Virtual Worlds and Social Consequence

We had a discussion today and some intriguing ideas came up about player psychology.  We started talking about how just because players can do something doesn’t mean they should.  We ended up theorizing ways in which virtual worlds, not necessarily “games”, could be constructed to facilitate a deep and meaningful experience.

In Open-PvP when players come across one another it is common to instantly try and kill each other. I start thinking about game theory; Will that person attack me? What if I don’t attack them first and they get the drop on me?  In almost every game I don’t think about anything beyond the act of engaging in PvP.  What if the consequences for being bad really did alter the way the game played out?  What if I had to think even further about what my actions would mean for how I would be allowed to continue participating in the society or community of that virtual world? Suddenly we’re talking about more than the choice of being bad — we see a choice to be good.

In a virtual world you could have people that attack anyone and steal their stuff, but there would be a real consequence for those players to avoid.  Then the criminal players have to either be really competent and savvy, or pay the price.  A bounty might be set on their head.  Guards might get called.  There might even be a player jail or penal colony island the players are sent to if they are caught.   A simpler system might banish that player from territories owned by the faction the good player belonged to, and the criminal player would become shunned.  I see a faction system like EQ working well with that system.

The hardest part is getting players to understand the system, recognize the consequences and risks are in place to create a purpose for the opposite side to exist.  This isn’t about making something less fun, but making something real.  Being a “Rogue” can have more meaning than “I use daggers.”

I get really excited when I think about virtual worlds and how there’s more to them than high scores, what items you have, or winning at something.  When I create scenarios for people to actually participate in the lifeblood of a game my imagination takes me places I wish modern games could go.

  • There are a couple games that use a “go red” system like Age of Conan, Darkfall, and UO. The problem with those systems is that it feels like a slap on the wrist to take some negative points and move along. Essentially, people get away with murder.

    Creating a society within a virtual world that operates on real consequences would make the decision to attack someone game changing. Someone essentially chooses a life of crime and lives with being an outcast from the rest of the players. If you get caught, you could lose everything you have in bank accounts in that city, everything on you, and be locked in player prison.

    This creates a reason for players to police their actions, look after each other, and want to function within the rules. A player might own a shop and be respected, and as a result that player is rich. Players might be adventurers and bring back rare artifacts to sell. Those ‘ways of life’ have more meaning when someone can choose to be a true rogue.

    It also makes it more fun for those who want to be the bad guy because it becomes something you actually have to work at. It’s easy to be a terrible bad guy. Just about every RPG lets you chose that third option to be snarky or rude, or refuse to help someone. How much fun would it be to actually try and succeed at living outside the law where, if you succeed, you are actually feared and infamous?

  • In uo if you died while red there was severe stat and skill loss on your character. I made a Pk during my later days of UO. Eventually I got caught in a bad situation and died. That was pretty much the end of me playing that character. I remember how sick I felt for days after that happened, but it was the risk I was willing to take. I enjoyed every minute playing pk and didn’t regret it one bit when I died, but there were pretty clear risks with making the decision to go red in UO

  • It’s a nice idea Keen, but consider for a moment the way real life deals with crime and punishment.

    There are places in the world where drug trafficing is punishable by death.
    People still get caught every year and are executed for it.

    Murdering people will often net you life in prison, or execution.
    People still kill one another.

    Punishment means nothing to some people. Games are not life. Life doesn’t have hard and fast rules. Sure, it has “laws”, but these are judged on a case by case basis in the courts.

    Games have *rules*. They exist because the whole point of games is to have “fun”. Imagine a football game where a guy suddenly breaks out a baseball bat and starts smashing faces. Is that fun? Is it fair or in the spirit of the game? No. It’s unlawful.

    I get what you’re saying, but honestly, within the context of a game, you can never really *be* lawless. It isn’t that kind of world. It’s poor design to allow one group of people to have fun at the expense of others. That’s the realms of bullies and sadists.

  • It plays out so well in my imagination, though! Everyone plays/lives to increase their own status whether that be for good or evil.

  • One of the well established lessons in behavioral psychology is that punishment does not alter behavior. Rewarding good behavior is what leads to behavioral change.

    This discussion is also coming up in the 0x10c community as we learn more about the mmo/hyperverse side of things. I think the big element that leads to ruthless pvp behavior in sandboxes is the lack of a player buildable/destroyable common good. This results in no lower limit of acceptable behavior.

    In Eve (the only sandbox mmo I have experience with, sadly) there is no mechanic that a player can cross that pisses everyone off because all of the benefits of player buildable items are limited to that player or their guild. The end result is there is no line to cross, so a player feels free to commit any crime despite any in game repercussions.

    If a game was designed around player built items that benefit everyone, even most criminals, then it creates an emergent expectation players have for each other that some criminal actions, while possible, is socially unacceptable. The quickest comparison I can make with Eve would be having the gate system be player built and destroyable (there are probably better examples for eve’s current mechanics, but just go with me on this example).

    Because the gate system is a common good it becomes socially unacceptable to damage it because it hurts lawful and unlawful alike. A line of behavior is now drawn. It now reasonable that some locations/groups would have a line drawn a bit higher up the moral ladder because a line now exists for everyone in the game, not just ones self imposed ones.

  • Yes, people will still break laws, real or in game but I think Keen is at least hoping for a reduction in how many people that are willing to break laws just to get your loots. I too would be in love with a sandbox type game that has real risks to going red instead of the slap on the wrist Keen mentions. Once you go red you should never be able to go back. Merchants in the region should refuse to talk to you and even call guards. PC and NPC bounty hunters should hunt you relentlessly for bounties on you. I like the idea of more extreme death penalties the more red you are. It should be a risky lifestyle that you become.

  • @Croxis: It’s not a punishment meant to make a player feel like they shouldn’t have done something that I’m talking about. I’m referring to consequences that truly change your game — for some people, choosing those consequences makes the game more fun. Like I said in my example, I only think about whether or not I want to fight someone, not what will happen with my character if I do.

    Think of it as a path that branches in several directions. In most games today all paths lead to the same place. Look at almost any RPG and just about all MMORPGs and you’ll see very little drastic change.

    Your example of socially acceptable and unacceptable actions is more in-line with what I am getting at, but even more than just the players choosing what happens the virtual world itself is designed to change for that player.

    @Gringar: Yeah, you get it. It’s a real choice to be bad. So many games support being “bad” but there’s nothing to it. Half the population is “bad”. If players really want to be bad, let them go the whole way. I’d love to see a virtual world function more like a society. I think it would give those who want ot be “bad” the opportunity to have a real thrill-seeking experience given the consequences. This whole idea requires that sense of sandbox, massive virtual world rather than a typical themepark, though.

  • I remember AoC actually talking about a prison system for a while in the later development stages Complete with bounties for criminals that you capture and send to a prison instance where they have to perform “hard labour” (read tedious daily quests) to get out.

    I guess they threw that idea out in the end.

  • Eh, I get what you’re getting at, but at the end of the day you’re still talking about “Roll playing” a “Bad guy”.

    You’re not actually *being* bad.

    This, for example is what I’d describe as “bad”.

    This player effectively conned people out of their hard earned Isk. If it were real life, those people would probably demand some kind of compensation, be it in the form of money or punishment for the player. As it stands, given he didn’t break any “game” rules, he walks away with the ISK.

    Sure, it sounds fun in theory, but I ask.. have you ever been mugged Keen? Robed? Bullied? Actually had people get in your face, stand over you and take your stuff?

    Because that’s what “bad” people do. They get what they want, no matter the cost to those they play with.

    By contract, “Roll Playing” the bad guy isn’t really being bad at all.

  • Well, yes, I am talking about role playing. I don’t think bringing in any real life emotion is relevant. Of course I’m talking about in-game when I talk about -everything- in this mantra.

    Huuuuuge difference between wanting a more meaningful and dynamic experience akin to virtual worlds instead of themeparks vs. wanting real suffering.

  • I find it interesting, in open PVP I never do what you just said Keen, in fact I will usually go and help my enemy kill theirs, salute them and wander off. Sometimes they aid me, sometimes we just go our seperate ways and sometimes they backstab me and we fight to the death, after which they go into my little black book of “kill on sight”. I know the questions you ask, and I always consider it irrelevant to my moral stance of attacking those who are weaker or in danger already if they have not proven themselves to be antagonists to me. And yes this is on OPEN world pvp servers.

    The problem with your proposed punishments is punishment works as a deterrant only up to a point, any further escalation in punishment is just being sadistic, and is only more likely to make them band together and become if anything, more vindictive. Naturally the players who gravitate and love being unlawful will band together, and in open world pvp, will dominate the average player, and since the person who does not care about being punished anymore, or is actively thumbing their nose at the system doesn’t care, they are more willing to engage in nefarious deeds which ruin the fun of other players for their own enjoyment. They effectively lock themselves out of the “normal” game but create their own game.

    Dynamic? Yes.

    Fun? Only for the few who are on top.

    People WILL create their own little guilds and societies for exactly the reason of going lawless, going rogue, and ruining other people just because they can. What you actually need is actually strong player incentives to punish, go after, or to NOT go rogue. And that simply creates a reward system where you get rewarded for doing nothing, which again, doesn’t work.

    Now the opposite is true, people will create their own guilds and societies to fight and hunt down the lawless, but then more problems crop up in terms of punishments, length of punishments, rewards etc that make the system seem more confusing.

    You think the long term consequences of their actions will require them to think harder, but it really wont, because in a game that allows pure open pvp where anyone can fight anyone, you can earn a good reputation with the people who side with YOU. And if they aren’t afraid of being punished so badly they lose access to everything, well that is the worst kind of griefer to run into because they will do ANYTHING to ruin your day.

  • That’s the thing though Keen. The second your actions affect other players, you’re dealing in “real life emotion”.

    Don’t for a second think that because something doesn’t phase you, it won’t phase others.

    Having an open world PVP sandbox sounds great.. right up till you’re tricked, ambushed and robbed of items that took months to collect. That’s exactly the kind of world a lot of hardcore PVP players appear to be aiming for. Fun at the expense of others.

    If you really are talking about “Roll playing” a bad guy, how is it any different to just being aligned with the “bad” faction of a game and doing quests that are placed in the context of “Bad things”.

    “Huuuuuge difference between wanting a more meaningful and dynamic experience akin to virtual worlds instead of themeparks vs. wanting real suffering”

    Perhaps you could elaborate on the differences? Describe how you’d assign meaning to an action without hurting another players experience? Are you thinking something along the lines of GW2’s player loot system? Where you get to loot the players you defeat.. just off a separate loot table?

  • I think we’re looking at this from entirely different viewpoints. I’m not focusing on open pvp or advocating that. I’m not advocating people impacting the fun of others. Im looking at the lack of virtual worlds, the lack of complex social mechanics in the world and the social gameplay.

    If games are say the open pvp type then a system that puts more control in place makes the experience more meaningful. If someone wants to be a murderer, there should be ramifications for that choice and they should incorporate the world and the welfare of the “law abiders”.

    Choosing to be a rogue yields an experience that would mimick the life of a rogue rather than a guy who can’t buy from some vendors because his faction isn’t high enough. That both protects those who dont want to be rapscalions and increases the roleplay fun one has assuming that role.I think that’s more fun. Choosing to be merchant, an adventurer, or a socialite yield experiences that mimick their respective lifestyles.

  • This is one of the reasons EQ1 was great and other games with open pvp have failed pretty bad. For starters most people know that leveling up in EQ in the early days was a feat, especially on a pvp server. Back then past level 10 you basically HAD to group to advance. Mind you there were no instances, no queues for dungeons, battlegrounds, or arenas. It was just one big world connected by zone/loading lines, but it was fully connected. What this meant is that say you killed me, theoretically as long as you stayed online, I could find you somewhere in the world and attack you, there was no place to hide. This meant people had that extra consequence for their actions.

    Over time guilds and alliances formed. You knew everyone on the server because naturally through leveling you would run across familiar faces ALL the time through common experience areas/dungeons. You knew who your enemies, allies, and pkers(player killers) were. If there were attacks made, repercussions would happen. There was a sense of meaning behind pvp instead of pvping just to get a few more honor points.

    The reason why open world pvp is just not the same today is due to shortcuts basically in the game world itself. The ability to die with no penalty, run back to your corpse in less than a minute, warp around the world on a whim, enter an instance and hide from the actual world. All of these contribute to the death of true meaningful open world pvp. Take these two scenarios for example.

    Old style: I’m doing my rounds checking for rare spawns in the world. I notice a spawn is up that requires more than just myself to kill so I call in reinforcements. My backup shows up and just before we engage the rare we see a small group of other players nearby, we also notice they are our enemies by their guild association. A skirmish plays out and we win. We know we should be pretty safe to engage the spawn due to the fact that it will take them a minimum of 10 minutes to get back to their corpses, and even then all their gear is on their corpses so if they don’t bring spare gear they can’t hurt us anyways. We take aim and kill the spawn and our wizard teleports us away.

    New style: Same scenario but when that skirmish happens and we kill the enemies were screwed because in less than 1 minute those same people will be back respawning with all their gear ready to ruin our attempt at said rare spawn. This would naturally go on for awhile until one side outnumbered the other. Oh yea and that one enemy that killed me a few times during the skirmish decided to go warp off into instances for the rest of the night so even if I wanted to I couldn’t get my revenge.

    The sad thing is is that open world pvp has become collateral damage over the past decade. It’s decline was a direct reaction to the emphasis on appealing to casual players and enhancing pve. Open world pvp and fully connecting worlds in general took the back seat over the years and sadly I can’t really see it changing anytime soon.

  • The only way this would work is if the punishment is severe enough.
    Like in real life. if the punishment for murder was 1 day in jail it would not prevent anyone.

    Thing is I do not think those that want to attack people in full loot pvp free for all will want to play a game that had severe punishment for their “crimes”

    Yet if you do not punish hard other people will not play.
    And that is why you do not see full loot pvp free for all anymore in quality MMORPG these days.

    On a sidenote: New patch for ghost recon online. Someone posted a reply in the patchnotes topic with a screenshot where a GM admitted they nerfed droprates a lot on loot you find after the match. I posted a reply that it is a direct RP gain nerf and my disagree on nerfing low firerate shotguns.

    Poof both replies got deleted by moderators. Stuff like that makes me think they are hiding things.

  • @Zyler: I want to distance the word punishment from this discussion. You’ll notice I didn’t use that in my entry. It’s not a punishment imposed on the player for choosing to do something, it’s what happens when they do. Being a “rogue” shouldn’t be punished if that’s a legitimate way the game is designed to allow you to play. Perhaps that’s a big issue these days: games give avenues for players to assume the role of a bad guy but the game itself doesn’t incorporate that playstyle beyond the act itself. The game should simply change for those who choose that way of life, and it should close doors. If you break the law, you can’t have the benefits that a law abiding citizen in the kingdom would have but you gain access to other things — given that being a rogue is often a harsher way of life, it would reflect that.

  • The main problem of Full PvP systems is that once anonymous on the net in a game, most people become total asshats, and many take pleasure in making another player’s experience miserable.

    No game has come up with a satisfying and non-exploitable solution that would fix that just like in the real world, where criminal acts have harsh consequences.

    Thing is, this goes even further than simple criminal acts. I’ve been playing those games since UO beta, and some muds before. Once in a game, some people don’t become just thieves who rob to survive, no, those would be fine, they become fully fledged psychopaths, because of the anonymity and lack of consequences. There’s a non negligible part of the Full PvP game population who become what you call “serial killers” in real life. That’s why it’s so hard (if not impossible) to regulate… some people just can’t resist “praying on the weak” when there’s no real consequence to it.

    A minority ruins it for the majority. That’s why games like Darkfail and Mortal Online are and will always be crap, and that’s why UO added Trammel in order to stop the paying customers from leaving for EQ because of the rampant griefing and mindless killing.

  • EDIT: I believe in FFA PvP on player run small scale servers like e.g. Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2 and also Minecraft, since because of the small scale, the psychopaths/griefers who do it to be asshats and not just for “roleplaying” can be easily spotted and banned because of the small player population. But in a MMORPG, I don’t believe it will work anytime soon.

  • For those unfamiliar, Salem has a system that seems to play with the ideas being discussed here. For those very unfamiliar indeed, Salem is an upcoming crafting MMO set in colonial America, with the added kink of permadeath.

    Murderers can off your character for good, but they leave tracks behind which can be traced by other players, who are in turn allowed to kill the lawbreaker.

    Now, I have no clue how they expect this system to work given the obvious potential for griefing, but it is trying to model real social consequences in a fairly realistic way. Now, I think Keen’s idea of making consequences less binary and more about how you play is more interesting, but it’s a start.

    The situation in Salem does highlight the biggest problem any system like this faces – internet trolls, who are far more common than the real-life equivalent will ever be. Well, short of global apocalypse and societal collapse.

  • Best way to put meaningful consequences on killing and death in virtual worlds is to A) have death be permanent or B) have you leave your items on your corpse.

    Option A is a little extreme, which I’ll admit despite being a proponent of the idea (if done right).

    Option B is entirely reasonable and brings with it a whole host of self-balancing consequences. No longer are people simply striving to find the best possible items. They’re looking for where price and power are at an optimum level. This lowers the entry barrier to PvP and the entire game significantly. Look at EVE. You can hop into a T1 cruiser or frigate with a month or two’s worth of training time total and make a difference in PvP without spending much money at all. The reason people rebel against this idea is because of loss aversion, but it’s just conditioning. If you condition people to the idea that losing their stuff is not a big deal (because it was cheap and easy to obtain and because their enemies can also lose their stuff), they’ll come to accept it.

    There are, of course, boundless opportunities for expansion upon these ideas, but the basic concept of “losing your stuff when you fail” is the foundation of making virtual worlds a much more hospitable (yep), believable and interesting place.

  • I think the ideas of limiting choices allowed (where you can go safely, who you can interact with) to an “evil” character is always a good idea. I also think rewarding good behavior is a compelling idea but I’m not sure how to do it.

    One idea I had was everyone starts good or neutral and for each criminal act (only if “caught”?) you slide down a scale of evil the more evil you become the longer your death respawn timer is. So if your a neutral player you have no delay, minor criminal 30 seconds- a few minutes, mass murdering psychopath 24 hours.

    Acts of war shouldn’t effect this scale.

    This lets you do what you want but there is a punishment if your caught. It rewards players who go kill “the bad guys” because it will actually take them out of the game for a while. As it currently stands if you grief newbies if some one come to help them out and kills you, you respawn and are right back doing it again minutes later. With this system when you get killed you’ll have to wait a long time once you get caught.

  • “The reason people rebel against this idea is because of loss aversion, but it’s just conditioning. If you condition people to the idea that losing their stuff is not a big deal (because it was cheap and easy to obtain and because their enemies can also lose their stuff), they’ll come to accept it.”

    Yeah, no. They don’t “come to accept it”. They stop playing. That’s the bit where all these systems fall over.

    The “Game as LifeStyle” choice seem to crash into the “Game for Fun” crowd.

    If someone “killed” my character I’d spent 6 months of time building up, you’d better believe I’d be pissed and probably quit.

    We live in a world where things are taken from you. I’ve had the places I’ve rented sold out from under me, lost my job, had relationships fail. Family die. Friends leave. *LIFE* will take things from you that you can never get back.

    I fail to understand why people appear to want that same experience in their “recreation” time.

  • @Anon : most people do NOT want that experience in their “recreation” time. That’s why badly designed FFA PvP games all fail.

    I’ve run a FFA PvP NWN server back in time, and never had a problem, because the population was small and roleplaying prevailed. But I don’t see that kind of design work in bigger scale. All systems invented so far have been circumvented and exploited by griefers.

  • “Yeah, no. They don’t “come to accept it”. They stop playing. That’s the bit where all these systems fall over.”

    There’s a few hundred thousand people playing EVE who would disagree with you on that point.

    Yes, losing your stuff is harsh, but there are ways to ameliorate that loss that make up for it while still lending weight to the consequences of killing and dying. Stop looking at it as just a punishment and start seeing it as an opportunity to learn. That’s how you keep people from quitting. You reward them when they overcome obstacles–not just for showing up and pushing buttons.

    “If someone “killed” my character I’d spent 6 months of time building up, you’d better believe I’d be pissed and probably quit.”

    Sure, if that’s all there was to it. But I’m saying there’s more to it than just “boom, you’re dead, the end.” You seem to be missing my point entirely.

  • Most of the posts have focused on how best to punish the outlaw player without concern for building a separate underworld for them to interact within.

  • @Gankatron: And therein lies most of the misunderstanding people have shown. It’s not a punishment to them, just a path. If they choose to become outlaws, they enter into another area of the game and lose access to a part that may be enticing enough not to break the law.

  • @gankatron It’s true, but that is because then anonymity of the internet tends to make people jerks. So trying to find a system that ends up with equal good and bad forces (equal in power if not population, could easily be 50% good but only PVE, 25% “evil” pvp and 25% “good” pvp) is incredibly hard. In a sandbox world people tend to not want to PVP or they go full sociopath. We need people to be shades of grey. Something to encourage good guys killing bad guys, bad guys killing good guys, but also 2 guys just seeing each other in a field waving and going about their business with out any fighting.

    So lets give the good guys perks, thriving cities, working mail service, auction houses. Better prices on items from merchants. Maybe access to powerful NPC guilds like a mage guild so the only way to get some certain weapon enchantment is through them.

    Now lets make bad guys interesting. Where good guys have to go to that mage guild to get the enchantment, the only way bad guys can do it is they steal it from the good guys (maybe Full loot pvp, maybe you just also gain the power on what ever you have equiped when they die.) Casinos. Maybe a necromaner guild that works opposite to the Mage guild enchantment.

    I think everyone should be able to work their way into either world and perhaps the shades of grey allow you to have minor services with either faction with out the advantages of either. Perhaps you start neutral and it is easy to go good or evil, but once you have gone one it is harder to go back the other way, but possible.

    I know this discussion is days old at this point and no one will read this probably, but what ever.

  • Yeah that sounds interesting. Healing pot recipes from good vendors, poison recipes from underworld vendors. TR style NPC raiding groups where one would fight along side either faction. Certain advanced class progression dependent upon good or evil trainers. Good bounty hunters for PK’ers, and assassin bounties for good players. Many possibilities…