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I am taking over a small gaming community. It has about 200 active members, a web forum and two game servers. The current owner is transferring the domain name, the forum and both game servers to me. Are there any pitfalls I should be aware of for this type of transfer? Is transferring ownership of the forums, domain name and game servers enough to ensure the transition is seamless?

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This sounds like a small enough community that I am going to make the assumption that there isn't a need for lawyers to be involved. You don't mention that this is being run as a business so I am also assuming that there are no tax implications. It sounds like this is one hobbyist taking over running a community from another hobbyist. If this isn't correct or there are financial implications you really are going to need to talk with someone that isn't on the internet (say, perhaps, a lawyer). With that fancy disclaimer out of the way, I can share my experiences in taking over ownership of two communities and transferring ownership on one.

Things that you've already mentioned

There are obvious things that are going to need to be transferred. You've covered several of them.

  • Domain name: You want this transferred to your account on your registrar. If you don't transfer this, then the previous owner still has full control over where the domain name points. If, at any point, they want to point it away from your host, they can.
  • Web forum: A web forum is more than an installation package that you can download from the internet. It also consists of themes, plugins, extensions and, most importantly, the database. Without a copy of the database, you are starting with a brand new forum. If your community uses a non-free web forum, you also need to either purchase your own license or transfer ownership of the existing license. Not all forums allow a license transfer. You'd have to investigate how to do so on the developer's web site.
  • Game Servers: Much like web forums, a game server isn't just a package you install on a machine. There are configuration options, plugins, maps and possibly databases to consider. This information needs to be transferred as well.

Non-obvious things

  • DNS settings: If you are migrating from one server to another, or one host to another, or changing the IP address where ANY of your stuff is hosted you need to be aware of DNS settings. When you've taken ownership of the domain name and you've set up your copy of the web forum you need to change where your domain points. If you don't, your visitors will continue to visit the old forum because the domain name still points to the old IP address. DNS settings need to be checked for all subdomains that exist as well and updated.
  • Email addresses: Does the community have a group address for moderators? Does it have an email address for the owner? All of these addresses need to be transferred to you. Alternatively, you need to change what email address is utilized through out your community.
  • Game server IPs: If your game servers are changing machines, you need to update your users on how to connect to the new servers. If can utilize DNS entries for this, it can be done seamlessly by updating the appropriate DNS values. If the game doesn't support DNS, then you need to advertise the new IP addresses to your user base.
  • Payment links: If your community accepts payment for anything, you need to adjust where those payments go. You don't want your user payments going to the old owner while you get stuck covering costs.
  • Leadership names: I'm assuming that the 'leader' of the community is mentioned somewhere on the forums or game servers. It'd be appropriate to change who is mentioned as the leader. The person that you are taking over for will no longer have permissions to do stuff. Save them the time of being your secretary and take them off the list of leaders.
  • Permissions: The previous owner needs to have a change of permissions on the game servers and forums. They may remain a member of the community and perhaps even a high ranking member of the community, but they are not the owner any longer. They don't need full control over everything.
  • Passwords: Passwords to anything the previous owner had should be changed. This includes passwords to email accounts, game server commands, control panels, etc.
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In addition to the technical and legal hand-off items mentioned in previous answers, make sure to deal with the human aspects of the transition. The existing user community is used to the forum being owned and run a certain way, so the change in ownership may introduce some anxiety about whether the forum they are used to will remain a place they want to be.

I would recommend that the outgoing and incoming owners make clear announcements to the community explaining what is going on and why, including, as applicable:

  • Why the forum is changing ownership.

  • The former owner's complete confidence in the new owner, with specific information about the new owner's fitness for running the forum.

  • The new owner's apprecation for the former owner's founding/running of the community to date and for the existing community.

  • What, if anything, the new owner is planning to change or considering changing, (or has already changed) along with reassurances about what will not change or an initial adjustment period when nothing will change.

  • The new owner's openness to community input for how the forum should run, going forward, given that this transition is potentially a natural opportunity for change.

(Links are from my experience with Mi Yodeya transitioning from an SE 1.0 site that I had founded to an SE 2.0 beta site that I was one of three mods pro tempore of, to a full-fledged launched SE site with elected moderators.)

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Normally, the biggest issue in these transfers is getting the domain name transferred to the correct owner. The domain name is normally paid a year or more in advance, so sometimes, it expires after a year or more, and the original owner may have forgot to transfer it to the new owner's name, or try to claim the name as their own, and not part of the original transfer agreement.

Make sure your name, or company name, is listed as the owner of all assets (including domain names) and software licenses when ownership is transferred, and do a whois lookup on the domain name to verify that it is registered in your name, or handle the domain name transfer yourself if you have that knowledge.

For ownership transfers that involve money, agree on a price, and expect to pay (or be paid) half of the total up front, and then the rest when you can prove that all software licenses and domain name registrations can be found in you, or your company's name.

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