Saturday, April 16, 2011

Deterrence and Culture

Last post I wrote that a lot of the PvP that a happens in an open-PvP world is not the kind of PvP the players or the designer wants. Everybody agrees that a simple full-loot, open-PvP world where everybody can attack anybody any time and with no additional rules or features is not going to work. It turns into a death match. But opinions deviate on whether this is a problem one can fix and if so, how.

Let's first find out why this is actually a problem in a MMORPG. After all, it seems to work quite well in real life. You can very easily murder a lot of people iRL, if you are cold-blooded enough. You can take their stuff and live in their houses. But society employs specialists to hunt you down. These specialists use features that we cannot possibly implement in a MMORPG. A Sherlock Holmes simulation might be fun, but inside a MMORPG it would be too demanding for nowadays budgets. Also, death penalty is extreme iRL. The murderer has a lot to lose: his entire life. Wheres in a MMORPG the most somebody can lose is some time invested in the game. This runs both ways, of course. To be murdered in a MMORPG isn't as bad as iRL, either. But this doesn't reduce the frequency of it happening.
What is important to note, however, is that iRL you are not prevented from going on a killing spree by some invisible force. You can do it if you really want. What keeps you from doing it is deterrence and culture.

To make a good simulation-heavy MMORPG, one should therefore try to find similar mechanisms of deterrence and culture that prevent people from going on a killing spree. To do that two issues must be discussed:
1) In what circumstances do we actually want players to attack other players and in what circumstances do we actually want to prevent it from happening? How can the system distinguish between the two?

2) How do we deter somebody from killing another player in a situation defined in (1)? Is there a way to determine players that are likely to behave in a non-appreciated way and can we thus prevent them from being able cause harm in the first place?

(1) is hard enough, but (2) is even harder. The central question is: How does the system know who actually attacked whom? Especially in a MMORPG with friendly fire and area damage, systems can easily be gamed. Working with thresholds can help. For example you define a group of players attacking a player, if they do some x% health damage to him within y seconds and didn't receive this amount of health damage by the supposedly attacked player in z minutes before.

Another approach is to use the knowledge of the player and empower him to e.g. set up bounties. The problem here is that this approach works completely independent from whether PvP has actually happened. The system requests some sacrifice (gold payment) from somebody to encourage players to harm another. Problem is balancing the system in a way that the “sacrifice” and “harm” are of a meaningful magnitude to new players and rich players. Consider the possibility that a rich player can support a new player with e.g. gold.

Do you know a game that gets it right? Or do you even have a specific suggestion?


  1. I don't think there is a solution
    unless you change the entire premise of the MMO to PvP (and then only allow inter factional PvP). Most people when questing for PvE rewards just don't want the interruption associated with being ganked when their mind is on some other goal. The two playstyles just don't go together.

    I don't think RL would be much fun if your neighbour regularly decided to interrupt your gardening by trying to bonk you on the head with a large hammer (It would be even worse if he was a SAS commando and you were just some average Joe). So why do people think that such a mechanism is going to be fun in a game?

  2. Sounds to me like the biggest problem is the inherent contradiction of wanting people to PvP and yet not wanting people to PvP (in certain situations). In real life you simply never want individuals to fight each other in the "open world", only in a very specific setting and under strict rules (e.g. a boxing match).

  3. Shintar, iRL you have the army and police; war and crime. But looking at the rules that police must adhere to while trying to catch a crimial, demonstrates how difficult these things are even iRL.

    Roq, I agree that it is not easy. But let's not despair on the abstract level. While RL does have advantages compared to a MMORPG, it also has saome disadvantages. Most noteably, a 'designer' who doesn't really seem to care.

  4. I think a 'clue' system could be a lot of fun. Make the environmental effects of combat stick around for a while. Arrows could be recovered. Spells would scorch the ground in a certain way or leave traces in the air. Boots size could help determine race. Certain casters could also determine things like guild affiliation. All of these are to narrow it down enough that you can find the killer, if you're quick to the scene and clever.

    Tying this into the economy could add a layer to it. The arrows might merely identify that a ranger was the killer, unless the economy used a lot of local materials, in which case you could see the wood, stone, and feathers used, giving the source of the arrows. In a locationless game this wouldn't help much, but if transport of goods had some cost, then you can be pretty sure that the random murder in the wilds will be with arrows from a convenient shop. In contrast, a dedicated murderer could do more to hide his tracks, making the final execution that much better.

  5. I think having two systems, one for pk'd players and one for bounty would work.

    The first system would be for players who are killed by players who are much stronger than them (15-20 levels or more). The killed player would be prompted on resing to list the killer for justice. The servers of justice (who would be rewarded for their services) would not be able to attack players 15-20 levels or more below them (an honor thing). Levels shouldn't make players substantially out-power eachother.

    The other system would be the bounty system: the grieved player finances a bounty hunter to kill the griefer. In the case of house destruction (if the house is protected under a nation), the state could additionally fund a bounty.

    These are both given that some type of semi-permadeath is in place for these specific justice-bounty kills. I think a system that would require the dead player to be res'd by a high-level healer would work. If the healer heals the same player repeatedly then the healer could be tried for conspiring with the killer.

    As far as if these systems could be taken advantage of, I commented on that at the end of the comments of the last post. If the system is implemented with the right precautions then things should work out.

  6. Klepsacovic, I also think that such a system would be very cool. I also think that it is technically extremely demanding and the only company to have the pockts for such a full-fledged system would be Blizzard. But they will just laugh at you ;)
    (They are working on ways to make you pay sub rates for virtual pets without even supplying a MMORPG. The management thinks that this will deliver a great RoI.)

    Gilded, reading something like "If the system is implemented with the right precautions then things should work out." always makes me very cautious. It's similar to my math professor who often said: "The rest of the proof is self-evident."

  7. The point I was trying to make is that war and crime are bad things, not a feature. Thus the very idea of implementing a similar kind of "PvP" in a game and expecting people to enjoy it is problematic.