!