One of the parts of MMO content that I often overlook are in-game events. These small pockets of in-game happenings can last anything from a couple of hours to a few weeks, providing players with an alternative to other activities.
Whether they’re the seasonal events that are loosely tied to real-world ones, dynamic events as made popular by Rift, GM-led events in the style made popular by Star Wars Galaxies or just player-led roleplay events, there’s no doubt that they help to break from the encroaching monotony of daily quests and reputation grinding.
They’re also a huge magnet for griefing. The time-bound duration of the events coupled with a specific set of objectives or (especially in the case of player led events) a lack of GM oversight, means that disruptive players have little risk when being a nuisance. This presents a dilemma – how do you run and encourage regular events without giving griefers a free pass to be problematic?
Carbine Studios recently launched a series of discussions as part of their way of encouraging potential players to help shape the game. Known as Wildstar Community Update, these discussions are set to take place on either Facebook or Twitter, and focus around a particular topic.
The first in the series focused on what in-game events players would like to see, with all four main event types came up along with a few interesting variations on GM-led events. You can have a look at most of the messages by searching for the #WSUplink hashtag. As part of the discussion, Troy “Aether” Hewitt from Carbine’s Community Relations team asked me a question:
I have this dream of putting anti-griefing tools into the hands of players. What tools would you like to see?
At the time I said I’d need to think about it, and that I’d get back to him. After some careful thought I don’t think I have all the answers, but I think I at least have a direction to head in with some basic pronciples. Have a read through and see what you think, and feel free to add your own suggestions at the end.
Looking At The Problem
The first thing I wanted to try and understand was the extent of the problem. I’m lucky – I haven’t been the recipient of much griefing myself, although I do know people who have suffered from it extensively. Sometimes griefing evolves into longer term harassment as well, which is something I’d be keen to nip in the bud. Doing a bit of digging I found that griefing tends to break down into two camps.
General disruption is intended to target a wide range of players indiscriminately. This can include:
- Invading events, stripping characters to their underwear and hampering the atmosphere of an event.
- Spamming chat channels (including “say” or “yell” channels) with gibberish or insults
- Taking advantage of mechanics to actively sabotage an event (more typical with seasonal events that have quests or missions attached)
Targeted disruption, often described as harassment, is where individual players bear the brunt of the grefer’s actions. This can include:
- Spam invites to join a party, guild or other group
- Floods of “whisper” or “tell” messages
There’s also issues where a griefer will discover that their actions are blocked, create a new character, log back in and continue where they left off. It’s this kind of thing that’s common in World of Warcraft, where the account technology was bolted on to a character-limited early game. Most of the player tools there haven’t been updated to acknowledge this change in play.
Now that I had a feel for the types of problems, I needed to start putting together a list of what any anti-griefing tools would need to do. After all, if we’re going to provide players with the means to protect themselves from griefers, they need to be shown to be effective.
There needs to be a way for the player to initiate actions to stop griefing, and those actions need to provide near-instant relief. There also needs to be little to no GM involvement in this end of things, as there’s nothing worse than waiting indefinitely for someone to resolve your issues.
There’s also got to be virtually no potential for misuse of any player tools, especially by griefers (or even guilds of griefers) looking to turn the tables. Finally, if the MMO has the ability for players to connect cross-realm then all tools should work cross-realm as well.
The Proactive, Defensive and Offensive
Now that we have our problem defined and our requirements listed, the final part is to actually start putting some tools together that remove the problems and meet the requirements. This is the bit that requires the most careful thought, as it’s easy to go overboard and create player tools that can be easily misused by griefers. It’s about finding that balance between rapid relief and blasting someone to purgatory. However much we might want to isolate someone in phasing limbo, is it something we’d like done to ourselves?
In the end I broke it down to three areas – proactive measures, defensive tools and offensive actions.
The proactive measures are things like making sure that seasonal events built in to the game are negatively tested for exploits, ideally during a public test phase. Finding out what breaks and what can damage the player experience is great, and players should be encouraged for reporting them. There’s also things like drawing up a clear, public player conduct policy so that everyone knows where the line in the sand is drawn.
Defensive measures are things that the player can invoke themselves to get immediate respite from a griefer’s actions. There’s a bundle of options here, mainly involving beefing up existing tools to cope with modern MMOs
- The Super Ignore: this would allow a player to ignore all characters belonging to a single account. This would stop the whisper – logoff – reroll – logon – whisper griefing in one immediate swoop.
- Radio Silence: instead of having to root around in the interface, this toggle would immediately block all incoming whispers, party/group/guild invites and so on from anyone not on your friend list. This stops a griefer getting his guildmates and associates from giving you a hard time.
- Invisible Ignoramus: this toggle would render anyone on your ignore list invisible, stopping them from ruining the feel of your event. It would need to be carefully time or location limited, so that the griefer couldn’t use it as a meaningful stealth mechanic outside the event.
- Not Your Helper: if someones not in your group and has a load of monsters attacking them, you want to make sure they don’t start attacking you. This will ensure that even if the griefer has a way to drop aggro that it won’t transfer automatically to you.
Offensive measures would be GM initiated actions that can result in sanctions against a player. Again there’s a heap of options available here, mainly around providing a range of sanctions and good quality data on which to base those actions. it’s important to have a GM perform these actions in order to reduce the number of false positives.
- Player Reports: It’d be possible to build in a reporting mechanism when a player uses one of the anti-griefing tools. These could then be used to track the quantity of reports against a player and flag an account for possible action at the GMs discretion.
- Track All The Things: a big problem with earlier MMOs was that report information would be lost if the character it was against was deleted. It’d important for reports to be issued against the player, as it’s likely that behaviour extends over more than one character.
- Escalation paths: Published policies don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. It’s important that GMs have a guide sheet to work from to apply rules consistently, but to also ensure repeated policy breaches get met with a sterner response.
- Edge Cases: make sure you have regular GM meetings to discuss difficult cases that wouldn’t normally fit under the policies. Also, make sure your policies have a “catchall” clause to accommodate this.
Finally, it’s important to make it clear to a player what action had been taken against them and why, along with what’s likely to happen if they continue doing it. I’m also a big fan of justice being seen to be done, which ultimately means a public statement when visible sanctions are taken against a player.
Of course, sanctions against a player don’t always have to involve temporary or permanent bans. In a game like Wildstar, community service is also an option. Imagine if when a player logs in, they instantly appear in the same location – say a farm, or a town hall, or a ship deck, or so on. They can’t be teleported out, summoned out, hearthed out or walk away – they are locked in the zone by a series of invisible walls.
If they’re on the town farm they have to pick up seeds, plant them and water them. If they’re in the town hall they might have to stamp, seal and file paperwork. If it’s the ship’s galley they might have to pick up the mop, soak it in the bucket and mop a patch of floor. Each cycle earns them a point of community service, with a certain amount of earned points granting them release.There might also be in-game benefits for the rest of the players in the town – lower food prices, cheaper guild dues or better paying ship missions.
In the end, there’s a relationship of trust between the playerbase and the GM team. At the start of the game, players are unsure what to expect and will usually be more tolerant of a few hiccups and mistakes. But a GM team that works to impress, delight and encourage the players will win long-term fans. Don’t forget, if you’ve got your own ideas then feel free to add them in the comments. Carbine and Aether, I hope you found this useful.