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Aug 14, 2005

Comments

1.

Well, one way you could try and gain their trust is by not having "Tough, read the EULA" reactions like Blizzard, not to mention pretty poor customer service every single time an issue raises it's head.

Perhaps instead of hiding the hard drive scan in the EULA, knowing that a majority of people never read it, you make it very clear on the site, or even in the manual, that you intend to actively search for cheat programs. Make it a feature:

"In an effort to weed out cheaters we actively scan client computers for cheat programs."

The "secretive" method of doing business in the West is going to be businesses undoing eventually. More transparency is what is needed.

2.

So again the compagny/hacker race, well the compagny with money target simply can't win versus the fun/knowledge/fame hackers cherish. Fact is passion there and skills of an unlimited mass is far more fast then few (even well paid) coders who need to follow management rules.
Once again compagny show how slow the structure is versus a distributed intelligence system.
So is the only solution might be something like an unofficial "counterforce" gathering the opposite : player wishing (and just with passion too) a peacefull clean world ? Well we're entering the superheroes world but, who know, we're in a virtual space no ?

3.

fabien man, what the twisted heck are you talking about

4.

It's called rhetoric, and the masses are good at it.

5.

The questions become, then: Is there anything inherently unethical in scanning PCs for cheat applications? Should we do it anyway, knowing that some players will leave the game? And finally, if scanning is part of the solution, how do we go about gaining enough trust among Western players to make it happen?

I'd say yes. It is unethical because you are essentially telling players that they must surrender their right to privacy and, in the case of EULAs as the instrument of notification, you are informing them of this surrender in a vehicle you know is typically not read or, even if it is read, not read each time the EULA is modified, 'corrected', etc.

It is very difficult to gain trust in this situation. The only way I see it being possible is to make whatever process you use as completely transparent as possible. Let people know what and how you are scanning, even at the risk that some people will use that information to try and evade your scans.

My concern generally is for the future. If these sort of monitoring tools become common place in virtual worlds, and virtual worlds become a dominant part of the communication/entertainment of the future, then how long before people are asked to submit to these sorts of scans all over the Internet? How long before these bleed into RL? Dismiss it as a slippery slope argument if you like, but it's a very real concern nonetheless.

6.

Just to express that, IMHO, company just can't keep up because of the complete opposition of money vs. passion driving the 2 opposite parts (hackers who play, workers who ... work).
Then if I admit this as the main problem (the "patch" race) what solution could I think of ?
(I'd like to discuss this but yet the feedback isn't quite good so...)

7.

I think Fabien is quite right. Scanning for apps are only a short-term fix.

What is to stop the 'hackers' (or, more in-tune with this sites vocabulary, the "Explorer-archetypes with computer skillz") to not make their apps: 1) run on other machines and only intercept bytes going across the network, 2) polymorphic, ie - change shape to confound scanners, 3) a virus that installs their app (and doesn't run it) on any machine it can find... causing Blizzard to ban 1 Million accounts overnight with their leet anti-hacker toolz. 4) etc, etc, etc.

Another term for this is an arms race, and unless anti-hacking software becomes an entire Multi-$B industry, you'll never have the resources to compete with motivated, passionate coders.

Also, what if (perish the thought), I'm playing WoW from acorporate machine (or laptop, even). What if I have documents/files on it (again, dumb of me) that are worth a couple $M to a competitor. Maybe that competitor (or even another script kiddie), emulates your game scanner to lok for said documents or bank account info, and I click "Yes, go ahead and access my entire HD" when WoW pops up because I know that it always scans for 1337-ware... now, you've got a big incident with Blizzard looking like the bad guys.

The only solution that comes to mind is to stop making so much of your computer be client-sided (and thus ultimately hackable). Instead, either make it ALL server-side (and thus horribly expensive) or client-side distributed (meaning, have user X doing computations for user X, user Y, and random user R... and then flag it on the server if they don't match exactly). I'm sure there are other solutions, you just need to hire some good InfoSec guys with military backgrounds (like me, hint hint) that do this stuff alot. :)

8.

#1, if you're playing on a work machine, maybe that's your problem and not the MMORPG company's. Use your own. Heck, your employer probably has a problem with it anyway, especially if you do have sensitive files on the machine.

#2, grow up and get over this childish obsession with "privacy" on all things and at all times. Do you have a credit card or a driver's license or own any property? If so, your precious privacy is already breached routinely in perfectly legal ways by various corporate entities. I'm pretty sure it's not just me that is sick of the privacy obsessives whining about every faint or tangential or theoretical impingement on their "privacy". If you don't like it, quit playing WoW and let the rest of us have a less-exploited game.

9.

I don't believe scanning for cheating apps is inherently unethical.

However, I believe to remain ethical, there are at least two requirements and one ideal:

First, this scanning must be explicitly communicated to the player, and not just in Paragraph 264 of the EULA. In fact, EULAs in general could use a good cleansing; leave the legalese but tell people in plain short sentences what they're agreeing to.

Second, any company that does anything with potentially confidential information must be held to high standards -- as high or higher than banks and brokerages. Game operators already have their customers' name, credit card info, address, etc. That's quite a lot right there. If they mine any addditional information they must agree not to distribute it in any form (not sell it, rent it, give it away, etc.).

Finally, an ideal would be that any game developer who scans hard disks, runs credit checks, or mines your personal data in any other way should be willing to agree to an informational and security audit by an independent firm. Any employee found collecting or inappropriately using information should be fired and potentially prosecuted. Any company with insufficient safeguards against such activity, or which actually engages in data/disk mining beyond what's needed to maintain their service's security, should be subject to hefty industry-based and/or civil fines.

So the first two are doable. The third? Well... it'll happen, but not for a while I think.

10.

First, "Scanning harddrives" is just unacceptable.

I'm not even thinking of privacy here. I'm thinking of performance as the program decides to chug over terabytes of data spread across network drives seeking WOWCheat.exe.

What is likely meant is scanning process tables, verifying video card driver hashes, etc.

Mind you, I think the existence of client-side hacks is a critical failure on the part of the MMORPG developer. MMORPG developers should code under the assumption that their client is open source. Indeed, I'd really like to see some MMORPG developers be brave enough to actually open source the client. The arguments for forcing users to use crippled UI (namely, that the UI is part of the game), doesn't really hold when you have 100,000 players. There is no level playing field. The power law dictates that regardless of the existence of cheat programs, you will be owned.

Regarding client-side scanning, the right answer seems obvious. Use a third party. www.punkbuster.com already exists, no? Users would rather trust them to scan their active memory than Blizzard.

My suggestion would be to have PvP arenas that are punk-buster enabled (or maybe punkbuster enabled servers?) so players can determine if they play on the privacy invasive server or the free for all open source server. Would be curious to see which server becomes more popular...

11.

I second the view of Brask Mumei there.

Designing clients as open-source might be too great a leap for commercial developers, though. Not only does it force to make solid design based on untrusted client but it also makes it easier to create 3rd party server implementations. Then again this could make sense as a joint effort in the long run.

Although scanning is only an arms race with cheaters it does keep most of them in check. Using concentual cheat checking to open up trusted-client features is an interesting idea and might not even require separate game worlds if done right.

12.

Ordinarily, since I'm a flaming conservative, I'd presumably be all over violating the privacy rights of users like an apprentice interrogator at Guantanamo.

However, the problem is that scanning the users' running processes and hard drive for cheat program signatures is a wasted effort. Cheat program authors know you're going to do this (nine time out of ten they're better coders than you are; they usually work at places like the NSA and break your MMO as a hobby) and simply mask the program's signature. Are you REALLY going to ban your users for running notepad.exe or iexplore.exe?

What's more effective is in finding the footprints of the actual cheating that the cheat utilities leave behind; things like tampering with the data stream, loading the client as a "debugger", etc. This is hard work, since those footprints will also change constantly, but is doable, and is less frightening to people who read slashdot at work.

13.

Let's look at this from a business opportunity perspective.

It's easy enough to partner (if the will is there) with Norton, Trend Data, Verisign and other antivirus companies to secure the server and the client from undesirable elements via a trusted environment with an opt-out clause. Somebody who put this together and get 1st mover advantage will made some nice profit.


Frank

14.

The majority of 'cheating' is by players utilizing a set of .NET libraries that are designed to inject into WOW in memory and expose certain actions into .NET function calls.

From here on, it's easy to automate many things you want to do in WOW. E.g. automatic fishing. Or just bots.

A scanning of memory and any injecting processes is the quickest way Blizzard can easily detect this kind of hacking, which has become frequent recently because of the release of the particular .NET library.

Anyway, many online games I know does this. It's really nothing new or even special. Most Korean games (Ragnarok, Priston Tale, Lineage 2) run a thing call nprotect (http://eng.nprotect.co.kr/), which runs alongside the game and scans the executing processes.

I'm not so certain about this 'harddrive' scanning. I'm almost certain it's only process-scanning.

15.

Of course, first thing first, be transparent! Put it clearly on the BOX! So, the customer known before buying...

After? Well, remember the ado around RMT? Still, want to maximise customers? Implement scan and no-scan servers. On a scan servers? You have the benefit of the doubt for problems. No-scan? You have privacy but the "lost Uber Sword" is lost.

In short, be clear, link your "anti-cheat" efforts with benefits to customers. I am pretty sure you can offer "premium servers" with all scans up, wild ban bat for a few bucks more! Basic street freedom for the peons and gated communities! ;)

Just be up-front...

16.

We let Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, Microsoft, Google/Copernic/etc. (desktop search) scan our HDD (or search for something on our PC) without issue. And now, Blizzard would search for Cheats and we would be upset!

Come on! It's kind of pathetic. Let them do their job at keeping the game safe from hackers (which is something very hard to do). Blizzard are not crazy, they know that they can't go too far. If they scan our PC, they probably search only for certain executable or memory trace. They would not put in jeopardy a mutli-millions business just to find that your computer name is "l33t-AMD64".

And if you are upset about that, stop playing Blizzard games and go somewhere else where hackers are proeminent and unstopped.

17.

I'll second Elrana here. Transparency is key- and it should be in many forms.

I personally don't accept the arguments of people who say the EULA is never read. Read it once. Understand what the terms of use really are. Understand that different people have issues with different things, so don't expect the part you'd have issue with to be first.

Now, with that said, if the EULA is changed after the initial install, THAT should be announced in BRIGHT BIG BOLDFACE TYPE when you log in, when the game loads, and across the foreheads of all NPC's in game, dammit. Anything else just APPEARS seedy- even if the dev's intentions are innocent. TRUST is the key here.

I had a friend whose dad was a judge. It wasn't enough for the family to follow the law, they had to avoid any APPEARANCE of unlawful behavior, even if it would have been OK for the guy on the street to do it. Being a dev is like that. You MUST never risk appearing in any way seedy. Stealth EULA edits will do that.

Now... as the game loads, just like when it says "downloading patch" or "downloading launchpad" or "instantiating maps" it should state "scanning for prohibited game aids" or "initiating scanning." Transparency. Give players every opportunity to notice that this is going on.

Heck, better still, let someone review their own scan logs.... not what they do (that could help the hacker in the arms race) but what they report back. I've seen this feature for crash logs, why not for scans?

---
Finally, don't

18.

Regardless of it being harddrive, or processes scanning it is inappropriate. It is not a behavior that the average user would expect from a game. Trying to patch holes in your client security model by invading a customer's privacy is wrong. Don't just make it explicit, don't do it at all.

Do you think it would be ethicially appropriate for a media player like iTunes to scan for, and report the existance of other players capable of playing their format and banning you from using their service?


Finally, an ideal would be that any game developer who scans hard disks, runs credit checks, or mines your personal data in any other way should be willing to agree to an informational and security audit by an independent firm. Any employee found collecting or inappropriately using information should be fired and potentially prosecuted. Any company with insufficient safeguards against such activity, or which actually engages in data/disk mining beyond what's needed to maintain their service's security, should be subject to hefty industry-based and/or civil fines.

Fines are nice for getting revenue for the government, they are pretty useless for helping the people who's privacy has been invaded or credit has been comprimised. Why should a company be allowed access to any information beyond the minium required to do business?

Once the information has been let out its too late to protect it. Exactly the same as client software with holes. How do you think the same company would react to a demand that any member of the public they do business with be allowed to audit their code to ensure that some employee hasn't decide to start gathering personal data?


I'm pretty sure it's not just me that is sick of the privacy obsessives whining about every faint or tangential or theoretical impingement on their "privacy". If you don't like it, quit playing WoW and let the rest of us have a less-exploited game.

Unfortunately, it probably isn't just you. On the other hand it probably isn't just me who is tired of people who think its a brilliant idea to give up their rights and freedom for "greater security". Given the times why should I be suprised when someone else advocates the new "Bush Doctrine". I might subscribe to the same view myself if it actually protected anyone, instead of giving a false sense of security.


A scanning of memory and any injecting processes is the quickest way Blizzard can easily detect this kind of hacking, which has become frequent recently because of the release of the particular .NET library.

And as usual the quickest solution is probably the most easily bypassed as well. If the past is any indication, most protections like that are analyzed and bypassed within a couple hours of the latest patch.

19.

Cheating is a design problem.

If people persistently cheat, our design has made it profitable for them to cheat.

If the cheating of a minority ruins the experience for the majority, we have designed it that way.

If we have to rely on police-state tactics and an escalating arms-race to combat cheating, that is the fault of our design, not a universal inevitability stemming from "human nature".

An arms race only matters when the one with the most arms wins. That is a design choice. Stat-cheating only matters if you insist on replacing real skill with artificial database entries ("+4 Aim").

Persisting in replacing human dynamics with artificial numbers is such a dumb thing to do in a multiplayer. Instead of empowering civilization, we are coding it out of existence. Then, we complain when people aren't civilized.

We need to start thinking more like architects, and less like Soviet oligarchs.

What most game designers seem to want is to design the games they want to design, and force people to play the way they want them to play. In most industries (not to mention most societies), that approach to customer service has been increasingly discredited. Game design is the only growing industry I can think of that persists in blaming all of its design failures on the end-user.

The biggest mistake MMOG developer make is to subscribe to the popular myth that "online is different, so we can't learn from what works in the 'real' world".

The second biggest mistake is thinking that, because you design MMOGs, you understand "human nature". Design for pathology, and you get pathology.

The irony is that is it hard to reduce cheating in the real world, because it is so difficult to change entrenched systems. In the worlds we design, however, we can learn from history's mistakes. Sadly, we turn instead to failed police-state tactics.

We don't trust the user in the least, yet we tell them to "just trust us" as we rifle through their hard drives. What an arrogant and futile approach to community-building.

20.

the presence of scripting/hacking programs on one's hard drive does not denote usage. the presence of said programs even in active memory does not denote usage in conjunction with [insert your fascist game of choice].

owning a gun does not make you a killer. holding a gun does not make you a killer, as well.

i'm not sure how blizzard's EULA is written, but their solution does not seem very tenable, if push came to shove.

21.

Put me in the camp of those who feel that client-side detection of cheating is always guaranteed to be less effective than server-side prevention of cheating.

Solve the problem where it really lives -- on the server -- and there's no "trust" issue to negotiate.

...

Incidentally, this question goes back further than EverQuest. I recall the furor back in the days of the NAPLPS-based Prodigy online system when some users poking around in a cache file discovered snippets of personal information. Naturally, they concluded that Prodigy was uploading that information, and announced this conclusion to the world.

In fact, all that was happening was that the Prodigy software just wasn't clearing out the cache file before using it, so it contained bits and pieces of files the user had deleted. But that perfectly factual technical information did little to calm Prodigy's many non-technical users, who made it clear they were very concerned about the privacy of their personal computers.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more we virtualize everything (especially information), the more difficult it becomes to insure the privacy of that information. This seems like a reasonable concern that both the anti-Patriot Act left and anti-Big Government right ought to be able to agree on....

--Bart

22.
And as usual the quickest solution is probably the most easily bypassed as well. If the past is any indication, most protections like that are analyzed and bypassed within a couple hours of the latest patch.

With each 'update' of the game comes with a new list of detections. Clients/accounts detected using hacks will be banned from the server. It discourages honest players to cheat - because they could be losing 6month+ of work in one swoop - and they are smart enough to know not to take that risk, ever. Yes, cheaters would buy a new account and try again - but their 'character' won't get very far, and it's just spare pocket $ for Blizzard. These 'hacks' aren't some game CD-protection here, they are tied directly into real accounts that people are serious about keeping (clean).

Put me in the camp of those who feel that client-side detection of cheating is always guaranteed to be less effective than server-side prevention of cheating.

Solve the problem where it really lives -- on the server -- and there's no "trust" issue to negotiate.

This is certainly true, but while it is simple to track people sending incorrect packets, it is much harder to differentiate between a real person sending correct packets vs a bot sending correct packets.

In CS, or Quake, people used aim-bots. They would be running forwards jumping irratically and yet doing head-shots to people behind them. The packets sent are 100% correct. But it is no way fair. The result: punk buster, is an addon that scans in-memory processes, and they lock you out of any games that uses punk buster as well.

Again, as with my earlier post. Multiplayer online games have resorted to the same techniques (scanning in-memory processes and updating their scan list) to combat botters/hackers. It is not really merely a server-side issue I think.

Honestly, if I was writing a game, I'd rather be designing new encounters rather than trying to spend my time tracking down botters. (Did my fair share of that when I used to admin/create a MUD). It is not what a creator should be doing. It is just a waste of majority of people's time (1% of hackers, 99% of honest folk who want features not bot-prevention software, and yet, it is necessary).

23.

Let's just look at the issue of opt-in and opt-out of client-side scanning: what of other stardard processes in which the program scans for system conflicts, drivers, versions, etc?

How do you simplify the maze of permissioning? I have an hard time as it is to manage my Norton suite of protection software. How do I protect myself from intrusions? Can I block the process in question? Can I protect my privacy and flag any unknown scans?

Frank


24.

Just a further thought.

A game company doesn't really HAVE to make a game that is bot-proof. We know that is hard.

They just need to achieve:
1. 99% of honest players would not take the risk to cheat
2. The company must appear to be combatting the problem.
3. Those that cheat are caught should be severely punished. Serves them right.
4. 1% would cheat anyway, and try to get as much profit as possible before they get caught and banned, then they either quit, or buy a new account
5. If the company does nothing - other honest players will turn dishonest - because hey, everyone's cheating, no-one is getting caught, damn it, I might as well cheat as well, to be fair.


Then most players would be happy.
I used to play on Korean MMOGs, the major issue I had was the response time between a hack is discovered, reported, taken serious by admins, reproduced on Korean main source tree, tested on Korean version, updated on Korean version, translated to English version, tested on English, finally patching through to English players (6 months later).
By that time, 90% of the players know the hack, and 50% is abusing it. And I wonder what the other 50% is doing - if they haven't quit the game already like me.

25.

Can't say I've ever played any online games to any great extent, just "not my bag" but I am interested in the security side of things. I seem to remember a program for everquest that actualy provided you with a map, that was run on a second computer.

I'm fairly sure that now it's widely known that Blizzard do this sort of thing you'll see the hacks move off the players PC and onto another, where it will just inject into the data stream going back to the server.

From a security point of view a programmer that understands your network code is much harder to defend against that one that is running programs against memory addresses. Becuase what's to stop them from simply replacing the WOW client with code of thier own devising. The current system works because you have to run the game, which runs the scanner.

Just as broadband operators drop your connection every 24hrs. The way around this of course is to have a broadband router login for you, instead of your PC, which resets and re-establishes a connection whenever it's terminated. The aplications that are likely to running for long periods are now coded to expect the link to go down, etc.

Then there are programs like streambox VCR with emulate a web browser so that they can download streaming audio/video from the web. You just give it the link and it downloads direct to disk, it even turbo downloads real audo streams.

Sure the cheats make use of the current system, but I imagine the people coding the apps have other ideas in mind, especially if they're looking to make money out of WOW.

Should be interesting to see how it pans out.

26.

Cheating is a design problem.

If people persistently cheat, our design has made it profitable for them to cheat.

Wow. That is as breathtaking an expression of an ignorance of basic human nature as I have ever seen. Bravo!

27.

Cheat programs continue to be the largest issue in MMO gaming. They change the competitive balance by introducing mechanics that aren't available in mass to the general audience. I am among those who agree cheat programs are a design problem.

I don't play WoW so I don't know much about it, however I was under the assumption that mods are legal in WoW, in fact there are several dozen mods available for WoW. Being that mods are legal, I assume there is also some kind of WoW client API documentation available regarding the creation of mods, in fact I am almost certain of this since WoW mods are updated incredibly quickly after a patch.

Given that mods are legal, what exactly would the WoW scanners be looking for?

I have played games with programs like gameguard and nprotect, programs supposedly designed to prvent cheat programs for a game. The reality is, they do not work.

Given the intrusive nature of 'cheat scanning' in MMOGs, how long before anti-spyware companies classify this type of software as spyware? An even better question, how long before the spyware companies themselves capitalize on their exclusion from the anti-spyware lists?

28.

>2. The company must appear to be combatting the problem.

This can be difficult- particularly when data mining is the source of evidence. It can be very difficult to determine WITH CERTAINTY that an action is the result of a cheat/bot. It takes time and scrutiny. The time spent between the first player report of a cheater/botter and the time for CSR's to record sufficient evidence to build a case can be "unreasonable" for some players, who then flood the boards with "the devs don't care" posts.

In the case of botting or the aforementioned target-cheats, rather than gathering circumstantial server-sided data to affirm a cheat, the CSR could respond to a complaint of a botter/cheater, view behavior consistent with botting/cheating, and verify the presence of the software on the system, allowing him to act long before the circumstantial evidence would be sufficient.

Hikaru is correct- the presence of these apps is not itself proof of a cheater, However, the presence of these apps in conjunction with online activity that hints to that behavior is.

>3. Those that cheat are caught should be severely punished. Serves them right.

The problem is, the public only sees the cheater, not the punishment. Due to privacy policies, the Devs cannot publicly speak regarding specific accounts or what action is taken.

Heck, the victim of an "X cheat" that reported it isn't even allowed to be told that "yes, you were definately victim of the x cheat" because it implies information about another player that might be considered confidential.

The player base is left with alot of people clamoring "the X cheat is ruining the game and the devs don't care" long after the cheat has been addressed. A clearly visible action- like a scan- can emphasize dev attention alot more than a stealth action.

>4. 1% would cheat anyway, and try to get as much profit as possible before they get caught and banned, then they either quit, or buy a new account

The problem is determining what damage they can do in that short time. They get caught, they get banned, but the damage they do may affect the persistent world for quite some time.

No tool will be the end-all solution, but no tool should be excluded without serious consideration. Client-side scanners can be

-If the scan is visible and announced,
-If the statement is clear on what will and will not be done with that data
-If only the data relevant to the prevention of cheating is included
-If the data to be reported is open for review by the user
- and if the user has the ability to terminate transmission (but not play the game)
-THEN this should be sufficient to all but the most paranoid that the privacy loss is minimal, controlled, and only related to a service they wish to access.

By the way... couldn't this same issue be backdated by 2 or 3 years by swapping "WoW" with "EQ" ? Didn't the have a similar incident of player uproar over a client-sided scanner?

29.

== START OF QUOTE ==

I don't play WoW so I don't know much about it, however I was under the assumption that mods are legal in WoW, in fact there are several dozen mods available for WoW. Being that mods are legal, I assume there is also some kind of WoW client API documentation available regarding the creation of mods, in fact I am almost certain of this since WoW mods are updated incredibly quickly after a patch.

Given that mods are legal, what exactly would the WoW scanners be looking for?

== END OF QUOTE==

The WoW API give limited (but extensive) access to the User Interface. WoW-MOD's are constrained in some way. And Blizzard can add/modify/remove functions if they found they get abused by modder's/cheater's/hacker's. In fact, Blizzard removed a function in patch 1.6 that made impossible to move a character around the world with a MOD. there was a popular mod people used to automatically moved from location A to B that becomes uselss.

30.
With each 'update' of the game comes with a new list of detections. Clients/accounts detected using hacks will be banned from the server. It discourages honest players to cheat - because they could be losing 6month+ of work in one swoop - and they are smart enough to know not to take that risk, ever.

Honest players don't need to be discouraged from cheating, by definition they are already the ones not cheating. With each update such a scanning program needs to be re-evaluated to ensure it doesn't present a new risk. And as Galrhan points out, they flat out don't work.


Given that mods are legal, what exactly would the WoW scanners be looking for?

The most likely answer is they are trying to block botting programs. My understanding is the most prevalent cheats in WoW are speed and teleport hacks which are easily detectable on the server side. JLIU is correct that bot programs aren't easily detectable with scanning. However, bots in a game like WoW have nowhere near the disruptive power that they do in an FPS.

The preponderance of bot programs fall into fairly narrow categories. Skill rasing bots, buff/healing bots, and combat bots, vendor bots...

Skill rasing bots have mostly been eliminated by improved designs. The notable exception in WoW being fishing.

Buff/heal bots tend to be completely unintelligent. They primarily maintaining timers for for a set of buffs to recast, and health thresholds for casting healing spells. They tend to be prevalent for for support classes who have little other activity. Often they are used in two account setups where the healer/buffer is set to autofollow and mostly left unattended.

There are a small number of bots dedicated to auto combat. Mostly they also execute a simple series of actions.. IE: Use ability one, wait 2 seconds, use ability two.. There are a few which actually attempt unattended play.

I believe that skill up bots and healing bots tends to be more accepted by non-cheating players as they benefit them directly.


Wow. That is as breathtaking an expression of an ignorance of basic human nature as I have ever seen. Bravo!

Its nice to just dismiss that out of hand, but to a large degree it is true. Modern people are in the habit of automating needlessly tedious and repetitive tasks. If the design requires that needless repition players will begin to automate it themselves.

This goes hand in hand with the drive towards RMT. Customers are patching around percieved flaws in the design. Some of this could be avoided by providing NPC rental services to flesh out parties. It would be interesting to see how much botting there is in Guild Wars relative to other games.


31.

Maybe I jaded by my UO history, but if bots that level a toon is as bad as it gets for a MMO game, I'd say the game is doing pretty damn well.

Illegal 3rd party programs effecting the competitive balance for PvP was why I left UO, ok so I am an idiot since i PvPed for 7 years under those conditions before leaving, but in the end cheats got to me.

But as far as I know, in Lineage 2 and in WoW, the two games that I or my friends play, there is no 3rd party program that gives a competitive advantage in PvP, and quite honestly, as long as the integrity of the game is maintained despite 3rd party programs, and the best a 3rd party program can do is automate some functionality, I'd say the game has it pretty good.

And I would also argue that the amount of intrution done by Blizzard to a users PC in this case would not be justified at all. So what, someone can run a macro, automate some task, or schedule some type of event? Big deal, unless the program gives a player some sort of competitive advantage in the player competition aspects of a game, I just don't see the effect these types of programs have on the service Blizzard provides, and if there is no danger to Blizzard's ability to provide a quality game, it isn't justified scanning behavior imo.

32.

Wow. That is as breathtaking an expression of an ignorance of basic human nature as I have ever seen. Bravo!

Claiming knowledge of "basic human nature" is a primary sign of an impending dogmatic, rather than empirical or rational, argument. As well, attacking the credibility of a messenger rather than addressing the specific quarrel with a message is further evidence of dogma rather than a strong, thoughtful position.

Nonetheless, let's go with it, and assume you understand "basic human nature" and I do not.

Since games continue to be plagued by problems stemming from this "basic human nature" that cheat-plagued game designers supposedly understand, does that not make the point even more strongly--that the problem is with the designer's design, not with the player's play?

After all, they can't claim ignorance of "basic human nature". Yet their designs don't seem to account for it, which forces them to resort to police-tactics and engage in an arms race with miscreants.

Do you still not see this as a design problem?

33.

Scott Jennings wrote:

> Wow. That is as breathtaking an expression of an ignorance of basic human nature as I have ever seen. Bravo!

Who are you and what did you do to Scott? :P I know you've seen worse. We've posted on the same message boards before. :)

But, there is a lot of foolishness here. Exploits as design problems? Ask the Asheron's Call team how well that attitude works. But, as Scott implies, this is more of an issue of the nature of players and their desire for success than anything else.

Moving all checks to the server? Well, that's the right answer in theory. Unfortunately, the reality of limited bandwidth and latency issues means that we try to offload some things to the client. There are also classes of cheats that you can't detect. Things like triggers and macros, things that give unfair advantages to people. The only way to completely eliminate this is to get rid of any sort of "twitch" gameplay; unfortunately, this type of gameplay is rather popular with many players.

Thinking that ever hacker is smart enough to easily circumvent cheat detection? Defeatist in nature, and not always true. Yes, there will be some cheaters that are more clever, but most of them aren't. Even if we can stop the least clever cheaters and reduce cheating by half, this is a worthy goal in my opinion.

Unfortunately, it seems that no one has really addressed Jessica's core questions. Is our market willing to put up with computer scanning or cheating? There's a tradeoff here. Are we going to lose more people from scanning hard drives or from allowing some forms of cheating to show up in the game? Admittedly all we can do is speculate without hard data. However, speculating that there is an easy way to defeat cheats (which if there were, we would have figured it out by now) isn't really addressing the question.

34.

I'd like transparency about the whole thing, but honestly, it's because hearing about this makes me want to go back to WOW!

I'm tired of cheats. Scan their hard drives. If you find cheaters listen in on their guild chat and ban everyone who's aiding and abetting them as well.

I'm a paying customer and I have a right to a game that isn't overrun with cheaters, botters, and commercial farmers.

35.

Galliel: >> Do you still not see this as a design problem?

That all depends on whether or not you want to play an actual game. I note from your website that you are less concerned with multiplayer games, per se, than with virtual worlds as real-word education devices for civil and social behavior. I like the fact that someone is looking at things a different way, but the kind of ‘player’ you’re looking for is in a totally different market from the RPG gamer. You’re on to part of the problem, I think, but I also think you haven’t thought it through all the way.

Just saying that this is a fault of the design and walking away is a bit of a cop-out, although I agree that, as an industry, we keep making the same mistakes over and over. Sure, some of the issues can be solved by tinkering with the design, but I guarantee you, not all can. It is those edge cases that drive one mad trying to seal them up while still maintaining something that is fun and compelling of which to be a part. Anything that creates any kind of personal achievement, which is something that players will pay to have access to, is exploitable in some manner. I guarantee you, if the only personal achievement possible in a game was a reputation score, players would find ways to exploit it.

So, the problem is a bit more complex than just “Fix the design, dummy!” The real trick is to understand that there will always be outlaws and to plan in advance to slow them down and find and remove them. Part of it is design (I mean, really: camping?), part of it is extensive data-mining and part of it is just maintaining flexibility in the midst of a changing environment.

36.

If "human nature" is the reason for the problems, how do you explain the difference in environment between today's Iraq and, say, Sweden. I hope you won't argue that the Iraqis just have a different "nature". Hopefully, you won't argue that there just aren't enough police in Iraq to force people to behave. Hopefully, you will agree with me that the difference is, first and foremost, *structural*.

The argument game designers typically make is that people cheat, lie and steal, and the way to deal with that is to "combat" it.

The argument I am making--which, outside this industry, is by no means an original or novel one--is that human behavior is strongly, VERY strongly influenced by environment. This, binary-thinkers to the contrary, is not a denial of negative behavior. It is not incompatible with nor ignorant of the fact that there is a serious cheater problem (and an even more serious socially destructive behavior problem) in current games.

The argument actually is that these problems are better addressed through design than repression.

Anything that creates any kind of personal achievement, which is something that players will pay to have access to, is exploitable in some manner. I guarantee you, if the only personal achievement possible in a game was a reputation score, players would find ways to exploit it.

Ah, here was are almost teetering at the edge of the underlying problem, which is a set of cultural assumptions so deeply embeded in our industry as to be nearly invisible and utterly unconscious.

Perhaps the assumption that the primary if not sole motivator for players must be personal achievement, and the interpretation of personal achievement in zero-sum terms, is an assumption that deserves review?

Of course, in order to have a rational discussion about this, folks need to abandon their binary-thinking hats. Questioning the primacy of personal achievement as game motivators, will, past experience teaches me, be interpreted by many as a communist/utopian assault on the essence of western society, one, as we've already seen articulated in this thread, stemming from an "ignorance of basic human nature".

Thus, the argument will quickly shift from "what can we do from a game design standpoint to minimize disruption and encourage sustainable player communities" to "libertarianism/free-market capitalism/I-wanna-make-MY-game" vs "bleeding hearts, educators and naive do-gooders", aka "communists".

It has happened again and again, and it is unfortunate, because it short-circuits useful pragmatic discussion with political sparks.

Incidentally:

I note from your website that you are less concerned with multiplayer games, per se, than with virtual worlds as real-word education devices for civil and social behavior.

is an ad hominem, irrelevant to the discussion, and, more importantly, is based on an incorrect assumption that "multiplayer games", on the one hand and "virtual worlds" containing healthy societies and civil behavior, on the other, are exclusive sets, compounded by an artificial implicit assumption that design for virtuous behavior must not be fun, therefore must be (ugh) "educational", rather than (yay) "game".

Of course, my whole argument (and the actual reason behind my work, not that that weighs the merit of the argument one way or another) is that multiplayer games can be both fun *and* socially sustainable, can both support large numbers of people *and* have extremely low miscreant-combatting costs, can be architected and designed (from a game-design standpoint, with a technical architecture that supports it) to maximize the constructive activities of players, minimize the disruptive radius of miscreants, inhibit and disinterest miscreants in the first place, create a better experience for newbies, and much, much more, *without* eliminating the things that actually make playing them fun-- including competition and even violent combat (although I choose not to design games that rely on violent combat, the principles I am talking about here are equally applicable to those.)

The fact that current games are not designed that way, I argue, is the primary reason for the arms-race we see between cheaters and police.

An architectural approach to game design is not something practiced at all in this community. An architect knows that, if people don't use the park she designed, or if they use the benches to pee on and write graffiti on and snort crack on rather than sit and eat lunch on, the problem is primarily with the design of the park, not "human nature", because the same humans will behave quite differently in a differently designed park.

Now, you may continue to insist that parks with roving vandals, muggers and litterers (let alone murderers and identity thieves) are "just the way things are" because of "basic human nature".

You may argue that it is because the neighborhood you place your park in is inhabited by savages.

You may even, if you live in a world where there are nothing but parks of that type, argue that such parks are "fun", as long as you place enough police patrollers in the park, search everyone's bag on the way in and out, conduct random strip-searches, place lots of "don't walk on the lawn" all over the dead, moshed lawn, etc.

But you would still be barking up the wrong tree (if any trees survived the experience.

Better park design would allow the park to be used as you intended it, as people *want* to use it, and would tend to attract people who respect other people's property and privacy.

The fixes may simple structural ones (make the lights taller and the glass tougher, so it is harder for vandals to smash them with a rock--and better lit environments tend to discourage crime; make the benches wide enough for families to repurpose them as picnic tables or to put a game board on).

They may be behavioral (hire some street musicians and jugglers, hold civic events in the park), have the mayor give a reward to a kid who cleaned graffiti off the fountain or a mother who collared a bully in the sandbox.

They may be social (encourage neighborhood watch volunteers who staff the park and help folks out, just because it is "their" park and they have a sense of ownership and investment and pride in it, rather than being your park that you let them play in at your whim with your rules. Turn a graffiti tagger into a "featured street artist" and give them recognition and acclaim to create a beautiful mural on the park wall--and then conduct a competition among city taggers for the privilege of making a new mural over that one).

They may involve different traffic patterns, different lines of sight, an awareness of the way the sun hits different parts of the park at different times of day when mapped against the lunchhour behavior of local employees.

All of these are architectural solutions that don't involve police and repression and an escalatin arms race, they minimally disrupt the experience of the vast majority of good people who want to use the park as you intended it to be used, and actually enhance their experience.

So you see, the issue is not how "complex" the problem is. The problem is trying to stem a wound with salt.


(incidentally, Jessica, my original testbed for these theories was a tank combat MMOG set in an apocalyptic environment involving a desperate struggle for scare resources and territorial control. It was called Terra, preceeded UO, and, despite having superficially all the characteristics of other disfunctional games, had the most socially constructive community with the lowest incidence of meta-game destructive behavior I have ever seen--a community, incidentally, that continues to exist many years after the game itself ceased to exist and its developer left the game sphere. So, your implied, subtle "leave the designing to us experienced folks, don't talk about what you don't know, we know how people really behave" is not only inappropriate but incorrect.)

37.

Yes, my comment was a one-off ad hominem slam. I'm a small person. It's in my nature. Being human and all.

:)

And yes, good game design accounts for said "basic human nature" (which CAN be quantified - people as a collective tend towards selfish acts, and that selfishness can be leveraged towards the good of the whole) and eliminates as many potential customer service headaches as possible before they make it to customer service and start costing you money and customers.

However, you will never eliminate all cheating by design, because if a game is competitive, a set of people will seek to get ahead by any means necessary. Competition implies rules. Rules can be broken. Clever people will break those rules despite what failsafes you build into your game's design. Thus, the enforcement division (customer service) takes over where the design ends.

It's necessary in any game that has people in it. If you're running a completely non-competitive game (otherwise known as a "chat room") then you may not have these issues. If you have nothing but NPCs in your game, you also don't have these issues, but you also probably have issues with subscription numbers.

38.

If "human nature" is the reason for the problems, how do you explain the difference in environment between today's Iraq and, say, Sweden. I hope you won't argue that the Iraqis just have a different "nature". Hopefully, you won't argue that there just aren't enough police in Iraq to force people to behave. Hopefully, you will agree with me that the difference is, first and foremost, *structural*.

Let's not bring politics into this, or else I'll be forced to point out that yes, the problem in Iraq is directly from a lack of enforcement (in that the US tried to maintain an occupation with far too few forces for the job, thus creating an atmosphere of complete lawless anarchy where a nationalist/Islamic insurgency was allowed to manifest quickly) and if forced, explain my views on resolving the insurgency (taking a leaf from the Romans and reducing cities to funereal pyres and salting the earth so that nothing else grows there again).

Trust me, you want anything but that. Best to keep implying those of us who actually have experience working on MMOs have no idea what we're doing, which I'd be inclined to agree with on most days.

39.

And so, we all lose.

When Raph invited me to join the mud-dev list back in 2000, he said that the group-think there could benefit from some dissenting views. I lurked there for four years, and never bothered posting once, because people like Scott dominated the discussion.

Here, I hoped that the influence of academics and the public nature of the blog would encourage open inquiry and welcome dissent.

But, the architectural features of this site tend to amplify the effect of a Scott, and dampen dissenting opinions, as well as discourage people who are less outspoken but potentially valuable contributors from bothering to speak up. And the academics who tend to post here tend to have opinions that line up with the industry standard, so that there is little dissent or disagreement from their camp.

Yes, it is a design problem. I don't blame Scott or think the solution is to install spyware on Scott's computer or police Scott. The solution is to create conversation spaces that, by design and, as a result, by culture, limit the dampening effect a Scott has on the conversation and encourage diversity and difference, both things that benefit knowledge and learning.

Lessig just invited Hilary Rosen to guest host his blog. Here, I doubt a truly dissenting voice would be welcome, no matter how impressive their credentials.

Thus, rather than academia enriching the designer community with its traditions of openness to new ideas, peer review standards and understanding that new developments often involve challenging old assumptions, instead we have the game industry's dogmas infecting academia, or at least overwhelming it with arrogance and binary-thinking. It's a lose-lose situation, and it is unfortunate.

So, I will probably go back to lurking. Scott clearly knows more than Raph about what will benefit a community (and, more than Prof Cass R. Sunstein, whose book "Why Societies Need Dissent" he might be willing to read, since Sunstein's public credentials should impress him, and since that is the criteria for his discourse, rather than the actual merit of the substantive discussion).

I suspect we all lose. I lose the feedback, pushback and analysis of my ideas; others lose the opportunity to ponder ideas very different from their own, and the experience of being forced to defend long-held and deeply-held assumptions. Scott loses because he thinks he won, and he thinks "winning" is the game here, and that "winning" means "beating" an opponent.

By reinforcing bias and eliminating "noise", the community is impoverished.

All because the design empowers one bully to disrupt the entire experience.

Sort of like today's game designs.

40.
But, there is a lot of foolishness here. Exploits as design problems? Ask the Asheron's Call team how well that attitude works.

I'm sure it works pretty well if you have the time and resources to actually fix them. Blaming teleport hacks, speed hacks, database price errors that lead economic problems, and item duping issues on "human nature" truly seems beyond the pale to me..


Moving all checks to the server? Well, that's the right answer in theory. Unfortunately, the reality of limited bandwidth and latency issues means that we try to offload some things to the client.

The client should build the user view, and handling input, but even that is moderated by server side logic. (IE: Limiting data to what the client needs). I'm not sure what your definitions of bandwidth and latency are, but for anything else it takes MORE of both time and bandwidth to send data to a client to process and to recieve it back. You aren't seriously arguing that authoritative game logic should be offloaded to the client are you?


There are also classes of cheats that you can't detect. Things like triggers and macros, things that give unfair advantages to people. The only way to completely eliminate this is to get rid of any sort of "twitch" gameplay; unfortunately, this type of gameplay is rather popular with many players.

Thats funny, games like WoW already have a pretty minimal amount of twitch play, and yet triggers and macros are exactly the type of cheat they are attempting to scan for.


Thinking that ever hacker is smart enough to easily circumvent cheat detection? Defeatist in nature, and not always true. Yes, there will be some cheaters that are more clever, but most of them aren't. Even if we can stop the least clever cheaters and reduce cheating by half, this is a worthy goal in my opinion.


About the only statement I can agree with ehre is that reducing cheating is a worthy goal. Nobody is arguing that every hacker is smart enough to circumvent cheat detection. Not ever hacker has to be. It only takes a few people to circumvent the detection, and the knowledge gets distributed from there. Hackers like to have an advantage, but they also like to have noteriety and to share with their friends.

Even completely non technical people can learn to download and compile the lastest cheat source, or follow the directions in a readme file.

Reducing cheating is a worthy goal, but for many people it isn't going to be worth sacrificing the security of their computer system, or their privacy.


The questions become, then: Is there anything inherently unethical in scanning PCs for cheat applications? Should we do it anyway, knowing that some players will leave the game? And finally, if scanning is part of the solution, how do we go about gaining enough trust among Western players to make it happen?

Back to the original question then, my short answers would be :

Yes it is unethical. Even asking if you should do it regardless validates public lack of trust in you. You go about gaining trust the same way as any other dictator or con man would. You demonize cheaters, emphasize regular players inability to protect themselves, make claims that cheats might have been installed on a users system unknowingly, and generally convince people you are the only barrier between them and the predators.. Shouldn't be a problem since we have already established our that we don't care about the ethics.

[/super-hyperbolic-semi-serious-semi-rant]

41.
So, I will probably go back to lurking.

Galiel, I hope not. Regardless of if I agree or disagree with you I've always found your posts thoughtful, wellspoken, and interesting to read.

42.

Galiel,

Can I have your stuff?

43.

...Wow.

Considering that I disagree with most of the editors' views on virtual worlds, I'd hardly think I'm the bully destroying everyone's idyllic user experience here. However, if I am, I'm sure a moderator will contact me, since quiet yet forceful moderation is how most successful online communities function.

Not that I'm drawing a metaphor or anything. I am kind of curious as to how a kinder, gentler me-dampener would work, though.

44.

Not every loses as the data on the net is of public record for all to google, baidu, or baigoo (check this interesting website) as long as someone cache it :)

But back to behaviour design discussion:
If design and human behavior were the only two variables, then the obvious strategy is to optimize both variables. But of course, things are more complex :)

I was going to write a whole rant about political economy theories, optimal form of civil structures given certain cultural, historical "environments" blah, blah, blah...

My point is that chaos theory applies here. Virtual Worlds are evolving; structures, behaviors, and actions are changing. There may be pockets of stability and a lot of instability. In this regard design has a place is building the pockets of stability. So does a strong stance. So does creating a walled garden.

But it is obvious that designers have more control over design than human behavior. Optimization might start here :)

My 2 cents,

Frank

45.

Cheating is a design problem.

Wrong. It's almost always a technical problem.

If people persistently cheat, our design has made it profitable for them to cheat.

In a social space, some minority of people will always look to gain an advantage over other people and/or the system. Even purely social MUSHes and MOOs had cheaters, although those cheaters took different forms. For some players, that's the fun.

If the cheating of a minority ruins the experience for the majority, we have designed it that way.

If the cheating of a minority doesn't give them an advantage or power over the majority, it's probably not cheating.

An arms race only matters when the one with the most arms wins. That is a design choice. Stat-cheating only matters if you insist on replacing real skill with artificial database entries ("+4 Aim").

It is much, much, much more difficult to stop cheating involving real skill. Aim bots, wall hacks and speed hacks give players with less skill a leg up against those with more skill, and are very difficult to solve without drastically affecting performance. Problems where players cheat to gain gear or modify their stats are, by contrast, relatively easy to keep under control in a client/server environment, and are relatively simple to spot and fix once they are brought to your attention.

It is, in fact, this fact that has resulted in the first generation of MMOs being stat-based instead of skill-based: it's a lot easier to do a cheat-free game that still has good performance in a stat-based game. Period.

The biggest mistake MMOG developer make is to subscribe to the popular myth that "online is different, so we can't learn from what works in the 'real' world". The second biggest mistake is thinking that, because you design MMOGs, you understand "human nature". Design for pathology, and you get pathology.

Both true. But the third biggest mistake is not realizing that designing for online is grossly different than designing, say, a real-life government. Concepts like anonymity change all the rules.

46.

I normally don't pipe up in these terribly meta conversations, but I can't resist this one. Too entertaining!

1. Full disclosure: Scott is one of my dearest friends.

2. I refer to him as a jackbooted thug, so I think I may safely attest that he tolerates disagreement well.

3. It would be difficult to find a bigger treehugging hippie than I am, ESPECIALLY compared to Mr. Jackboots.

4. "An architect knows that, if people don't use the park she designed, or if they use the benches to pee on and write graffiti on and snort crack on rather than sit and eat lunch on, the problem is primarily with the design of the park, not "human nature", because the same humans will behave quite differently in a differently designed park."

Have you ever actually been in a park?

Parks around here are all the same basic design - railroad ties form the "boundaries," woodchips fill in the boundaries, and there is a swingset, a slide, and usually some kind of plastic climbing thingy. That's pretty much it - the age of lawsuits has driven away most seesaws, merry-go-rounds, tall monkey bar cages, and other liabilities. So parks tend to be pretty homogenous in the DC area.

There is a HUGE difference between the atmosphere of a park in a gang-ridden neighborhood ten miles from my house and the park two blocks from my house. And it ain't the park's design, since as I said, they're the same damn park.

Population and a sense of ownership are the top two factors that dominate the park discussion in real life, whether we mean real parks or virtual parks. This isn't about politics (or tree hugging commies versus the jackbooted authoritarians) at all, and trying to make it one strikes me as a bit of a straw man fallacy.

47.

Regarding parks: the difference between whether your park is a haven for drug addicts or a peaceful place to take your kids probably has a lot more to do with the Broken Windows theory than where the benches are placed. The Broken Windows theory claims that if a park looks like it invites disorder, more disorder will follow. If drug dealers and gang members are allowed in a park in a small amount, the family members will stop showing up, until you hit a tipping point where the park is all gang members and no families.

If you subscribe to the Broken Windows theory, the best solution is aggressively disallowing the dysfunctional behavior - i.e. get rid of the drug dealers, gang members and clean up the graffiti the first time they make an appearance, before the park can hit that tipping point. This is ultimately a lot closer to the fascist worldview of how virtual worlds should be supported, but in my honest opinion, is the best way to run these things.

48.

> An architectural approach to game design is not
> something practiced at all in this community.
> An architect knows that, if people don't use
> the park she designed, or if they use the
> benches to pee on and write graffiti on and
> snort crack on rather than sit and eat lunch
> on, the problem is primarily with the design
> of the park, not "human nature", because the
> same humans will behave quite differently in a
> differently designed park.

This statement is incorrect, and I feel that it embodies the fallacy inherent in Galiel's engaging, very well written post.

The people who are peeing, graffitizing, snorting and misbehaving in the second park ARE NOT the same people who are behaving in an orderly manner in the first theoretical park.

To insist, as Galiel does, that:

"the same humans will behave quite differently in a differently designed park"

Is to argue by definition that all people WOULD engage in these behaviors and that it is only environmental factors that are prohibiting them from doing so. This is demonstrably false. Even in the example, all of the suggested changes will merely alter the demographic segment using the park, not convert the crack-smoking spray-painting urinators into productive, well-behaved members of society. The latter is implicit in the original argument, and incorrect. Such a transformation is beyond the power of a plot of land... or any other environmental factor.

As Damien has pointed out, a relatively small minority of people who play online games derive their enjoyment from abusing the system - in their terms, "outwitting the devs". These people cannot be designed out of the game; like gold farmers, their motivation is derived from something that is external to the structure of the game itself, and thus beyond the scope of what a coder can be expected to address.

Since an integral part of these first-tier abusers' derived self-image is boasting, they share their techniques of abusing the game code with others, who then likewise exploit it. The devs are stuck battling the second-tier, knowing that the first-tier abusers are already on to something else. It is this that creates the frustration and "to hell with it" attitude many companies (such as Turbine) end up adopting with regard to cheaters.

49.

I don't think Broken Windows is about repressing the dysfunctional behaviour as much as cleaning up after it.

One can get only so far fining people for littering. At some point, cleaning up the litter will be more effective at keeping things clean than posting bigger signs about "DO NOT LITTER". Faced with clean streets, all but the most hard-core literrers will balk, even without fines.

The best real world example that we almost all will have experienced is profanity. In different contexts, most adults have significantly different levels of profane speech. Posting on one message board may involve every other word being a curse word, while another message board may cause you to re-read your post for grammatical correctness.

Why is it that the same message board software will generate a different behaviour from the same person? The answer is that the "architecture" of the space isn't just the .php scripts of the message board. The existing messages have an equally important part in defining the norms and behaviour of participants.

I think we have a good idea how to solve most of the architecture problems: Client is the Enemy, Don't write Dupe bugs. It's just the devils in the details of implementation that is defeating us.

What I'm more interested in is how we could create environments where people, say, don't swear. Is the problem that we have too large a player influx on opening day that wipes out any "proper-playing" community? That too many communities are transfered whole from one game to another without being willing to adjust their norms to the new game?

50.

I don't think Broken Windows is about repressing the dysfunctional behaviour as much as cleaning up after it. One can get only so far fining people for littering. At some point, cleaning up the litter will be more effective at keeping things clean than posting bigger signs about "DO NOT LITTER". Faced with clean streets, all but the most hard-core literrers will balk, even without fines.

When the Broken Windows Theory was put into practice by the NY Police Department, they cleaned their trains of graffiti and litter, but they also attributed a huge part of their success to, for example, arresting fare-beaters for the first time. Previous to that, people would routinely skip paying fares to get on the subway, and the police would ignore them, saying that a theft of 50 cents wasn't worth policing. But by cracking down on fare beaters, they created a climate where illicit behavior was flatly not tolerated. Serious crimes such as muggings and assaults went down, largely due to the atmosphere.

The cops also discovered that, when arresting fare-beaters, they'd also frequently capture people who had warrants out for their arrests. Which tells the observer a lot about disorder, IMHO.

51.

Damion Schubert says,

Concepts like anonymity change all the rules.

Anonymity isn't the problem. Accountability is.

Anonymity is quite common, and valuable, in 'real world' systems, and even more so in various online systems, so it is not a new issue that MMOs uniquely face.

The assumption that anonymity is a problem, presumes that people are only accountable when they are afraid of getting caught.

This, in turn, presumes that the basis of civilization is enforcement.

This, in turn, reveals a deeply embedded cultural belief, that good behavior is motivated by fear, and that bad behavior is the inevitable outcome of freedom (because it is "basic human nature").

That is a very compelling and powerful argument; it forms the basis, after all, of most organized religions, and in particular the dominant one in Western culture, Christianity.

It forms the basis for most contemporary approaches to government, particularly in the US.

It forms the basis for dominant child-rearing cultures along the lines of "spare the rod, spoil the child".

However compelling it may be, it is not the only argument. And, if there is one thing developers should learn from academic researchers, it is that the prevalence of a belief does not say anything about its validity.

There is abundant empirical evidence, backed by theoretical underpinnings that are based on extensive research into social network behavior, that suggest that the above point of view is incomplete at best.

If nothing else, the consensus among developers that there is a growing, expensive problem combatting cheaters, griefers and hackers should at least open the possibility that the current design model is flawed. It is not like you solved the problem in your own games, despite claiming to know "the best solution" and "the best way to run these things".

Let me suggest one such model which asserts that people in social environments are strongly, overwhelmingly influenced by the behavior of others in that environment, and, most critically, that what are called "cascades" of consensus can be amplified or dampened through conscious design.

That, in fact, design of a system inevitably has a determinative effect on cascades, whether you design for them deliberately or not. There is no neutral design in a constructed social system, there is only conscious or oblivious design, because in constructed social systems, design constrains behavior).

Incidentally, pseudonymity is much more relevant than anonymity in this context, and pseudonymity is only a problem when it is not accompanied by strong authentication and persistence of identity, because the real issue is the support of reputation systems (real ones, not mechanical simulacra), which are the underpinings of sustainable, civilized human society.

What matters is not who someone "really" is, what matters is that what they do and what they say today can be tied to what they did and said yesterday, so that you can make an informed judgement about what they will do and say tomorrow (and so that you can evaluate the reliability and accuracy of what they tell you now, based on a specific, persistent history).

Even in the "real" world, people are often more widely known by a nickname (a pseudonym) than by their real name. Doesn't represent a problem.

A name is just a tag, what matters is that the tag be attached to the same person each time it is used. That is a precondition for a good reputation system. We've already solved that problem, or we couldn't run ecommerce systems and collect monthly fees. (when I say "solved that problem", I'm not saying "nobody cheats". I'm saying that the system, by design, dampens, disempowers, limits the effects of, and ultimately survives cheating.)

On the other hand, this blog system we are using woefully neglects the underpinnings supporting pseudonymity. I could post as "Damion Schubert" and Damion could post as "galiel", and neither of us could map to the real people using those names.

Of course, this, too, is an already solved problem in these kind of communities--solved through design. But interesting that it isn't the kind of problem here, at least as of this moment, as it could be. Might there be a lesson here about social architecture, which might be applicable to game environments?

Surely people here are not posting as themselves solely or even primarily because they know their disks are being scanned to make sure they are not posing as someone else, or because they fear Terra Novans would arrive at their doorstep with baseball bats if they "cheated"?

How does the Broken Window theory (at least the distorted, paternal version you presented, which does not do the theory justice) apply here?

52.

Both Sanya and iamblychos are making arguments based on logical fallacies.

1.
There is a HUGE difference between the atmosphere of a park in a gang-ridden neighborhood ten miles from my house and the park two blocks from my house. And it ain't the park's design, since as I said, they're the same damn park.

Actually, it is precisely the design that is the problem. As R. Buckminster Fuller said, a piano top makes a fortuitous life-raft, but that hardly means a piano top is the optimal design for a life-raft.

Discounting the importance of design in public architecture is just plain silly. Why is someone like Olmstead remembered for his Central Park in New York, as opposed to whatever forgotten bureaucrat created the cookie-cutter abortion of a playground you are calling a "park"?

Why don't you use the example of the Mall, which is regularly used by people from all walks of life and all neighborhoods? Why don't you look at how great, peaceful public rallies are facilitated there, with thousands or even millions of total strangers, functioning side by side in constructive common purpose?

Here in Boston, we have Olmstead's Emerald Necklace, including the wonderful Boston Common and the Esplanade--and we also have the cold concrete desert of City Hall Plaza.

Both large-scale designs for public use. One is virtually abandoned, despite years of attempts by the city to stage popular events there. One is used by every sector of society, whether or not anything formal is going on. Both are free and open spaces.

The difference?

Design for people, vs. design that ignores human need.

On the contrary, your so-called "parks" prove precisely the point I was making.

As for this:

To insist, as Galiel does, that:

"the same humans will behave quite differently in a differently designed park"

Is to argue by definition that all people WOULD engage in these behaviors and that it is only environmental factors that are prohibiting them from doing so. This is demonstrably false.

First of all, the argument "by definition" you erect does not logically follow from my assertion at all.

Just because all humans are influenced by architecture, doesn't mean that all humans behave the same. However, it also doesn't mean that architecture doesn't matter.

a relatively small minority of people who play online games derive their enjoyment from abusing the system - in their terms, "outwitting the devs". These people cannot be designed out of the game; like gold farmers, their motivation is derived from something that is external to the structure of the game itself, and thus beyond the scope of what a coder can be expected to address.

Making this argument demonstrates how completely you have misunderstood the basic point I have been making, because there is nothing in that statement with which I would disagree.

Contrary to your straw man construction, I don't seek to design people out of the game; I seek to design games for people.

53.

Oops, hit post instead of preview.

I meant to comment specifically on this bit:

their motivation is derived from something that is external to the structure of the game itself, and thus beyond the scope of what a coder can be expected to address.

Um, I'm not talking about a coder addressing it. I'm talking about design. That is the whole point---the approach of combatting behavior with code is the whole problem. You address behavior with social architecture, that is with design that takes into account known effects of environment and systems on group norms.

It is not a code issue, it is a game design issue, and the fact that you may not see the distinction is testament to the cultural blinders that prevent progress on this front.

54.

> Making this argument demonstrates how
> completely you have misunderstood the basic
> point I have been making, because there is
> nothing in that statement with which I would
> disagree.

So I can't have understood your argument because you agree with me? *grin*

I understand your point quite well; because I disagree, it does not follow that I don't understand what you're saying. I don't even disagree with your logic; I disagree with your basic assumptions about the nature of human behavior. You made a statement that:

"the same humans will behave quite differently in a differently designed park"

When I took this statement to its logical conclusion, you disagreed with what I said. However, all of your posts iterate in various ways what seems to be a deeply held belief that human behavior is a direct result of environmental factors alone. If this is not what you are saying, my apologies; it is certainly what you *seem* to be saying. I disagree strongly with this type of environmental fatalism. Where does free will enter your model?

I'm also quite curious as to how you propose to differentiate coding from game design. All the ad hominem attacks aside, they are closely interrelated. Using your architectural example, coding is to game design as construction is to architecture; it is how the vision of the designer is made real. Subjective assertions of cultural superiority or vision are not a logical argument.

> Contrary to your straw man construction, I
> don't seek to design people out of the game; I
> seek to design games for people.

This is a wonderful soundbite, and completely meaningless. Who are these "people" that you write about? There is no generic "people", only vast numbers of individuals who each have their own reasons for playing computer games, going to parks, or any other activity. You can design games for players who are interested in certain activities - killing monsters, for example, or crafting, or socializing, or whatever other activity you like. To the extent that those individuals who are interested in such activities know about the game and feel that it provides a useful channel for their drive in that direction, they will use it. Other players, who are not interested in those activities, will not find your game enjoyable and will seek out a different venue. Game production on a commercial level is designed around creating a venue for as many classes of players as they can to engage in their favored activities. To claim that this is a cultural phenomenon is a fallacy, as this is human self-interest at work and therefore cross-cultural. These games work the same in every nation and culture, from Korea to China to India to Europe to the US. Which culture is it that produces these "cultural blinders"?

55.

However, all of your posts iterate in various ways what seems to be a deeply held belief that human behavior is a direct result of environmental factors alone.

It is not an either-or proposition. Rather, I argue, social architecture (which is much more than environmental design, I just used the example of physical architecture because it is more familiar to people) is a major factor influencing group behavior, and it is largely not factored in to game design in general, and specifically as a way of dealing with undesirable behavior. One of the big reasons being an obsession characteristic in technical fields with either-or propositions--with finding "the way", "the answer". Look at how you are approaching my contribution - either I am right, or others are right, rather than looking to see whether there is a synthesis possible that expands the original viewpoint.

When I say this is a design rather than code issue, I am not saying we don't need security code; I am trying to combat an entirely one-handed approach to undesirable behavior, which utterly neglects a body of knowledge about social network behavior, group cascades, and social design. When I suggest that gameplay based on actual human skill is a social design way of reducing incentives to cheat, I get responses about aimbots; of course, by "real skill", I wasn't referring to the ability to click on a target, I was referring to things like leadership, tactical and strategic insight, initiative and creativity - precisely the things that are most human, and thus hardest to automate.

In my experience, people in the MMO industry are least comfortable with these "fuzzy", intangible and non-binary functions--yet it is these qualities precisely that make combatting the human beings who engage in undesirable behavior so hard to "defeat".

One good lesson to learn from real life societies, is that the best ones thrive when they are self-perpetuating, self-managing and self-policing; that police action is rarely an effective tool for empowering communities.

But, again, it is not a binary thing. Even when you use police (who clearly have a vital function to perform), a social architecture approach makes a critical difference.

Communities that have returned to beat police, patrolling on foot the communities they live in, find it much more effective than what seems like the modern, efficient way of doing things, which is to have teams covering large areas in patrol cars. It turns out not only to improve community relations, it turns out not only to reduce crime, it turns out not only to change the dynamic from the people vs the police, to the people and the police working together---but it turns out to be less expensive, too.

This is an example of using what I call social architecture - and, in this case, it doesn't involve changing physical space at all.

56.

These games work the same in every nation and culture, from Korea to China to India to Europe to the US.

I guess there is a fundamental difference of perspective here, which may not be spannable.

You think MMOs work just fine, and look at the market evidence as proof.

I look at the billion people online, vs the several million in MMOs, and I look at the fact that everyone on the planet has played with their peers at some point pretending to be something else, vs the majority of people I know who would not be caught dead (irony intended) in today's MMOs;

I look at the main topic of discussion at meetings of MMO developers, the main concern of the money people,
the main concern of players, which is cheaters, hackers, griefers, and other undesirable behavior by tiny minorities that, because of poor social architecture, ruins the experience of millions of others;

I look at the generally antagonistic relationship players have with MMO developers;

I look at the potential vs the reality, and, to me, it doesn't work at all.

And so, I try to figure out, how can we make it better? Because, I do not think we should be fat and satisfied with what we have.

And all the solutions I hear discussed are along a single axis--one which has not proven to be the best answer in any arena of human endeavor, online or off; and, at the same time, a wealth of knowledge, understanding and insight into human behavior- online and off- which has solved similar or at least parallel problems in other social environments - *online and off* - is almost completely ignored in this industry - and I think to myself, why aren't smart, talented, experienced people getting the message?

People say that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

In my experience, by that definition, the MMO industry, if it were a single person, would be diagnosed as clinically insane.

I believe that there are better answers, and so, I feel a responsibility to share them with others.

I really am not here to "win" any arguments. I'm not here to "convert" anyone. I spent years within the commercial game industry, beating my head against the wall. Even when we produced a real demonstration of how social architecture is superior to code-wars in dealing with anti-social behavior, the lessons learned largely fell on deaf ears. So, I opted out of the competitive, proprietary rat-race and choose instead to gift my work and my knowledge and my (non-profit) organization's developments to the public (by our charter, we are bound forever to release all code, content, tools, technologies, knowledge to the public--free for non-commercial use, licenseable for commercial use so we can fund our charitable work).

I'm here to share what I know, and to benefit from people's reactions and comments and insight in response to what I think, and to enjoy a thoughtful, diverse community. That is what community is all about.

It seems to me common sense to want to design games that exploit the constructive dynamics that make places like this work, and to avoid the destructive dynamics that make other communities so onerous, unpleasant, and expensive to maintain. Just common sense.

57.

**Quoted out of order, FYI.

> Look at how you are approaching my
> contribution - either I am right, or others are
> right, rather than looking to see whether there
> is a synthesis possible that expands the
> original viewpoint.

Insisting that a social theory match observable behavior is hardly a binary approach in my opinion. I haven't once proclaimed anyone "right" or "wrong"; such terms have no referent and imply a moral stance. I am much more concerned with whether a given statement conforms to the existing data. If it doesn't, it is demonstrably false and there isn't much synthesis possible (or desirable).

> Rather, I argue, social architecture ... is a
> major factor influencing group behavior, and it
> is largely not factored in to game design in
> general, and specifically as a way of dealing
> with undesirable behavior.

I would agree with this. However, I think the logic behind the current model in use by developers is that players do not start from a ground state socially; they already have a pre-existing code of social behavior which they bring with them to the game.

Real-world societies have the luxury of teaching their standards of acceptable behavior to 'blank slates' (i.e., children). Virtual societies are dealing with the equivalent of adult immigrants, who will be more or less socialized to the extent that they are willing to reconsider their existing notions of social behavior. As recent events in Europe have shown, environmental incentives only go so far towards motivating people to accept acculturation even in the real world.

Further, game developers have no desire to develop an entire social system; that is far beyond the scope of an entertainment device. Even if they did, people who are already members of an existing society will most likely not accept the new behavioral meme, leading to rejection of the game. Because of this likelihood of failure, developers accept as given that people will bring modes of behavior to their games already formed by previous virtual interactions. All the developers are doing is acting as the "virtual government", using "police" to keep "illegal" activity to some arbitrarily defined level of acceptability.

As an example, let's consider WoW. Blizzard empowers the community to police itself, through GM tickets and reporting mechanisms. Players use these tools and accomplish some internal policing, but the tools themselves and the players using them are often disparaged. They have stated that they do not have the resources to institute a "beat cop" approach, since the cost of employing additional GMs has been deemed prohibitive. What suggestion could you make to Blizzard on how to re-engineer their game to make cheating less prevalent using the social architecture model you are proposing?

58.

> I'm here to share what I know, and to benefit
> from people's reactions and comments and
> insight in response to what I think, and to
> enjoy a thoughtful, diverse community. That is
> what community is all about.

Same here, and I'm enjoying the debate :) If I didn't think you had really interesting ideas, I wouldn't ever have posted.

59.

game developers have no desire to develop an entire social system; that is far beyond the scope of an entertainment device. Even if they did, people who are already members of an existing society will most likely not accept the new behavioral meme, leading to rejection of the game.

Ah! I believe you have hit on the crux of the matter.

1) MMO developer *ARE*, whether they "want" to or not, developing entire social systems. That is precisely the point. The social dynamics will develop whether you plan for them or not. Better to plan for them, I think.

It's like saying a bridge architect doesn't want to plan for the potentially catastrophic effects of wind-pulse resonance. Wind happens, whether you want it to or not. Smart design is anticipatory design.

It is cheaper, and better serving, to think ahead than to try to fix later.

2) Actually, empirically, people are much more socially maleable than you seem to imply. They most definitely *will* modify their behavior, sometimes drastically (in what are called "cascades"), in response to cues and norms from both the society they are a part of and their environment.

If you don't design for the best, you are likely to get the worst.

Spending money and resources patching up what is broken is sometimes necessary, particularly when we are pioneering new areas of human interaction every day. However, spending money and resources patching up stuff that could have been built correctly from the beginning is not the smartest way to work.

Blizzard empowers the community to police itself, through GM tickets and reporting mechanisms.

I guess one of the problems we are having in this discussion is that you tend to rigidly and narrowly apply everything I say, while I am trying to communicate underlying principles through analogy and metaphor. Thus, you seem to think literally that I am suggesting "beat police" for MMOs. The point I was making there was that a change in social design can change results. I introduced the example to compensate for the over-literal discussion about park design, where people interpreted that as if I were strictly talking about how you lay out the map in an MMO. There, I was talking about how strategies that facilitate certain behavior and inhibit other behavior can be a useful tool, even a superior tool, to using police-state tactics to combat crime.

The problem I am having with the discussion is that, rather than focus on the underlying point, which could be useful to solving problems with cheating in games, you seem determined to prove that I am wrong about designing benches in UO and putting beat cops in WOW--when that is not what I am talking about in the first place.

GM tickets and reporting mechanisms are not "empowerment"; they are merely tools that, if unsupported by community culture and norms and a fundamentally different social architecture, indeed an entirely different developer mindset, don't mean much.

One possible conclusion is the one you draw, that people basically just suck. It is the prevailing view I experience among game developers.

Another possible conclusion to draw is that the tools used are being misused, or that they are the wrong tools.

If you persist in using a hammer to cut jello, you may conclude that jello can't be cut.

Or, you might be using the wrong tool for the job.

60.

Very good posts Galiel and iamblichos. I think David is exactly right -- with the exception of the fact that I haven't given up on the commercial sector. :)

iamblichos said, game developers have no desire to develop an entire social system; that is far beyond the scope of an entertainment device.

That may be, but it's short-sighted and hints of hanging on to old box-game methods rather than recognizing MMOGs as persistent services. MMOGs can last for years and should be designed for that. Given this, social systems in them can either be designed-in (either wholly or in building-block form) or they'll emerge on their own. The difference between these is the difference between planting certain seeds in a prepared garden plot on the one hand and just seeing what will spring up out of bare ground on the other. (I see I'm nearly echoing Galiel's words that he posted while I was writing this.)

Players will evolve their own social norms, and in many ways these have little to do with pre-existing physical world social systems. The question is, are developers willing and able to design at the level of preparing and integrating social systems, or do they just let the weeds grow on their own while they focus on how much DPS their monsters do?

61.

As usual, Mike manages to cleanly articulate what I was trying to say, only in many fewer words.

I would just add that anticipatory social design is not just another choice: it is less expensive, in every sense of the word, than fighting a rear-battle against "weeds".

(even there, to extend the garden analogy, one can choose to defend a monoculture by keep hitting the weeds with more and more potent herbicides, as they continue to develop immunities, or one can plan the garden to have natural defences and artificial devices that inhibit weeds' growth. There will always be weeds, but they don't have to consume so much of the farmer's time and resources.)

62.

Anonymity isn't the problem. Accountability is. The assumption that anonymity is a problem, presumes that people are only accountable when they are afraid of getting caught.

Something like that, yes. In an online environment, you can take away a player's character. You can also take away any other characters that that player used the same credit card on. Even doing the latter, you'll often, for example, ban a parent or sibling's account for the jackass behavior of one bad seed family member.

All the same, if the player is willing to walk away from a character, he can be very disruptive, because he doesn't care if he is banned or his character deleted. Ironically, the levels and stuff that you think causes problems actually slows them down - players tend to cause mischief with low level characters with little personal investment of time, so they won't care if they get caught. In general, people don't want to lose their level 60 maxed out character - unless they are leaving the game in a blaze of glory, in which case, again, they don't care about being held accountable.

It is not like you solved the problem in your own games, despite claiming to know "the best solution" and "the best way to run these things".

This is much akin to saying that crime in New York City is not 'solved', despite the fact that it's at an all-time low, and therefore we should disband the police. We as developers talk about enforcement because it's a huge part of our daily experience, but the real measure is the percieved level of mischief by the players. In most well-run games, such mischief is a rare occurance. Just as in NYC, crime is now considered a rare occurrance. Still, the police think about it on a daily basis.

On the other hand, this blog system we are using woefully neglects the underpinnings supporting pseudonymity. I could post as "Damion Schubert" and Damion could post as "galiel", and neither of us could map to the real people using those names...Of course, this, too, is an already solved problem in these kind of communities--solved through design. But interesting that it isn't the kind of problem here, at least as of this moment, as it could be. Might there be a lesson here about social architecture, which might be applicable to game environments? How does the Broken Window theory (at least the distorted, paternal version you presented, which does not do the theory justice) apply here?

Claiming that blogs have it licked based on pure design is... inaccurate. As someone who runs a blog, I spend a significant amount of time each day dealing with blog spam, from people who take advantage of the complete lack of a persistent identity. I also have had to ban IPs from jerks, verify the identities of people who were particularly snarky, delete completely inappropriate content and send stern warnings to people who go too far into the realm of personal attacks. And I have a relatively small, entirely polite little community on my site.

The Broken Windows model applies on my site because, for the most part, the people reading my blog don't realize that these things are going on behind the scenes. As far as they're concerned, the site is a place for healthy and interesting debate largely because I put a lot of effort into maintaining the tone on the site, and not letting it devolve into total chaos. Other than the comments spam, it's not a lot of work, but it most certainly does take some. But there are a lot of bloggers out of there who stopped allowing commentary, made their blogs private-only, or quit blogging altogether because managing the community that read their blog proved to be overwhelming.

People react quite strongly to their environments. The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of many examples that prove that. But in reacting to their environments, people will react most strongly and most negatively to people who make them uncomfortable.

I note that you used Central Park as an example of great park design, but you failed to note that in the early 90s when crime in New York was peaking, CP had a reputation as an exceedingly dangerous place, especially for women alone and especially at night. High profile crimes such as the Central Park Jogger were contributors to this. Nowadays, Central Park is considered one of the safest urban parks in the world, provided you use common sense. What changed? How the park was policed, and people's awareness of that effort.

I look at the main topic of discussion at meetings of MMO developers, the main concern of the money people, the main concern of players, which is cheaters, hackers, griefers, and other undesirable behavior by tiny minorities that, because of poor social architecture, ruins the experience of millions of others;

In a well-run game, cheaters, hackers and griefers are little more than an occasional data blip for most players. I actually didn't run into any while playing WoW, CoH or SWG, and I confess to playing all three nearly obsessively. If I hadn't read the boards outside of WoW (and most players don't), I'd never have known these problems existed. Still, problem children can be magnified and blown out of proportion by perception and visibility.

About a year or two after the launch of UO, the general perception was that red-named player killers were an omnipresent problem, and if you asked players, they'd say that something like 10-20% of the players were wandering the world, killing everything that moved. When the team did metrics, that number turned out to be something like 1.5%. The actions of that tiny percentage were amplified by the community (and to be fair, that 1.5% was very, very, very, very efficient at what they did). Now, UO's design was not without it's flaws, but if you are running any community and only 1.5% of your people are being problems while the other 98.5% of your community are playing it as designed and having fun... maybe redesigning the whole damn thing from the ground up isn't the best way to go.

All of the above being said, I completely agree that there are lessons in game design to be gleaned from all manners of social spaces, including parks (I've actually submitted a GDC talk similar in theme), and I also completely agree that more designers should pay more attention to fields outside their normal purview, especially psychology and sociology. But a lot of good lessons have been learned by those who have attempted to do these before, and many of these games handle these issues very successfully.

63.

> I guess one of the problems we are having in
> this discussion is that you tend to rigidly and
> narrowly apply everything I say, while I am
> trying to communicate underlying principles
> through analogy and metaphor.

When I use your analogy and extend it, I think it's safe to say I understand it. I'm not "rigidly and narrowly applying everything [you] say", what I'm trying to do is to get a concrete example. You seem unwilling to give me one. General ideas and concepts are great, but unless they can be applied in the real world to real-world problems they are (to put it nicely) of extremely limited utility.

I think the real problem is that you expect me to play along with your metaphors but won't extend me the same courtesy. When I question your theory by citing a real-world scenario which would indicate that it might not work, you proclaim me a literalist, a binary thinker, etc. etc. You still haven't given me any concrete examples of what you're talking about in terms of game design. I asked about WoW to draw on an existing model that people may be familiar with to see what you would change - I want to understand how these concepts could be applied in an existing gameworld. Instead, I get ad hominem attacks, which don't prove anything other than that you don't find your statements particularly defensible. If this is something that can make games better in the real world, I'm all for it; if this is a long drawn-out "wouldn't it be nice if..." I have no interest.

I'll ask again... how would you design a game like WoW to reflect the social engineering theory you are proposing? How would those changes reduce or eliminate cheats, hacks, etc.?

64.

> In a well-run game, cheaters, hackers and
> griefers are little more than an occasional
> data blip for most players.

I agree completely; there is far more of a problem on my WoW server with professional farmers in places like Tyr's Hand and Azshara than there is with cheaters and mad H4xX0rZ. As you also note, I wouldn't know about much of what goes on without the forums, which are the breeding ground for 95%+ of the drama in WoW. :)

In my opinion, Blizzard has far more of a public relations nightmare if they don't get their servers stabilized than they ever will for cheaters and anti-social people.

65.

Jumping in again (darn day job!)....

I like galiel's posts. They are insightful, opinionated, bold, annoying, disruptive, rational, and unrealistic, and often all in the same sentence. Great stuff, and TN profits from the intellectual kick in the pants.

On this particular topic, I'm badly conflicted: I think galiel comes to the right conclusion (in my words: "good design prevents bad behavior"), but I disagree with most of the social arguments advanced to support that conclusion.

Examples: The "Broken Windows" theory appears to be effective both descriptively and prescriptively; anonymity certainly is a key problem in any modern society, whether real or virtual, and is not as common in working social systems as claimed; the Mall in D.C. is very nice when the sun is shining, but you take your life in your hands to wander through it by yourself at night (and its side areas are not perfectly safe even in broad daylight); humans are not infinitely malleable by their environment -- some people will maltreat a park no matter how cleverly you design it. And so on.

My personal disagreements with all these "human nature" conclusions would, for me, impeach galiel's conclusion that design is a proper response to bad behavior in MMOGs... if there weren't a different way to reach that same conclusion that doesn't depend on understanding human nature.

[digression on human nature and gameplay follows]

At the risk of being accused of binary thinking *g*, writers I respect have suggested that there are two great views of human nature:

1. The "tragic" view: Humans are inherently flawed, and unless persuaded or forced to restrict their actions, they will engage in socially unacceptable behavior. (This is also the point of view held by most religions throughout recorded history. Christianity may be a popular target these days, but it hardly deserves to be singled out for a belief shared with many other religions.)

2. The "utopian" view: Humans are inherently good, and unless environmental factors restrict their actions, they will engage in socially acceptable behavior.

I won't try to change anyone's mind about which of these they feel is the more accurate worldview. What I would like to point out is that your worldview will dramatically affect the kind of game you build, as well as how you'll prefer to change an existing game to try to fix behavioral problems.

If you think people are basically good but life screws them up, then you'll probably believe that bad player behavior is your fault for not having produced a design with enough social capabilities to allow players to choose to do the right things.

If you think that most people will choose to hose each other if given a chance, then your inclination will probably be to restrict behavior by tweaking code to remove or alter capabilities.

In short, the utopian will probably think that bad behavior is inherently a design problem, while the tragedian (maybe "realist" would be a better word) will probably think that bad behavior is inherently a code problem.

[digression on human nature and gameplay thankfully over]

My thesis is that deciding where to change a virtual world to minimize abusive behavior isn't primarily a social or "human nature" problem -- it's a cost/benefit problem, within which social costs are just one kind of cost. In that light, I'd like to reword my original suggestion.

There are several ways/places a developer can change a game to mitigate bad behavior. Current MMOG technology is that "the game" consists of some code and data on a server, and some code and data on multiple clients.

So if you're breaking down where changes to gameplay can be made, your options are:

1. code/data changes on the client
2. code/data changes on the server
3. redesign (code/data changes on both server and client)

(Note: There's also the view that "the game" includes player data, actions, and beliefs. This suggests a fourth place where you could change a game: "soft" changes made in-game through CSRs and player norms. However, not everyone agrees that this level is truly part of a virtual world. So rather than start up that discussion again, I'd rather table it for now.)

Seen in this light, the decision of which approach to prefer comes down to one of value. Between changing server code, changing client code, and changing the design, which should a developer prefer to try first in order to get the most bang for the buck?

Unless I'm utterly mistaken (a condition I'm sure won't last long around here!), the hierarchy of value is: design > server > client. In other words, try changing the design first if you can afford it; if that's too expensive or doesn't return sufficiently powerful results, try changing the server code; if that's too expensive or not productive enough, then you're stuck with changing the client.

Let's consider server vs. client first. Changing server code seems more desirable than changing client code because doing it on the server keeps your costs down:

* more secure (harder to hack server code)
* more robust (server hardware is simple/constant)
* no additional data transfer (usually)
* no patches to download
* no additional processing demands on client
* no PR questions of "invasiveness" or privacy

Changing server code can be more expensive in terms of money than changing client code because good server programmers are less common and therefore demand higher salaries. But if you're already carrying server programmers on staff, then they're already being paid... and if you're running a one-person operation, then you're already soaking up that financial cost.

It's the question of redesign versus changing server code that's tricky. Changing a design is more likely to give you order-of-magnitude benefits, and sometimes it's the only way to solve a metaproblem. But because it usually requires deep (and painful) thought as well as complex and time-consuming changes to both server and client code, it's also very expensive to develop, and very expensive to impose on players who rarely like big changes.

Sometimes (perhaps more often than we think) a redesign is the right answer because over the long run you're going to get back more than you spend. But that's often a hard case to make when you're spending someone else's money. (The usual argument over short-term versus long-term thinking applies here.) That leaves changing server code as the next most preferable approach.

And if that's not the right answer for whatever reason, then -- and only then -- should you turn to the client for changes, because that's also expensive for the reasons enumerated above.

Which is why I resist just answering Jessica's question directly. Why try to figure out the best way to minimize some cost (such as client code that upsets players) if that cost can be avoided completely by innovative thinking applied elsewhere (like, to the design or the server)?

Do it through design if you can. Do it on the server if you can't redesign it. Do it on the client if neither redesign nor server changes are appropriate.

Of course if there's some part of this reasoning that's demonstrably wrong, I'd appreciate having that pointed out. Differences of opinion are welcome, too, but I get to argue with you about those. *g*

--Bart

66.

Great post by Bart. Just two (uncharacteristically brief) comments:

1. Regardless of your conclusions about *what* to do, a key point you expose is that there are underlying belief systems (what I have called cultural biases) that drive approaches to both design and remediation.

Which seems to lend weight to the suspicion that design might be better if it were more driven by empiricism rather than dogma, and motivated by a respect for what player's actually think, rather than what designers think they should think.

Thus, for example, one would not claim, as someone here just did, that one solved a community's perception that they have a serious problem by redefining "problem" and reinterpreting statistics to say, "no, you really don't".

2. The issue is not only, or even primarily, how to fix what is already broken - that is, the problem is not just a choice between redesign, server or client.

A far more critical factor is *anticipatory design*--designing our games in the first place in ways that take into account the human factor, and that create affordances for both players and developers to address human social issues.

Much of my argument has talked about the economy of anticipating problems. No one here would question for a second the wisdom of that kind of strategy with regard to release code (for example, anticipating scalability or vulnerability to DoS attacks); yet few seem to think it is worth bothering with when it comes to game design (and, most specifically, what I call social architecture, which describes the deliberate design of systems--all systems, environmental, governmental, cultural, etc.--with consideration to and anticipation of their social impact on the game community and its group dynamics and behavior norms.)

To which I would, finally, add Mike's point and take it further: there is no neutral design. He says, if you don't tend your garden, weeds will grow anyway. I add, since, in MMOs, we are the designers of the soil, the sunlight, the rain, the nutrients in the ground, etc., our design choices may actually, without our awareness, create conditions that actually favor weeds and inhibit gardens - or, at least, make it prohibitively expensive and tiring to artificially prop up our monocultures.

Smart, anticipatory design can solve many of these problems far less expensively than even redesign.

But, like in any problem-solving arena, one cannot solve problems unless one a) acknowledges them, and B) takes responsibility for them.

67.

Damion, on his blog, cites, approvingly, a talk given by Will Leverett and Rob Simpson of NCSoft about the "ins and outs of running the service side of MMOs".

Here is a quote from the transcript Damion links to, over at Damned Vulpine:

MMOGs are different, and the way they're set up affects how players will behave, and as Rob and Will pointed out, misbehave. Rob put the finest point on it -- player conflict relates directly to how much players will break the rules. "Conflict makes support harder," Will said. For example, in Lineage 2, where the entire game is hardcore player-on-player, guild-on-guild conflict, the instances of harassment and account hacking are much greater than in City of Heroes, where most of the in-game conflict is with monsters not controlled by players. Some players will cheat in any sort of MMOG, Will said, but when the name of the game is competition, the unfairness is more recognizable.

Is that not a validation of my point about the effect game design has on player behavior?

68.

Jonathan Rowe on Garret Hardin and William H. Whyte "Build it and they will sit"

http://onthecommons.org/node/655

From the article:

Whyte had a knack for registering the obvious and drawing the implications from it. A central question of his work was this: What distinguishes the public spaces people use from the ones they don’t? What makes a park or plaza work? For all the money expended on such spaces, apparently few had sought to answer that question in an empirical and systematic way.

Instead people had addressed it in an a priori manner, from assumptions about human nature rather than from actual observation of people. Sort of the way Garrett Hardin did the commons. “It is difficult to design a space that will not attract people,” Whyte wrote. “What is remarkable is how often this has been accomplished.” The tragedy was not in the concept of the commons, but in crummy ways of implementing it.

At first Whyte thought the crucial factor might be sunlight, or shape, or the amount of space. But none of those seemed to matter much. The architectural design, such a point of pride, pomposity and expense, seemed to matter hardly at all. People really don’t care what the architecture critic of the Times thinks about a space. What they do care about is places to sit.

They especially like steps and ledges, as opposed to chairs and benches. It’s the front stoop effect: there is something about a surface that appears to be for something else, that is especially inviting. Perhaps we like to improvise and adapt, as opposed to playing the role that architects assign to us in drawings. We do sit on chairs and benches too of course. Whyte found that people like ones they can move around, so they can create their own groups, or sit apart a bit and read.

Yet plazas often are designed with ledges that are too narrow to sit on, or too cluttered with ornamentation. The designers seem to think people want to admire their aesthetic accomplishments, as opposed to sit comfortably and have some lunch. “The human backside,” Whyte said, “is a dimension architects seem to have forgotten.”

69.

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