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Mission Architect: How Are You Going To Manage That?
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Mission Architect: How Are You Going To Manage That?

April 16, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[As subscription MMO City Of Heroes launches its Mission Architect expansion, allowing user-generated stories and quests, Paragon Studios' Morrissey discusses the logistics of creating policing for the system.]

Am I allowed to say penis in this article?  If not, how would you stop me?  Maybe I could get past your profanity filter by spelling it peenis. Or I could get creative and simply write in euphemisms about my third leg, my love tool, or my joy stick. Seriously, if I really wanted to say penis, how would you stop me?

If you're planning on making a game with user-created content you are going to have this conversation... a lot.

For those of you not keeping track, City of Heroes, the first massively multiplayer game set in the comic book genre, has just unveiled a new game system: Mission Architect.

In short, the system lets players create their own stories and then share those stories. These stories are rated by the players and the best ones garner prestige and in-game rewards.

This system is tied directly into the lore of the game through a company called Architect Entertainment, offering virtual world experiences.

This world-within-a-world format allows players to take their in-game characters and walk them into a virtual environment where they can create and play their own adventures.

Even though the Mission Architect feature has done many things right, there is one question that always, and I mean ALWAYS, comes up:

How do you avoid the beef stick?

When this conundrum presents itself, like it did for us, the quick answer is to simply throw money at it. Have Customer Service vet all content before it goes live. As exorbitantly pricey and time-consuming as this process would be, there are actually companies out there that do it.

In these situations, the games are usually those that deliver content to children, where turnaround time isn't an issue, and there aren't a lot of people submitting material. However, in any other situation this isn't a viable option.

At the instant of Mission Architect's launch, the players will outpace any Customer Service department. Besides, it's not exactly something you can hand off to an overseas outsourcing company. Much of what makes content inappropriate is cultural and difficult to teach to non-native speakers.

So, if you were to try to do this, where would it leave you?  Well, below are some potential solutions we came up with in an attempt to avoid the problem of inappropriate player-created content.

Language Filters: A Good Place to Start

Have them.  Have a lot of them. And have fifty-thousand variations for the same word. If your game has any kind of chat system in place, odds are you already have something like this. Even if it comes down to a huge text file filled with words you hope your grandmother doesn't know and secretly enjoy adding to the list anyway.

Develop a Player Policing System

Allow your players to flag content as inappropriate. This is a pretty common system. If someone reads something he doesn't like, he can hit a big red button that reports the content and potentially removes in from the system right then and there. That's the high level idea; unfortunately, the devil is in the details. 

You have to decide how draconian you want to be. The more hardcore you are, the fewer people who will see inappropriate content, but you expose yourself to potential grief voting. Grief voting is when a player flags perfectly acceptable content as inappropriate just because it's fun.

If it only takes a single vote to eliminate content from the game, clicking that button is going to be the game for a lot of players. You don't want perfectly good content getting pulled because someone's a jerk. If your system is so harsh that a single vote pulls content, then you're making it really easy for griefers to have a lot of fun.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Jake Romigh
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This is a great article! I love looking into the design of these types of systems, when the creators actively try to avoid false reporting rather than use draconian methods of policing.

On a more immature note, did anyone else find reading "how we use the stick/carrot" strange after the entire article used euphemisms for... ummm.

Richard Cody
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Bad content will exist, that's part of a warning for all online games 'online interactions aren't rated'. I tend to think developing tools like this could save the developer an unbelievable amount of time and money, even without much customer service support.

There would be a simple, mandatory rating system. You play through a mission and either give it thumbs up, neutral (skip voting), or an offensive rating. The more thumbs up votes it gets the more people that see it. If it gets voted as offensive by more 50% of the users after 20 votes it gets banned. After 2 bans you get a warning, 3 bans a brief account suspension, 4 bans a long account suspension, and 5 bans would be permanent. The other factors would have to include the amount of time between bans (getting a 5th ban over a year after the 4th wouldn't result in account termination) and that you could appeal the bans to customer service.

As for Euphemisms, it depends what the game's rated to begin with. An M rated game could let some of them slide but an E game would have to keep a tight check on those things to attempt to keep it clean for everyone within the intended audience.

Emanuele D'Arrigo
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Thank you for sharing your experience Joe, this is a very important subject and your article is an excellent summary. Looking forward to the next part! Also good Richard's ideas in the comment above.

Jesse Clark
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The Apple Forums have overly strict moderation. If you say something even slightly uncivil, your post is pulled. On the one hand, it's a bit fascist. On the other hand, so what?

The one and only time I posted something that got pulled, I was initially angry. But I got over it. From then on I was very careful to be polite.

The most effective form of policing is to cause people to have "the policeman inside." I think the broken window theory is very much at play here, too. Both concepts point to over-strictness being the most effective way to get people to self-regulate.

Using player reporting systems may work fine, but the surest weapon is the Fear of God.