June 2nd, 2010 by Tony Gardner
One subject that I read about quite often on the forum pages involves the protest system at iRacing.com. I frequently see comments questioning the effectiveness of the system, not to mention suggesting that we are often too soft in administering penalties for members who violate a sporting code rule. In fact, I was on the service recently in an open practice session and a member was driving recklessly. It was suggested on speaker by one driver that the reckless driver should be protested to which I heard a choir of fellow iRacers reply back in beautiful harmony, “it just falls on deaf ears, nobody at iRacing really does anything about it!”
At that point, I made a mental note that I should share some information about protests and talk about our approach.
First of all, why do we have a protest system? I won’t bore you any more than I have to except to mention the elementary purpose. The in-sim computer software does not assign blame in terms of racing accidents and we obviously cannot monitor the 1,000+ official races first hand that occur each week not to mention open practice and other racing events. I can get into why the simulation software does not assign blame perhaps in another communication but, bottom line, even with an extremely well thought-out and sophisticated model and precise engineering the software would not be very good at it.
Therefore we needed a way to take repeated reckless driving issues to another level to keep iRacing enjoyable for everyone. Our incident point/safety rating/license class system does a great job at organically keeping the racing relatively clean. That takes care of 90% of the issues in my opinion. However, a protest system is also needed and affords a way for a member to take the next step and do their sim racing duty if they feel another member is ruining the driving for everyone by purposely crashing or is chronically out of control.
Secondly we needed a process to resolve disputes privately instead of members elevating and compounding issues on or off the track (in forums, over voice chat, etc) and ruining everyone’s enjoyment. Although healthy debate is fine, most people don’t want to listen to long arguments back and forth between member A and B. Along those same lines, a member needs a place to protest slurs, foul language, etc.
Ultimately we may serve several different roles depending on the protest including moderator, coach, councilor, disciplinarian, race instructor and racing official. The role we don’t serve is judge, jury or arm chair psychiatrist for personal issues between members.
Most protests simply involve racing incidents and require the member submitting the protest to clearly specify in the appropriate format what exactly they are protesting in the sporting code and fully describe the incident. Most often a replay clip is needed to provide a full replay of the incident for us to really have the evidence to take action on a single incident. Even without a replay, all comments will be logged in the accounts for both the protestor and protested. We also have the option of pulling voice chat or text chat from a session for a particular member to help us determine what is said first hand which can be very helpful as well.
I should dispel a common misconception which is that iRacing never suspends or bans anybody because they lose that person’s membership fee. Nothing could be further from the truth. We actually like to think of ourselves as decent business people. If that is the case, why would we not suspend or ban someone who is ruining iRacing for dozens if not hundreds of people and potentially lose all those customers because of one person? I’ll take the dozen memberships over one membership any day of the week.
However, it is true we are not as heavy-handed as some people might like. Why is that? Well first of all, we are in the service business and we try to provide good service and treat everyone fairly and with respect. That means, every member is extremely valuable to us and we don’t start banning people unless we find crystal clear malicious intent on their part or without first trying to get a good understanding of the problem and being completely objective. Why was the person wrecking others? Can they learn from their mistakes? Should they be provided the opportunity to learn from their driving mistakes? Was the member simply just driving over their head? Was it one wreck or several? What was the member’s intent? What was the nature and circumstances of the wreck?
We like to hear both sides of the story but like I said, replays are really the most important thing for us to review. We often find the member’s heart is in the right place and they want to be a positive member of the iRacing community. However, sometimes it takes a little while for their skill to match their heart or desire to be here. That means we have to go look at the facts as best we can and be fair to both sides while considering the service in general. Excuses may buy some time for a member causing wrecks but only to a point if improvement is not made.
Many times we don’t have all the facts, the protest was not filed with correct information or there is no video replay available and what “evidence” is available often inconclusive. As mentioned, we keep track of every single protest in our CRM system for every member including all pertinent information, files, e-mails, conversations, etc and refer back to that any time a new protest is made. That factors heavily in our decisions as well. We track every protest on both sides not just the person who is protested.
We do find that most protests against most members are spread months or years apart or even a single occurrence. We have learned that more often than not, the member just needs some simple coaching, instruction or reminders and then they are fine. Other times a friendly warning or even a stern warning does the trick.
If you are looking for a real-world analogy to our philosophy, we have found that taking the Skip Barber Racing School approach is probably the closest to how we manage this. If the evidence shows that it is not obvious that the member was intentionally wrecking, we try and coach him or her on ways to avoid that mistake again or point out the mistake and then provide positive reinforcement to enable him or her to overcome that mistake in the future. Depending on the mistake, if it keeps happening we warn him/her before taking further action which on occasion does becomes necessary and is the best thing for the service overall.
We often find the member’s heart is in the right place and they want to be a positive member of the iRacing community.
That is not to say, we don’t just suspend or ban people immediately after one protest. We have received video of drivers just going up and down the track, picking off cars left and right and driving backwards in a race and in cases such as that we suspended them on the spot.
We also have the ability to suspend people from just the forums or the race chat function – but allow them to continue racing – if communication is the major problem but the driving is clean. We often do that.
We don’t like to post or feel the need to list the names of the people who were protested against or suspended or banned. In our opinion, that does not help us achieve our objective. However, because many members are curious, I can provide some general statistics about the protest system. We get an average of 133 properly submitted protests per month since we opened the doors of iRacing in the summer of 2008. When properly submitted we open a case for the protest and the case must be closed. We also get an average of an additional 100 improperly submitted protests per month in which we get back to the member telling them the problem with the submission. Those are not opened as cases.
More recently for example we opened cases for 144 in January, 124 in February, 122 in March and 168 in April. When you consider the number of people racing each day and week and the number of sessions that is not too bad and frankly about what we expected.
We notify everyone who has a protest/case filed against them and confirm to anyone who has a filed a protest that it has been received. We also follow up with notification to the person that was being protested with the results of such protest. In fact, 70.46% of the people who have been protested have received some personal coaching/instruction/advice, whether it was concluded that some fault or no fault at all, to avoid a similar incident in the future which could include a friendly warning. 14.86% of the protests we recorded the incident but concluded no fault at all and did not provide any personal coaching or recommend any course of action. 2.51% of the protests we determined that the protest was frivolous. For 11.02% of the protests to date we suspended the member in some way for some period of time. Lastly for 1.15% of the protests we suspend the member indefinitely which means no time table for return. Indefinite suspensions could mean forever but we sometimes leave the door open for reconsideration in the long term.
Anyway, just thought I would provide some general information in regard to protests. We have learned some valuable things at this point by handling over 3,000 cases/protests to date and have certainly improved the process and approach but we are still learning and trying to improve. Who knows? Maybe further automation someday becomes a bigger part of the equation. Thanks for taking the time to submit the over 3,000 protests to date and work with us in that regard. We know you are not always happy with the outcome or perceived outcome but I think we are much better at the process than we were even a year ago and it truly is making this a better service for all involved.
Good Clean Racing!