22 Sep 2011

Claiming Sanctuary From Griefers

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.

Developing Requirements

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.

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11 Responses to Claiming Sanctuary From Griefers

  1. Beth says:

    Great ideas, but some of the defensive measures I don’t think would work well. I don’t know that if a player has had sanctions, if the community should be made aware of it, at least not in a specific way. Perhaps, others should know what type of complaints have been made against that player (such as harassment or just being really obnoxious), so you could know if you’re inviting them to your guild or raid what kind of behavior you could expect from them.

    I also thinking something other than menial tasks would be a better way to work off demerits. Maybe lowering their rep with important factions, slowing mount speeds, hitting them where it hurts by taking away valor points or honor and maybe doubling how much it costs to repair.

    Overall though, I really would love these types of tools and defenses to be put into action.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think it’s a tricky thing.

      On the one hand, if you don’t make it public you’re relying on “word getting around” that x player was temporarily banned. People being held as examples are a great motivator for discouraging behaviour. I agree though – how that info is presented back is a tricky thing that needs work.

      I’m wary about doing things that hamper a character (reputation adjustments etc). On the other hand, I like the neatness of a player working off demerits that then benefit the rest of the community. These were just examples though, and there’s a huge canvas of possibilities.

      Glad you liked the ideas though!

      • Arioch says:

        I am in agreement that there needs to be some sort of public announcement when behavior has gone too far and is being dealt with.

        One of the common threads I see in the WoW forums is complaint that Blizzard doesn’t take griefing seriously, or at least appears to not, because there is no notification to the rest of the community. It’s very hush-hush and invisible, making it easy for the community to perceive that there is nothing being done.

        I think websites like fatuglyorslutty.com are a step in the right direction, but ultimately, if a company wants their subscribers/players to feel like the issue is being addressed, it should be done so openly.

        Depending on the nature of the menial task (which in concept, I like – virtual chain gang cleaning up trash) there is the potential to lose customer base if the player feels excessively punished. A temp ban is one thing, but to have to work to regain standing or access to the game may drive them off. Not that a company necessarily wants that type of customer to begin with so it could be a good thing…
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        • Gazimoff says:

          It’s a tricky thing. My own opinion of temporary bans is that they’re ineffective – players just log off, do something else and come back. The idea behind community service was to get a “time served” sanction, but to make it action based so that a player couldn’t just stand there afk to wait out a sanction. The faster they click, the faster they’re done.

          • Arioch says:

            Temp bans might be ineffective, but the player does come back – which is important to the company’s bottom line (at least for a subscription-based service or if the player made use of micro-transactions in a free-to-play).

            Take the same player that is forced to do something else for a couple of days under a temp ban and instead every time he logs in he can’t do anything until the menial task is complete (and it has to be complicated enough to prevent botting or just mindless clicking or else it isn’t effective either) and they may very well just never log in again.

            Was writing “I won’t put tacks on the teacher’s chair” a 100 times on the chalk board ever really effective? Not really, they just got mischievous in other ways.

            I like the concept, but I just don’t know how well it would work against people prone to the type of behavior that would warrant the punishment in the first place.
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        • Rigg says:

          I suspect Blizzard’s reasoning for keeping it hush-hush is because many trolls and griefers just want attention. Getting a realm-wide announcement with their toon’s name in it might be seen more as a goal than a threat.

          I like the idea of temporary hits to things like mount speed, but only if they apply to ALL of the offender’s toons. It’s just too easy to create throwaway toons otherwise.

          Imagine if, in WoW for example, griefing led to getting a “Grounded!” debuff that disables all your flying mounts. Not only would this be annoying to you, but it would also be annoying to guildies who are now forced to summon you places because you can’t fly there. This creates a source of social pressure from people the griefer (presumably) cares about, which might have a more lasting effect. (“Dude, stop griefing! We’re sick of hauling your butt around!”)

          That’s the key to this sort of punishment, I think. Griefers are never going to care what GMs or the player base at large think. We need a way to make it matter to them and their friends.

          • Vendetta7 says:

            I think you hit it on the head. Griefers in the end do not really care about GMs or other Players which is the root of their problems. I think the Guild that the Griefer belongs to being affected by the Griefers actions is a step in the right direction and has a lot more potential that can be explored.
            Imagine being a Guild Leader and finding out your Guild as a whole lost honor points / xp / whatever because of actions from one of your Guild Mates? How hot would you be? How hot would your Guild Members be? In order for that to be effective though, that means an ‘account’ has to be Guild affiliated, not just character by character, because just as stated – throw away toons are too easy to make.

  2. Promcheg says:

    I honestly do not see the need of creating over complicated system. If you are talking about flame wars, a simple blocklist is enough. If you are talking about PK/KS, then the solution is also very simple just look at Karma system in L2 or similar systems EVE/UO. Look, there is nothing worse for an MMO then creating an impenetrable barrier between players, no matter if they like one another or not. Because interactions with other players is all a MMO is about, and as human nature is, sometimes this interaction manifests in conflicts. Ignoring that fact of artificially prohibiting is the worse mistake you can make. If you do, then i can congratulate you, you’ve just created another – there are already to many on the market- soulless piece of junk, which will be not able to keep players attached to your game for very long.

    The conflicts between players, must be solved or at least dealt with by the means of the game itself. Some one KS your mobs, well you must have an option to PK him/her, if he/she actually suffers from PK, then there is a chance he/she will think twice next time. Some one PK you over and over, he/she must also have to deal with harsh penalties. And no, this is not a contradiction. If you make it right, the whole system will balance out itself. There would be PK/KS/Griffing, you can’t completely take it out of equation, but if you make it right, those people who get PKed or griffed, they will be exactly the sort of people who deserves it.

    Ofc, there is always an option for sterile environment like GW/GW2/Lotr/EQ/SWtOR and increasingly Aion, did i miss something? If you got such a game, then yes, you need a LOT of systems/tools/means for a player to blend others out. Is it still a MMO then? I honestly doubt it.

    • Rigg says:

      The Lineage 2 karma system doesn’t look any less complicated than some of the things being discussed here. Any system that attempts to automate, even partially, social regulation with thousands of people is going to have an unavoidable degree of complexity.

      The main point of yours I’d like to respond to, though, is the idea that requiring players to directly fight back against their griefers using in-game combat mechanics is the only reasonable way to handle it. How does a low-level character fight back against a level-capped one? Particularly a new player who may not have any high-level friends to fall back on?

      Even if I could respond with equal force, what if PVP isn’t my thing? I might lack the skills to defend myself, or I might just not want to have to. Imagine if you went to the park to take a walk and someone started harassing you. It’s nice to be able to call the cops instead of having to either leave the park or fight them off yourself. Forcing players to switch from questing/RP-ing/what-have-you to PvP in order to stop getting griefed is just another tool for the griefer.

      I understand that some players enjoy this sort of hardcore realism in their games. After all, having to defend yourself fits into the theme of many fantasy games. That said, understand that many of the rest of us would like the ability to participate in these worlds in relative peace.

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  4. Ronan says:

    I like the invisible ignoramus idea, but if you make it so the invisibility is two way, but not effective in PVP zones? If they are invisible to you, but they can see you, the could still follow you around, trying to get other players to participate (possibly inadvertently) in a grief attempt. Sometimes, in real life, people just have to suck it up and deal with a person. However, there are various factors about the online experience that drive interaction and behavior differently. However, a two way invisible in situations that wouldn’t affect gameplay… would effectively grief those making attempts at griefing. If they are targeting one person or a group… to have thier audience vanish, and to know thier efforts are going unseen? That seems like a golden thing. On the other hand, it might just shift griefing to PVP zones. The other issue would be invisible groups of griefers clearing PVE zones of spawns/resources… depending on the game mechanics. Not sure how valid these concerns are… but I thought I’d mention it.