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Fixing Online Gaming Idiocy: A Psychological Approach

April 2, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

[In this in-depth article, Fulton discusses why "the online behavior of our customers is dramatically reducing our sales", referencing his social design on Microsoft's Shadowrun to explain how we can dissuade anonymous Internet gamers.

Warning: This article uses language inappropriate for a professional website. Unfortunately, the language used is far less offensive than what is commonly encountered in online gaming.]

Some gamers are fuckwads

Of all the ways I spend my free time, playing games online is the only one I would describe as "frequently barbaric". Insults of all kinds, including racist and homophobic slurs, are commonplace.

The women I know who play online avoid anything that would identify them as female -- including voice communication -- in order to avoid the unwanted, and frequently negative, attention.

And that's just how players are intentionally insulting -- what some people do while playing online can also be aggravating.

Cheating, team-killing, entering a game but not playing, quitting before the game is over, and more, are all relatively common. Common enough that it was deemed worthy of a Penny Arcade comic, speculating about why normal people become fuckwads online.


Image courtesy of Penny Arcade

So what?

Why do I care? Some gamers might be thinking "If he's so thin-skinned that he can't take the online banter, maybe he shouldn’t play online." Unfortunately, many people do just that -- they stop playing online.

Even more gamers go online a few times and then never play again. This isn't just my personal speculation; I have seen convincing data from two different sources that the biggest problem with online gaming is the behavior of others. The biggest problem isn't the cost; it isn't connectivity issues, or even the quality of the games -- it is how people are fuckwads online.

To make this concrete, here's a thought experiment for you: imagine you go to a new restaurant, and decide to try the meatloaf. A big guy at the next table overhears you, looks at you, and yells: "Meatloaf? What kinda newb are you? Hey everybody, this r-tard just ordered the meatloaf!

God, I'm glad you're not at my table." Laughter breaks out at the tables around you, as they crane their heads to look at the newb. The restaurant staff is nowhere to be found, and you're not entirely certain they'd do anything anyway -- you can tell this is normal behavior at this place. How good or cheap would the food have to be to get you to go back there? Who would you bring there? The vast majority of the world population wouldn't go back there, and would warn everyone they knew to avoid it.

So again, why do I care? Because the online behavior of our customers is dramatically reducing our sales, and continues to stunt the growth of our industry. Non-gamers simply don’t love games enough to put up with the crap they get online. The reason they would consider playing online is to have fun with other people -- and right now, playing games online with strangers rarely delivers that for anyone outside the hardcore demographic.

Are these problems even solvable?

Short answer: yes. Social environments and culture can be designed. Just like good game design creates fun gameplay, good social design creates fun social experiences. Unfortunately, online games seem to have allocated very few resources to designing the social environment.

But honestly, I don't believe that resource constraints are the source of the problem -- I think that most people don’t believe that social problems can be solved. A common belief that I’ve heard used as justification for not addressing the social environment of games is that "jerks will be jerks". Essentially, many people believe that:

    1. Behavior is determined by personality, and

    2. You can’t change people’s personality

While I (mostly) agree with the second point, it is moot because the first point has been consistently contradicted by 60 years of social psychological research. Human behavior is complex and determined by many factors.

Personality is certainly one factor, but it is a surprisingly small factor. The largest determinant of behavior is the perceived social environment. This is the good news, because both the social environment and the perception of it can be controlled.

But me just saying that I disagree with a belief isn’t an argument; some proof is in order. Evidence about the effect of the social environment on behavior comes from two main sources: real-world observation and academic studies from social psychology.

(Although perhaps I should add "cartoonists" to those two sources. The Penny Arcade comic showing a normal person becoming a total fuckwad when in multiplayer gaming situation -- anonymous, with an audience -- was pretty accurate, if a bit simplified.)


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Comments


Liz Canacari-Rose
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I think the changes that were made in Shadowrun definitely show promise for changing the social environments in online FPS games, whether team-based or not.

I love playing FPS', but I rarely take my game online. It's not that I am a complete newb or that I am female. I know I am just not that good at them which instantiates another level of 'fuckwadism', similar to the 'newb-attack' syndrome. On two sides. If you are playing teams, well the team dislikes you and if its not team-based, then you're tagged as a newb or just lame. Or it could be both sides all at the same time all with the shame that you could better at the game with as much as you play. *hangs head*



I think MMO's have a different social environment, not only because they focus on the social and grouping aspect but many people start playing MMO's with people they know, co-workers, friends, family. They're connected to people in real life through it and they invest a little of themselves into their characters, making it a little less anonymous. I think the anonymity of being behind a generic model spikes the ability to turn into a jerk. Like trollers on forums that just make a fake account to troll. It's generic and can easily be dropped if things get too hot in the kitchen. There isn't an amount of time or, possibly, emotion put into creating their persona.



My 2 cents.

Edward Hunter
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There are always options in dealing with player 'fuckwadism' in online games. The key mitigating factor is GM or host presence in games, and in games where the going in investment in ensuring a robust staff presence has been thought out and well executed, players have a more contained environment in which to interact.



A great example of this is the text game DragonRealms, by Simutronics. Now over 10 years in play, this game is one of the only online environments featuring both a broad sense of player freedoms (PvP is nearly always an option, players can steal from each other) as well as an intensely protected role play environment and justice system.



How does it work? Simply, the makers of the game recruit talented players from inside the game and promote them to hosts. They also build systems into the game that monitor communication and provide GM's with system wide flags for offensive language or behavior.



There are a lot of other examples that could be given here, but the key really is planning systems and headcounts within any game to make sure that the environment remains a healthy one for all players. Players who offend the basic TOS are banned, not by account name, but by billing CC, home address, last name, etc.



Profits declining because of player departures? Remember, online games are not an open space where anything is possible, they are foundries for the players imagination, but must be tightly controlled and this concept must be as important as any other content driver in an online game.



Thats my two gold.

Jane Fleck
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It's about time we start designing games that foster social values within gameplay. That's what we're trying to do with our new pony game.



Check out www.clubponypals.com for more info.

Anonymous
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I really agree with the article whole heartedly and think that some of these ideas are good and some not so good. I almost wonder if the reason why people are so hostile online is in a way they are trying to keep the community "hardcore"? In other words they are trying to make the games appealing only to people who are dedicated to playing. I personally really get a lot of joy out of beating people who talk trash before the game. They tend to be quiet after. It fuels my fire to say the least makes me want to play harder. But, not everyone is as experienced and it is a barrier to entry for sure. I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but I don't use fowl language.



I want more people to play so there will be more games. Pretty much that is the point of the article. That is why I agree. My point is in short is the community harsh to keep it an elitist almost private community?

Elsa Kelsey
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Different online games seem to have very different online communities. As a female who uses voice chat I can say that I've never had problems playing Resistance or UT3 online, rarely have problems with Warhawk... but other female gamers comments have made me stay away from the COD4 online component.



I think that the developer involvement with the online community plays some role... in both Warhawk and Resistance there are online anonymous arbiters - their presence seems to keep cheating/glitching and also online bullying to a reasonable and acceptable level. An arbiter can be in most any game and stats can be wiped for those breaking the "rules" set by the developers. Additionally the forum community plays a big role. Some games develop a following with an active community where "fuckwads" can be publicly called out for their behavior and ostracized by the the gaming community... a risk many are not willing to make.



I do agree that there are certainly things that developers can do to encourage a fun online experience - but in addition to the mechanics of gameplay it may also require direct involvement with both the game and gaming community after the game is released.

Jeff Zugale
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It might be a good idea in some games to institute some kind of auto-handicapping system, rather than a manual one or none at all, to help newbs and players who either just aren't as skilled as others or just don't get to play that much - like me.



I love playing Halo multiplayer. My problem is that I get to do it about once a month, so my rank stays down around 1 or 2 on the scale, while almost everyone else seems to be 10+, 20+... way way more gametime than I have. Since there seem to be very very few players at low level online, I always seem to wind up in a game with other players that I simply can't compete effectively against. Sometimes I get a few plasma-grenade-sticker kills, but generally I wind up just getting slaughtered.



In a team game, I wind up feeling useless and the rest of the team is usually quite unhappy with me. On occasions where I'm playing with random people I don't know, I've been team-fragged and kicked for this, and even when playing with friends it becomes a problem, as many of my Halo friends are hyper-competitive people (in all parts of life, heh).



I'd hazard a guess that when it comes to Halo online, the above are reasons why there's not too many low-rank players anymore. These things have made me play Halo online a lot less than I would even when I have the time; I've switched mostly over to playing Wii games during my small allotment of gaming hours.



I'd like to see some sort of auto-handicap that helps low-ranked players out, by doing things like beefing up their defenses, making their weapons more effective and/or accurate, possibly even speeding up their move rate, in proportion to the difference between them and the higher-ranked players. I'm not talking about total parity, but something to at least give them a fighting chance, and even give the player an incentive to concentrate on improving their skills thru practice.



Such a system could adjust as a player's skills improve; the more kills they get, the less help they get. It could track weapon accuracy, in terms of both "assisted" and "what it would have been unassisted," and as the latter gets better, reduce the assistance and the damage done by each shot.



If it's done well, it could be completely invisible to all players, and even geared in a way that less-skilled players would be "trained" by the system to get better over time.



In any event, you'd be able to have a lot more "casual" type players get into the game and have fun, and cut down on one source of in-game social problems.

Aaron Karp
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Things like arbiters can certainly be effective in combating poor behavior online, but as punitive measures, they have to allow the offenses to happen before they can be employed. These will always be necessary, but I think we're also seeing the need for proactive measures as well. With the rise of centralized multiplayer systems like XBox Live, Playstation Network, and the community features of Steam, single points of responsibility start to emerge. In more traditional multiplayer setups, anyone can start a server and apply their own ideas of what's acceptable (or not apply them, as the case may be). Standards of behavior could vary wildly from server to server, and even on servers with explicitly stated rules, enforcement of those rules might be non-existent. In the newer centralized model, a central governing body exists (or should exist), and that body has the ability and the right/responsibility to define and enforce community-wide standards of behavior and etiquette. The enforcement would still fall to arbiters and in-game voting/warning/reporting, but the definition and propagation of universal standards on the front end may be just as important. The vast majority of people playing are not offensive, and I'd wager that a pretty significant number of the non-offensive players would prefer to see the offensive antics come to an end. Some of them use the in-game tools to work against the jerks, but many don't know the tools exist or don't want to use them, either because they don't want to put in the time or because they worry about reprisals. Front-loading information about the availability of the tools and situations that merit their use could help create an environment in which the offended feel empowered and the offenders feel cowed. While I certainly wouldn't say that race relations in the United States are perfect or that we've stomped out prejudice and offensive speech, we have seen a marked decrease in the social acceptability of open displays of racism. Bigots know that in most polite company, their tirades will typically be regarded as impolite, backward, and the product of a small mind. Companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Valve have platforms from which they could propagate the same ideas in the online game community. I'd like to see them use the advertising and messaging systems built into their systems to do so.

Dave McNeal
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Thank you for writing this article. I usually take the stance that I'll design the crack but I won't use it. However, I do enjoy first person shooters quite a bit and when I received a 360 as a Christmas present I was finally looking forward to getting a little Halo 3 action in. So I login and from the get go it was completely nuts. I don't mind a little trash talking but this was just waaaay over the top. Before the game even starts in the lobby people are just competing to see which idiot can scream the loudest. There is a reason my friends list on xbox live consists of only 4 people. Two of them I know and the other two are decent, respectable players who were "all business" and exhibited maturity. All I can say is thank god for Mass Effect because I can get the all-immersive action I crave minus the fuckwads.

Brighton gardiner
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I completely agree, one issue that seems to be a source of "jerkness" is the values associated with gaming.

When Skill or rewards are on the line players tend to be much more harsh towards their opponents.

In some respects I admire CoD4 & Rainbow 6: Vegas 2 for rewarding the players for everything they do in real-time and regardless of outcome of any given match.



I always hold that Gaming is recreational and I would like to see that become more of a common value, instead of these overly competitive environments that catalyze cheating and hostility.

Ken Beyer
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I've been thinking about this for some time, I stopped playing online because of it and it seems to me that the closer you get to 'twitch' gaming the 'baser' the general attitudes and behavior of gamers becomes; "the culture of ownage" (as I like to call it) takes over and gets worse the more 'competitive' the play; I'm sure scientifically in that context it has something to do with the overuse of the 'lizard brain' (reflexes) that over stimulates 'lower' (I mean that in a derogatory sense) brain functionality in certain types of people so all you end up with are caveman like utterances that would be abusive if you knew what they were actually saying half the time. As always the few that spoil it for the many - "I didn't come here to chat noob".

Aaron Karp
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While I agree with the idea that more "twitch" play may lead to more aggressive overall behavior in the game, I've seen enough good sportsmanship in heated FPS battles to believe that it doesn't have to degenerate into what the article laments. I'm not against trash-talking - good-natured and respectful ribbing and goading can be a fun part of competition. At issue is the disrespect and obscenity, and those don't have to come in just because the player is having an adrenaline rush.



One of my fondest memories of online gaming came when a friend of mine, particularly skilled with submachine guns in one of the early PC incarnations of Medal of Honor, managed to take down the other team's scoring leader from sniping range with a well-placed burst. A moment later, the felled enemy typed out "Man, that was a nice kill. Good job." Reasonable people are out there.

Anonymous
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I'm glad you found a place to vent your anger and frustration about this topic.



It is amusing to see people who can't handle the online seen take it out on the real world.

John Petersen
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It would probably be helpful to stop bunching everyone up. Let adults play adults only if they choose to. Mixing every age group together just doesn't work out very often.

Allen Turner
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I agree that in game social design that promotes a more positive atmosphere is a step toward making the idea of online gaming more appealing to a wider range of people. We must also consider the effects of the metagame culture that we promote, and strive to ensure they are all working towards keeping all players in a given game in the same magic circle.



Shadowrun is a great example of these two things working against each other. While I enjoyed the game and the efforts that are detailed above to guide the player toward a particular social style, I think much of that was countered by the teabagging achievement. A game I was enjoying thoroughly was ruined for me the first time my character was taken out and some dude started squatting on my character's face I was aghast when I realized what he was doing. Gaah! That single achievement promoted more questionable behavior than I've seen in most of the games I've played. How many people would play football if you could teabag people you tackle? Wait. . . don't answer that. In any case, I heaved a heavy sigh and quit playing even though I knew that the majority of folks didn't engage in such puerility.



My overall problem with most of the online gaming is that it's like trying to bowl casually but everywhere you go it's league night. We often force people to play in an extreme manner by creating this situation. There aren't enough opportunities to play just for fun. There are more types of people out there besides introverted achievers. That's not to say that play style is bad, but it is to say that we need to start making more games and play environments that embrace other play types as valid.



I agree with Aaron Karp that a centralized community standards needs to be enforced, but many people do play games for the cathartic aggression that we're all seeing as problematic when unchecked. They should be allowed this freedom but those who don't want it should be able to opt out.



I think that centralized systems can be more preventative by increasing the number of play style options that a player can set in her random match preferences. Though this won't eliminate it, it may reduce the number of people who are wildly outside of a given individuals scope of the acceptable that they are forced to play with and reduce the number of complaints that monitors must adjudicate.



The other thing that I think that would help is a wider range of online multiplayer games. We should be seeing more cooperative games with a scope smaller than an MMO and with bite sized commitments so it's easy to jump in and out. We should also have more games where everyone plays towards a given goal but no necessarily directly against each other like the way bingo (which lots of older folks love btw) works. Variety gives possible players options so they don't feel like the only choice is playing hardcore vs not playing.

Sterling Reames
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I agree as well. However I don't think "fuckwads" are the main reason people stay away from online gaming. The entry skill for most online games is pretty brutal. Unless you're expecting to get your ass kicked for the next week to a couple months, it's not a fun process. Most hardcore gamers know there's a training phase with every new game. Newcomers come in expecting fun right off the bat, and it's hard to have fun when you die every 5 seconds. Then there's hackers, and that's when even the most veteran of gamers can get fed up.

Bill Fulton
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Hey folks,



There were some good comments here, but they tell me that I (sadly) seem to have failed to get my central point across.



Many of the comments here still talk about people like that's the way they always are and always will be; that's the *opposite* of my central point. "Jerks will be jerks" has been empirically disproved.



My point is that good social design can influence people to behave better. Even jerks and kids. Most people will conform to social norms, simply because life is easier that way.



But online gaming has given little thought to using social social design to control player behavior. Social norms are generally absent (EULAs don't count) and therefore are unsupported by features that would successfully reinforce them.



Oh, and check out today's the NPD report today--timing couldn't have been better. The last paragraph:



Said NPD analyst Anita Frazier, “Despite the buzz in the industry regarding online gaming, it is still relatively small compared to offline gaming. There is still a large, untapped market for gaming in general and online gaming in particular.”

Jeff Zugale
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Bill, I think many things that have been brought up in these comments are about more indirect sorts of social design change, about defusing potential "hey, I can be a jerk here!" situations before they happen.



Several besides myself have said right out that we would like to play online more, but some aspects of the social environment have turned us away, thus not only keeping the online audience from expanding, but actually shrinking the "ready-to-play" audience that already exists.



If there are ways to "invisibly" improve social design within a game's framework, that would be really helpful. I like the idea of being able to change abusive terms to "@#$%^" in chat... a way to modulate voices and "bleep" out abusive speech items might also work.



Censorship? Yeah maybe. But Xbox Live isn't a "public" service...



Your efforts on Shadowrun seem pretty effective and interesting. What other ideas do you have in mind for redesigning the social aspect of existing games?

John Petersen
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@ Bill



I'm an older gamer, and I used to play online pretty regular. Now I'm not online nearly as much. Part of the reason I'm backing away from playing online is because developers and service providers are trying to get me to play in a group as a group, with a group I don't really care to play with. And I really just want to do my own thing, but while online.



We need more freedom to play who we want and as individuals. While still being part of a group if we choose to.



The combining of age groups plays a bigger role in conflicts than many might think. But also allowing players to pick and choose from different types of of social enviroments based on Age, gender, hobbies, and lifestyle will greatly reduce many hardships new players face because it would be easier to find like minded players.



There was a forum thread somewhere that was talking about how much Team killing was ruining the game. And I started thinking... I just thought of a funny idea developers could implement into games for team killers.



If someone TK's, they get a bomb strapped to them, and the person or people who got tk'd get a detonator to to use whenever they want. Sort of like a revenge thing. And this bomb would carry over into other games. So anytime you go online to play and you have a detonator it would glow red indicating the offender was online and you could blow them up while they were in some other game... Maybe even make it so the players with the detonator could also tease the player with the bomb, by making it beep really loud and flash red giving away their position. But you could always detonate it.



Ha... yeah, that'd be cool and it would be a social design to control that one nuisance.

Anonymous
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Hmmm...CoD4 has none of the "social" engineering that Shadow Run had - yet is played on-line by over a million people a day...

I do agree that bad on-line behavior is an issue - but there are plenty of game design things that can be done to help with it - such as easy ways to mute all but your friends/team mates, etc. Unfortuntaley most games that have these features (My xbox live default is set to mute all but by friends) also have bad user-interfaces...

Basically - know your audience - design great gameplay for your audience - and design easy ways for players to control their on-line experience.

Allen Turner
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@Bill



I think we're all, for the most part, on the same page here. I come into game development from social service and youth work. One of the bits of social engineering there is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of intervention.



The more preventative measures you can instigate that are in effect before a player even gets into a game, the better. The chat feature and other bits you mention are an example of that. Many of the games oriented at a kid/family online experiences (Toon Town for example) work toward this. Any time I have to intervene, resources expended and/or redirected. The problem with having to intervene is that intervention isn't sustainable. You eventually hit a point where the cost of maintenance is so high that those in power to do so will eventually opt to cut and run and the bug you shined the light on just keeps moving around.



What I was trying to get across is that part of the problem is also that divergent play styles are being forced to play in the same playground. Part of the social engineering prevention is making a diverse enough range of playgrounds that the greasers, and the jocks, and the heathers, and the emo kids (or whatever your favorite urbane tribes are) all have somewhere to go and identify themselves. That makes their common ground more tolerable.



When they are forced to compete for space and attention, eventually, somebody will bring grief to someone else. At that point it doesn't matter how much you've restricted language or allowable behavior people because people will find ways to adapt what's allowable to express frustration and dole out grief. You get the rhyming slang equivalent that give people new ways to say I hate you. This doesn't presume that jerks will be jerks but that when struggling for space empty hands often become closed fists (if only for the briefest of moments) and once stung that many people will recoil permanently and spread the word. At that point you've already started to hemorrhage customers.



There was an old episode of the Smurfs that I remember as a kid where Gargamel got shrunk to Smurf size. The Smurfs seized the opportunity to return all the grief that he had heaped upon then. One of the Smurfs yelled "Hey it's Gargamel, let's "smurf" 'em up!" Though their language was restricted Gargamel, now the victim, knew exactly what they meant and so did I. Gargamel btw was a griefing fuckwad. The social engineering for Smurftown (or Xbox Live) worked for everyone but him (and that rat-bastard Jokey).



;)

Jeremy Hayes
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Bill:



I agree with most of what you've said except for the comment about WoW.



IMHO WoW has more "fuckwads" than any other game out there.

John Leffingwell
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Very interesting, insightful read. I liked the detailed explanation of how Shadowrun has attempted social design. I would have liked to have read more about other attempts. The tantalizing single paragraph devoted to World of Worldcraft, and devoid of content, was a let down. I'd like to know more about their approach given the enormous popularity of the game.

Anonymous
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Good article, but it could have used a bit more proofreading and citation. Forcing people to stand behind their words/actions online is key to keeping the people who don't want to deal with bullshit from just walking away.

Christine Chan
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It's true that in every community and every game, there will be rule breakers or annoying people. Like in team sports, there will be players who will fight with other players or try to cheat, dive, pretend to get hurt etc. Same with online games.



It's hard to monitor such a wide population of players online but I'm sure there has to be a better way to monitor player activity to prevent scammers, cheaters, grievers and clowns. Volunteer mods? More hired game keepers? More bug fixes? Stricter rules?



I'm not for the 'vote to kick' system in FPS games. I feel that if the person hosting the game doesn't like how a player is annoying other players, he has the right to remove that player from his hosted game. Sometimes you just have to be the boss and lay the smack down on idiot players. Sometimes this system can be abused, than you just join another game.



On N00bism: I do agree the issue with online MMOs is they expect you to know how to get around. Should there be 'guided tours' or a kind of 'noob helper' mentor admin to make noobs feel more comfortable? Maybe the noob helper is a game mod?



On exclusivity: My brother for one really disliked playing on some Neverwinter servers because of the 'type in character'

Because it's true, people start drifting away from online games because they don't like the experience they get from them. It's not necessarily the game's fault, it's sometimes the players, but yes, you can't change them. But I do believe laying down more laws and more ground rules can make the game enjoyable for everyone.

Ondrej Spanel
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The last game I played online was Dawn Of Aces, WWI plane simulator. It was a game which seemed to attracted mostly those valuing chivalry and noble behavior - there were voluntary instructors giving lessons of combat tactics ...

but then one day the game rules changed, to attact more people, there were introduced observation Zepellins, atrilery strikes, ... and the game went havoc.



Some lesson? Often it is the game design itself which decides what people will play it and how. When the game mechanics is about combat and killing, are you surprised the people are acting aggressive?

Gustav Seymore
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I have not read the full article yet, but I am very glad that an article about this has finally been writen. The attitude of players on uncontrolled portals and environemnts such as DotA on Bnet and most FPS's is horrid and even has me, a hardcore gamer, wanting to leave or see massive change. I must say that in a controlled environemnt such as WoW I have only had pleasent experiences. As a designer I will always try and create socially acceptable and behaviour improving online environments.



thanks for the article...

Devitt Upkins
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According to Penny Arcade's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, two things can change a person's personality; the perception of Anonymity and the perception of an audience. since we're talking about online games, the audience will always be there. However, we can do something about anonymity.



Anonymity brings with it a lack of accountability. Xbox Live and WoW both have persistent identities tied directly to you. In fact, on Xbox Live you are less anonymous since you can only have one gamertag per account. Yet WoW has the better experience.



Now GM intervention plays a big part in why WoW is more controlled that Halo 3/CoD4. But it is also due to the fact that in WoW, I play on the same server/Faction/Guild everyday and end up running into the same people every day. on Xbox Live the odds of me running into the same people day in and out are slim to none.



So I argue that instead of splitting the community into casual and hardcore, we should be keeping people together for longer periods in order for deeper social bonds to form.

Anonymous
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When registering, filter out all AOL addresses. That will take care of around half the idiots. Then record all conversations and bill USD 1 for every insult a player makes. That will take care of the rest.

Ernest Adams
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You've got their credit card number. I second the suggestion that online sites should impose cash fines, to which the player must agree as part of the terms of service.



Double the fine for each additional instance. It won't take long to get the message across.

Greg Houston
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I agree with his opinion in that MS needs to do something to improve the community. But I don't believe it is possible to stop the Jerks. I think there needs to be a way to separate the misbehaving jerks from the friendly players. For me, my concern is the language, not the way a person plays.



As my childern grow older, I am really upset that I cant let them play online because there is no way to join a game where foul language isn't allowed.



Sure it is possible to turn on "Family" settings and mute everyone, but then you are cut-off from the other matched up gamers. It becomes impossible to coordinate or execute a strategy. Voice communication is very important to making online play fun.



If the games can make matches based on skill, why don't they also match based on Zone (or something similar that *requires* the player to not be a foul-mouthed jerk)? I'd love to play Halo 3 or COD4 in a match with people who are going to be "friendly" players. I'd be willing to wait much longer for a match if it means no foul-language.



Yes, MS will lose sales because my kids will not be playing online until they are much older.

Alex Meade
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I for one love your article. I myself had the option of being a pro-gamer and I declined due to the lack of respect people have online and even now in person while gaming.



I'm also aspiring to become a game developer myself and this has been one of the main problems I have set out to fix. I love how you mention peoples behaviors can be controlled. I like to say "jerks will be jerks unless you punch them in the face".

Michael Bilodeau
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I appreciate this article and talking about a growing problem with online gaming in ALL online games. Control mechanisms for behaviors in games and check and balances of this without sacrificing the game experience.

One of the big dilemmas with pretty much every game and online system, and the internet for that matter. Because enforcement of following proper behaviors for online usage is still uncontrollable, how do you effectively deal with this problem?

My thoughts are to have a balance between empowering users to control their own game experience, and a transparent monitor or regulation of unintended behaviors. This all steams from design at the ground level and what freedoms you want the player to explore online and how you control it. Unfortunately too many games fall on the same rule sets and types of game experiences of their predecessors to try and envoke these ways of thinking in gaming. FPS's are a great example of this on any platform. In a game experience that's built around taking out other players, almost all these games fall on the same problem of not enforcing or encouraging the proper and "expected" game experience that players should have. Too many leave the control or lack there of to the user initiating the game or hosting the game.

Now I'm not suggesting every game should have a person monitoring the game or have many options/controls that players have to jump through to enjoy the game. I do think however there should be simple rules or mechanisms to avoid these types of behaviors and should be used more regularly. For the FPS example one control if your pvp game experience is about team work, eliminate the friendly fire option so players can't sabotage other players by shooting them. This of course doesn't solve all the issues, but say a player isn't doing anything in a team match? What can you do? Currently no game does anything, you simply have to wait and grin and bare it. Why not put a transparent layer in that monitors player's actions or lack there of? Then have a time system or indicators to help/assist to eliminate abuse.

Now lets talk about vulgarity/slander issues with the annonomous nature of both online gaming and the internet. Again this gets to monitoring and reporting problems or abuse. And making that known to everyone that this is recourse for inappropriate behaviors. And not giving total power to each person over the destiny of another user online, or lacking any hard punishment if actual abuse is occurring. One solution used now is filters, however people tend to try and work around filters (see WOW online and how this problem still occurs after all the filtering sets enabled). How do you deal with this? Reporting the player yourself? Sure that's a start if there is someone monitoring the problem and making sure that abuse has indeed occurred and isn't falsified. But that in itself is a really expensive solution (having people waiting online or sifting through tons of requests to check their validity). My suggestion is first allow filters to be set and or changeable by the user (vulgarity, age limits, game ruleset, etc...). Then having an automated monitoring of online behaviors and abuse reporting and make decisions based upon the amount/type of reports from various users (not sheer volume) on how to proceed with the abuse case and perhaps have a repremand scaling system so the punishment is well suited to the crime, and to monitor the people making the reporting in case of false claims and abuse of the reporting.

Again these aren't simple solutions but I think if presented properly would have better results and less ability for people to abuse.

Paul Tessmann
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I have to agree with Jeremy Hayes - from what I have seen, WoW has the highest percentage of fuckwad players, yet it is also the most popular MMORPG. Clearly, being a fuckwad does not deter people from a game as much as the article implies.



I can’t speak for shooter MMOs as I was never interested in them, but when a fuckwad appeared in Counter-Strike or another such game, I would simply switch to another server. Problem solved.



The mechanics in the article work fine for online shooter games, but in the case of standard MMORPGs, there is not such an easy fix. With my experience in FFXI, there were several styles of fuckwad. They ranged from people who were simply just annoying, to people who actually used grief tactics (people who attempted to PK, steal HNMs, or otherwise interfere with other's gameplay).



Even considering fuckwads, the two main reasons that caused casual players to grow irritated with the game and quit were extremely poor customer service and ridiculously unchecked goldseller activities.



The two issues actually tie into each other for the most part. GMs in FFXI basically serve little to no purpose aside from being a never-ending source of jokes. There were countless instances where GMs were called on goldseller activity with absolutely no response. I personally witnessed someone using a third party program to dominate control over a unique monster and filed a complaint, only to see it standing there with no change for a further few weeks.



Combined with an already mediocre game, horrible customer service put the nail in the coffin for me as well as many other veteran players. All game makers should at least attempt to keep a presence in their MMO games. Otherwise, both the game and the company will be looked down upon by a large portion of its original fanbase from that point on.

Oliver Urbanik
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Hi. I've to say, that this article was very interesting to read. Fuckward behavior is indeed a big ( and constantly growing ) problem in the MMO World.



The methods to change this problem may work in a FPS game, but, to that point I fully agree with Mr. Tessmann, won't help any bit in a MMORPG. I played WoW for about 2 years, and I've never seen such a devastated and unfriendly community. WoW and Blizzard have created a egomaniac game, in which not the group / Team and their effort is in the middle of development ( even if they say so), the reality looks a way other. MY item, MY loot, MY Mob, get off boon, fuck off.. etc..



I started online gaming back in the year 2000 with Ultima Online. And i've to say, the experiences i made their, were a lot more mature and friendly in nature. On my first day, three or four strangers took me on the Hand, an showed me the game, gave me a completly new starting equipment ( which is impossible in WoW due to 'bind on pickup/equip' madness, and useless crafting items). The same good recalls I connect with Everquest 2.

Even Lord of the Rings Online, which started promissing, is drifting in the WoW trap.



Oh.. and support seems to be a very hard to obtain. Blizzard is even uncapable .. or unwilling.. to sustain their rules on RP Servers, which are flooded which jerks, to willingly disturb the few roleplayers. There are even Forums for this jerks, where they arrange big RP disturbance 'Raids' ...

Joe BoB
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from what i have seen, the fuckwads as you discribe them tend to be new players or new gamers who still kinda suck. but are a little better then the complete noobs. granted some of them make it into the skilled players pile but not as meny as you would think. anyone who is better then that tend to stick together and we dont get much of the fuckwads. in MMOs fuckwadisiam tends to get you nowhere. there is however a certan skill level you do need to be good at raiding and pvp, if you dont get to raid/pvp beacuse you suck at raiding/pvp you shoud try and learn how to do those things better. 99% of the crappy players i have raided with dont ask for help. dont try and get better gear outside of the main raid instance or knowldge on the fights and dont even seem to care that they suck. to me it seems like crap seeing as every raid i bring my A game.



and yes i know i misspelled a few words and my grammer sucks, give me a break i droped outta highschool to play wow.

Blake Drolson
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As an idea, give players reputation tags, that are solely generated by others players in secret, maybe with time delay to prevent players figuring out who gave them a bad rep. Maybe even give multiple tags, one for griefer, one for foul language, etc.



So if a person acts like a total jerk, players can tag that player as a total jerk, and a few days later they have a worse rep, and all players can see it. Give a consequence to their actions. Design the tools for the players to id the foul players, so that everyone can see who the foul players are. Tie this to CC #, name etc, and not just an account. Make it not easy for players to escape their community generated reputation. Maybe even consider kicking out or limiting areas where these foul players can access in the game.



I know there are issues to work out, maybe reps fade over time, good reps can be given, limit the amount of times players can tag others etc. I know it would probably be tricky to balance out,but I believe the community neds the tools to police itself.

Brandon Van Every
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Um, why do online games need to be social anyways. Just make 'em single player or invitation only. There's a market for people who prefer single player games.

Billy Bissette
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From my limited experience as a casual online player (thus low rank), Halo 3 ranked matches seems almost designed to create and encourage bad attitudes in beginners.



You hate people who drop out of matches? Wait until the game matchmaker keeps throwing horribly lopsided large Team Slayer (deathmatch) matches your way, where the winner is already obvious after the first 20 kills, but to finish the game requires a team reaching 100. I haven't seen a Team Slayer match yet that was closer than 100 to 40.



Then there are the low score modes like 1-flag CTF and Bomb, which seem as much ruled by the time limit, and a bit of luck is enough to spell the difference between victory and defeat. But you still spend a good chunk of time just to find out who gets the point. (These modes are also heavily ruled by how "team-like" the teams are, another random factor that the game doesn't account for when setting up teams. And which is really difficult to establish in game when only a small fraction of players use microphone headsets to organize with anyway.)



The random selection of game modes theoretically helps in making matchups (though strangely Halo 3's "quick match" still seems about as slow as other online games,) but it also guarantees that there will be people out of a 16-man group that don't want the resulting mode. Some vetoes always get cast. So now you are playing a possibly lopsided ranked match in a mode that you don't even want to play.



Doesn't help that I always seem to end up in large team matches on the Valhalla map.



I've switched to just playing the 6 man non-ranked non-team Rumble Pit option. It is more entertaining, the people playing in it don't seem to be so annoying. I'm starting to guess it is made up of people who got sick of the team ranked modes.

So Petite
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Honestly? what's wrong with demanding that people start being nicer?

Aaron Casillas
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This is an incredible phenomena as I've called it for years "Cyber Bravado" has another implication outside of games and that is that our culture has become barbaric. We no longer have courtesy, we no longer have ladies or gentlemen.



This anonymous factor is the gloryhole for otherwise nobody's in society.



On the to hand people could argue that this is a byproduct of free speech....and that's a whole article in its self.

Glenn McMath
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Great article.



I think some people have been missing the point a bit, as there are lots of suggestions here on how to control fuckwads. While that'd be better than what we have now, the point is to create a social climate where people don't act that way in the first place.



I think the best suggestion thus far is the notion of giving players a reputation score that's tied to their gamer profile. Hosts of matches could even specify a minimum score necessary to join games. After each game, players could either give out minor demerits or praise, or report highly offensive behavior. Replays of every match could automatically be temporarily saved, with those flagged for highly offensive behavior saved permanently for review. Also false reports could be punishable to avoid abuse. This would simultaneously separate those who insist on misbehaving from the rest of us, and encourage everyone to not misbehave in the first place.



I think avatar customization could also play into this as well as it reduces anonymity to a degree. People tend to put a lot of work into their virtual representation, and a reputation system could deface their avatar as punishment for poor behavior. Picture the avatar of a foul mouthed 12 year old having a big gag, with the word "moron" emblazoned on it, slapped over it's mouth. Or a sign that says "eunuch" fastened to the crotch of a rampant tea-bagger. In contrast, people with good reputations may be rewarded with better items and accessories to reflect their better status within the community.



Another really valid point is avoiding huge gaps (both in skill and personality) within matches. I'm not really for separating the newbs from the hardcore, as being in an environment where you're slightly outmatched can help encourage you to learn and improve. I think an auto-handicapping system like the one proposed by Jeff Zugale would work really well. And some separation of people would be a good idea. Having different server categories with different standardized rules would be a great improvement (and could even be tied into parental controls on consoles). That way if people want to talk trash and say offensive things (as this is a big part of some people's enjoyment of online games), they can do it in an environment that caters toward it.



Again, great article and an interesting conversation surrounding it.

Tawna Evans
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Language isn't the only turn-off for newcomers. Another is the feature of attacking other players and being attacked by other players. Making it possible to disable that would obviously help prevent newcomers to online gaming from instantly becoming intimidated by them.

Brian Wanamaker
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More and more online play has become a requirement for any videogame, but as you've noted methods for controlling the griefers have not kept up with the proliferation of the feature. It's exciting to think that there are readily available but untapped ways of dealing with the problem. As we look to expand online gaming to include more mainstream audiences, getting this built-in and accessible will be key.

Shannon Buys
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Something that's always amazed me about a lot of companies that provide online games is that they seem to think that some customers money is worth more than others. It's the only rationale I can find for trying to keep people in the game who cause other players to leave.



As the article points out, most of the measures implemented by games are there to reduce the amount of damage that griefers can cause. They don't go towards actually FIXING the problem. In this case, griefers (or fuckwads as I see them being called here) will simply find other ways to annoy people and you basically find yourself in an arms race to implement more features to mitigate the effects of their behaviour.



I quit WoW basically because I couldn't enjoy the game for the players. I played on a roleplaying server. Almost every day there would be somebody in there actively trying to destroy my enjoyment of the game. You could report them to a GM who would take maybe a few minutes to respond, but usually hours, often only once you'd gone offline. The next day, you'd see the same guy on after receiving maybe a 6 or a 12 hour ban. 12 Hour bans were kind of a mark of pride to most griefers if you checked around the forums.



In the end, I snapped. One idiot running in circles around our roleplaying meeting screaming 'RPERS R LAAAAAME!!!' broke it for me and I realized it just wasn't worth going through the whole rigmarole of reporting the guy, so I canceled my account, as did a few others.



Who knows, if Blizzard had banned Mr.'rpers r laaame!!' or one of his buddies to make an example, maybe they'd still have our subscriptions.


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