Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Crime and punishment

I was already thinking about an article on punishment for crimes committed in virtual worlds, when some anonymous commenter wrote this in reply to yesterday's thread: "That is, jerks in reality are kept in check by other people in the community and/or the powers that be, yet in games, despite all the god-like powers that available, there are rarely systems in place to properly handle the asshats that crop up. It almost seems that in the real world we try to jail the wrongdoers, yet in virtual worlds they jail everyone else in singleplayer/instanced/grind environments just because there a few other players that are dicks."

The US in 2005 had a murder rate of 6 murders per year per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 10 in 1980. The global scale of murder rates ranges from 40 for places like Venezuela and South Africa to 1 in places like Germany. But even a murder rate of 40 per 100,000 means that 99.96% of people *don't* murder each other in the real world. The murder rate in virtual worlds where PvP is unrestricted is much, much higher. Due to the fact that the same person can be murdered several times per year, it is probably even above 100,000 murders per 100,000 inhabitants per year. The big difference is one of consequences.

On the positive side the consequences for the victim of a virtual world murder are much less grave. In some games, like World of Warcraft, you lose absolutely nothing if killed, except the time needed for you to respawn. But even in the harshest games you get reborn after being killed, maybe poorer by some xp or items.

The bigger difference between virtual worlds and real world is the consequence for the killer. In the real world the vast majority of homicides are solved, thus if you'd murder somebody in the real world you'd have a more than even chance of ending at least in jail, or even suffer the death penalty. That is an obvious deterrent. In virtual worlds there is neither jail nor capital punishment, although in Roma Victor you can get crucified for ganking. In some games you acquire some sort of negative score when killing other players, which prevents you from visiting the more lawful areas. But often the consequences of killing another player are only positive, you might even get "honor points" for it, even if you just stabbed somebody in the back dishonorably while he was fighting a mob. This lack of consequences for the killer explains the huge murder rate in games that allow player killing.

So right now we basically have two kinds of virtual worlds, one kind in which murder is technically impossible, and the other kind where killing somebody isn't punished. That makes me wonder whether a third kind could be possible, a virtual world in which you can kill any other player, put would have to live with potential serious consequences. How about whenever you kill another player there is a 50% chance that you get "caught" and put into jail for 1 real week of real time. You'd find yourself in a jail cell which you can't leave, not even by magical means, and you are limited to local, guild, and private chat. Of course in that game there would need to be some negative consequence for being killed for the victim as well, like losing xp. The idea behind that is that people would be nicer to each other if they know the other guy can hurt them. But a player killer would find himself behind bars often enough to discourage ganking. Do you think such a system of virtual punishment could work?
The way I see it is there are three types of MMOs. Ones that encourage pvp (like guild wars), ones that encourage pve (like Rappelz and LotRO) and ones that try to do it both like wow. The main dilemma is that some people love pvp, some love pve and some love it all.

Where a game like wow which tries to do both surely practically fills the needs for both fields as well (even though most pvp players don't like pvp in wow that much), if there was a punishment for pk in world of warcraft (for example), it would probably lead to pvp players quitting the game and moving on to some pvp encouraging game (like guild wars).

In my opinion that is one of the main reasons why a punishment for pk can't exist in a pvp game. It would just lead the game pvp dead and render it similar to a game that only encourages pve. In other words, there's a large chance (at least) that the game pvp would just stop, amount of players would go down and the game itself would change drastically.

Only way to keep the players doing pvp with some sort of punishment in place would be to encourage pvp as well, meaning some sort of LARGEISH reward for player killing (considering the chance of capture would be 50%) for it to be profitable in one way or another to pk people. If you still leave the penalty for dieing in place and give rewards to the pvp players, the game will easily be unbalanced, which would then again mean that a purely pvp based game might be a better solution.

It's a tough one to crack, but have at it ;).
Griefing was never seriously cracked down on in EQ and it prospered because of it.

This is why all mmorpgs now have instances. It's simply cheaper to segregate the public than to deal with the jerks.

EQ2 took it one step further by saying that first blood got the exp - and not who did the most damage.

Instances, first blood, and the WoW loot system were the three death blows to griefing - and griefers have been longing for the good old days ever since.

I'm not a fan of instancing, but I see the need for it.

On a side note, Come on Tobold; let's see some speculation on WoW's next expansion. Why wait until it's announced - that takes all the fun out of it. For me, I'm hoping for 20-60 content and a new class. Oh, and a Q1 2008 release date, just in case WHO fails to impress.
I don't thik a jail cell would be the way to do the world you propose. I would suggest a gold fine, but then that'd just get paid for in bought gold.

How about hitting griefers with an XP drain, or negative level. I'm sure that'd have a major impact. Maybe this should only be if you get caught, and where less lawful lands you have a lower chance of getting caught. Its an interesting concept for a MMO world though.
PvP is normally consensual, so the people who play in this environment are aware of this fact but play anyway - in WoW they can opt out by playing on the RP/PvE servers instead.

Sure, it can get frustrating getting ganked repeatedly in Moonbrook (experience speaking here!), but, as I said, I chose to roll a character on that server.

To suddenly start penalising players for using PvP servers would be suicide for the game, and I can't see it ever happening.
i'm very interested how "virtual punishment" works out.
however, most mmorpgs drive upon the fact it's a global war out there, so killing another player isn't murder, but just a fact of war.
perhaps ganking should be punished, but who is the fool? the ganker or the ganked?

perhaps an interesting experiment is that the guild you are in suffers from you misbehaviour.
so if you gank lvl1's when you are lvl70 a guild is fined instead of you.
In VWs killing other players is less a question of consequences, it's more question about risk vs reward, like everything else in VWs. Sure you can introduce harsh penalties for murder in VWs but than just like in RL no one will perform them, cause there is no fun element involved.

Again what people will hook into this genre are the gamey fun elements. The "let's try to emulate the RL as much as possible" will not work for the mass audience. Your comparison is perfect. Why would someone kill another one in a VW to get banned? He can do the same thing in RL and get the same kind of penalty. People chose this medium to experience something different, they do not look for a carbon copy of RL, just with pretty avatars.

EQ had perfect examples wich illustrate how to unintentionally use the aspect of killing other players to gain a bonus. It was called training, by luring mobs into other player, so they intentionally die and make room for you. Although almost everyone hated it, it happened, just like real life murder. Again this is as close as you can get with emulating RL mechanics into VWs without losing the game aspect.

By training other players you could gain an advantage for the moment, but the penalty was the possibility of getting trained later and losing reputation. We talk about little server communities, where leaving the server was no option. If you screwed up, you were blacklisted, with rerolling as the last option. The punishment wasn't coded into the game, it happened through other players, like it should be. It kinda was a perfect mechanic, if you could handle it.

You see we had all of the mechanics many now scream for, but this game could not achieve mass appeal, cause people like fun in their games rather than RL-mechanics.
Killing somebody in a war wouldn't be murder, and thus not punished. What I was proposing, in terms of WoW, would be PvP against the other faction working as before, but the ability to kill players of your *own* faction, with a possible punishment. The jail term is equivalent to lost xp, as the jailed player can't earn xp while in his cell.

On a side note, Come on Tobold; let's see some speculation on WoW's next expansion. Why wait until it's announced - that takes all the fun out of it. For me, I'm hoping for 20-60 content and a new class. Oh, and a Q1 2008 release date, just in case WHO fails to impress.

Already did that. Twice. In a comical worst case scenario and a more idealistic best case scenario. Just search my blog for Freezing Jihad to find those two posts.

Agreed on the Q1 2008 release date, but I don't think Blizzard really needs to move their expansion release dates around the release dates of other games. More likely the other way round.
Instancing is great, it keeps the idiots out of the way.
Would be nice if you had a choice to play the whole world as an instance, and only bump into other players in the town, or when you wanted to play as a group.

It would make the wilderness a real wilderness, and not an over populated area full of people trying to steal kills and resources from one another.
jail wouldn't work. why would i pay $12 a month for being in jail? i think not ;)

again, punishment won't work if it's only an individual who gets punished.
punish his friends and they will have to correct him.
I think the tricky issue to handle is that not all PvP killings are griefing, especially in the case where you are getting griefed and by some miracle actually manage to take the jerk out. I think Mafti is on the right track when they talk about level difference and possibly slapping the guild, too. It's also a general principle that can apply to other aspect of a game as well.

The way it might work is that you have a window for what constitutes a fair fight. Try anything below the low end and you get some kind of penalty. Try anything above the high end and you get some kind of bonus. You wouldn't have to literally jail a character, just have some kind of balance that makes it unattractive to attack something that is essentially helpless.

I also don't think the focus should necessarily be on "murder", either, because getting killed in a game isn't nearly that big a deal. There are tons of different ways someone can make a game less fun, so some kind of reputation system is probably a better way to go.

It might also be interesting to see what you'd get by adding a simple "nemesis" mechanic that would allow me to ding the stats of one other player to some small degree. If I could, say, make them walk 5% slower it wouldn't be too big of a deal, but if they manage to piss off 20 different people then they couldn't move. Something like that would allow easy punishment with a devastating cumulative effect without having a centralized authority randomly deciding who gets thrown in jail.
If killing has consequences but you can die for free, all that happens is that people start griefing the system from the other side.
The problem with virtual punishment, in my opinion, goes back to the monthly fees for the majority of MMOs out there. People don't want to play 15 dollars a month to be stuck in a "jail" for a week, or $3.50, of that time. Imo, the punishment would have to be an instant one, or at least a shorter one, although it could be just as harsh in its own right.
I think everyone posting that nobody's going to pay to sit in jail are missing that that is precisely the point! The environment now is that griefers in a game ruin the experience for others with little consequence. The game developer ultimately has the choice of dropping the one subscription of the asshat or the many subscriptions of the people getting annoyed. The game player could also choose to simply not be a jerk if they wanted to keep playing.
Not a chance.

The irritation that players feel when getting ganked now will be nothing like how they'll feel if there are serious consequences for getting murdered in-game to require the murderers getting punished out of the game. On of the fundamentals of a justice system is that the punishment fit the crime, and if the effect on the victim is sufficiently bad (more than a 5 min run back to the headstone and a durability loss) then people will *demand* more than a flagging.

But real life punishments aren't fun, loosing more than time and a little gold isn't fun, and a game that isn't fun isn't bought by anybody. Therefore serious punishment for a impossible crime will never work.
In WoW I've never understood how a player gets "honour points" for sneaking up behind a player at 20% health while he's fighting a mob and finishing him off for the easy kill.

To address one part of you penalty system I have an idea.

On my server South Shore is always under attack. Effectively make an area of the game unplayable for the Alliance faction for the level the area is designed for (I'm sure this happens to the Horde faction on different servers at Taurren Mill or where ever). The 70 level players may not be getting "honour points" for knocking off players 30 levels lower then themselves, but there's no penalty for this type of action either

Perhaps, Blizzard could adjust their current honour system so high level players lose honour points if they spend all you time killing low level players, there by not stoping them from PVPing but making a cost asssociation with it.

Just a thought.
Besides punishment there is another mechanism that discourages people from killing each other. The other mechanism is that you don't know anything about the other person. They could be a black-belt in karate and carrying a gun in their backpack for all you know. So even if you aren't morally opposed to killing somebody and the laws wherever you are don't forbid it, you might think twice about it.

In WOW we all walk around with our abilities displayed in bright red above our heads. 90% of the time you can look at another player and know with close to 99% certainty whether you can win a fight or not.

"Bad" pvp might be discouraged if our level and class was not displayed to potential gankers.
If they want to have a successful version of WoW that is pvp, they need open field pvp and rewards to fighting both honorfully or chaoticly.

A system like this could work, if there were penalties as well. I would change WoW so that just like guildwars, you could have an option for a specific lvl bracket class and to jump right into battlegrounds with "average" gear. The incentive would be gaining points through fighting to upgrade your gear to "above average" but never "supreme" lvls.

I did like one suggested mentioned above about a player driven penaltiy system.. I would add that the players get an option to add some sting to the nettle hook by being able to instantly redeem their revenge in one of a few ways..

such as

1.) debuffs
2.) pve restrictive (teir 1= cant go into lvl 10-20 areas, teir 2= cant g o into 20-30 areas, and so on).
3.) Have a radar system that shows specific ranked chars as obvious blips on the map to gank at less penalty.
4.) have log off penalties (1 pk= takes an extra 2 mins to log off (cant stealth), 2 pks extra 3 mins, and so on).

There are definatly ways to persuade pking into a whole new type of game that is fun, instead of draining to the people that participate.
Also, wanted to add taht unless the person/victom of the pk doesnt redeem their revenge within a certain time frame the token of opportunity goes away. Basically, giving the pker a chance for redemption (perhaps /dual or betting or etc) to make up for it.

The chaotic vs honorful could be a whole new facet of faction making the choice between zerg alliance or underplayed horde a lil easier as you can gank your own faction ^&^
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