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Feb 03, 2007

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1.

It's interesting you mention the Herald in this context, only because one of the early targets of the Herald (before my tenure began) was player GMs, the thought being that a player has too much invested in the game to be able to "master" it impartially.

2.

Beyond just GMs, what if a game provider were found to have employees (developers and others with access to key infrastructure) playing on a given side of an in-game conflict and using their access to cause events such as node crashes at critical moments for the opposing side or the lag out of an important leader character at the moment it would hurt the opposition most? It would be like having the referee of a soccer match whose son or daughter plays for one of the sides.

But unlike a typical AYSO league kids' soccer match, users of games like Eve spend significant money each month to play (particularly with Eve, which likely has only about 200 actual human players with a couple thousand alts each...hehe). Will we likely see cases brought in future? Regardless of legal challenges, would a small or mid-sized game publisher be able to survive user backlash if popular opinion turned to mistrust of the company?

3.

Honestly? CCP's devs and GMs -need- to play EVE as members of various spaceholding and other interests in the middle of conquerable space. I'd much rather have devs working on the game that understand firsthand the experience of their users than EVE devs that spend all day playing WoW.

4.

Mark>
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If you have any links you think are relevant forward them and I'll add to OP as footnote.

>I'd much rather have devs working on the game that understand firsthand the experience of their users than EVE devs that spend all day playing WoW.
----------------------------
Absolutely. The question is whether they should be doing so in an "official" capacity with special powers over other players. Or is that looking for trouble.

5.

Not at the moment, unfortunately, Nate. Will try to find a link, but to tell you the truth I doubt it will bubble to the top of my stack. It was in our book at one point, so perhaps I'll find it there. Will onsend if so.

6.

The tradition of the past 10 years has been for virtual world developers to allow their GMs to play as regular characters, but not allow them to do so on the server for which they are a GM. Obviously, this is not possible with EVE, which makes their case more interesting.

Richard

7.

I liken it to police officers: as members of the community they're serving, isn't it a conflict of interest for them to police those areas? Couldn't they use their tools and knowledge of the law to evade the laws and bias situations to themselves? What if a police officer were found to have acted in the interests of his or her own family or community?

It's all about accountability. With police officers you have audits, investigations, and cross-checking of their actions. Did they take the right action? Was it justified? Have they broken the law? Virtual worlds are exactly the same, because they audit their employees (or should) and keep track of their player characters and developer characters (or they should). What bothers many players is the lack of transparency - they can't see the process in action, and therefore can spread all the rumors they want.

In Eve's case, I think it goes a bit deeper than that. Most of the allegations are against the Band of Brothers alliance, which is (arguably) the most powerful player group in the game. I'm convinced that it's more a product of sour grapes, upset they got rocked by them in a war and unable to accept that they're better than them at the game. Just like really good FPS players get calls of "HAX" and "CHEAT!" during their playtime, Eve's players seem hell-bent on blaming anything other than their own failures.

8.

How to deal with GMs that misuse their power... Hmmm... I suggest that you use "The Numbers" as guidance. Numbers 20: 1-12, to be exact. (From the New King James version):

* * * * *

Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there. Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: "If only we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! Why have you brought up the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink." So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals." So Moses took the rod from before the LORD as He commanded him.

And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."

* * * * *

Giving up a principality, leading an entire race out of bondage, 40 years wandering in the desert, bringing the Commandments down from God Himself... and Moses doesn't get to enter the Promised Land because he *hits* the rock rather than *yelling* at it. Minor infarction of GM with dev tools leads to premature and complete character death prior to penultimate instance raid... Yow.

With great privilege comes great responsibility. We who play these games take them very, very seriously. We who GM them should take them as seriously as Moses didn't take his stick. A good GM can take an afternoon's gaming and turn it into an event. A great GM can forge bonds of friendship that last a lifetime. A GM who thinks his fun/ego is more important than those of his audience should be fish-slapped.

I also believe strongly in the power of user/community created content, too. But as soon as you step off the path of "viewer" onto the path of "painter," you ARE a GM. A guildmaster in WoW is a GM. There's just a different set of tools and rules. If you suck as a guildmaster, your guild will boot you. If you are found to have been stealing from the guild stores, you get the ax. No, not Hamindal's Ax of Smiting +30. Just the ax.

Unless you purposefully want to create a kind of Brechtian game/platform, the goal should be transparency of tools/rules. If a certain type of character or event will be guided by "GMs" (those with tools/powers not available to the average user), that should be clear, and the rules that then apply to those users need to be even clearer. I don't mind getting pwned by a better player (well, I do, but you know what I mean). But the idea of someone associated with the company itself busting me out just for his own jollies, and using the tools that my $15/month is paying for to do it?

Speak to the rock. Don't poke it. Or the milk and honey shall be denied thee.

So let it be scripted. So let it be run.

9.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the GMs playing the game, or having friends in the game. The GMs and their friends however MUST NOT "win" the game, because nobody will believe that they have done so fairly. It may not even be possible for them to do so fairly, given the immense amount of ISK to be made by "insider trading" (foreknowledge of buffs and nerfs in the game).

10.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the GMs playing the game, or having friends in the game. The GMs and their friends however MUST NOT "win" the game, because nobody will believe that they have done so fairly. It may not even be possible for them to do so fairly, given the immense amount of ISK to be made by "insider trading" (foreknowledge of buffs and nerfs in the game).

11.

>Is the GM institution - as a system of developer-invested player authorities - a corrupting anachronism in virtual world community design.

Yes, indeed, corrupt, and evil! The GM system, inherited by the Lindens, for example, was even expanded and enhanced in their widely-discredited "resmod" system on the forums; their self-serving and lazy thousands-strong "volunteers, mentors, helpers, greeters, instructors" system, as well as their questionable "Lindesident" system (residents hired by Linden Lab as staff, making up a third of the employees by their own account a year ago, and also accounting for the numerous recommendations of other employees).

And it's inherently bad, because it sets up one class of people above another with no controls, oversight, transparency, accountability etc. except for forums, from which one can be banned for complaining too much about the "resmods".

It creates an insular insiders' cult which can't brook dissent or even refresh its own ranks without really fine filtering and loyalty tests and initiation rites, which makes for dumber and dumber participants.

In RL, the Soviet Union could last as long as it did because the government not only used terror against its own people, it got one half of the population to inform against the other, so it always had something over everybody. But ultimately, such brittle and rigid systems don't last, and when a few people of conscience get started refusing to go along, and exposing the police state, it can start to falter.

That kind of nasty police-state climate is what you get in these games and the world of SL, where some smarmy little fanboy is always ready to summon their fellow resident-turned-Linden or old boys network to slam you and keep power over you to get their own arbitrary way, even threatening to get your permabanned.

It's really an awful system. This is what is being laid at the foundations of the Metaverse and it really sucks, big-time. This is the first article I've ever seen questioning this racket.

If a game company doesn't have the resources to hire their own staff or outsource to companies to do customer service, they shouldn't open up a game. By exploiting fanboyz and letting these vicious and smug little types lord it over others, they might save them money in the short run, but in the long run it is among the factors destroying them.

The main reason the GM system survives is that little fanboyz imagine they will get to become these creatures, and they sustain it themselves. The system also contains within it the destruction of the game itself because people want there to be rules for the game that govern the game gods, too.

12.

Enkaedu, that's why there are people dedicated to monitoring that. And one GM *was* axed not that long ago for abuse.

I have no love whatsover for the Band of Brothers, but I find the charges either ridiculous or common to all big Eve alliances (the latter charges being having Dev/GM's in the alliance, sale of characters between members, not kicking members warned for exploiting and use of spies to infilitrate other alliances via social engineering).

I would also like to note that these charges were laid by someone who hacked the BoB forums and is fabricating a large part of the "evidence" - I know, see above about spies - for his own ends. Also, if you visit the hackers forums, make SURE that your anti-virus is up to date and DO NOT register.

13.

BTW, I agree with Mark that I don't understand why the Herald is being bashed here. Going native might be one problem, in determining how rigorous study is of a given field -- that's one discussion. But the discussion of the GM or resmod system is a separate topic. And the Herald is the only independent news media around SL that can take on this corrupt system and has always covered the issue critically.

14.

In Soviet Russia, the GM's play YOU!

It depends on the contract you have with your players. Are you providing a virtual roller coaster for the players to experience, or are you running an ever-developing world where the players are experiencing and participating in a story? If the former, your devs should not have any kind of special access to the game - if they want to play on their own time, give them a monthly bonus of $14.99 to offset their subscription cost and let them handle it on their own. In such a game, there should be no "GMs" - any temporary or permanent modification to the game should be due to feedback from focus groups consisting of a large and random sample only.

On the other hand, if part of your commitment to players is to provide a dynamic and customized experience, then you have to have GMs - the more the better. For optimal penetration, you should really have as many GMs as there are groups of players, so one online GM for every 5-10 online players. The only way to remotely come close to this number is to recruit "free labour" as it were, who will work either for in-game perks, free play, or the love of the game. Ideally, you want none of the first type, few of the second, and a lot of the last. To achieve this, you will put in place a screening system, consisting of a questionnaire and occasional monitoring, and it will fail, bringing infamy and misfortune upon you and your kin.

The MU* world has been dealing with this problem since, well, forever - nothing like having an angst-filled teenybopper screw up your scene because she TS'd (=cybered) with your PvP opponent once last week - and a number of interesting solutions have arisen from that scene. To begin with, you have the method often used in MUDs, where those who beat the game thoroughly and completely get to apply for the post of "Wizard" or almighty GM - such folk supposedly above the temptation of cheating, as they already experienced all the game had to offer. I've also seen attempts at player rewards, where GMs that did a particularly good and fair job got "credit" by players and those that did a poor job were somehow penalized.

Most frequent, and perhaps most efficient, is the hierarchical method of trust - you start at the lowest rung, with limited powers over and beyond that of a player. As you prove yourself you move up the ranks and gain more power over the gameworld. Most folks I have seen who have been given such powers tend to separate themselves from the game to produce an opposite effect to "going native" - their character(s) no longer matter to them, their dedication is spent handling the issues or running the plotlines given to them.

If corruption led all the way up the ladder, of course, there's little you can do about it as a player - this is when you switch game. GM management is a job like any other, and if you slack off then the game will pay the price, along with your subscriptions. A game that wants dynamic, customized content - like Eve expressly does - would do well to remember that GM / volunteer management is a full-time position, or in some cases a busy department, and the "solution" as portrayed by f.ex. Prokofy Neva above is worse than the disease.

15.

Prok> Herald is being bashed here

I don't mean any disrepect to the AH of yore. It had its purpose and role, and without doubt it had tremendous influence in how things evolved. But I think we can all agree that it became an uber-symbol, a controversial one at that, of a certain style of reporting in this space.

I would quite easily pick on this blog for its own style. Perhaps a "big hair style of diffident navel gazing whilst wearing 3D glasses: lint mania!"

16.

With regards EVE. The complaining is largely just a bunch of sour grapes.

Some of the alleged advantages can be gained by playing on test server (SISI) which always runs/tests major patches. Devs/GMs/Players all have an equal chance to test out things. Some players don't test a think, prefering to cry wolf because some people do log onto SISI.

With regards the allegations of "free" T2 blueprints. It is somewhat laughable considering that the spawn rate is very closelt monitored by CCP - as they have stated on numerous occassions, they see when they are seeded, lost, if they are inactive.

Too many players who are not really any good, complaining about those who actively try and work out mechanics by using freely available resources.

Incidently, the forum spammage was by Goons... they have such an impecable record of following rules....

17.

Interesting as the Eve controversy is, it is not a correct example to use in starting a discussion on game mastering really.

Would you want to discuss the balance between not being able to be brought in a position where accusations of favouritsm can occur and being able to develop a game using first hand experience rather then focus groups and player feedback only then you would have found your example.

That's what this situation comes down to really.

18.

Thing is, it seems the allegations may well be correct.

The Head GM has already 'disciplined' (by deleting characters) some of his staff, and the Band of Brothers have confirmed that the hacking did happen. So it seems that indeed something is afoot here.

The Tech2 BPO thing may be just a misunderstanding. We dont know yet. But if its true, its a catastrophic abuse of trust thats already lead to quite a few players cancelling accounts in disgust. You'd have to play the game to understand the hugeness of this. Owner ship of a T2 bpo confers oligopoly (or in one or two cases monopoly) over certain in game items essential to game play, such as the awesome "heavy assault cruisers", or the super-tackling "interdictors". Speculation has it that BOB has been able to fund its seemingly limitless war machine on controlling segments of the market, and if its true this is based on unfairly gained market power, well yeah.

BOB has bragged in the past about griefing victim alliances to the point its members quit the game. Because EVE is at the core about *economic* war (and lots of pew-pew pvp of course) this is huge.

19.

At least some of the allegations have now been admitted as true:

http://myeve.eve-online.com/devblog.asp?a=blog&bid=424

http://myeve.eve-online.com/devblog.asp?a=blog&bid=423

20.

Thanks for those links- very interesting and definitely on topic.

"The developers of this company will always play the games that they build here. Without being fully immersed in the player experience, perspective, and community, it is impossible to build, maintain, and expand online worlds with any degree of competency."

21.

"Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely." - Lord Acton

EVE Online is not the first game to suffer the truth of Acton's words, nor will it be the last. To the best of my knowledge there has never been an MMO launched which did not have some form of "foul play" take place amongst the staff and/or volunteers.

There are a number of steps one can take to deal with this. Coincidentally I think that CCP is a bit late with their "IA" department, however they have a corporate culture which is unique, and I will not judge them too harshly.

The question, is it better to keep employees out of the game is well answered in the quote above. His points are valid, and must be remembered. I believe I read some time back that the esteemed Mr. Koster had instituted a policy that developers of SWG were required to play, and that out of the policy a number of improvements were made to the game which made it a better place. This is precisely why developers must experience their worlds from that player perspective.

EVE has the problem of one single server, and that exposes them to even greater risk than many other games. But the risk remains, and it is up to developers themselves to try to remember the corrupting influence power can have.

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