To exploit or not to exploit?

Jamie Madigan@The Psychology of Video Games wrote a thoughtful post about how players respond to known glitches/ exploits in a game. He’s using a PvP game as a model, but a PvE game with a lot of competition (ie. between raid guilds) would follow the same flow.

His conclusions aren’t surprising, but they are worth stating.

The game is more fun for everyone if no one abuses the glitches, and all players know this at some level. They’d all privately prefer if no-one glitched, either because the option didn’t exist or because everyone was trustworthy. However, if they aren’t sure whether anyone else is glitching and don’t trust them, most people will decide to use the glitch.

He does also discuss the Prisoner’s Dilemma, zerg rushes in Starcraft,  and a whole slew of history  of thinking on this type of  social problem. So if you find  game theory interesting, give it a read. I am fascinated because it explains why players will sometimes deliberately select a less fun option, knowing full well that it will result in a less fun game.

Interestingly, not everyone in an MMO will use a known glitch or exploit. There’s a lot of social pressure not to do it, both from social players and from competitive raiders/ PvPers. It’s seen as a cheap option and devalued. Jamie’s model can break down under those circumstances.

But don’t feel too cocky yet because MMO players have other pressures on them to select less fun gaming options. A lot of players, especially raiders, feel pushed in MMOs to play more and more frequently, probably more than they would ideally want for a good game/life balance.  And much of the same game theory applies there too.

Still, this leaves a lot of open questions:

  • At the end of the day, whose fault is it really that players flock to less fun options?
  • The designer for allowing that option into the game, or the other players for not being able to agree that some options do not belong on the table?
  • Would we rather have less choice in games if the choices which WERE there guaranteed us fun gaming experiences, rather than pressuring us away from them?

And I wonder if it is a general trend in media at the moment — not just games — to move towards the on-rails guaranteed experience, because we know that players will gravitate towards less fun options if they can.

14 thoughts on “To exploit or not to exploit?

  1. I think I’ve made the assumption that the game is designed to be fun without exploits. And that if part of the gameplay involves poking around for hidden optimisations and clever ways to do things, that ought to be part of the actual design.

    I don’t think finding loopholes is why I enjoy MMOs though, I’m not sure about that one. But I do think it’s true that ‘play’ is synonymous with exploring and trying out new things and poking at what is possible in the game rules/ environment. Whether that means actively searching out loopholes I’m not sure.

    (The holy trinity didn’t start as an exploit by the way, I remember MUDs with tanks who had abilities to taunt and take a hit for another character. As soon as the threat mechanic was designed, tanks came in with it.)

    • Actually, thinking about it, exploring possible new strategies is a really big part of how we play board and card games (or RPGs, or anything with a really well defined ruleset).

      So when you drop a bunch of gamers into a virtual world, they’ll do the same thing. But the virtual world doesn’t have a rulebook in the same way that chess or D&D do. So how do you know which are the strategies you are supposed to be refining, which is the virtual world part that you’re just supposed to be existing in, and which are the actual coding glitches?

      I think truth is, you probably do know when you’ve found something that gives you an actual unfair advantage.

      • Are we really all on the same page?

        One of the blogs I linked in my post was The Ancient Gaming Noob’s fascinating survey that basically showed that everything we thought was cheating 15 years ago is now considered not cheating by the majority of respondents.

        Sirlin said this:

        “Blizzard treats the players like little children who need a babysitter. There are mountains of rules in the terms of service that tell you that you shouldn’t do things that you totally can do in the game if you want. Why they don’t just alter their design and code so you can’t do these things is beyond me. But this mentality is drilled into the players to the point that they start believing that it’s ok. They start believing that it’s not ok to experiment, to try out anything the game allows in a non-threatening environment. Well—that’s a dangerous thing. That’s the point at which the game stops being “fun” by Raph Koster’s definition, and it’s also the point at which the game can no longer teach.”

      • No, of course we’re not on the same wavelength 🙂 Sirlin (and many other players like him are hardcore gamers) they want to minmax rules all the time. They want to win. They want to discover winning strategies because that’s what you do in games.

        But that isn’t what all MMO players want. Not at all. Many of them are more concerned about immersion (ie. does it make sense that monster X can’t touch me when I’m on rock Y?). Some about exploring in different ways. Some about … whatever, you get the general picture. It isn’t just a game, it’s also a virtual world, and that’s where the disconnect comes in. They all will play and explore and discover, but not everyone is out to find and exploit glitches.

        What happens when some people are playing like gamers and others playing like virtual worlders? Well, one thing that happens is that people can’t agree on ‘the rules’.

      • I accept that discovering exploits tends to go hand-in-hand with being a hardcore player but actually using them certainly isn’t.

        At one point my guild was introduced to a terrain exploit on Heigan in Naxx that meant healers and ranged dps could simply huddle on one spot and skip the dance element of the encounter.

        It was the people who raided once a fortnight who thought it was great and the people who turned up every night who wanted us to do the fight “properly”.

      • I think hardcore gamer is more of a mindset than to do with hours played per week. But maybe it was the wrong phrase to use.

        You get this with sports also, there are people who will wax lyrical about the spirit of sportsmanship and there are other people who are there to win by all means possible. Who’s to say who is wrong or right?

        But if we want our MMOs to have more freedom than a game like chess, we may have to accept that glitches happen. The only way to avoid them totally is to restrict the scope of the game and how people can interact with it.

        So this debate will go on, I think.

  2. Intresting isnt it?

    I recall very clearly my first exploit. It was in a MuD (Lpmud for those cognicenti) and I realised there was a bug in the Fruit machine in the players pub. In a game where you could buy levels, equipment and effectively power this bug allowed me allmost infinte gold and therefore power. It plastered a HUGE grin on my face and I didnt abuse it too badly. I was truely wroth when a friend revealed the bug to all. I say bug but really I was just playing the fruit machine the way it was written. The GM’s had written it in as a mild amusement for 5 mins and not forseen that if you just kept doubling your winnings up you could very quickly reach obscene totals. A very high reward grind but a grind none the less. In any case I quickly bought my way to max rank and into those with developer access….

    Would I do the same again now? If someone offered me a way to use ‘in-game mechanics’ to make large amounts of in-game currency? Why yes I would. I have in fact (and I’m not talkling about AH games ala Gevlon) or at least helped folk to do so. I have also used ‘semi-exploits’ in PvE encounters like poping haste trinkets and pots before DoTing a Boss and making use of the fact that Blizz allow that DoT to keep ticking with its original haste levels and with a little effort can be kept up all fight. This is ‘in-game’ and to my mind is there by design or at least has not been removed after several patches despite being well known so is still there by design at least.

    Would I use hacking, social engineering or systems that allowed me to do something that I could not do ‘in-game’, No. Not in WoW at least. EvE is a little different but again I wouldnt gain acecss to someones account say.

    The border line comes when you have a event like Ensidiagate and thats the true measure of your ‘gamer ethics’. I’ve only once hit this in a MMO. Me and the Mrs discovered a leveling bug that allowed you to spawn a pretty high experience reward quest Mob, kill it, get the xp, reset the encounter and spawn it again as often as you wanted. We did it a few times (4 or 5) to confirm the exploit and then raised a GM ticket. Kept the xp mind ;)Also got a bit of a ticking off from the GM’s. Gosh I’ve waffled here:- For some the thrill of the exploit is enough to counter any element of ‘no fun’. I guess its like rich kids shop lifting for thrills as oposed to a poor person stealing to eat.

  3. I am not sure if I agree with the fun part. He states:

    “The middle ground is when everyone glitches, but the resulting pandemonium isn’t as much fun as fair play for most normal people.”

    This in effect implies that just because someone is using exploits to ruin the game, that may, in fact, be a lot more fun for them. There were times during my 3-year stint with WoW when I honestly thought some greifers had a lot more fun leveraging the glitches for their personal gains than maintaining the status quo. What was truly amazing to me was that their close friends, themselves not indulging in such practice, would simply cheer them on. SO what may not be considered ‘fun’ for the normal player, may have an addictive, almost narcotic effect on a career griefer.

    I think I rambles, hope it makes sense!

  4. The Griefer Attitude is a beast all its own, I think. My uneducated guess is that griefers LOVE glitches simply because it becomes a force multiplier for their activities.

    They gank lowbies, kill the starting area NPCs, whatever they can, for no in-game gain themselves, other than the pleasure of annoying others. Griefing is just a meta-game for them.

    As such, I don’t think they really “count” in terms of game enjoyment via glitching.

  5. You all are talking about “fun,” you are not thinking like a developer. It’s not the fun they are worried about, it is that you are bypassing their content too quickly. Their concern is that you will finish early and be done with their game (and stop playing/paying).

    Whatever the fastest way to advance, no matter how boring, is what you expect players to do. I partly put this on developers, as it is their responsibility to understand that. If grinding is the much faster way to level than questing, that is the developers’ fault, not the players fault for doing what you should expect them to do. But the developers cannot possibly think of everything.

    I’m sure at least a few of you remember years ago when a certain guild figured out they could stealth a rogue in to piss off the end boss while they waited patiently at the entrance? The boss was so much faster than the adds that they could down the boss alone much more easily, and didn’t even have to go through the raid instance at all. Today, you can’t do that with bosses, the boss just resets. But before the loophole was closed they had to ban people, or everyone would have been done with their content much too quickly.

  6. “Would we rather have less choice in games if the choices which WERE there guaranteed us fun gaming experiences, rather than pressuring us away from them?” Yes, this.

    I’ve read once an excellent post why game with classes (set in stone giving players narrow and pre-selected range of abilities) has more variety than a game with “free” choice of “jobs” where your character can pick any job they “prefer”. Why?

    Because everyone were the same then, picked the min-maxed number-crunched set of jobs. Everyone else was “gimps”. And there stands the problem of game balance, if he have tons of choices, most average and few or 1 extremely overpowered, you’d either get a game unplayable for anyone without the “best” combo, or you get game beatable by anyone but trivialized by OP-setups.

    I heard one of the Final Fantasy MMOs fell into such trap.

    If the “choice” features one “best choice” and a lot of average, it’s an illusionary choice. It’s better to have few potential options but with more balance and control over it.

    As for “cheats” unless you have a proof no one uses it (because it’s either impossible in the game mechanic, or forbidden and people using it easily caught and severely punished), people will use anything possible so they aren’t at disadvantage to everyone else (who might use unfair advantages, how do we check whether they don’t?). And even with “exploits” that are punishable, there will be people hoping “maybe no one finds out” and stretch the line.

    In a highly competitive environment either everyone uses every possible advantage, or they don’t only because they can’t.

    Customs and “good manners” go away when the game goes for a big prize.

  7. I disagree with him about less fun: what is fun is winning an encounter, and it may actually be more fun to exploit because it enriches the game in other areas. This is the entire reason why the RMT industry exists, and why raid guilds exploit and dupe.

    The solution is to take a hard look at your design and be honest at how much of it really is make-work as opposed to fun activities.

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