Dealing with the undesirables of any MMO community.

Yesterday’s post was about the theory/dream of a persistent world with a reactive ecosystem, among other features. One of the very valid arguments against this setup is the possibility of the players themselves not playing nice and ruining everything. It’s a well established fact that if griefing is possible, it will happen. But there are different types of greifing, and even more opinions of what constitutes griefing versus what’s accepted behavior. And ultimately, a game has two basic options: set limits to all players, or create a player environment that creates those limits.

Let’s stereotype and assuming our griefer is a basement-dwelling 13yr old who’s mom never hugged him enough, and now he is in your MMO doing whatever he can do to get a reaction out of you for ‘the lulz’. He corpse camps you for hours for no personal gain, he spams chat channels with ‘big kid’ four letter words, and he has way more time to play than you do so he gets ahead and has a level/gear/time advantage.

One solution is to set rules that don’t allow said kid to do what he wants. Make it impossible to corpse camp, allow ignore to work in chat channels, and remove direct competition so his level/gear/time has zero impact on your game. You give up some things with all your other players, but you keep the world ‘safe’ and everyone protected.

The other solution is to design and encourage your players to play a certain way, one that makes life very difficult for the griefer. If the best content is limited to groups, community becomes a factor. If you are the pariah of the server, you get cut off, especially if you don’t allow for easy switching of servers, names, or reputation. Of course you walk the fine line here between encouraging a community and forced-grouping, but that’s why game devs make the big bucks, right?

The larger point however is that when designing any MMO, you either live in fear of your players, or you embrace and guide them. Fear is the ‘easy’ choice, because limiting options and setting hard and fast rules will yield expected, but limited, results. It’s far more difficult and risky to set rules to guide them, and hope that those rules are enough to establish the type of community you envisioned. The one bonus an MMO has is that the rules can change mid-game, but we have seen all too often dev teams being reluctant to make changes, especially ones that ultimately lead to the admission that a previous system was flawed or broken.

42 Responses to Dealing with the undesirables of any MMO community.

  1. Julian says:

    The problem with the first solution is implementation. Sure, allowing ignore to work in chat is trivial. But you need to be careful with the others and see how they impact the rest of the game as a whole, how they interact with other mechanics and so on. Added work.

    The problem with the second solution (and with all reputation systems which accept player input) is that in order to keep your population safe(r) you’re essentially giving them powerful moderation tools, and as you correctly say, if something can be abused, it will be. Might as well give everybody a gun and decree that whoever is left standing must be, obviously, the best people in the server.

    I don’t think communities can moderate themselves. The potential for abuse is just too big and it’s understandable why devs don’t wanna go that route. Tons of added work.

    A couple of decades from now we’ll have virtual police and such. We’ll have “safer games” (don’t wanna sound like my mom, but there it is). But we won’t until we inject mechanisms for accountability in there. It makes no sense to give your population the means to defend themselves without a good safeguard against the times when that power will be misused. And you better know that it will be misused. Unfortunately being a little(*) cynical towards your players should be your standard state of mind.

    (*) A lot.

    • syncaine says:

      I’m not just talking about a reputation system exactly, but more along the lines of what a game allows a player to do. For example, DarkFall has no hard and fast rules for solo vs group vs clan vs alliance content, but even in the new-ish state the game is in, it’s very clear what is and is not ‘gated’. If you want to experience the city ownership aspect, you need a clan, and in order to see the better real-estate you need a decent clan. Any decent clan won’t take a 13yr old attention whore playing for lulz. Taken one step further, no alliance is going to accept a clan that accepts said 13yr old, so once again a ‘gate’ is put up if you want to be on the big kids stage of siege and alliance warfare. Since so much of what makes DF what it is is based around alliance interaction, someone gated from that is going to leave the game sooner rather than later. One of the issues in UO was that you could be a total ass and very little if any of the content was gated from you.

      But in a game where clan or alliance reputation means little or nothing (most themeparks), that 13yr old can guild hop at will, playing nice only until the next opportunity to get some lulz pops up. Like you said, it IS a difficult balance to strike, but it’s not as impossible as some make it seem.

      • Julian says:

        “Any decent clan”

        That’s the crux of the matter. The number of “decent” clans is diminute. This is easily observable in any game.

        This is just the same as me saying “Any decent raiding guild in WoW wouldn’t take a 13yr old loot whore”, or “Any decent competitive PvP guild in GW wouldn’t take a 13yr old cheater and exploiter”. And yet, there’s a thousand examples that they do take those 13yr olds regularly for whatever reason (they don’t care, the 13yr old is family/friend, bribed his way in, etc). By this metric there are no decent guilds.

        Hell, just to use a personal example, not too long ago my RP alliance in GW was forced to let go of one of its member guilds because it was clear and evident they were not interested in roleplaying. In the least. So how did they get in in the first place? Didn’t anyone check these guys? What?

        Gating like what you propose is a solution, but it goes back to what I said initially about making sure of what are your changes impacting elsewhere. Gating like that changes the nature of a game from one thing to another, to a bigger or lesser extent, and is that difference really worth it when put next to the original vision?

        Or is it more cost-effective to just let the asshats run rampant?

        Don’t answer. :)

      • syncaine says:

        We must be in different MMO circles then. My WoW raiding guild (granted this was back when raiding required more than forehead-to-keyboard gameplay) only accepted 18+ players who knew when to shut up and follow directions. Loot whores were quickly removed (unless they were healers, goddamn healer shortage). Both DF clans have a very short leash for asshats as well, and the alliance is almost zero tolerance during a siege. I actually don’t remember the last time I was in any guild with a whiny kid for long to be honest.

        But as your experience shows, it’s not close to a perfect system. I’ve seen it work, but clearly there is still progress to be made.

      • Derrick says:

        Julian makes a good point, too. While it’s all fine and dandy for people who are in “decent clans”; that’s not always possible, or practical. Typically, there are few on any given server. It’s great for the people in those clans, but new players just learning the game? They’ve got to go through asshole hell trying to find the right one. This will often sour the new player to the game before he can find a good group of folks to play with. This is assuming they will interview and accept people who fit without regards to overall numbers: In warcraft, for instance, more people isn’t better, even if they’re all good players: instance limits prevent that. This is less of a problem in a sandbox PvP game, though, and is more a problem common to EQ-style raiding games.

  2. adam says:

    i wrote a bunch about all this stuff several months back on my own blog. but i deleted the posts for various reasons. i did save the text though and just reposted them to a new blog.

    http://bankofimmaturity.blogspot.com/

    it’s a lot to read, but one of the important bits relating to this post:

    “In order to allow your players a larger degree of freedom in shaping the overall experience your game provides, it’s necessary to give weight to decisions made within the game world. Without this weight, players will constantly invent their own moralities to suit their wishes at any given time and your world will descend into unplayable, unfun chaos.

    We also want to try our best to avoid arbitrary or illogical approximations of our real life strategies, since players will find such obviously artificial boundaries awkward and abrasive. We’ll want these strategies to eventually extend beyond simply trying to maintain a natural sense of order. We’ll want to find a way to transparently and organically reward and punish every action in the game world..

    When we translate (our in-game) morality to the game we must be willing to allow our players to, in some sense, destroy the virtual lives, property and communities of other players. Not only that, but we should avoid placing unnatural restrictions on that interchange. What does this mean? It means that we must give players the ability to make any decision they want at any time with regards to their own virtual lives and virtual property as well as the virtual lives and virtual property of others. It is absolutely critical, however, that we attempt (yes, attempt) to mete out appropriate punishment for destructive behavior, just as we would, ideally, in real life…”

    and it goes on with some detail. basically, the key is the use of the same natural attraction/aversion strategies that work in real life in a game, but changing them in ways that still allow it to be a game and not just a boring life knock-off. i think i have some good ideas on that front.

  3. evizaer says:

    Accountability is crucial. Darkfall works because you only have one character on a server. You can’t hop between alts to safeguard against your asshattery catching up to you.

    I think dynamic world MMOs should have some way of tracking which characters belong to which accounts, and what those characters have done in-game. There should be some kind of player-specific standing system, as there is in EVE, where you can mark another player with a reputation that only you can see. That reputation will follow that player regardless of what character he’s on–perhaps it would manifest itself in the UI as a trust bar over his head. Social graph analysis can then be done to see which characters are the worst asshats and the game can penalize them reasonably. With some good data mining, there would be no way for players to exploit this system.

    There also has to be a system that records the important negative actions of players and who those actions hurt. That system should reveal such negative actions to other players in a reasonable fashion (like a word-of-mouth reputation spread and an in-game collection of information you have about other players). This way you can have an easy way to see the red-flags on another player’s characters when you make decisions regarding grouping, guilding, or allying.

    It’s critical that people know that when they misbehave in game, people are going to know and they’re going to react. Social reinforcement of mores can then take over and, to a large extent, guide the actions of players along healthy paths.

    • sid67 says:

      I agree. One of the things that works against accountability is anonymity. How do you hold players accountable if the world is so big that it’s easy to hide?

      And “social” policing of behavior doesn’t always ensure a positive game experience. Sometimes the asshattery just gets accepted as part of the game.

      Or worse, the group of players doing the asshattery are the most vocal — and therefore shout down anyone who tries to call them on it not being acceptable.

      The Internet Dickwad Theory in action.

      • evizaer says:

        The IDT is all about the loud-mouth minority. Most players aren’t going to be dickwads, especially if they’re in a social scenario where dickwads are called out and ostracized. Sure, there can be dickwad enclaves, but, for the most part, being an asshat will not be productive enough to justify asshats continuing to effectively bother many people.

        If you cut off the easiest ways to become an asshat, you’ll get rid of 80% of the asshats by never letting them get away with it in the first place.

  4. Adam says:

    I’m actually confused about what constitutes an mmo “crime”.

    Being dumb in general channels?

    Killing people while they are out picking flowers?

    What actually rises to the level of ruining a game for someone beyond just normal “somebody killed me and I keep running back to the same spot to be killed over and over again because I’m dumb”?

    Game design needs to put checks and balances in but I’m not seeing what that has to do with needing more elaborate “social” game code.

    I think Darkfall with its clans and alliances is just about the right level. Not much need for more elaborate brittle and bad social code.

    For what it’s worth in World of Warcraft I used to camp people in Blackrock Mountain in front of all the instances there. Pvp server…horde players are showing up regularly..why not? Was I griefing? I guess if you were focused on running UBRS for the 100th time maybe you would consider it that way….the guilds I joined would general camp raid guilds going to instances and we were where all in our 20s through 40s in age. We are griefers? Whole guild of them ;)

    So back to it –

    What are the actual “crimes” and “destructive” behaviours that people are worried about… examples from other games please.

    • Derrick says:

      There’s no easy answer to that, Adam.

      What constitutes a crime would vary from MMO to MMO, and from region to region within said MMO.

      This isn’t about protecting carebears or what have you, it’s about creating the structure for a society to evolve and exist.

      Examples from other MMO’s is very, very difficult, because the game needs to be designed around supporting a society rather than simply ruling out behavior they don’t want (because, as was mentioned in the other blog post, that’s really the easiest way).

      Eve does it to some level, but very crudely. You *can* kill a low level player in protected space, but it’s pretty much certain to get you killed.

      Do you feel a player should be able to randomly murder another player on a city street? In a traditional fantasy setting, one would expect random murder to be against the law. As with theft. There should be penalties for such acts… if they are caught, if they happen in places like that.

      I like to look at this sort of MMO, of a virtual world MMORPG emphasis on the RPG portion there, something that’s utterly lost in themepark MMO’s.

      It’s not just a free-for-all gankfest, there are lots of games offering that. It’s not a safe hellokitty themepark either – bad things CAN happen to you. However, you can manage that risk in a believeable manner: avoid dark alleyways, stay in more public places, stay out of the shiftier parts of town.

      • Adam says:

        “””Do you feel a player should be able to randomly murder another player on a city street? In a traditional fantasy setting, one would expect random murder to be against the law. As with theft. There should be penalties for such acts… if they are caught, if they happen in places like that.”””

        I think for the immediate needs of providing some reasonably “safe” city for newbs a systems like Eve or Darkfall is the way to go.

        Basically it starts strongly attacking anyone that attacks others in its range (with some simple anti-griefing bits).

        It’s not impossible to gank someone but its hard to get away with it in time etc.

        I could actually see just making the guards/towers hit you for like 2-4 hours after you are fighting the first time. Who knows.

        On the other hand, Darkfall has a reputation system that (I don’t think it’s quite right yet) keeps me out of the newbzones completely because I’m “red” and the towers attack me on sight.

        The reputation system is gameable and has some broken bits to it. I’m red though I don’t kill many unguilded “blue” newbs simply because I’ve killed many “blue” guilded players that we don’t bother to “wardec”(ie have our guild declare war on their guild) on first. It’s kind of silly to be locked out of the newb towns but whatever.

        That being said, outside of the newb zone I think there should be no safe zones at all.

        Let players find safe places to play, protect themselves and protect others (ie guild up).

        It’s forced guilding really and its the right way to do it.

        By forcing you to associate it forces you to pick a “societal norm” if you will and stick to it.

        I would just point out when think you want something stronger than this system- There were no facebook or iphone cameras in the times most of our games model. Reputation would be hard to keep track of. Killing someone in one village wouldn’t mean that any ever figured out that first you’d killed someone and second be able to communicate to the next village that -you- had done it.

        In the age of an eve-like game who’s to say the ambiguity wouldn’t even be greater? Did your clone do the crime or did you? Did you kill a clone or a prime?

      • Derrick says:

        Forced guilding is the way to go? Why? I’d argue that the whole clan/guild system in MMO’s is dated, artificial and limiting. Why can’t I belong to more than one? Yes, it’s an MMO, yes, I want to play with other people. No, I do not want to be forced to “guild up”.

        There shouldn’t be “safe zones” where players are artificially protected (aside from, perhaps, a “noob island” where people learn to play, leave, and cannot return to).

        There should be places, though, where there is a reasonable expectation of protection and security, because those places did/do/will(setting dependent) exist. Not some ridiculous, artificial “The guards will attack you for X hours” setup, but a more living, breathing system.

        I didn’t suggest that everyone should magically know who you are or what you did, though a server-side reputation factor could be kept to track more extreme cases. Even without modern communications, if you butcher random city inhabitants in public, over and over again over the course of months… word gets around.

        It may not get you attacked on sight in another town – identification being an issue – but it could get you treated with suspicion, and if caught there for some other crime, be used against you then.

        The goal is to create a system that functions to create generally positive behavior patterns overall, where people weigh the consequences of their actions rather than just doing whatever they feel like because there aren’t any consequences at all. To create a world that seems much more like a real world.

      • Matt says:

        @Adam

        “I would just point out when think you want something stronger than this system- There were no facebook or iphone cameras in the times most of our games model. Reputation would be hard to keep track of. Killing someone in one village wouldn’t mean that any ever figured out that first you’d killed someone and second be able to communicate to the next village that -you- had done it.”

        In the times most MMORPGs model, death was permanent, people could actually *feel* pain, and murderers likely dealt with the psychological effects that accompany killing another person. It’s delusional to think that these types of consequences did (and do) not affect the way a society evolves.

        You claim to desire some sort of realistic ecosystem and society, but in reality you’re asking for only a subset of the characteristics of that system. This, of course, is perfectly reasonable since nobody expects a fully realistic virtual world. The difference is that others understand and acknowledge this.

        “In the age of an eve-like game who’s to say the ambiguity wouldn’t even be greater? Did your clone do the crime or did you? Did you kill a clone or a prime?”

        Nobody can really say, can they? Which, unsurprisingly, only serves to support your argument. Except, what if the technological advances in an EVE-like setting actually removed all ambiguity? What if each capsuleer had a biological signature and murder was easily traceable? That certainly seems as plausible as your ‘what if’ scenario. But, hey, sweet anecdotal point.

      • Adam says:

        @Derrick

        Yes forced guilding or gating as syncaine referred to it.

        This is an mmo you should group and you should be locked out of lots of content if you aren’t social imo.

        The forced guilding deals with the building society bit very handily.

        Society isn’t game code its people.

        If you aren’t social you get killed and will have a rough life. The game shouldn’t protect you from that by coding this “morality” in.

        @Matt

        hehe as my followup post indicates (and your point about real killing).. killing in an mmo is such a petty crime. I’m unclear why there is this much fuss about the need for elaborate game structure to be built to discourage it.

        I’m much more about putting encouragements for players to do the right thing. “Forced” guilding is one of those things. You behave well according to the rules of your guild or you are out. If you are in a guild you get wonderful bonuses.

        I’m not trying to have a x is more realistic than y discussion so much as just trying to point out that its better in open game worlds to let players decide. Thats what its about. I was merely putting some points out that would allow you guys some ways to climb down off the complicated code/morality pedestal you are on.

        “The difference is that others understand and acknowledge this.”

        No the difference is that I don’t agree with what you want, not that I don’t know what you want.

        Once again…list some real crimes worthy of this moral structure you propose.

      • Matt says:

        @Adam

        “hehe as my followup post indicates (and your point about real killing).. killing in an mmo is such a petty crime. I’m unclear why there is this much fuss about the need for elaborate game structure to be built to discourage it.”

        Well, whether or not killing is a petty crime in an MMO is something we’re leaving up to the players, right? Right? And to (sigh) reiterate, there is not a lot of ‘fuss’ about the need to discourage killing. Others are asking for a game mechanic to *allow* killing to be discouraged. It’s a subtle but important difference. Does that make sense?

        “I’m not trying to have a x is more realistic than y discussion so much as just trying to point out that its better in open game worlds to let players decide. Thats what its about. I was merely putting some points out that would allow you guys some ways to climb down off the complicated code/morality pedestal you are on.”

        Hmm. What? You stated that they didn’t have Facebook or iPhones in “7th to 12th century environments”, and as a consequence that reputation would be difficult to track. So this was a way to allow us to climb down off our “pedestal”? I’m not sure I understand.

        “No the difference is that I don’t agree with what you want, not that I don’t know what you want.”

        Sorry, you’re still misunderstanding. Let’s try it this way. Throughout the entirety of Syncaine’s two posts, you’ve been advocating player-driven rules. Would you say that is accurate? Great, I agree with you. The player base of the MMO should be able to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. In fact, I think most everyone here agrees with that notion, or is at least interested in taking it further.

        This is why, now, others are discussing mechanics with which to enforce those rules. In essence, consequences. I mean, what good is a rule if it doesn’t have a consequence for its violation?

        The problem is *not* deciding that exterminating the bunny population, for example, is wrong. The problem is how to go about discouraging that action if it is decided that it is indeed wrong.

        Yet, you repeatedly use non-arguments such as “let the players decide” or “killing is a petty crime” or “forced guilding”. Let the players decide what? The punishment? They can’t. There is no structure in place for them to do so. Killing you is inconsequential, remember? All it takes is a little persistence on your part and, voila, broken system. As Evizaer and Sid have repeatedly noted, the destructive power of any player-based entity is far greater than the power with which to prevent that destruction.

        Finally, let me point out that I’ve not actually advocated any position in my comments, except when I agreed with you earlier in this reply. My arguments have been largely aimed at highlighting your misunderstanding of the discussion and your illogical conclusions.

        This is how I know that you’re not carefully reading the comments and why you don’t, in fact, know what I want. This is also why I suggested that you re-read. How can you possibly expect to be understood if you don’t even understand what everyone else is talking about? So, really, instead of attempting to emasculate others, go back and read.

      • Adam says:

        @Matt

        “””Well, whether or not killing is a petty crime in an MMO is something we’re leaving up to the players, right? Right? And to (sigh) reiterate, there is not a lot of ‘fuss’ about the need to discourage killing. Others are asking for a game mechanic to *allow* killing to be discouraged. It’s a subtle but important difference. Does that make sense?”””

        It doesn’t really matter. You have the “mechanic” already. Have more dudes than the other guy. Kill him for killing you or whatever your problem with him is (killing too many bunny rabbits?).

        Project force with your playing not through weird mechanics that noone has even managed to coherently propose (or even suggest it was needed for anything except being ganked). You haven’t proposed any mechanic or suggested a crime (which is the actual root of this thread if you read…).

        Link something if it exists.

        “””So this was a way to allow us to climb down off our “pedestal”? I’m not sure I understand.”””

        I was doing a poor job of pointing out that people are injecting a perfect knowledge of crime and identity into a medieval game and out of that would be creating a system that wasn’t true to any era.

        “””Sorry, you’re still misunderstanding. Let’s try it this way. Throughout the entirety of Syncaine’s two posts, you’ve been advocating player-driven rules. Would you say that is accurate? Great, I agree with you. The player base of the MMO should be able to decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. In fact, I think most everyone here agrees with that notion, or is at least interested in taking it further.”””

        Players decide through their playing. By force, not by voting punishments on people 51v49. I haven’t really seen anything concrete so I just invented your mechanism for you.

        “””This is why, now, others are discussing mechanics with which to enforce those rules. In essence, consequences. I mean, what good is a rule if it doesn’t have a consequence for its violation?”””

        The consequence is being killed drylooted and then camped until you logoff. It’s what we do in Darkfall which I think you are somewhat crippled in this discussion for not having played(much?).

        “””The problem is *not* deciding that exterminating the bunny population, for example, is wrong. The problem is how to go about discouraging that action if it is decided that it is indeed wrong.”””

        Kill them and drive them away from your bunnies. Make them kill someone elses bunnies. Having the players invent a global pro-bunny rule sounds bizarre.

        “””Yet, you repeatedly use non-arguments such as “let the players decide” or “killing is a petty crime” or “forced guilding”. Let the players decide what? The punishment? They can’t. There is no structure in place for them to do so. Killing you is inconsequential, remember? All it takes is a little persistence on your part and, voila, broken system. As Evizaer and Sid have repeatedly noted, the destructive power of any player-based entity is far greater than the power with which to prevent that destruction.”””

        Killing is a petty crime in an mmo not worth lots of punishment. If you want to drive someone away from an area or discourage them from an action it is an effective tool. What broken system? Name the game and the problem.

        Ultimately being driven from your guild and being denied access to the guild resources is the consequence. What game do you play?

        The remainder of your comments are not really substantive.

      • Matt says:

        “Project force with your playing not through weird mechanics that noone has even managed to coherently propose (or even suggest it was needed for anything except being ganked). You haven’t proposed any mechanic or suggested a crime (which is the actual root of this thread if you read…).”

        The title of the post is “Dealing with the undesirables of any MMO community.” It is not “Determining who the undersirables of any MMO community are.” Remember what I said about you not talking about the same thing as everyone else? Also, not only have several mechanics been proposed, they’re being discussed. Pros. Cons. It’s quite normal.

        You keep trying to elicit *specific* MMO crimes, but we’re never going to collectively agree as to what constitutes a crime. Syncaine acknowledged this point in the first paragraph of this post:

        “But there are different types of greifing, and even more opinions of what constitutes griefing versus what’s accepted behavior.”

        There is nothing wrong with us disagreeing about what makes up an undesirable behavior. The rest of the commenters have made their peace with it and have moved on. So, everyone except you.

        The discussion assumes that a ‘crime’ has already been committed. *How* can we ensure that players are given an avenue of fair resolution? Are you getting any of this? Or, shall I continue to feed your trolling?

        “I was doing a poor job of pointing out that people are injecting a perfect knowledge of crime and identity into a medieval game and out of that would be creating a system that wasn’t true to any era.”

        Then my original criticism stands. They’re injecting knowledge of crime and identity to compensate for the removal of a set of consequences, e.g., death, pain, and guilt. In other words the removal of a set of consequences that makes any MMO not “true to any era.”

        “Players decide through their playing. By force, not by voting punishments on people 51v49. I haven’t really seen anything concrete so I just invented your mechanism for you.”

        Force is asymmetrical though. And nobody has suggested a system of voting punishment since it’s very easily abused (let alone the convenient and irrelevant point of a 51v49 outcome).

        “The consequence is being killed drylooted and then camped until you logoff. It’s what we do in Darkfall which I think you are somewhat crippled in this discussion for not having played(much?).”

        Killed, drylooted, and camped until logoff is not only unsustainable, but it’s simply ineffective or impossible in many circumstances. Take EVE for example. I typically cannot camp someone’s corpse because players don’t fly back to recover their corpse. This is generally the result of death occurring far enough away from their clone that it’s not in their interest to go back.

        My suspicion is that the same is true in Darkfall, having played it as well. Are you lucky enough to kill someone you’d like to camp near their bindstone most of the time? Or, is that something that happened one time when you were playing? Or, do you just camp newbie goblin spawns and chaos stones?

        “Kill them and drive them away from your bunnies. Make them kill someone elses bunnies.”

        The problem is driving them away. How do you drive them away? Killing them? How do you make them kill someone else’s bunnies? By killing them?

        “Having the players invent a global pro-bunny rule sounds bizarre.”

        It does sound bizarre. Remember, though, that I didn’t propose that the players invent a global pro-bunny rule. You just did, and then attributed it to me.

        “Killing is a petty crime in an mmo not worth lots of punishment. If you want to drive someone away from an area or discourage them from an action it is an effective tool.”

        Why is there such a distinction? Why is it petty, yet effective?

        “What broken system? Name the game and the problem.”

        Unbalancing the ecological system in the theoretical bunny-wolf-dragon example given by Raph. Your guild griefing players at the instance stone in Blackrock Mountain. The zombie infestation world event in WoW. Throwaway-alt suicide ganking in EVE. Off-peak hours keep sieges in WAR. The ‘victims’ of these actions have no mechanic to discourage them from happening.

        “Ultimately being driven from your guild and being denied access to the guild resources is the consequence.”

        It’s not a consequence if you’re not driven from your guild. Take your sweet griefing guild in Blackrock Mountain. I would assume that you weren’t gkicked because they condoned the behavior, but what could the raiders do to stop you from camping them? Kill you? Would that have stopped you? Really?

        “What game do you play?”

        EVE.

      • Adam says:

        The title of the post is “Dealing with the undesirables of any MMO community.” It is not “Determining who the undersirables of any MMO community are.” Remember what I said about you not talking about the same thing as everyone else?”””

        gee I’m sure everyone appreciates you keeping me on topic…oh wait you failed at that…

        I think it’s really important to define a crime before you go designing punishments. What I saw was people talking about “asshats” and then it jumps to how to excecute “asshats” so everyone can go back to picking flowers/watching paint dry.

        “””You keep trying to elicit *specific* MMO crimes, but we’re never going to collectively agree as to what constitutes a crime. Syncaine acknowledged this point in the first paragraph of this post:

        “But there are different types of greifing, and even more opinions of what constitutes griefing versus what’s accepted behavior.”

        There is nothing wrong with us disagreeing about what makes up an undesirable behavior. The rest of the commenters have made their peace with it and have moved on. So, everyone except you.”””

        Yes and this is why its so silly to design punishments for a non-existent crime. Its writing software for something that hasn’t been defined…

        “””The discussion assumes that a ‘crime’ has already been committed. *How* can we ensure that players are given an avenue of fair resolution? Are you getting any of this? Or, shall I continue to feed your trolling?”””

        So the crime isn’t defined AND there is no way to even determine who did the crime (who killed all the bunnies) or if it was not a crime but a legitimate player error.

        “””Then my original criticism stands. They’re injecting knowledge of crime and identity to compensate for the removal of a set of consequences, e.g., death, pain, and guilt. In other words the removal of a set of consequences that makes any MMO not “true to any era.””””

        I think we can both agree that actual “death, pain” would be a pretty terrible game mechanic..whether perfect knowledge is a needed swap in is a whole separate thread.

        I think ambiguity is a useful and fun thing to have in a game, some of the best Darkfall fights I’ve had were in the 5 v ? in the night among trees and spending half my time trying to not backhit my own team (lack of glowing nametags is a huge win in this game). Ambiguity in gaming is a good thing.

        “””Force is asymmetrical though. And nobody has suggested a system of voting punishment since it’s very easily abused (let alone the convenient and irrelevant point of a 51v49 outcome).”””

        Force is asymmetrical, random, ambigous and fun. Yes most moral systems are easily abused, the one I invented for you especially.

        “””Killed, drylooted, and camped until logoff is not only unsustainable, but it’s simply ineffective or impossible in many circumstances. Take EVE for example. I typically cannot camp someone’s corpse because players don’t fly back to recover their corpse. This is generally the result of death occurring far enough away from their clone that it’s not in their interest to go back.
        My suspicion is that the same is true in Darkfall, having played it as well. Are you lucky enough to kill someone you’d like to camp near their bindstone most of the time? Or, is that something that happened one time when you were playing? Or, do you just camp newbie goblin spawns and chaos stones?”””

        If someone in Darkfall is ganking around our town we kill them which allows us to loot them (if unbanked we get peoples stuff actually back) and send them back to their bindstone.

        If they come back soonish its generally because they’ve bound close to us on a bindstone (we call this cockroaching) we know about. Travel is slow in Darkfall with no autopilot. If we find the bindstone (which we almost always do) we camp them until they log or become pretty obviously inactive. We’ve done it for hours/days. We call in alliance members to take shifts and everyone is good about taking a turn.

        We’ve had people join us after being camped for 4-5 days at a time. They liked the fact that we were attentive to detail I guess…

        Do you see why I put the emphasis on the clan/guild setting the tone of “morality” and policing?

        “””The problem is driving them away. How do you drive them away? Killing them? How do you make them kill someone else’s bunnies? By killing them?”””

        Yes

        “””It does sound bizarre. Remember, though, that I didn’t propose that the players invent a global pro-bunny rule. You just did, and then attributed it to me.”””

        You seem like a pro-bunny kind of guy. ;)

        “””Why is there such a distinction? Why is it petty, yet effective?”””

        See my earlier explanation. It sets people back but as you said it doesn’t actually involve irl “death, pain” usually just a few minutes of time.

        Tell me… what do you feel when a mob kills you? Why is it soooo much more painful than when a player does? It is different I agree but perhaps you are overreacting a touch? Do you feel a mob killing you is a petty crime or a capital crime?

        “””Unbalancing the ecological system in the theoretical bunny-wolf-dragon example given by Raph. Your guild griefing players at the instance stone in Blackrock Mountain. The zombie infestation world event in WoW. Throwaway-alt suicide ganking in EVE. Off-peak hours keep sieges in WAR. The ‘victims’ of these actions have no mechanic to discourage them from happening.”””

        Ok so thanks for coming out with some crimes. I’m sorry to use the word but I want you to understand where some of us are coming from.

        Wanting to limit or end things like the things you cite is the very essence of -carebear-.

        These things are the essence of having a fun world where things are occasionally DIFFERENT then they were the day before.

        Our bourgeois day-to-day grind is interrupted for a brief moment and we have to actually ADAPT to the gameworld.

        When people want to limit or take those things away it actually makes many of us angry because an open world is all about having to adapt to things like… people trying to pvp you in a pvp server.

        “””“Ultimately being driven from your guild and being denied access to the guild resources is the consequence.”

        It’s not a consequence if you’re not driven from your guild. Take your sweet griefing guild in Blackrock Mountain. I would assume that you weren’t gkicked because they condoned the behavior, but what could the raiders do to stop you from camping them? Kill you? Would that have stopped you? Really?”””

        I would have gone to a different guild if I didn’t like them pvp’ing on a pvp server…

        I get what you mean. It was up to the opposing guilds to out-pvp us. Thats it. They can unite, kill and camp us until we decide we are bored and would rather raid :P …. didn’t happen too often. If they really hated us enough they could have tried to ruin our guild… wow has 0 persistence so it would have been tough to fight us long term.. In Darkfall you can kick people out of their city.

        “””EVE”””

        Do you think Eve needs this system that people find missing in some game somewhere to punish the “asshats” whoever they are?

      • Crito says:

        Tools! It’s about giving the players the tools to protect themselves. Let the players decide what they are willing to put up with and give them a means to meet it. What if a guild-leader could determine what spamming is in his city. Pretty cool, the players are doing the dev’s job and forming a game they want to play in!

        Yes, these tools will be abused (segregation and probably exploitation) and the devs have to decide who gets to controll things (guilds or indivuduals). I say the power to controll their own area, give the newbies a protected area(from death and stealing-npc controlled/patrolled zones) and personal control over chat and stuff, and leaving the rest of the world lawless.

      • Matt says:

        @Adam

        “Its writing software for something that hasn’t been defined…”

        It sounds as though you don’t develop software for a living, which I believe several regular commenters here do. So there’s probably an assumed understanding of concepts such as abstraction and frameworks. At the very least, that is how I am approaching the discussion, but I shouldn’t expect you to do the same.

        An important practice when writing software is allowing for things that aren’t defined. When you talk about randomness, ambiguity, and adaptation that is exactly what what we’re asking for in this theoretical system. We agree on so many more levels than you know.

    • Adam says:

      “””“Its writing software for something that hasn’t been defined…”

      It sounds as though you don’t develop software for a living, which I believe several regular commenters here do. So there’s probably an assumed understanding of concepts such as abstraction and frameworks. At the very least, that is how I am approaching the discussion, but I shouldn’t expect you to do the same.

      An important practice when writing software is allowing for things that aren’t defined.”””

      Quite the contrary, I do write software for a living. Most of the worst software I’ve seen written has been abstracted and frameworked into timewasting irrelevance because no one bothers to firm up assumptions and requirements in the first place.

      “””When you talk about randomness, ambiguity, and adaptation that is exactly what what we’re asking for in this theoretical system. We agree on so many more levels than you know.”””

      lol well ok

      • Matt says:

        Oooh, let me try. Most of the worst software I’ve seen written has been hardcoded and inextensible because someone tried to define all the requirements up front. See what I did there? As in, not make an argument?

        Off topic and out of pure curiosity – in what languages do you code?

        “lol well ok”

        Do you not believe me? We probably agree or nearly agree on most features that we’d like to see in a new, open-world MMO. My feeling is that we disagree on the appropriate risk vs. reward ratios for specific activities.

        You feel ‘flower-picking’ should be risky.

        I feel killing another player should be risky.

        You feel retribution for undesirable activity should be limited to killing and guild membership.

        I feel that retribution should be left up to the players.

  5. sid67 says:

    For me the issue isn’t just about griefing but design intent. All of the best intentions in the world don’t matter at all once you let real humans into the lab experiment.

    For example, when Mythic created WAR they built a system that included several stand alone features: Scenarios, RvR Lakes, Public Quests, and solo Questing.

    In theory, if everyone played these things equally — then there is a real nice balance and lots of options for the player.

    In practice, players realized that Scenarios provided the most benefit. Better gear, more Renown, and better XP. The result is that everyone focused on Scenarios and ignored the other areas of the game.

    And even after Mythic started addressing the balance issue, players still preferred Scenarios because they were easier.

    This is what I’m really talking about when I say that “players” break the game. The only real option for the devs to fix it is to start limiting the options. In this case, start taking away how often players can queue for Scenarios (or even outright eliminating them from the game).

    And generally speaking, the more complicated the system is, the easier it is to break.

    • syncaine says:

      WAR is actually a great example, because it’s not the players that broke that game, it was the game itself (initially). Once the devs fixed the scenario to open-RvR balance, it worked. Scenarios were still easier to jump into for small gains, but oRvR was a much better source of bigger gains. Both were fun from a PvP standpoint (up to a point anyway, but that’s another issue), and both were active on any decently populated server (again a different issue).

      If anything, the ‘fix’ to the scen/RvR issue was to ADD complexity, but it was added in a way that made sense (and was really only possible to witness AFTER go-live and thousands of players testing the system). WAR’s overriding issue, on top of all it’s other issues, is that it’s a force two sided PvP game, and no amount of tweaking will fix THAT problem short of adding a third (or more) side. Once/if that happens, the other issues can be addressed. Sadly Mythic seems to be unaware of this (or have not announced the details of the first expansion coming sooner rather than later), and continue to patch up other systems while the overall problem continues.

      • sid67 says:

        I agree with that. I’m certainly not blaming the players for the woes that WAR experienced.

        I’m just saying that all that careful planning goes out the window as soon as the players start doing what players do.

        And the more complex things are to start, the more weak points exist to be attacked. And as you point out, the irony is that if you want to keep the functionality — you need to ADD complexity.

        So you end up doing what Mythic is doing now — continually patching up the problems.

      • syncaine says:

        And overall patching problems is, IMO, perfectly fine for an MMO. I would never expect a sandbox MMO to release and on day one have all (or even most) of it’s systems perfectly in tune. The difference between DarkFall and WAR is that the core of DF works, the core of WAR does not. DF needs MORE added to it to flesh it out, and some systems (magic) tweaked. WAR needs an overhaul (3+ sides) to be viable, and no amount of scen/RvR or capital city tuning will solve that.

      • sid67 says:

        Patching is fine, but too often it seems like it’s too little too late for the fickle MMO fan.

  6. Derrick says:

    This particular blog post is focussing on player behavior in the traditional sense, so I’ll stay with that rather than the broader problem of players simply breaking game systems because they can.

    Reputation systems are fraught with peril. Raph Koster talks about this (or was it a blog post he linked to? I forget, and am too lazy to look it up). In a nutshell, though, the ability to give negative reputation to someone (and have that visible to anyone but you) opens the gate for gross abuse immediately, wherein players will group together to abuse it. This happened in Sims, in fact. The result, though, is players quickly realize that reputation is worthless. Positive rep works better, but will be abused as well. (My group of players will “sell” you positive rep points. Endgame raid pugs require a certain amount of positive rep to join, so when you’re new you need to either buy the rep or keep running silly pugs until enough people “+rep” you, resulting in “Please give me rep!!” begs at the end of instance runs and such.

    Being able to assign notes to players you meet that persist between all their characters and are only visible to you (and perhaps your guild or what have you) would be a useful tool, though, but is nowhere near sufficient.

    Further, peoples opinion is highly subjective. What one person hates may well be great for another.

    In short, I think the simplest (and yeah, it’s not simple) way is to implement a legal system of some sort. The laws and penalties would be location specific (in a historical setting, say a city and the surrounding lands), and penalties would only be applied if there were witnesses. Penalties would not decay over time, they’d remain in place. Murder someone in a town, and get caught? Don’t expect to be welcome in that town again any time soon. On the other hand, pick someones pocket and get caught and you’d more likely just be facing a fine.

    Now, given a more plausible virtual world without global banking, this could really be a concern. You could find things you own in a town confiscated or inaccessible.

    Add a server-side reputation score, based on your characters actions, as you progress and accomplish things (positive or negative) your character builds an overall reputation that can affect how things play out in other lands. A known murderer from the Kingdom of Bob? While you may not be attacked outright in the Kingdom of Joe, perhaps guards tend to follow you around, keeping an eye on you.

    The key is not actually preventing players from being villains. The key is making it more difficult to be a villain than it is to be a hero(or, rather, any random person.) That’s how real society works, because the bulk of players will follow the easiest path. Traditionally, it’s actually easier to be a jackass than it is to be a nice guy.

    It’s important to have players do bad things, and if it’s possible some will. But you want to curtail the random acts of asshatishness that people feel the need to do simply because they can. The danger gives it MEANING to be a bad guy. It adds risk, which adds fun.

    • syncaine says:

      The only modification I would make is to not hard-code the rules. I think what EVE does with a characters Corp history is good enough. If a Corp is know to support gold farmers or whatever else is viewed negatively, then by joining that Corp you put yourself under that light. You might be able to explain this away to another Corp in time, but your road will be harder.

      Now take that system to a world like DarkFall, and a clan/alliance can set certain clans that they suspect as cheaters to hostile. If you join those clans, you will also be cast under that light. If one alliance wants to harbor those players, they can do so, just like another can set them to hostile and make things more difficult for them. As long as setting someone to hostile is a strong enough motivator to deter some people, the system works. You can still have the possibility of some people being the shady characters of the world, but by choosing that path other options must be limited or harder for them.

      • sid67 says:

        Sounds like a good system. In most games, the very worst griefers on the ones on YOUR side. AFKers in Alterac Valley, people who spam crap in a channel you see, people who kill friendlies, and so forth.

        Being able to set those players as hostile and attack them would certainly make me feel a lot better :)

  7. Adam says:

    So I asked earlier for some actual “crimes” that were worthy of being punished.

    I haven’t seen any in this post or the last beyond what I thought – “murder” ie “getting ganked”. This is as I said was what everyone was really upset about, though several of you denied it.

    This is petty crime. So is stealing. Ohnoes your pixels died. Ohnoes this afternoons pixels were stolen.

    The only real “serious” crime I’ve seen in the last few years has actually been guild bank thefts. The reality is that the person that did it usually has had fairly serious social problems afterwards… no need for a software based morality.

  8. Crito says:

    Adam- you can’t say stealing a persons gold is fine, but a guilds gold is a crime. We care if people keep taking 20’s out of our wallet, especially if they do it all the time. There’s no security in that and law is all about security. The thing is, an individual cant protect himself so he goes to a larger body, so, the devs or clans. I’m digressing…

    What are people playing for? Most people are playing for pixels and so they are doing their best to protect them. If the dev’s cant protect them or if clans don’t have the tools to they will leave. What else are people playing for? Good question.

    So- Killing/corpsecamping=crime because you loose
    stuff.
    Stealing- you lose stuff that you worked for.
    Macroing- they get stuff and didn’t have to work
    for it. This is funny because when someone
    macro’s they offend people because they are willing to admit the game is all about pixels.

  9. Derrick says:

    Adam; I’m trying really hard here, but we still seem to be having different conversations.

    I’ll try to be as concise as possible, I realize I ramble and my point is often lost in that.

    First, keep this in mind: this all started discussing a NEW mmorpg, a progression of the genre, NOT something to be shoehorned into an existing game. More specifically, towards the creation of a virtual world (the original design goal that’s all but vanished).

    In now way do I want to remove danger to ‘innocent flower pickers’. I merely want to see a system wherein there are plausible consequences for ones actions. That’s how the real world works, and how a real society functions.

    If the goal is to create a virtual world, an MMORPG, then that’s necessary. It’s needed to support other game systems, too. Without that, your just playing a glorified MMOFPS, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a different game where A real-feeling virtual world is much less important.

    It’s NOT to protect players. Players are still in danger. They can still be killed. It’s to protect systems from the players in a believeable, intuitive fashion.

  10. Derrick says:

    ‘it’s’s just pixels’. I get what you’re saying, I really do. But those pixels have real world value to thier owners, because they represent time investment. Each player values that time differently – a lot factors into it. But your need to understand that a lot of people put a reasonably high value on thier time, which elevates the ‘crime level’ from petty to serious.

    Consequences, implemented properly (believably) to varying degrees in varying regions, allow players to manage thier risk level more fluidly, rather than arbitrary absolutes. It creates meaningful choice for everyone involved, and that’s a key component of fun.

  11. The Claw says:

    I suppose it would be heresy to suggest that it might be a good idea to experiment with a persistent world with a reactive ecosystem in a game without PvP?

  12. Adam says:

    I think part of the reason that I seem to be on a different page with a few of you is that I’ve typically been in good and great guilds.

    Pvp games especially are games about the clash of groups and politics etc.

    I don’t view these games as single player games where periodically some other player intrudes on that game space.

    Solo players are always going to have the -hardest- game to play if they want to remain solo (in a pvp open world).

    In real life we group up for protection and shared resources against a harsh world.

    If the game world is harsh you are foolish to not group up (unless you want it much harsher).

    As in real life if someone wants to solo you are going to be almost by default a bit of a scavenger.. feast or famine as you find small encounters or get destroyed by even 2-3 players coming by.

    Thats the nature of the solo game in a pvp open world.

    My sense from having read most of the comments is that people want game mechanics to allow them to solo in these harsh worlds.

    I don’t see how it can be done without adding strange mechanics that frankly are just as likely to be used to grief you as help you. If anyone is interested I can post about how an anti-ganking mechanic in Darkfall is actually used to grief people.

    I personally am not sure I would be very interested in that solo friendly game world as it starts to diverge pretty radically from an open game world.

    • Matt says:

      “My sense from having read most of the comments is that people want game mechanics to allow them to solo in these harsh worlds.”

      I don’t get that sense at all. In fact, I would presume that most people here want *more* reasons to group and cooperate. Allowing affiliations beyond a single guild tag and more complex social structures would be a nice step in the right direction. Some of the tools are there already in player-made chat channels and alliances in Darkfall and EVE, but it would be great if a game went to greater lengths to foment those social structures.

      I very well could be wrong, but my sense from having read your comments is that you value loyalty and hierarchy in your social structures. That’s great as it works fairly well in the current generation of MMOs, but I think we would find far more interesting, emergent, and dynamic worlds by lifting those restrictions. Not to mention the political metagame that could ensue.

      In short, nope. It’s not about soloing.

    • Matt says:

      I forgot to mention that one of the nice things about complex social structures is that they fight against the black and white nature of conflict as implemented in current MMOs. Instead of rules such as NRDS or NBSI you get, “Crap, who is this person? Should I wave or shoot? Does it matter?”

      Bam! Ambiguity! See? We definitely agree.

    • Derrick says:

      Adam: “I think part of the reason that I seem to be on a different page with a few of you is that I’ve typically been in good and great guilds.”

      Absolutely. If you FORCE people to be in guilds to enjoy the game, you gate their ability to enjoy the game on their ability to get into a good guild. In a small niche game like Darkfall, this isn’t necessarily a very difficult proposition. However, if you’re in a larger game, it becomes ever more difficult to be in a good guild. It’s a fundamentally bad design for a non-niche game. You want your players to have fun.

      Adam: “Solo players are always going to have the -hardest- game to play if they want to remain solo (in a pvp open world).”

      Absolutely. No argument whatsoever. In an open pvp world, numbers are critical for success in open conflict. Of course, solo players can still be successful, if they’re stealthy and pick the right targets.

      Adam: “My sense from having read most of the comments is that people want game mechanics to allow them to solo in these harsh worlds.”

      Absolutely not. In almost every single one of my comments, I’ve been very careful to specify any “laws” designed into the game; consequences for actions, should NOT be globally, arbitrarily enforced but rather regionally defined and enforced based on being *caught* committing a crime(whatever the crimes in question may be). It has NOTHING to do with solo vs. group gameplay. It creates a world where players can manage risk; but never remove it entirely. If you’ve got a house in town, in a good section of the town where guards patrol regularly, you can quite probably pick flowers in reasonable safety. Not total safety, but it’s likely not worth the trouble to gank some random flower-picker in town. On the other hand, that same flower picker out alone in the wilderness is fair game. While this example is pretty black and white, there’s lots of room for grey areas: Less patrolled(more dangerous) areas of town are inherently less safe.

      The “Grey Areas” this creates are where the system shines. For example, lets assume a player is wandering off a well patrolled road picking flowers. On the road, he’s pretty safe(relatively speaking) because guards regularly patrol by. But when he’s off in the bushes picking flowers, it’s easier for an attacker to rob him with a reasonable chance of not being caught. This adds to the “Meaningful Choice” making for the attacker: Does he simply gank the victim and take his stuff, or threaten him, demand his money; or just incapacitate him and take it? In each case, there are varying levels of risk and reward. Kill the player, take everything is the simplest and most fun (for some); but carries the harshest penalty if he is caught. Demand the money, and the player may run for the road(decent odds of escape). Incapacitate him, and the player is less inconvenienced (he’s not killed); and the penalties are less (if the attacker is caught) but it’s harder and for most less fun.

      This sort of system allows for societal control, regionally based, with varying levels of risk/safety. It creates many more opportunities for meaningful choices, which is the cornerstone for fun.

  13. [...] article discussing “griefers” (those who dissent/protest within a virtual world). My favorite quote is “The larger point [...]

  14. asdasd says:

    poop

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