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May 16, 2005

Comments

1.

Speaking of hacks, it's interesting to note that Xbox players have invented new games that are real-time modifications of the rules of engagement. Such as: a variant of dodgeball. Thanks to IU MIME graduate Trip O'Dell for the heads up.

What's interesting is that these are all self-enforced. Kind of like pick-up games on the playground - yes, as in RL, I could toss in a grenade and blow everyone up, but actually it's more fun to just play dodgeball.

Maybe the persistent gamerule-breaking in MMORPGs - we ought to take 'RP' out, FCS - with the lack of limits on time and players. The setting that's to be a game is ill-defined.

The Xbox example shows, though, that rulebreaking is not a necessary feature of anonymous online interaction - it is an incentive design problem.

2.

"Looks like we'll be increasing our scope of coverage here."

Um, I guess so.

However, in that case it seems to me that one of two things will have happened:

1. The notion of 'virtual world' will be so expanded as to become fairly well diluted. (I seriously doubt Xbox Live avatars and the interaction among them will be even remotely rich enough to deserve the term 'virtual world'--at least in the way it's most commonly understood.

2. TN will actually become a blog about the economics of virutality.

Not that these things aren't interesting or worth of attention, but expanding TN's scope to cover anything that touches on online economies would be kind of unfortunate, imo. There's a lot of important stuff not getting discussed as it is w/o expanding your coverage to include even *more* pontificating about online economies--fascinating and well-reasoned though it may be. =]

/shrug

3.

"The Xbox example shows, though, that rulebreaking is not a necessary feature of anonymous online interaction - it is an incentive design problem."

Not sure it shows that at all, actually. Rather, it shows that self-policing of rules and the establishment of gameplay 'norms' is much easier in 'super-instanced' settings where you have only 4-16 or so players competing at time. Incentivization has little to do with it, imo.

4.

I have to agree with Aaron Ruby's comments about Terranova's direction. I don't see what this has to do with virtual worlds at all. I mean, I love Xbox and you'd have to kill me to separate me from my Xbox Live account (which is by FAR the slickest online gaming experience available. MMOGs are hopelessly clumsy by contrast with Halo 2's online experience.) but it's got nothing to do with virtual worlds. If there were any MMOGs on the Xbox it'd be worth talking about those, but selling virtual items doesn't imply a virtual world.

My take: Don't dilute Terranova by trying to cover anything remotely related to "virtual." Stick with virtual worlds.

--matt

5.

Another comment: I guess it's not actually the occasional departure from virtual worlds that bothers me, as there have been threads here that have nothing to do with virtual worlds that I enjoyed, but they seem to be exceptions rather than the rule. I think it'd be great to keep it that way.

--matt

6.

Re my conclusion about the coverage -- I was thinking predictively (meaning that consoles might starting *looking* more like VWs and hence be more like VWs) and descriptively (meaning Ted and Julian are talking about this stuff now, so maybe this stuff is being pushed toward our area) rather than being directive.

If consoles don't seriously enter the virtual world space, I image we won't spend much time talking about them. Anyway -- I can't set editorial policy for all the other authors -- we don't do that as a matter of policy. :-)

7.

"The Xbox example shows, though, that rulebreaking is not a necessary feature of anonymous online interaction - it is an incentive design problem."

I couldn’t have said it better my self. Although, I would hardly consider Halo2 a MMO (what is so massive about 16 players?), it does give great insight into motivations behind why we discuss this problem every MMOG seems to have. But, to add too the Professor’s point, part of the design problem is lack of security with-in these game designs. The gaming industry, and especially MMOG creators, needs to take heed to the woes Microsoft has faced over the past few years in regards to security and design in their products. If you don’t pay attention to the flaws in your product, other people will.

All software is inherently buggy, but you *can* do as much as possible to prevent your designs from becoming compromised. Whether I am number one on the leader board, or I can make 2.7 million gold in UO with-in 15 minutes, either way, there was a design flaw that was taken advantage of, most likely, a flaw that could have been prevented if security was a pillar of that design. And until the right people start paying attention, we’ll be discussing this very topic again, and again.

8.

There are two dynamics in play here, which causes these sorts of issues to explode in almost any online game. The first has been well-covered: any multiplayer game raises any bug or exploit into a problem of fundamental fairness. If there's an exploit in a single-player game, who cares?

But a real problem, which usually goes unmentioned, is that the extremely wired nature of your audience in an online game. Exploits usually occur when two systems interact unexpectedly, and usually are found when players take two slightly buggy parts of the game that, on their own, passed QA.

Player One: Hey, there's a glitch in the matrix when I bump this foozle.
Player Two: Cool! When this Foobar bumps things, I've seen it do slightly odd things. Let's bump the foozle into the foobar and see what happens?
Nothing Happens
Player One: Nothing.
Player Three: Hmmmm. What if I bump that foozle into the foobar while it's in my trade window?
It starts to rain foozles
Player One, Two, and Three: Foozle Dupe!

With an unwired audience, it can take a while for these two bugs to be compared. A player has to find the bug, log into a web site, post the bug, wait for someone to respond with ways that bug might be abused, etc. In an online game, this transaction goes MUCH faster, and it helps that the competitive nature of online environments adds incentives to further the process along.

9.

Edward Castronova> "... rulebreaking is not a necessary feature of anonymous online interaction - it is an incentive design problem."

So why don't developers look at it as such?

BENEFITS:
* vastly increased amount of some valuable in-game capital (money, XP, reputation, etc.)
* increased amount of notoriety among out-of-game friends/co-conspirators

COSTS:
* increased risk of being banned from that one game
* the obliquy of a few in-game players who don't like cheaters
* ...?

Until the cost/benefit ratio of exploiting obvious bugs for personal gain is changed to make it more expensive than it is now, people will continue to exploit bugs.

How do you do this? As long as programmers are human, there will be bugs, so "eliminate all bugs" isn't an option. So you do the next best thing -- you decrease the benefits and increase the costs of exploiting any bugs until the desired ratio of pleasure to pain is achieved.

BENEFIT-REDUCERS:
* Development change: Get more serious about doing testing, especially regression testing. Not being able to achieve perfection is no excuse for not trying to improve your bug detection and correction rates. If you're not testing, or if you're ignoring what your testers report, you have no business complaining that players are exploiting your bugs.
* Technical change: Mark all units of in-game property created, transferred, and destroyed; then use automated watchdogs to detect large quantities of that property being created or transferred, and investigate red flag events.
* Social change: Give players some form of meaningful (economic) incentives for reporting bugs instead of exploiting them. (Then feed those reports back into the Development Change step above.)

COST-INCREASERS:
* Sic the lawyers on the eBayers -- make the RL cost of hiring a defense lawyer exceed the value of in-game money converted.
* Establish a "known felon" relationship with other developers -- when money from individuals who have been banned in one MMOG is no longer accepted by *any* MMOG, banning will have teeth.

Why is this perceived as so complicated? Am I missing something obvious? Or is it really just a matter of will and time?

--Flatfingers

10.


Because when someone starts giving you money, it's hard to tell them that you don't want it anymore. I'm right there with you though. More bannings all around, please.

11.

Fixing games is merely a technical issue. The real problem is fixing our society so that being on top of the heap does not carry the kind of unearned priviledges which so easily attract the lazy and the ignorant.

The cheaters and scammers love to claim "some of us are just better than others". That elitist presumption of priviledged status is the real problem. Until we fix it, technical solutions will never work.

12.

Flatfingers> You are missing a third lever in your argument. "Likelihood of being caught".

This article http://www.sppsr.ucla.edu/ps/webfiles/faculty/kleiman/gdr.pdf is a good example of the lessons developers could take from the world of behavioural economics and crime enforcement.

One of the points the paper makes is that we frequently overstate the importance of "severity" of punishment, and underappreciate the importance of "certainty". While permanent banning seems like a big deal to the average player, the "expected penalty" might not be too bad to a habitual exploiter who has a good idea he is not likely to be caught.

Any system to prevent exploits should touch on all three levers. Benefit Reduction, Cost-Increase (severity), and Certainty (enforcement and detection).

Note: apologies on the inelegance of my link post

13.

the xbox 360 is rehashing microsoft's original passport scheme. http://bbb.typepad.com/billsdue/2005/03/next_generation.html

14.

So basically, in order to counter the supposedly disastrous effects of the shadowy cheater realm, many of the above posters would essentially have virtual worlds become little fascist playgrounds where our every move, transaction, speech, and deed is not only logged (they are now anyway) but then constantly datamined and correlated to features of our RL privacy (eg credit cards, etc.) just so that the game is 'fun' for those who can't abide what they see as 'cheating'.

The irony is that the example Greg used to start the conversation shows how online communities are perfectly capable of developing their own modes of gameplay that incorporate self-policing of norms. ALL of this is done in the absence of any 'incentivizing' developer side.

Whether the Halo2 example translates in any meaningful way to virtual worlds *will* depend on game design. (And I would add that many 'sub-communities' within MMOs have already accomplished this.) But virtual world-wide detection and punishment systems are not the elements of design that will solve the problem. For one thing, the more 'incentives' (read 'constraints) you put on gameplay, the more boring the game tends to become. It's just a fact of game design, imo. And that's not even to mention the oppressive atmosphere that will develop given approaches of the sort outlined by Flatfingers and others in this thread and increasingly these discussions in general.

No, the kinds of design changes that will encourage the sort of self-policing described in Greg's article are those that give tools to the community (I mean this figuratively)to establish and enforce it's own gameplay modes and attendent norms and standards of 'cheating'. The problem is that people are so centered on incentivizing, economies and exploiting and how to smash them that, Raph Koster and a few others excepted, no one seems to be paing attention to the fact that giving the majority of players who aren't cheaters, hackers, etc., ways to influence and moderate the social structure of their shard not only is a more effective means of policing but has the design advantage of increasing players sense that they can have an influence on the world in which they play. (And remember, a lot of what makes cheating, exploiting, etc. so attractive is that these are some of the only means by which one can presently 'influence' the game world in which one plays.

For my own part, the more a virtual world becomes like the world I go online to get some relief from, the more I'll start looking for new places to play.

15.

I should ammend my above post to clarify that the example of self-policing I was referring to was the 'DOdgeball' variant of gameplay that had been under discussion. I apologize for implying it was part of the present OP.

16.

Good points.

WRT elitism, while I agree with Greyhawk that the real problem isn't game-technical but RL-social, I don't think society is quite *that* broken. Success may breed indolence, but it doesn't imply it -- some people actually do earn what they get. Let's not beat up on them while we're criticizing the others who think they deserve the same high-level rewards without high-level work.

Also, as both a theoretical and practical matter I think the belief that we can "fix" society is both mistaken and dangerous. Society will get better or worse on its own; pushing on it won't help. The best we can do is set good individual examples and request that others do the same. That being the case, our best practical alternative is to fix the technical flaws in our game worlds as best we can so that non-social behavior is penalized (or at least isn't rewarded as much).

Dave Schur> Any system to prevent exploits should touch on all three levers. Benefit Reduction, Cost-Increase (severity), and Certainty (enforcement and detection).

No disagreement here. The list of cost-increasers and benefit-reducers I offered wasn't intended to be definitive -- there are absolutely all kinds of things that could be done; I just suggested a few of the more obvious approaches.

Certainty of results is definitely another useful factor. Among other things, it's why anonymity is so dangerous. (Which gets us into Robert Axelrod's "Evolution of Cooperation" work, but that's another thread.)

--Flatfingers

17.

Well. Lobbing verbal grenades like "fascist" is definitely going to encourage discussion. :P

Aaron Ruby> the more 'incentives' (read 'constraints) you put on gameplay, the more boring the game tends to become. It's just a fact of game design, imo.

Constraints (understood as limitations on abilities) overapplied as lots of special-case rules can lead to brittleness, yes, but incentives aren't constraints. The words don't mean the same thing. Code that rewards positive behaviors isn't the same thing as code that penalizes or disallows negative behaviors, and the two approaches to eliciting desirable behaviors shouldn't be confused.

There is no evidence that a responsible mix of the two approaches produces "boring" games.

Aaron Ruby> giving the majority of players who aren't cheaters, hackers, etc., ways to influence and moderate the social structure of their shard not only is a more effective means of policing but has the design advantage of increasing players sense that they can have an influence on the world in which they play.

"Giving" players police powers -- and as a corollary expecting them to responsibly use those powers -- has been tried. It hasn't worked very well. All that happens is that you get game worlds that are attractive to gankers/griefers/exploiters.

It's pleasant to believe the utopian fantasy that you can "empower" people and they'll somehow magically do the right things... except that it doesn't work in RL, and works even less well in more anonymous virtual worlds. You just get more broken windows.

Once a community reaches a certain size, promoting productive social activity requires enforceable limits on some behaviors. Dealing honestly and directly with this reality by imposing game rules that restrict some behaviors isn't fascistic; it's a responsible reaction to the fact that these are commercial worlds. If cheaters are allowed to win, you lose subscribers. Therefore commercial worlds must be made reasonably "safe" for most players.

If you want to create a game world where players have all the power and responsibility to defend themselves from opportunists, by all means indulge yourself. Just don't expect it to make much money, and don't presume any kind of moral superiority for it.

Aaron Ruby> a lot of what makes cheating, exploiting, etc. so attractive is that these are some of the only means by which one can presently 'influence' the game world in which one plays.

What a bizarre assumption: if players don't get to influence the game world (which they must share with other players) as much as they'd like, well, it's only natural to expect them to try to pillage the place. You have to understand their rage at being so cruelly oppressed.

Hmm.

1: Who says that players of a computer game have any reasonable expectation of being allowed to influence the game world? If they're permitted to do so to some reasonable degree by some games, great -- but where does this belief come from that it's some kind of inherent "right of players"? No such right exists, and developers have no responsibility to encode such a right in their virtual worlds.

2: There are plenty of ways to influence game worlds that aren't sociopathic. That some players are too lazy or too jerkish to choose these slower or less flashy paths to influence is in no way whatsoever an acceptable justification for their exploiting bugs.

3: People don't exploit for any such lofty moral notions as "influence" -- they exploit for personal gain. Period. These people aren't civil rights activists -- they're cheaters.

Cheaters damage communities; there is no justification for their behavior; it should not be permitted or encouraged by inaction.

--Flatfingers

18.

I am seeing the term "Win" used allot here, and I keep asking my self, "How do you 'win' at an MMOG?"

The term "game" comes up allot, which would naturally be expected because MMOG are classified as games. The problem I am wrestling with here is that the term "game," or so it seems to me, illicit the notion that there are winners and losers. Over all, I don’t see that the concept of winning applies to MMOG worlds in that they are persistent and never ending. Players, come and go and the world never changes. There is always some whack-a-mole to whack in order to get tickets. Having 1 billion tickets doesn’t mean I won, it just means I spent allot of time whacking moles.

Now, what if I don’t want to spend 8 hours a day whacking moles, but I still want the 'peer adulation' of owning 1 billion tickets? Why is it wrong to 'buy' the from another person that sees more value in the tickets than just game fun? And what about the one gamer, which seems to be dubbed 'hacker', whole does see the value in tickets, but also doesn’t want to spend his day whacking moles personally? FYI, I like to call these people, Meta-Gamers. The people that exploit the bugs are not lazy people, they are the creative thinkers, or "Explorer" types. It is no easy feat to successfully reverse-engineer a game client and then builds in automation. Meta-Gamers are not lazy, they just don’t conform to the model the developers of the MMO expect players to follow. I feel it breaks down like this:

Game developers

Game developers are the so called ‘gods’ of the MMO worlds. They take in information and design these spectacular worlds. During their design phases, they make many assumptions on how the game should look, feel, and be played. They are the world makers, rule makers, and enforcers. *I am lumping in publishers, lawyers, marketers, game masters and the like here*

Players

Players are the people the will them selves to spend countless hours toiling away with in the world the Game developer has created for them. For the majority, they have bought into and fallow the same assumptions that the game developers made for them. They play the game as intended.

Meta-Gamers

Meta-Gamers are players that disagree with the assumptions that were made for them. Because they challenge the assumptions made for them they push in two different directions. One, which is illustrated by the Dodgeball comment, is creating games with in the game. They create their own rules, and enforce them as they see fit. The second direction the assumption envelope is pushed is outwards. The more talented meta-gamers break the game apart, they look at how the client is put together. They make modifications to allow them to do things that are note in-line with the developer’s initial assumptions. Ever play Monopoly with putting money for the fines into Free Parking? Try to find that in the ‘original’ rules. Meta-gamers expand the game beyond the vision of it’s original designers.

Players and developers start to describe Meta-gamers as hackers, exploiters, greifers, or cheaters when Players discover the assumptions they have bought into have been challenged and they neither lacked the vision or ability to do the same thing.

For the most part, I would say the percentage of true Meta-gamers is somewhat equivalent to the percentage of true game developers. And the most vocal on this subject is the Players.

Like I said before, and probably not very eloquently is that for this problem to be reduced (it will never go away), Game Developers need to expand their designs to anticipated the Meta-gamers eventual scrutiny and ability to expand their original design beyond what is anticipated.

Sun-tzu said it best:

"One who does not know the enemy but knows himself will sometimes win, sometimes lose. One who does not know the enemy and does not know himself will be in danger in every battle.”

19.

I need to proof read better. I'll do better next go around. Sorry to tax the mind unnecessarily. I hope my point is not lost as a result.

20.

Rich, would you be willing to accept the possibility that there are two types of people who take advantage of cracks in the the rules of a virtual world?

One is the type who accidentally discovers that if they kick a foozle while wearing a purple armband, the foozle gives them 1000 units of X. So they stand around for hours kicking the foozle to try to grab as much X as they can before someone reports it and it gets nerfed.

The other type of person is the one you describe who actively probes the code of a virtual world looking for such flaws. They're not just waiting for flaws to turn up; they're deliberately looking to find (or cause) such flaws in order to take advantage of them.

The first kind of person is like someone who discovers that money is falling out the back of an armored bank truck, and runs to take as much of it as they can. The second kind of person is a bank robber who plans a heist.

My question: From the point of view of a developer, why should either of these behaviors be tolerated, either in RL or in a game world? One may be worse than the other (or not), but why should we consider either behavior to be acceptable?

Cleverness is not an excuse for exploitation. A creative thief is still a thief.

--Flatfingers

21.

Rick Thurman:

"I am seeing the term "Win" used allot here, and I keep asking my self, "How do you 'win' at an MMOG?"

The same way you win at King of the Hill. You could play King of the Hill forever, or until your mother drags you indoors and throws you in the bathtub. King of the Hill's win-state may be tenuous, but there is one. It simply takes work to maintain it, just as it takes work (or money) to maintain the win (uber) state of a player in an MMOG. At some point all games of King of the Hill end. At some point so will all MMOGs.

Lee

22.

Flatfingers: "The first kind of person is like someone who discovers that money is falling out the back of an armored bank truck, and runs to take as much of it as they can. The second kind of person is a bank robber who plans a heist."

I wrote quite a few paragraphs in response to this, and after re-reading what I wrote, I remembered the first time I experienced an exploiter in UO, or rather, a player that was using UOE (UO Extreme). I think the original author of UOE was a meta-gamer, but his tools were grossly misused. The player I experienced kept killing me even while I was hidden. That did make me quit playing for a few months. As much as I would like to show that not all exploiting is nefarious in nature, I know and feel that the true fact here is that most of it is. I also know first hand, that most that do exploit lack the maturity to see the long term effects of their actions. It kind of makes me think about drilling for oil in Alaska, I am sure the oil companies are thinking, great! Awesome! Profit. But what about the long term effects? Who cares! Profit!

Ideologically, I would love to be able to justify my two year stint as a gold farmer. I definitely felt I was one of the more mature farmers with a true concern about his environment. (why else would I report a bug that allowed me to make more gold than I could possible sell? And then push hard for it to get fixed quickly? I don’t liken my self to that UOE user I experienced all those years ago, but I can see why allot of people on here make no distinctions between the two. I also look back at my list of reasons I am not engaged in farming MMOGs currently, I can’t reconcile the act of farming to meet a neglected need and the public perception that any act of farming is unduly evil and must be stopped at all costs.

I need to explore this further, because I do think there are major differences between a farmer who wants to make a profit and a griefer that wants to take advantage of you. Is farming okay if you never interact with other players? What if the farmer is never seen, and in no way effects another player’s ability to whack moles, buy stuff, or play the game? I thought I had a firm basis on all this, but this discussion has clearly indicated that I still have some things to figure out.

@Lee,

Sure, if you are looking at it from a PvP perspective. But not all MMOGs are specifically PvP are they?

23.

Rich,

No, actually. A virtual King of the Hill game could be programmed as either PvP or PvE. The analogy was aimed more at an on-going "win" that might fit with an on-going game. PvP had nothing to do with it.

Lee

24.

Lee,

I understand where you are coming from. I think the king of the hill mentality only applies to a segment of players in MMOs. I think allot of players play for power, which fits the king of the hill analogy nicely, but other players play for the social aspects, the acquiring of material items, general escapism, etc, all of which do not fit the king of the hill theme. I just don’t see an MMOG as one big brouhaha likened to king of the hill.

25.

Flatfingers:

Well. Lobbing verbal grenades like "fascist" is definitely going to encourage discussion. :P
Well, if we are going to say that VWs have politics in them, then when we encounter situations where virtual citizens have their every speech, deed and property transfer logged by the ‘authorities’ (literally in this case ;p), and when that data is used to ‘flag’ behavior and said ‘citizens’ have no recognized rights or representation in the decisions that ‘govern’ the game world, I don’t know what else you’d call it.. Just because it’s commercial doesn’t mean the game space isn’t run fascistically. Just take a look at Disneyland.

Constraints (understood as limitations on abilities) overapplied as lots of special-case rules can lead to brittleness, yes, but incentives aren't constraints. The words don't mean the same thing. Code that rewards positive behaviors isn't the same thing as code that penalizes or disallows negative behaviors, and the two approaches to eliciting desirable behaviors shouldn't be confused.

Wikipedia is apparently confused as well (cf. coercive incentives and possible consequences of acting against moral incentives).

"Giving" players police powers -- and as a corollary expecting them to responsibly use those powers -- has been tried. It hasn't worked very well. All that happens is that you get game worlds that are attractive to gankers/griefers/exploiters.

If you read carefully you’ll notice I never advocated giving players “police powers”. Rather I suggested that giving the player base the means to moderate and influence the social structure of their shard would make it more capable policing itself.

,i>It's pleasant to believe the utopian fantasy that you can "empower" people and they'll somehow magically do the right things... except that it doesn't work in RL, and works even less well in more anonymous virtual worlds. You just get more broken windows.

Whether it’s pleasant to believe that you can ‘empower’ people and they’ll somehow magically do the ‘right’ things is something I can’t comment on, since I’ve never believed that. However, I do know that it’s a type-token fallacy to suggest that just because a token of a certain type fails all tokens of that type are doomed. It’s not like there’s a large sample pool of such attempts anyway.

As far as RL goes, I think many members of capitalist and social democracies would be shocked to discover that empowering the citizenry “doesn’t work”.

If you want to create a game world where players have all the power and responsibility to defend themselves from opportunists, by all means indulge yourself. Just don't expect it to make much money, and don't presume any kind of moral superiority for it.

Another straw man. I never suggested that is how game worlds ‘should’ be run. I never mentioned imperatives or deontics at all. I was pointing out that the kind of ‘incentives’ that are typically discussed in the context of cheating (like those you suggested earlier in the thread) are in fact constraints (or coercive incentives if you prefer). As such I argue that designers could find a much more effective tool to tackle these problems by channeling the social dynamics of their own player base.

What a bizarre assumption: if players don't get to influence the game world (which they must share with other players) as much as they'd like, well, it's only natural to expect them to try to pillage the place. You have to understand their rage at being so cruelly oppressed.

This straw man thing is losing its appeal. I never suggested that players should be able to influence the game world as much as they like. What I did say was that much of what drives things like grief play, duping, etc. is the desire to have an influence on the game world. Given that very few of the large commercial MMOs facilitate players ‘making a difference’ in any real way, and given that ‘making a difference’ is one of the main desires of a large segment of VW enthusiasts, it’s not surprising some/many of them join the recalcitrant griefers, dupers, cheaters, etc. in order to satisfy that jones.

People don't exploit for any such lofty moral notions as "influence" -- they exploit for personal gain. Period. These people aren't civil rights activists -- they're cheaters.

There certainly isn’t anything ‘morally lofty’ about the notion of influence. Rather influence is probably the oldest, most down and dirty human currency there is. Of course cheaters cheat for influence. They dupe because money allows them to influence the economy. They grief to have an influence on other players. They exploit to achieve powerful characters that they can then use to exert influence on lowbies in PvP situations or weigh in on endgame content. No one’s saying they only cheat for these reasons or that they are not selfishly motivated but the two are certainly not mutually exclusive, in fact they are more likely coextensive.

BTW thanks for the stunning level of charity toward my intentions and the substance of my arguments you displayed with your comments.

26.

Apologies for the poor formatting. It's one of those days and I hit post instead of preview accidentally. Several paragraphs quoting Flatfingers were inadvertantly left unitalicized. nevertheless I think the context makes it clear what I'm responding to.

Cheers and Happy E3

27.

(I hope this exchange is shedding more light than heat. If anyone feels otherwise, let me know and I'll yield the floor.)

> if we are going to say that VWs have politics in them, then when we encounter situations where virtual citizens have their every speech, deed and property transfer logged by the ‘authorities’ (literally in this case ;p), and when that data is used to ‘flag’ behavior and said ‘citizens’ have no recognized rights or representation in the decisions that ‘govern’ the game world, I don’t know what else you’d call it..

I never suggested logging speech -- only property, which in nearly every current MMOG already belongs to the developer/publisher and not the player. By logging transfers the developer is accounting for its own property (rather than something owned by players). From the developer's perspective that's not a fascistic attempt to control other people; it's a tool for managing one's assets responsibly.

In a world where the players clearly own in-game assets, I would agree with you that logging all transfers of such assets would smack of fascism. But such worlds aren't the subject of this discussion. On that basis, the "fascist" label is wholly inapplicable to the general set of MMOGs available today.

The fact that it's a loaded term just makes it even less appropriate.

> Just because it’s commercial doesn’t mean the game space isn’t run fascistically. Just take a look at Disneyland.

Accusing Mickey Mouse of wearing Mussolini's jackboots is a little silly, even if it's only done metaphorically. If we can call Disneyland "fascistic," then what system containing rules controlling user behavior *isn't* fascistic?

Applying words like "fascist" to institutions that don't clearly deserve such labelling devalues those words. And that's a Bad Thing, because then those words don't have the punch they ought to have when we really need them.

> Wikipedia is apparently confused as well (cf. coercive incentives and possible consequences of acting against moral incentives).

The question is whether "incentive" describes both positive and negative motivators, or solely/mostly positive motivators.

There's a technical usage (as found in the Wikipedia entry) in economics that uses the word to mean both positive and negative motivators, but the more common usage (as noted in the American Heritage Dictionary) is that an "incentive" describes a positive motivator.

Whatever the word(s) we use to describe them, my point is that positive motivators (rewards) and negative motivators (constraints) have different effects when applied. That makes deciding what kinds of motivators to use when designing a world a question of importance. If that's roughly what you meant by "incentives," then we're in agreement. (And thank you for the pointer to the Wikipedia article.)

> If you read carefully you’ll notice I never advocated giving players "police powers". Rather I suggested that giving the player base the means to moderate and influence the social structure of their shard would make it more capable policing itself.

I would say that "the means to moderate" *are* police powers. If there's a distinction, it's one without a difference.

Regardless of semantic questions, what we're talking about is the appropriate locus of power in virtual worlds (to reduce exploits). You disapproved of the suggestions I offered from a designer-dictated "code as law" perspective, and offered as an alternative community-generated rules enforced by individuals within that community (which you described as "self-policing of norms").

Which is completely reasonable, of course. My objections are to the merits of that alternate approach -- I disagree that it works as well as code to limit exploiting. (Not that code fixes are foolproof.) And since the "let the users deal with it" approach is based on some assumptions about what works in virtual worlds (as special cases of RL human interaction), I questioned those as well. Naturally, you're free to question the assumptions you believe I'm making about what works in these worlds -- that could be an enlightening conversation.

>> It's pleasant to believe the utopian fantasy that you can "empower" people and they'll somehow magically do the right things... except that it doesn't work in RL, and works even less well in more anonymous virtual worlds. You just get more broken windows.
> Whether it’s pleasant to believe that you can ‘empower’ people and they’ll somehow magically do the ‘right’ things is something I can’t comment on, since I’ve never believed that.

No? In your earlier message, you stated:

> online communities are perfectly capable of developing their own modes of gameplay that incorporate self-policing of norms. ALL of this is done in the absence of any 'incentivizing' developer side.

If this conclusion isn't based on a belief that empowering the individuals in online communities to define and enforce their own group norms will control exploiters to a satisfactory level, then on what is it based?

(Describing this as a "utopian fantasy" might have been a little strong, but it's no stronger than "little fascist playgrounds".)

I might also point out that the Halo2 community isn't a successful example of this kind of community control, since players can't actually do anything about the exploiters. Based on the Wired article, Halo2 players don't appear to actually do any effective self-policing -- they can complain, but the actual power to eliminate exploiting in Halo2 resides with Bungie/Microsoft and not the players.

> As far as RL goes, I think many members of capitalist and social democracies would be shocked to discover that empowering the citizenry "doesn’t work".

RL political empowerment works, but not all that well. (Just better than other approaches.) Societies need some limits to individual freedom or they cease to be societies. So while people in today's Western nations are highly empowered compared to persons in other times and places, we still live under rules that are intended to limit the range of action of individuals (in order to reduce exploiting, i.e., murder, theft, etc.).

Individuals aren't as empowered in RL to anything near like the degree your alternative would allow individuals in virtual worlds to be empowered. I don't know where you live, but around here we don't let people have missile launchers and post their names on leader boards according to how many of their neighbors they've obliterated lately.

RL citizens are empowered... but not *that* much! Which is probably a good thing.

Empowering citizens of virtual worlds who do have such weapons and who are rewarded for using them also strikes me as asking for trouble. At best, I don't see it reducing exploiting -- just the opposite, actually. (Power corrupts, etc.)

>> If you want to create a game world where players have all the power and responsibility to defend themselves from opportunists, by all means indulge yourself. Just don't expect it to make much money, and don't presume any kind of moral superiority for it.
> Another straw man. I never suggested that is how game worlds ‘should’ be run. I never mentioned imperatives or deontics at all. I was pointing out that the kind of ‘incentives’ that are typically discussed in the context of cheating (like those you suggested earlier in the thread) are in fact constraints (or coercive incentives if you prefer). As such I argue that designers could find a much more effective tool to tackle these problems by channeling the social dynamics of their own player base.

I retract my use of the word "all." Otherwise, my objection stands (and not as a straw man).

I'm not opposed to finding ways to help players police their own -- in fact, I explicitly included such a suggestion in my far-from-complete list of ways that developers could reduce exploiting if they wanted to do so. But I disagree that a primarily self-policing approach would be more effective than the admittedly flawed and limited alternative of "code as law." I don't believe the effectiveness of a social approach is supported by evidence from either RL or virtual worlds (so far). Naturally, I'd be glad to learn of examples to the contrary.

I accept your statement that your criticism of "virtual world-wide detection and punishment systems" and your proposal that "self-policing of norms" is a viable alternative weren't intended to be prescriptive... but I hope you can understand how a reasonable person could interpret them that way.

> This straw man thing is losing its appeal. I never suggested that players should be able to influence the game world as much as they like. What I did say was that much of what drives things like grief play, duping, etc. is the desire to have an influence on the game world. Given that very few of the large commercial MMOs facilitate players ‘making a difference’ in any real way, and given that ‘making a difference’ is one of the main desires of a large segment of VW enthusiasts, it’s not surprising some/many of them join the recalcitrant griefers, dupers, cheaters, etc. in order to satisfy that jones.

Again, not a straw man -- I question your conclusion (that player themselves could satisfactorily limit exploiters) because it seems to be based on concepts like this one that IMO are completely insupportable.

Look at what you actually said:

> a lot of what makes cheating, exploiting, etc. so attractive is that these are some of the only means by which one can presently 'influence' the game world in which one plays.

I'd happily consider a charitable interpretation of such a statement if I could find one!

I'll restate my objections:

1) No, exploits are most certainly not the only means by which players can exert influence in most current game worlds.
2) A player desire for influence in no way constitutes a developer obligation to provide code allowing such influence to be exercised.
3) No such player "right" to influence a world exists, but even if it did, the lack of code enabling the expression of such a right would not be sufficient justification for some players to simply take whatever they can get by exploiting bugs. That's not "civil disobedience," it's theft.

I understand that you're stopping at motivation -- you're saying that it's possible to understand the exploiter, but you're not going so far as to condone exploiting.

And I'm saying that failure to condemn this behavior constitutes tacit acceptance of it. Fine, we "understand" the exploiter; they feel aggrieved at limits to their influence in the game world; they find exploiting more "attractive" than following the in-game social and RL legal (EULA) rules... so?

When you can show me an exploiter who can plausibly say that he only did it because it was the only possible way he could afford to buy bread to feed his RL starving children, then perhaps I'll concede that the exploiter's motivations mean anything. Until then, trying to "understand" the exploiter is counterproductive because it shifts the focus away from the fact that exploiting is wrong, period.

> BTW thanks for the stunning level of charity toward my intentions and the substance of my arguments you displayed with your comments.

You should have seen the first draft of my initial response. *grin*

Actually, I'm familiar with the principle of charity and try to apply it. But sometimes even I don't do as good a job of that as I should -- thank you for the reminder.

Perhaps not accusing others of seeking to turn virtual worlds into "oppressive" "little fascist playgrounds" would be another helpful step toward friendly discussion.

--Flatfingers

28.

Flatfingers

I never suggested logging speech -- only property, which in nearly every current MMOG already belongs to the developer/publisher and not the player.

You didn’t need to. Chat logging is already extent in MMOs. The combination of intense logging of chat, property transfer and player activity and the employment of that data to punish users without offering them a meaningful mode of recourse or rights is fascistic. I’m not using that term lightly or in a loaded way. The term is an adequate descriptor of the style in which MMOs have largely chosen to operate. It’s their choice; it’s their business; and I’m not screaming injustice. I’m just making the point. Authoritarian is also accurate if you prefer that.

The fact that it's a loaded term just makes it even less appropriate.

Sorry, I disagree that there is anything inappropriate about my usage of the term.

Accusing Mickey Mouse of wearing Mussolini's jackboots is a little silly, even if it's only done metaphorically. If we can call Disneyland "fascistic," then what system containing rules controlling user behavior *isn't* fascistic?

It’s actually not that silly. The metaphor applies in the following way: Disneyland, like videogames, is a form of model-based entertainment, unlike the descriptive- or propostionally based entertainment we are used to in books, music and movies. In Disney’s case they are selling a model of a world where dreams are magical things that can be grasped and made real, a place where possibilities are limitless if only we ‘wish upon a star’ and everyone gets along, etc. etc. This model, however, is not reflective of the rules that actually obtain in the ‘game/world space’. The rules of the Disney ‘world space’ are actually quite authoritarian. As Mark Fritz at AP wrote in 1996:

“But blow away the pixie dust, and the company that conjures the fantasy is far from typical. Disneyworld is, in fact, a government entity, a 30,000-acre municipality that can tax and spend and patrol and develop like other communities, but which has been granted key exemptions from oversight that make it far less accountable.”

He also describes how New York social worker Vicki Prusnofsky was stopped and questioned by two Disney Security Guards after they saw her leave one of the shops wearing a Mickey Mouse pin and earrings. Which she had bought on a previous trip. They searched through her bag and found a roll of film she had just bought - but for which she didn't have a receipt. They went back inside the store where the cashier vouched for the fact that Vicki was just there and had indeed purchased the film. All is well, right? Wrong. She was hauled off to Disney Jail, fingerprinted, strip searched and put into a cell with "whores and thieves" for hours.

Disnelyand isn’t authoritarian/fascistic because it places constrainsts on user behavior. It is authoritarian because of the style in which those user constraints are implemented and enforced. To that extent there is a great similarity between Disneyland and most MMOs—they are world models that are run in an authoritarian manner.

The question is whether "incentive" describes both positive and negative motivators, or solely/mostly positive motivators.

Yes, I agree, the discussion is much clearer when couched in terms of positive or negative motivators.

I would say that "the means to moderate" *are* police powers. If there's a distinction, it's one without a difference.

No. Tools of moderation, like social censure and ostracism, discussion, gossip, voting are all examples of moderation, none of which amount to ‘police powers.’ Nevertheless, they can be extremely effective in allowing a social group to self-police its norms of behavior. Other means of enriching the social network of a shared world would also contribute to the effectives of self-policing.

Regardless of semantic questions, what we're talking about is the appropriate locus of power in virtual worlds (to reduce exploits). You disapproved of the suggestions I offered from a designer-dictated "code as law" perspective, and offered as an alternative community-generated rules enforced by individuals within that community (which you described as "self-policing of norms").

I’m not talking about what’s appropriate. I’m trying to point out that people have been trying this ‘code as law’ business consistently and for a long time and I don’t see the results as a ringing endorsement of the approach, thought they are certainly part of any solution.

Likewise, the ‘experiments’ that attempted to design an environment in which the social network of the player base does some of the heavy lifting in preserving the integrity of the game space are far fewer and feebler. In short, I don’t think the evidence weighs as heavily in your favor as you seem to suggest. In any event I am not suggesting an either/or approach.

…the "let the users deal with it" approach is based on some assumptions about what works in virtual worlds (as special cases of RL human interaction), I questioned those as well.

For my part, that approach is based not on assumptions about virtual worlds but assumptions about cultural transmission in real-world human communities, of which virtual worlds are an example.

In your earlier message, you stated:
“Online communities are perfectly capable of developing their own modes of gameplay that incorporate self-policing of norms. ALL of this is done in the absence of any 'incentivizing' developer side.”

If this conclusion isn't based on a belief that empowering the individuals in online communities to define and enforce their own group norms will control exploiters to a satisfactory level, then on what is it based?

I didn’t say that the example proved that social dynamics would do all the work. I merely was citing the Dodgeball variant as an interesting example (among many possible examples) where gameplay integrity was maintained by the player base without any dev-side motivators.

RL political empowerment works, but not all that well. (Just better than other approaches.)

We can quibble about how well, but having conceded that the best political approach to RL community governance involves ‘citizen empowerment’, you seem hasty to dismiss incorporating elements of that approach in the virtual arena.

I'll restate my objections:
1) No, exploits are most certainly not the only means by which players can exert influence in most current game worlds.
2) A player desire for influence in no way constitutes a developer obligation to provide code allowing such influence to be exercised.
3) No such player "right" to influence a world exists, but even if it did, the lack of code enabling the expression of such a right would not be sufficient justification for some players to simply take whatever they can get by exploiting bugs. That's not "civil disobedience," it's theft.

1) No, exploits aren’t the only means of influence, but they certainly are among those of the greatest magnitude. That’s part of what makes them insidious and hard to tackle.
2) Agreed, for now.
3) No argument there.

And I'm saying that failure to condemn this behavior constitutes tacit acceptance of it.

I disagree. I haven’t condemned that behavior because I didn’t take the thread to be about whether such behavior is right/wrong. I don’t find those discussions illuminating to the question of how to design the most robust world model possible.

FWIW I apologize if you felt I was intentionally antagonizing you. That was not my intent.

29.

> The combination of intense logging of chat, property transfer and player activity and the employment of that data to punish users without offering them a meaningful mode of recourse or rights is fascistic. I’m not using that term lightly or in a loaded way. The term is an adequate descriptor of the style in which MMOs have largely chosen to operate. It’s their choice; it’s their business; and I’m not screaming injustice. I’m just making the point. Authoritarian is also accurate if you prefer that.

I disagree on "fascist," but "authoritarian" I'll grant you.

Which begs the question of whether MMOGs (or the multiperson experiences you described as "model-based entertainment") must be that way in order to function to some reasonable degree of success for the majority of their clients. But that's what we're talking about here.

> Disnelyand isn’t authoritarian/fascistic because it places constrainsts on user behavior. It is authoritarian because of the style in which those user constraints are implemented and enforced. To that extent there is a great similarity between Disneyland and most MMOs--they are world models that are run in an authoritarian manner.

I'm still finding it difficult to see any "bite" to this charge of authoritarianism because the alternatives just don't seem practicable.

A creator of massively multiuser worlds (be it Disney, Blizzard, etc.) has an obligation (financial, if nothing else) to try to insure a satisfying experience for all of its customers. Without exercising its own control over the experience, how can it do so? If the alternative is to create the world and tell the users, "OK, there you go -- it's yours to take care of now," how is it possible to insure that most users will receive the desired entertainment experience? (This, I think, is particularly true in the case of massively multiuser experiences -- put a bunch of human beings together and they'll find ways to abuse each other... if you let them.)

I don't believe it's possible to insure a reasonably satisfying experience for many people without exercising some level of control over the model world. It seems to me that even if direct and active creator control is a problem, it's one that can't be avoided because it is more effective than other approaches.

In short, creator control appears to me to be a necessary requirement for a successful multiuser system. If that's so, then charging creators with being authoritarian is inappropriate and unfair.

It's also not fair to judge an entire system on the experiences of a few who've had the power of that system mistakenly applied against them. If it were, no government or content creator of any kind could avoid being labelled "fascist" or "authoritarian" as they're all ultimately run by fallible human beings who make mistakes from time to time. (Which is why devolution of power is generally desirable, but there are practical limits.)

>> I would say that "the means to moderate" *are* police powers. If there's a distinction, it's one without a difference.
> No. Tools of moderation, like social censure and ostracism, discussion, gossip, voting are all examples of moderation, none of which amount to ‘police powers.’ Nevertheless, they can be extremely effective in allowing a social group to self-police its norms of behavior. Other means of enriching the social network of a shared world would also contribute to the effectives of self-policing.

You make a good point here; my understanding of "moderation" was different from yours. Thanks for clarifying.

I would say that such moderating tools as you describe would be insufficient to limit exploiters -- in other words, unless they're defined to include strong "police powers" they won't solve the problem of exploiters. But I recognize that you may not see such powers as necessary, or that they may do more harm than good.

> I’m not talking about what’s appropriate.

That's probably part of our disconnect, then, as I'm definitely trying to get at what's appropriate (preferably defined as "what works best"). I don't mind a good descriptive discussion at all; I'm just concerned about missing a valuable opportunity to go beyond description to suggestions for action.

> I’m trying to point out that people have been trying this ‘code as law’ business consistently and for a long time and I don’t see the results as a ringing endorsement of the approach, thought they are certainly part of any solution. Likewise, the ‘experiments’ that attempted to design an environment in which the social network of the player base does some of the heavy lifting in preserving the integrity of the game space are far fewer and feebler. ... In any event I am not suggesting an either/or approach.

Fair enough, and I don't disagree with any part of this.

> In short, I don’t think the evidence weighs as heavily in your favor as you seem to suggest.

Also fair enough. I don't expect to persuade you, and others are free to assess our respective arguments as they feel inclined.

>> the "let the users deal with it" approach is based on some assumptions about what works in virtual worlds (as special cases of RL human interaction), I questioned those as well.
> For my part, that approach is based not on assumptions about virtual worlds but assumptions about cultural transmission in real-world human communities, of which virtual worlds are an example.

What's fascinating about this is that I feel exactly the same way. *grin*

I also believe that it's the human beings behind the ones and zeroes who to a great extent determine social phenomena in online worlds. Human nature is human nature wherever it's expressed. However, I'm also persuaded that the technical aspects of virtual worlds do have some impact on human behavior -- the structure of a world, its "physical reality," also conditions the culture of that world.

If I may, of all the key differences between the Real World and virtual worlds, there are two I think have the greatest impact on this discussion: anonymity and code = physics.

Users of multiperson worlds are both more free and less free than RL persons. They're more free in that anonymity (relative or absolute) allows a more direct expression of desires. People say and do things online (through their online personae) that they wouldn't say or do in meatspace. (This is well-documented in any number of studies of online behavior.) But they're also less free in that the range of possible actions they can make their avatars take is vastly smaller than the range of possible actions that they themselves can take in RL.

The result is that in a virtual world, there are far fewer things you can do, but you're more likely to be able to do any of them without repercussion.

Based on this, I conclude that purely social and voluntary persuasion systems will not be as effective at guiding the behavior of the masses as direct creator constraints. If my assumptions are wrong, then it's likely that this conclusion is wrong, too.

>> RL political empowerment works, but not all that well. (Just better than other approaches.)
> We can quibble about how well, but having conceded that the best political approach to RL community governance involves ‘citizen empowerment’, you seem hasty to dismiss incorporating elements of that approach in the virtual arena.

Oh, it's worse than that -- I actually accept social controls *in spite of* my personal preferences.

I'd much prefer to be part of a world (real or virtual) where everyone demonstrated responsible self-government. Since that's obviously not going to happen anytime soon, and since it's still useful for a society to exist, as a pragmatist I have to accept the necessity of some behavioral controls on individual liberty imposed by an outside entity.

The question is to what degree such control should be imposed. A "minimum necessary" rule is probably best... but of course that term is subject to considerable interpretation.

It's likely that my definition of "minimum" in virtual worlds is somewhere above yours....

>> I'm saying that failure to condemn this behavior constitutes tacit acceptance of it.
> I disagree. I haven’t condemned that behavior because I didn’t take the thread to be about whether such behavior is right/wrong. I don’t find those discussions illuminating to the question of how to design the most robust world model possible.

Interesting -- I'm not sure how a socially robust massively multiuser world can be designed that doesn't take into account some level of moral/ethical assumptions and biases.

> FWIW I apologize if you felt I was intentionally antagonizing you. That was not my intent.

No offense taken -- I try not to mistake passion for malice. :-) Likewise I hope I haven't offended you, as no negative personal feeling was intended. From my point of view, we're just having a friendly disagreement.

--Flatfingers

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