Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 08, 2009
Player-created content can get you banned

Player vs. Developer has a nice summary of the recent problems with City of Heroes / Villains. Players used the new mission architect system to create instances that were specifically designed to maximize xp, up to a point where YouTube had videos of people gaining 20 levels in a single mission run. In response Cryptic Studios is now wielding a heavy banhammer, banning every player who gained levels too fast from such missions, even if he wasn't involved in creating that unbalanced mission in the first place. Huge outcry of the players, and the whole positive excitement about the mission architect is turning sour rather quickly.

So much for player-created content. In a progression game player-created content will always be abused to cheat and advance faster. In a sandbox game player-created content will always be abused to create obscenity. The solution, at least according to Richard Bartle, is player-generated content: Instead of letting players freely create something, you let them generate social content. The wars in EVE are player-generated, and so is guild drama in World of Warcraft. Players don't get the power to create primary content, which is easily abused, but they do get the power to generate secondary content through player-to-player interaction.
You really would think though that after how many thousand years of development, our race will at some point develop the concept of personal responsibility without having somebody with a big stick-of-pain standing over us.

I mean, YES, you can abuse it, but don't any of them at any point realize that they could A) just be mature and take some personal responsibility and NOT abuse the system even though it's possible and B) that when they DO abuse it, somebody with a big stick is going to take an interest in them and take all their shiny toys away?

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with our species?
Reminds me of team fortress 2. That game has servers with maps that were designed to maximize your skills. That way you can get your special items much faster. It's a loophole in the design. It looks boring to me but some people enjoy it.

In WoW it would mean creating a place with all critters to hug & kill. Platforms with exactly the right height to get your fall achievement... It would all make most achievements trivially easy but lots of people would still do it.

How to solve it? Only allow custom content for players of maximum level?
It's very weird, that it's even possible in the 1st place to create such missions.

The 1st thing that came up in my mind when I heard about this player created stuff, is how would they ensure you dont add mobs that drop a load of gold etc ;).
Bad move on their part. They made the bed, now they get to lie in it. Banning players for making use, albeit unintended use, is their problem. This is a very poor way of handling it.
There should be strict controls on reward, sure, but I would actually say that they didn't give content creators enough control. They haven't given players many of the interesting scripting tools, so pretty much everything is indistinguishable form a door mission.
@Plastic Rat

This surprises you? It is not like mankind has proven that at any point in history it is capable of governing itself in a completely uniform, just, and fair way. What makes you think that something as mundane as mere time would suddenly change that?

Look for personal responsibility in individuals, not in mankind as a whole.
Do note Cryptic does not run City of Heroes any more and has not for some time. It is instead now run by NCSoft's internal studio; Paragon Studios.
What is ridiculous is that there is no endgame people are racing to, but just trying to level out of the boring crap. Sure the sidekick system helps but still it's more fun to play a high level character with all your powers and enhancement slots.

Have you seen players run normal missions? They just gather up as many mobs as they can then aoe nuke them down, and that's playing the regular missions created by the devs. This is repeated ad nauseum, and is the way people have been playing CoX for a long time.

These new missions only support the same way the devs ALREADY KNEW people play the game.

If there were guidelines for what the missions should be, making them harder for so much xp, they should have coded that in.

Anyway I think plastic rat is a little overreacting. It's not hurting anyone, it's doing your best to progress as far as you can. Nothing wrong with that, it's what has helped us survive and helps people get ahead. Deliberately limiting yourself in the name of "responsibility" is not ethics, it's just hurting yourself because success makes you feel guilty.
I don't subscribe to Bartle's definition of created content. Player created content has always been used to describe player created content, of whatever variety, in "sandbox" games.

I hate changing definitions just because someone thinks they should be changed. If it's not broken, don't fix it.
I have a friend who plays and we ended up arguing a bit about this. My take was that if you're gaining the same rewards/time as dev-created missions, you're using it as intended: to create more content. If you're going significantly above that, well it's obvious that you're abusing the system.

I found more interest it why people would feel the need to exploit this. Why would they make farming missions rather than challenges? I think part of it is human nature: get the easiest, fastest, biggest reward; but also that the game doesn't seem to reward challenge, it rewards massive amounts of farming, like doing the old Naxx but without the raiding.

@Plastic Rat: We have a great deal of personal responsibility: we are responsible for ourselves, not to some vague concept of 'doing the right thing.' Why not optimize rewards if there's nothing preventing it? Natural selection and artificial wars don't reward the nice guys, they reward whoever grabbed the most the fastest.
One of the best implementations of player-generated content is SWG's Storyteller system. No xp or honor gains are possible from killing storyteller-placed NPC's, and the only loot is whatever the storytelling player placed on the NPC's when he/she set it up.

I realize it's not the same thing as the MA system, but I think some lessons could be learned?
You could argue that creating this sort of easy XP mission is such an amazingly obvious use of the system that Paragon not blocking it means it's okay to do. Anyone who has ever played an MMO knew players were going to try this. I don't blame the players for doing it and banning them is silly.
banning every player who gained levels too fast from such missionsThat is a bit skewed statement Tobold. They only stated that they may ban people and if actually properly checking the sources they also clarify that it is just a matter of the most extreme cases that this may happen for.

Most people that have power-leveled will not be affected.

Note that this is not really just a matter of xp gain, but of rewards gained also and that will indirectly affect other players.
"We have a great deal of personal responsibility: we are responsible for ourselves, not to some vague concept of 'doing the right thing.'"

It's not particularly vague. If you're too dumb to figure out 'the right thing' in this situation your really shouldn't consider breeding, for the good of the species.

"Why not optimize rewards if there's nothing preventing it?"

That answer should be fairly apparent to you from even a cursory glance at the fate of those banned in the game mentioned above, as well as several thousand years of human history.

"Natural selection and artificial wars don't reward the nice guys, they reward whoever grabbed the most the fastest."

Yeah, sterling job it's done for everyone concerned hasn't it?
Maybe this is a dumb question, but who cares if some people are leveling fast? Does that somehow devalue the game for other people?

Leveling *is* playing the game. It's not a side-effect. If someone chooses to play the game differently, how does that hurt anyone else?

Is Paragon just upset that these players will be spending less time in game after leveling so fast?
"The wars in EVE are player-generated, and so is guild drama in World of Warcraft."

You seriously consider guild drama to be game content?? I'm trying to come up with some pithy analogy, but I seriously can't think of anything.

How about, "that's like calling the guy who spits in my soup a cook". Hey, it added something to my soup, didn't it? it's different now. AND it gives me something new to do (throw out the soup).
Anyone else kind of think the problem here is leveling as a game conceit? I mean sure, this is obvious turn of events and the devs shouldn't be banning people, they should be smacking themselves.

But isn't leveling really a insidious and destructive concept? People spend endless hours trying to circumvent the concept as much as possible in every game it is in. Is leveling a useful concept, or is it just another time sink?

I lean towards time sink.

What if, and I know this is a big what if, there was an MMO where you started a character, picked a class, ran through a basic tutorial zone to teach you the mechanics, and were let loose in the world fully powered, your only weakness your unfamiliarity with the character?

Wouldn't that be... awesome?

Of course, most people would be upset when they couldn't autopwn newbs, and couldn't maintain interest without the strict class (class as in upper/middle/lower not shaman/mage) structure of all mainstream MMOs to grant them a clear social status. But I digress.

The problem is not just the xp, but the reward farming which throws the balance off for the rest of the game with too many doing it.


That game sort of exists already and it is called Guild Wars.
Toxic said:

"What if, and I know this is a big what if, there was an MMO where you started a character, picked a class, ran through a basic tutorial zone to teach you the mechanics, and were let loose in the world fully powered, your only weakness your unfamiliarity with the character?

"Wouldn't that be... awesome?"

Leveling is just another name for character improvement. Levels disappear in a game like WoW when you are at the cap, and it doesn't take that long to get there. But the character improvement continues via gear gain, rep gain, honor gain, achievement gain, crafting gain, etc.

Players like to see their character improve. We like to get the new sword that does more damage, get access to a new spell, etc. We like seeing our character become more powerful.

If you take all that out, we are left with static characters. That seems kind of boring to me.
I'm all for character improvement.

But most of those gains you mentioned don't make you avatar unable engage in world content/fight other players/w/e. They effect how well you do it, but not IF you can do it at all.

What if an MMO was just the character improvement that constitutes the end game of WoW, or something like it?
/agree with Mojo and Toxic.

If people are trying to bypass the bulk of the game design, there's probably a good reason for that, and it's largely the designers' fault. If the game is fun to play at any level (or without levels), this sort of thing wouldn't come up at all.
Hmm, when does Guild Wars 2 come out?
I remember an incredibly good player created dungeon in DOOM. Someone had lovingly recreated Aliens look feel and monsters and made a user-created Aliens mod for the granddaddy of first person shooters.

My point is that player created content can be great.

Where these games fail is twofold.

1) They don't accurately sift good from bad. It IS possible to do this. WoW addons created by players listed on sites like Curse are very effectively sifted. EBay does a great job of sifting reliable sellers (or preventing people being dicks through the fear of negative feedback).

COH, according to the Van Hemlock podcast I listened to the other day has the problem that once a dungeon is at the top of the list it will keep going up and up forever. People will play it first because it's top of the list and there's no way to mark stuff down.

2) They don't anticipate exploits. This particular exploit is completely obvious. Either you put in limitations (exp caps, monster density caps, don't allow players to cherry pick monster abilities for farming etc). Or you just roll with the notion that meow dungeons are fine. A game like Guild Wars for instance wouldn't really suffer from this since maxxing levels is trivial.

I think what disappoints me is that player-created content has always been good but the problem is not enabling it but managing it. COH seems to have viewed this simply as something where you switch it on with no foresight into the issues nor any research on what happens when this has been done before.

Well at least those banned have Champions Online coming soon, big golfclap to the devs for shooing loyal players out of the door just as their rivals are about to public beta.
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