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May 04, 2005

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Comments

1.

More confirmation of the Grimmelman hypothesis.

2.

This is one reason I think the murky debate circling around the transfer of a whole guild of World of Warcraft players from one server to another may concern a legitimately important question. Here's a collection of some of the relevant threads. Most other attempts to discuss the issue have been locked on the official forums and some players have been banned from posting as a result.

It's frustrating to me that here on TerraNova, with all of us as close to the industry as we are, we still occasionally jump on the message board bandwagon and start yelling "GM Abuse! GM Abuse!!" with next to no evidence.

I'm not at all familiar with this particular situation, nor do I have any insights into how Blizzard is handling it. However, having been a GM for an MMOG at one time, I can honestly say that out of all the cries of "GM Abuse" leveled at the team I was on, 40% of them were complete fabrications, 58% of them were exaggerations/misunderstandings/twisting of the facts, and 2% of them, if that, were valid and resulted in management taking disciplinary action against the GM. The vast majority of the time, players are either posting conspiracy theories to get attention on the boards, or they are leaving out vital facts so that they look like the victim rather than the perpetrator, or they are basing conspiracy theories on the small fraction of all the facts that they have access to. It sounds like the current situation on the WoW boards is of the latter type.

Having scanned through the threads linked above, I see that several times Blizzard employees have responded saying that a handful of characters were moved because of harassment issues, but that they cannot discuss the matter further, and that "discussing disciplinary actions is against the Code of Conduct". Having been on the other side of the fence at one time, I can accept that there is no GM abuse taking place, that no one is playing favorites. The chance that some GM did act inappropriately and, despite all the attention this situation as received, has not been dismissed from his or her job, is just too remote for me to accept.

As professionals here at TerraNova, and not just players, can we not extend professional courtesy to our colleagues over at Blizzard? Can we not give them the benefit of the doubt, rather than assuming that this is some vast conspiracy?

As for the other topic at hand, Reputation Capital is very interesting in my opinion, and a topic worth the professional and academic focus of TerraNova.

3.

>As professionals here at TerraNova, and not just players, can we not extend professional courtesy to our colleagues over at Blizzard? Can we not give them the benefit of the doubt, rather than assuming that this is some vast conspiracy?

It might not be a vast conspiracy, but when you have Community Managers threaten to suspend people for asking what the issue is, it doesn't make Blizzard look entirely innocent.

I've no opinion one way or the other, but the last time something similar to this happened (A guild's name was against the rules and happened to contain a Blizzard employee), Blizzard acted in the exact same way with the deletions and threats. Eventually Blizzard stopped with the threats and posted an explanation.

Why should Blizzard be exempt from scrutiny from its players, or TerraNova?

4.

Which is why I made it the focus of my post: an attempt to make something out of the discussion consuming players over there.

One thing that's certain is that a guild of players were moved from one server to another--servers not scheduled for transfers. Players on the server from which they were moved attest that there were reputation issues around this guild. So at the least that's an issue to be talked about. Let me put it this way: if as a professional a designer became convinced that reputation capital was in fact functionally effectively as an anti-griefing measure because of the structure of gameplay, should they be pleased by that? Is that an accomplishment that can be attributed to design, or an epiphenomenal accident of player sociality in general? I can think of other games where it's been very possible to create a "griefing alt", but that seems to me to be very difficult for various reasons in World of Warcraft.

On the GM abuse issue, I think the more interesting question about things which are widely believed (as it always is for me) is not "Are these beliefs true?" but "Why are they widely believed?" Which I think is in part a reputation effect, and partially because the antagonistic relationship between players and developers makes it a narrative that players are predisposed to believe. As folklore, it's persuasive. Part of the professional answer I'd suggest for dealing with folklore is transparency. I've written about consumerist folklore, and part of my argument about why it exists is that in general people know very little about what happens in manufacturing process. If you knew anything about how Pepsi gets into cans and out the door, you knew right off the bat that the "contaminated needles in Pepsi cans" story had to be mythological. Just like the finger-in-chili story had to be false once you heard the finger was intact and uncooked: the only plausible scenarios for that finger to get there go back to processing and cooking.

Younger MMOG players know almost nothing about the processes of live development, and most live development teams do everything they can to deepen that ignorance with curt answers, painfully limited flows of information, arbitrary and inconsistent customer service and so on. Oldsters who cut their teeth on MUDs may know too much about what wizards or their descendants do, and for that reason suspect that Samantha's 2% figure is lowballing the actual incidence of problems. The answer in either case, I think, would be to be far more transparent in a variety of ways.

5.

Beyond this particular instance (about which I know nothing more than what Tim has said), I agree that reputation capital is an important issue for MMOG operators. This is the heart of the customer experience: if players don't trust the GMs and others attached to the game, it casts the entire game into doubt.

There are likewise important and difficult questions surrounding issues of transparency vs. privacy and discretion: how do you say enough to let people know there's no favoritism going on, for example, while preserving the privacy of those players and GMs involved? I don't think there are any sweeping answers to questions like this, but OTOH the more extreme the action (e.g., moving a guild from one server to another) the more carefully the operators must consider the potential for reputational blowback. Even if there are entirely valid reasons for taking an action like this, in doing so I think it's incumbent on the operator to take steps to minimize discontent, conspiracy theories, etc. That said, there's really not much you can do about what some portion of the playerbase will say: if you act they'll accuse you of favoritism (no mattter what the underlying situation), and if you don't act they'll accuse you of an ignorant and uncaring attitude -- especially if they've been primed from previous acts to not trust you (or other game operators).

One thing this says to me is that few if any of the big games have any significant reputation capital with their player bases (though I believe several of the smaller game houses have solid relationships with their player bases). I believe Blizzard had a good reputation with the core player base, and this has contributed to WoW's phenomenal launch. But that appears to be dribbling away rather than being built up (imagine what a second game from a trusted MMOG operator could do!). To me, this is yet another indication that as an industry we're still Not Getting The Message in terms of running MMOGs as a service with strong internal social ramifications.

6.

The big problem here is not so much that Blizzard transferred the guild, that's fine by most players. What's problematic is that Blizzard transferred the players to a brand new server, one to which they are not allowing other character transfers and one to which they do not plan on allowing transfers. Hence, the transfer in question smacks of elitist favoritism. If Blizzard had transferred the characters to a long-standing, established server, that would have been fine. However, transferring them to a brand new server, one on which a lot of other players have recently (about one week ago) started up for the express purpose of relocating to a fresh server, is absolutely horrific. Couple this with their 'lock the threads' response it looks much worse.

7.

Alan, just want to clarify a point.

The WoW server to which the guild was transferred is not one of the brand new (one week) old servers - the server in question is two months old but players are only now reaching cap level and starting to reap some end game content. It's a bad situation - the high level guild players who were transferred have 5-6 months experience at cap level - but it's not quite as horrific as if they had been transferred to a one week old server.

8.

I'm an MMO gamer for 4+ years now, not an industry insider.

My two gripes are

- They violated some pretty clear policies in doing this. About 20 people got a very very sweet deal, for no clear reason. (If they were being harassed, why not just discipline unauthorized harassment?)

- The CM response was to lock threads and ban people who asked what was going on.

Neither of these seem to be conducive to a good relationship between the general gaming public and Blizzard.

10.

Apparently all this was simply over Scott Jennings' (from DAOC) wife:

from his web site:
--------
To everyone visiting from forums.worldofwarcraft.com:

I hosted the web boards for Crusaders of Apathy / Displaced. No huge conspiracy, my wife plays in the guild. My webspace is her webspace, so I gave them a board.

Thanks to all the drama that a-sploded while I was on DAOC last night, I asked them to take their guild stuff elsewhere this morning.

I can’t comment on anything else for obvious reasons, save that I have zero influence on the Blizzard GMs, working for a seperate company and all that.

Thanks for reading.

11.

Another writeup about the whole thing
http://www.wowarena.com

12.

http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.aspx?fn=wow-general&t=2971123&p=1&tmp=1#post2971123

from a blizzard cm.
"Earlier this week, characters belonging to a guild on Uther were moved to Eldre'Thalas to protect them from harassment. Understandably, members of the Eldre’Thalas community were very concerned about this and contacted us through the proper channels, so we investigated the matter internally. After reviewing the steps that were taken, we’ve determined that the appropriate procedure for addressing harassment was not followed.

The person responsible for making this decision saw this case as a good way to test the complex realm-to-realm transfer functionality that we would like to make available to players, while at the same time addressing the harassment concerns in a positive way for everyone involved. Unfortunately, the action caused confusion for both the community and the characters moved to Eldre’Thalas.

We have decided that in order to correct this situation and put the resolution in line with our current policy, all characters transferred to Eldre’Thalas will be moved back to Uther. Furthermore, the appropriate disciplinary action will be taken in regard to the harassment that took place on Uther. In addition to this, we will be reevaluating our communication procedure as it relates to enforcing policy, in order to avoid similar situations in the future.

We apologize for the confusion caused by this matter, and we want to reaffirm that the complex procedure of transferring characters between realms is in no way appropriate for addressing harassment concerns or other policy violations. We also apologize to the players on Eldre’Thalas for having disrupted the current state of their realm with this issue. "

13.

Tim, this looks like a fairly standard (alas) tempest in a teapot, MMOG-style. The new official post is a covering action, but not an effective one IMO. This sort of faux-transparency primarily does three things:
- it incents posts like the "I wanna be moved" one that almost immediately follows the official one ('me too! me too!')
- it reinforces the idea that the GMs are incompetent (or more kindly, aren't thinking things through) and need the player-base to point out inequities to them
- and worst of all it adds credibility to the idea that if you yell loudly enough on the (already noise-drowned) boards, you can get your way.

This speaks to me of a service organization in reaction and crisis mode, perhaps even mentally under seige. I hope that's not the case, but it would hardly be surprising.

So my question is: in situations like this, how would more transparency help? Assuming the "harassment issues" are valid, would explaining them in detail really help anyone? Would it stop those who are primed to be disgruntled? Or is the desire for more transparency really built on the assumption that such actions aren't valid and need to be policed by the players rather than the service organization itself?

I suspect strongly that less transparency, not more -- including more carefully channeled access between the dev and CS teams and the player base -- would do more to quell the discontent than feeding the insatiable monster of "pay attention to me" that currently infests WoW's and other MMOG forums.

I know removing transparency and contact with "the team" runs counter to our culture. But I think this is one of the changes we need to make as we move from a "homebrew" culture to a broad-market one. At least in terms of the larger games, we need to acknowledge that we're past the time when all players could have direct contact with the developers, and the time when developers and CS teams could meet the expectations of all the players.

14.

Excellent read, thank you.

I personally think that an MMORPG or any online gaming venture should specifically be shooting for this type of environment. It would be impossible for any venture to be successful if people were not held accountible by their community members for their actions.

Coming from a background of DAoC for many years now, I always heavily respected Mythic's stance of 'You live and die by your reputation'. It's sad to see any connection whatsoever between Mythic and Blizzard in this incident, because I know it goes against their beliefs.

Blizzard handled this very poorly, acting more like someone who got caught at something rather than being truly contrite. The road back from this will be a lot longer for Blizzard than they realize I think. The outright hostility from the CMs because the public wanted to know how something like this could have happened is proof that Blizzard might just be in a bit over their heads and really need to focus on community more than they have.

Thanks again for the great read, I truly hope that current and future online venture companies take this into consideration when planning.

15.

Speaking of "consumer folklore"...

There is one very popular legend among MMOG customers. It asserts that this industry is corrupt to the bone. It claims that companies which are allegedly in competition are in fact formed into a loose cartel... joined together by a mafia of devs and their powergamer cronies. According to the legend, these alpha geeks maintain their associations as they drift in and out of positions with game companies and in the gaming media.. and even while they play these games as paying customers. They allegedly devote most of their time to exchanging favors and getting over on hapless marks. Furthermore, the very design and rulesets of MMOGs have been distorted by their need to relive their glory days as junior high Dungeon Masters... and become dime-store dieties lording over servers full of cowering casual player proles...

I am not an industry insider... so I don't know how much... if any... of this legend is based on truth.

There is, however, one thing I can state with absolute assurance... events like Blizzard's current monkey rodeo will only make the legend grow...

16.

"Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

I cancelled my WoW account last night... this is just one in a long series of poorly-thought-out, poorly-executed, poorly-managed and poorly-communicated fiascos in the game. The biggest by far has been the recent disaster of a patch to implement an "honor system"... which had the easily predicted effect of ruining play for a large percentage of players who would otherwise care less about it.

This event is a symptom, not an underlying cause.

IMO, the root cause is developers and customer service managers thinking that they are somehow much more intelligent, better informed, more sophisticated, more sly, and better at predicting the future than the combined abilities of their customer base. It's an arrogant underestimation of who they deal with, and a hubris that is easy enough to fall into when you hold the reins of power.

In today's highly-connected world, it's becoming harder and harder to "slip something under the rug" when you interact with a million other people who are comfortable communicating online. Assuming that you can continue to successfully operate that way long-term is a recipe for a public-relations disaster.

Customer management is incredibly difficult under the best of circumstances... but when you shoot yourselves in the foot by trying to suppress, intimidate and cover up, you're going to make the problem exceedingly worse.

17.

Just to keep with tradition and the juvenility that is the WoW forums..

Can I have your stuff?

18.

Mike, as someone in a management position, the message you quoted from the Blizzard CM didn't strike me as negatively as it did you. In fact, it came across to me as pretty well written... and I've been in the unhappy position of writing such memos.

They're hard to do well. On the one hand you want to acknowledge that someone in your group screwed up. That's not an admission of incompetence; it's a recognition of the fact that you're all working in a complex field with lots of potential for mistakes, and somebody on your staff made one.

On the other hand these people working for you who are responsible for performing these wizardly tasks need to be treated like human beings. If you come down on one of them with a hammer when he fouls up (as if you sent out a public message saying "Bob was an idiot; he's been fired and we spit on his monitor"), it sends the message to rest of the staff that any error is intolerable. That creates a head-down, never-do-anything, CYA mentality that's not good for any organization.

The best advice I've ever been able to give for avoiding having to make public retractions is easy to say and hard to follow: hire smart, friendly people. These CS roles combine power with personal contact, and that's a dangerous mixture that not everyone is capable of handling well. Putting someone in such a role who's either slow or a jerk is just asking for exactly the kind of trouble that Blizzard got. (I'm not suggesting that the individual at Blizzard who did the transfer is either of these things.)

Once you've got smart, friendly people dealing with the public, back them up. When they make a mistake (and it will happen no matter who you hire), get in front of it -- admit it early and directly without publicly criticizing the person who made the mistake, and then move on.

Which seems to me to be precisely what the Blizzard rep you quoted did.

On a final note (since I'm handing out free advice), you can't just sit in a room and let your CS reps roam wild and free -- they *must* be monitored in order to know what rules need to be formalized... preferably before they get broken too badly. (As a former US president said, "Trust... but verify.")

Otherwise you'll be spending most of your time carefully crafting "We're sorry" letters like the Blizzard rep's. Being able to write such letters well is a useful skill, but it's not something you want to become known for.

--Flatfingers

19.

> Which seems to me to be precisely what the Blizzard rep you quoted did.

I should add: "eventually."

--Flatfingers

20.

On reviewing the CS message above, that's not the one I read on the WoW site, and thus not the one I was referring to earlier. The one above is well-written, explanatory, and I think draws an appropriate line between discretion and transparency. It reads like it was written some time after the one I saw earlier.

Clearly Blizzard has some significant communication and escalation issues to deal with. Unfortunately, that's part of running a MMOG. It'd be great if these kinds of issues (especially the human element) could be worked out in beta, or by hiring only experienced professionals -- but that's rarely if ever the case.

Oh - and as to the mafia/cartel/cabal thing: that's hilarious. A lot of MMOG devs do know each other, but this is no longer the very small club it once was. And the idea of some kind of cartel operating (especially between companies like EA, Sony, Microsoft, etc.) is beyond ludicrous. (I know, I know, denial only affirms the conviction of any conspiracy adherent. So it goes.)

21.

lotsapurty (quoting Blizzard)>The person responsible for making this decision saw this case as a good way to test the complex realm-to-realm transfer functionality that we would like to make available to players.

Oh-oh, this doesn't sound good for their war on commodification. Of course, if they charge for the service, they may not care...

Richard

22.

And they couldn't test this new realm-to-realm transfer by creating test characters themselves because....?

And Mike is right, look, I'm talking right alongside Richard Bartle! Maybe he can get a Blizzard dev to make me a level 100 something or other on WoW =P

Personally, I think most of the talent from Blizzard has moved into NCSoft as I track who develops games and those credits nobody ever looks at along with side articles. This behavoir shouldn't surprise everyone here, because if you tracked who was working on WoW, you'd see some old Sony talent packed in there...

But then again people change...right?

23.

The above quote from the CS came several hours after Mike's original post. Prior to that CS posting, there were multiple threads locked and posters suspended for even discussing the issue. I think it finally got to a desperate point where the threads and posts were coming up so frequently and the community had gotten so up in arms that Blizzard decided to handle things more openly.

Unlike Mr. Kearns, I don't think that the staff over at Blizzard are arrogant. I think this was just poorly thought out and some GM (with approval I assume) thought it would be helpful to some dedicated WoW players to put them on a different server to solve an issue. And then, like SO many other issues that come up on those boards, Blizz thought that it would pass.

I recently quit WoW for lack of playing time, but come back frequently to the train wreck those boards have become... just for entertainment I guess. I think they're difficult to manage and I commend Blizzard for even trying. And I also see that for the most part they try to glean the important game issues from the incredible volume of complaints and flames. To be perfectly honest I'm surprised they still keep the boards up.

Oh yeah, and realm transfers are happening now between selected realms (mostly PVP I think). And they weren't charging previously and aren't charging now as far as I've seen.

Finally, if these were all politicians names and the Texas governor's wife happened to work for a company engaging in illegal activities in DC, you can bet we'd all make some sort of connection to Bush. This is the post X-Files age of conspiracies. And if you've been working in any industry for a decade (like my husband and I have), the world gets *very* small and you find you DO know someone just about everywhere. Although I have yet to run across any juicy conspiracies in my travels, just people helping other people get a job.

24.


"More confirmation of the Grimmelman hypothesis."

It would certainly seem that way to me. The perception of the developers seems little different from the perception of government. Corruption is assumed. Regardless of what you do you will be criticized by large numbers of people based on very scant information. And also typically confidence in the powers that be erodes over time. I think that happens because trust tpyically inversly proportional to power. The longer a person is an office the more power they have. Exerting that power erodes trust. It would be interesting to me to see how publicizing CS/GM changes for realms would impact reputation capital.

All that aside it still looks like a cover. Anyone on an experienced development team knows better than to test a feature in production. The feature would already have been throughly tested and verified to work. Particularly since that sort of function has the risk of corrupting data.


25.

Exactly. The Grimmelman hypothesis perfectly describes the WoW Forums.

"Designers focus the diffuse (and conflicted) will of the players into something actionable: software."

I think there's this general feeling that in RL politics and government one's say matters less and less and is hardly noticed unless moneyed or connected. However one can go to the WoW boards and actually have some sort of impact on a society or at least be noticed enough to get a public lashing or be banned by a 'blue' (moderator).

In terms of a cover up, I would say rather it was a poor excuse for a decision that was likely made out of naivete. Blizz has been doing transfers for a while. I honestly feel Blizz suffers from lack of experience sometimes. The new Honor System implementation is another great example. I was on WoW that day and between the lag and the unbelievable volume of raids completely disabling some towns, I simply can't believe that anyone at WoW planned on the reaction of players to PvP being made profitable.

And I think in this case a decision was likely made that the Blizz folks honestly didn't think would be a big deal to anyone at all, and on the surface moving a few high level players to another server DOESN'T seem like such a big deal. But those of us who've played to endgame realize that being the first to do something (like getting weapon X or getting keyed for Plane of Time, ie) is a BIG deal to players and cause for some degree of fame.

26.

It really doesn't require conspiracy. It's the normal human "us vs them" mode. Random person says they're being harassed, you think "hm maybe he is or maybe he's got it in for this person he's accusing, it would need investigation and be a lot of work and I get 100s of these complaints every day I can't follow up on all of them" - person you know says they're being harassed, you think "oh yea this person would know I can trust them, I need to do something about this." voila, preferential treatment, no requirement of any conspiracy. It's just how people are. And if you're honest you admit it's how you are, too. A very scrupulous person who is more intellectually ethical than emotionally loyal might then think, "but even though I know this person and know they're telling the truth, I can't fix it for them because it's unfair to the other 100s of people who ask me for help and who I can't help." This is the sort of person who'd let their friends be killed so they could go save the galaxy (Star Wars reference). It may or may not be a preferable mode of morality, but it isn't all that common, and there's really no way to test for it in a hiring interview.

27.

I don't think the need for transparency will be outgrown any time soon. MMOGs are unlike virtually any other consumer product in that they are not just a product or service that is used, but rather a whole "virtual life." The game communities, in and out of the actual game itself, are a sort of a parallel world that we live in alongside the physical world, and in many ways a far more primitive world. (one often painfully reminiscent of "Lord of the Flies") Players don't react to the actions of the company they're buying the game service from in the same way they react to the actions of the company they buy their cable TV service from, because somewhere down deep in the brain it feels like a world, not just a consumer product.

It is human nature to try to understand the world we live in, real or virtual, including its behind-the-scenes mechanics. Where do storms come from? A society lacking a scientific explanation postulates a thunder god. They then take actions based on this belief: ceremonies to gain favor with the god, punishment of society members believed to have offended him, human sacrifices to bring an end to a drought, etc. Whether storms are really the product of meterological forces or of the thunder god getting it on with the rain goddess is irrelevant to the social effects of that belief. Members of that society behave as they do because they believe there is a thunder god, not because there actually is one.

The same is true of the "gods" of a MMOG and the society that exists at the mercy of the gods' slightest whim. The MMOG society, too, seeks to understand their virtual world, and in the absence of hard facts they too will create their own myths to explain the phenomena they experience. Information abhors a vacuum, and myths will grow and expand to fill an informational void. It also seems to be human nature that we imagine the worst. Instead of the thunder god being a laid-back dude who creates thunder when he laughs, he is depicted as malevolent and fearsome. When the players lack any accurate information the rumor mill fills in the gaps, and those rumors and conspiracy theories are far more damaging to the game's reputation, and that of its managers, than the truth could possibly be.

The reasons behind the phenomena of the physical world, such as sun and storms and flowers, are far more transparent than they were to our ancestors. We have physics and meteorology and botany to explain what's really going on, so we have pretty much stopped sacrificing virgins to the thunder god and so forth. Just as in the physical world, in a virtual world the only antidote to rumors and myths is truth. Moreover, it has to be verifiable truth or it is just another myth, and probably a less appealing one than the thunder god and just what it is that he's doing with the rain goddess anyway.

28.

I wonder what would happen if a developer of a must-play virtual world took the "gods not government" thing to the extreme? What if, they read the forum messages etc. and perhaps made patches based on what they read, but they didn't ever say anything publicly at at all? They answered no emails beyond billing enquiries, answered no phone calls, they just handed judgments down from on high?

The British Royal Family started losing its popularity when its members began letting people see them as "real people".

Richard

29.

What if, they read the forum messages etc. and perhaps made patches based on what they read, but they didn't ever say anything publicly at at all? They answered no emails beyond billing enquiries, answered no phone calls, they just handed judgments down from on high?

They'd be called "Disney."

30.

Mike Sellers wrote:

"They'd be called "Disney."

Almost spilled my coffee.
Thank you.

31.

The OP implying that EQ2 has bad communication with the players is just wrong. However they were right about SWG, that was and from reports still is a perfect example on bad user/dev communication.


As someone who dumped WoW for EQ2, EQ2 has been very good on communicating to the players and informing them on upcoming major changes. You can usally find a good 10-20 posts on the offical boards from the customer reps answering questions and clarifing stuff. When accidents do happen, such as stealth nerfs(happened once because the code was tied to something else but was not suppose to make it in yet), they have been quick to clarify what happened.

Part of WoWs problem with dev/player relations comes from the companies mindset. Back before release when asked why they did not have a central customer rep to act on the players behalf they said that they did not want to built up someone or single that person out as special in the eyes of the players.

Hiring a person who acts on the players behalf and also goes around the message boards answering question, fighting possible fires, and when stuff does errupt into a major discussion within the player base find the answers from the devs is something Turbine does really well, and something that should be duplicated by other companies.

32.

On the issue of reputation capital and griefing in World of Warcraft, another interesting thread concerning a player on the Kilrogg server.

It's a fairly amusing thread--after reading the beginning, scroll down to the end of the first page. The player who is being accused of having his name changed so he can escape a bad reputation denies the charge--but has the old name of his character in his .sig.

But this does seem to confirm that some Blizzard GMs under some circumstances are helping players to escape negative reputation effects, which puzzles me. As a designer, I would be happy, by and large, to see that reputation had a real bite to it, that players were concerned about the persistent consequences of their actions.

33.

Will:

In the original post, I'm talking about the core management team at Verant in the earlier days of Everquest 1, who ended up having a legendarily abrasive and negative relationship to their playerbase. Even well after many of the practices and modes of communication that led to this reputation were changed for EQ1, and now for EQ2, something of the reputation persists. It's easy to get a bad reputation, and very hard to change that reputation even when your more recent behavior warrants that change.

34.

For anyone who follows developers though, EQ2 consists almost entirely of a completely new team, not related to EQ1 at ALL. Reputation somewhat precedes them (without even starting the game up) because anything the old Verant team touched was insta paria material in terms of customer service.

35.

As a designer, I would be happy, by and large, to see that reputation had a real bite to it, that players were concerned about the persistent consequences of their actions. -- TBurke

***

As a designer, maybe.

But free and individual play is characterized by immediacy and impermanence. All your flaws/losses/sins from previous play are ignored/erased/forgiven during subsequent play.

What value does a persistent reputation have for *individuals* but to enforce the social rules and regulations of *groups*? For instance, what's the real, functional difference between a persistent reputation and a social security number? Don't both function primarily to see who does and doesn't obey the rules?

Sure, you want to go where everybody knows your name. Once or twice or three times. But, at some important point, isn't anonymity part of the magic?


36.

Yeah, I think that's what I'm getting at: this is another iteration of the grand cyberspatial debate about the liberation of anonymity vs. the responsible sociality of persistent or permanent reputation effects. From level 1-55, nobody in World of Warcraft really cares who you are, and anything you do is likely to be forgotten. From level 55 onward, your identity suddenly becomes quite permanent, persistent, and highly subject to reputation effects. The threads I've referenced in this discussion are only the beginning: most of the official server forums for WoW have had periodic discussions about notorious individuals and attempts by powerful guilds to blacklist single characters or even whole guilds. Sometimes it's pretty clear that the player being targeted is "guilty" of the accusations; other times, it's entirely plausible that such a blacklist is simply a power play by a group of local oligarchs. The positive side is that griefing behaviors have severe consequences--indeed, they amount to an informal kind of internal "exiling" of the kind that was once proposed in the early pre-alpha development of Star Wars: Galaxies. The negative side is the lack of freedom of the very kind that the traditional defenders of anonymity habitually warn against: a sort of small-town censoriousness, a suffocating sociality.

37.

From level 1-55, nobody in World of Warcraft really cares who you are, and anything you do is likely to be forgotten. From level 55 onward, your identity suddenly becomes quite permanent, persistent, and highly subject to reputation effects.

I think this is significant. It's almost an unintentional form of bait-and-switch: build up your habits of play in a fairly anonymous fashion, and then watch out as your antisocial tendencies suddenly determine your acceptability to others.

I don't agree that the "magic" of the MMOG experience is rooted in "immediacy and impermanence." Quite the contrary. What keeps people coming back is the permance of identity and the world. This means, as Tim has said, that reputation is important and should have consequences.

It's an interesting philosophical question if a MMOG operator should just say "tough, you made your bed now lie in it" to a player or guild who begins to see the consequences of accruing a negative reputation. Or should the operator say, "okay, you can have a second chance on another server (for a fee)"?

And, in bona fide cases of reputationat-based griefing/harassment, I can see how a MMOG operator would want to move an individual or guild to another server, rather than scrapping their entire reputation gameplay.

38.

Whether you say it's a good or bad, this blacklisting thing is nothing new. Blacklisting has been around and enforced rather well since pre-EQ1 days. Everything from MUDs on up has had a hierachy of some type, with people in positions of power telling others what is and isn't acceptable. The only point at which it becomes blacklisting is when people who aren't supposed to have any power (the players) do something that would normally be considered an admin action (such as "banning" a player from raid groups).

This is the same effect as any group mechanics, if you act outside the given rules of the game which any player with common sense already knows, then you pretty much choose to get yourself in a heap of trouble and players can and will prevent you from partaking in group activities, especially where your prescence might cause a substational loss in terms of gameplay "fun" for others.

Examples of such incidents are when a player repeatedly leaves the "safe area" or "cleared area" of a raid group and pulls a monstrously devastating number of mobs upon the group which then wipes and has to start over (which can take up to 2 hours to get back to that point or perhaps on a WoW timer, 12+ because of instance time limits).

Another example is when a player ninja loots an item that is clearly not meant for their intended class/race combination, especially when said item is rare and there are most certainly enough precautions in place today to the point where a player can CLEARLY define whether he/she wants the item or not (rolling in WoW, randoming for the item in EQ2).

In both of these cases there is a pretty clear descision in the minds of the "group" as to why these are not acceptable, in fact, to most normal people who don't even play video games these just seem like common sense rules, understandable by even a 10 year old. IMHO these actions do not need another overseer (GMs, admins, game functions, etc) as there is no reason on gods green earth that players policing themselves in this fashion are being unreasonable or acting unacceptable.

Anonymity extends to the point where players cannot track who the person is and hunt them down and physically bash their head into their monitor with their own keyboard while choking them with their own mouse (a fantasy I'm sure many of us have entertained at one time or another). In fact, in the new Guild Wars game, EVERY CHARACTER you have is tied to the one guild you are currently in (making the whole "guild wars" thing more plausible). Even new characters are automatically entered into your guild joined with another character (not allowed two guilds on one account so far as I've seen). When you speak with one character it refers to you as an "alt" of such and such character.

It would not be beyond reason to think that sometime in the future we will see many more games like this and blacklisting in even more interesting fashions.

39.

"MMOG designers concerned with griefing and other antisocial activity by players have tried a variety of strategies to cope with such practices."

If only that were true of Blizzard. Despite mass outrage from the playerbase Blizzard doesn't really seem to care about the griefing, ganking and other anti-social activity that is perpetrated in WoW. Their official message boards also reflect their "hands off" policy towards policing players who violate the forum rules.

I do agree with the gist of your article. Suprisingly enough the bloodthirsty WoW rabble have elevated themselves a notch up the food chain by demonstrating that they are capable of one of the characteristics of communityhood--having consequences for bad player reputation. I suppose even the children in Lord of the Flies had rules.

However I believe that there is only so much the player community can do in the absence of ingame mechanics that help players to designate other players who grief/gank. Blizzard originally had planed on using the concept of "dishonor" as a moral consequence for unsportsmanlike behavior. Those that indulged in anti-social deeds would have been branded as outlaws. Blizzard is shamelessly loathe to punish the youngsters in WoW. I guess we don't want to damage little Johnny's self-esteem.

It is my hope that at some point in the future we'll have an online gaming company with the guts to create a system where players have to be accountable for their actions. I don't think virtual worlds should be any different then real worlds in their need to establish laws, order and rules of good governance--unless of course one is trying to create a virtual world of anarchy where the monkeys are running the zoo. Given the anonymity of the Internet I don't think we can trust players to do this. Freedom must always be tempered with responsibility.

--Wolfshead

40.

The WoW honor system is a completely different kettle of fish. As many have observed, it actually provides a powerful incentive for behavior that many would describe as griefing. I've been doing it myself--killing players 10 levels under me over and over again in order to farm honor points from them. But given that it's possibly a transitional system leading to the Battlegrounds, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt for now. Makes me glad I'm not playing a level 49 character, though.

42.

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