[Links] Gaming ethics, Trolling trolls troll each other, and flimsy excuses to post a cute red panda picture


via ogwen@Flickr

It seems that Mists of Pandaria is off to a generally well received start, aside from people who are finding the reputations/dailies heavy going when they just want to get into the raids, and apparently the review scores on Metacritic. My hope for the next expansion is that it features another race/zone/mechanic which gives all the gaming blogs excuses to post cute animal pictures. Blizzard, if you’re listening, how about sentient sea otters?

It is becoming clearer that Blizzard have taken the whole concept of ‘story’ on board and are planning to railroad everyone through the MoP storyline, whether they like it or not. Initial patch notes for 5.1 (on the test realm) include insights into the progression of the faction war, and Wrathion’s legendary questline. (Surely nothing can go wrong with us PCs following the instructions of a black dragon.) I’m not sure if this is more linear than SWTOR’s take on story but since it updates the entire continent on every patch, it might be. I think it sounds kind of cool because it is so different, but I’m also glad to be playing other more classic MMOs like GW2 (I know, sounds odd to call it more classic, but there you go) for my ‘wander around under your own steam’ fix.

I went to the Eurogamer Expo at the end of September, an event which seems to get larger and better organised every year. Although first impressions were that every new game coming out was a shooter, I think this was biased by the fact they just seem louder and to take up more floorspace and screens than the other genres. In fact, this year is shaping up to be a gaming classic, with new games coming out in just about every genre … except MMOs. At first glance, Assassin’s Creed 3 particularly caught my eye, because it’s gorgeous. I was reminded of Uncharted 2. I’ve also heard good things about Borderlands 2 (which has made very strong sales) and XCOM, and FIFA 13 (a genre which regularly sells strongly over here) sold millions in it’s first week. The UK figures show it selling a million copies here in the first week, a feat which only FPS games have previously done (MW2, MW3, CODBLOPS).

Why does that matter? It shows the industry (and the audience) is opening up a bit from the FPS domination of the last few years, IMO.

The game which most caught my eye as being different was The Unfinished Swan where you are exploring a blank white area with only a paint gun to help you discover the world. The graphics are stunning, check out the video. And it’s going to be launched in Europe on 24th Oct this year.

In other news, more senior staff have left Bioware, Black Prophecy closes down, Pirates 101 enters Head Start, and Zynga shares continue to plummet.

LOTRO ‘s next expansion “Riders of Rohan” is due to release next week (15th Oct), and the next upcoming SWTOR patch is going to give players the ability to acquire an HK-51 assassination droid of their own.

Gaming Ethics

At the GDC (Games Developers Conference) there seems to have been more interest in ethics in gaming.  Gamasutra cover the panel on ethics in game design via some choice quotes, which is perhaps not the best way to accurately sum up a panel. Nik Davidson (Amazon) in particular makes some strong points, though.

We’re saying our market is suckers — we’re going to cast a net that catches as many mentally ill people as we can!”

It might be cynical to wonder if Zynga’s public failures have now meant it’s OK to discuss the ethics of F2P, whereas before it was more likely to be seen as the saviour of the industry and any criticism from industry insiders meant that they wanted to see fellow devs lose their jobs (or something). But players and gaming bloggers have been wondering about the ethics of F2P for some time, so none of this will come as a surprise.

That isn’t to say it cannot ever be ethical (or at least as ethical as any other way to sell a game, particularly an ongoing persistent world type game), it’s just increasingly difficult for anyone to think of successful examples of F2P games (either ethical or not) that have stood the test of time.

Another Gamasutra post has a video of a talk from the EU GDC touches on the monetisation of Chinese F2P MMOs. Tami Baribeau sums it up neatly in a blog post. If this is the future, then it doesn’t sound very pleasant. But the basics are LOTS of leaderboards, huge launches, lots of game launches, masses of events, embracing “pay to win”, and poor retention.

Psigoda mentions that what the Chinese browser game designers get excited about is creating epic “monetization pits” where players can spend thousands of dollars without finishing the game or reaching max level.  We simply don’t think that way here in the U.S., and I honestly don’t think our gamer market is ready for games with that design.  ((…)) We still tend to feel that we need to have a compelling and fun game design that supports  great monetization rather than the opposite.


Trolls and Anonymity

One of the ‘big’ stories on the internet this week is about the ‘outing’ (or doxxing) of a sleazy reddit superuser by a reporter from Gawker. This has opened up a whole slew of discussions about anonymity and freedom of speech. I maintain that the only smart forums to hang out on are moderated ones and that if your argument for free speech means you regularly end up defending people who post pictures of underage girls that were taken without their consent then maybe you need to revise your argument because these people are utter creeps and have abused their anonymity for too long already. Perhaps the answer is to let the trolls out each other, but that kind of mob rule isn’t really any better.

Meanwhile, it has made me think hard about why we just accept that some parts of the internet (including gaming parts, that relate to my hobby!) are misogynistic cesspits and that ‘freedom of speech’ means we should just live with the net being so unfriendly to women. I don’t buy it. What I think is that it’s not an accident that many of the early power users were dodgy porn mongers (remember ‘the internet is for porn’?), and they deliberately used their status in online communities to shape what was seen as normal and accepted in those communities, AND to shape the online debate about freedom of speech and anonymity. And yes, they did tend to hate and objectify women. (This is not a screed against porn, but there is a certain type of user.)

Reddit is such a mixed bag, including some of the dodgiest cesspits on the internet as well as some of the best examples of online collaboration. But if they cannot delete their own trolls (and in fact let some of them become admins) then they’re not ready for a wider audience. It’s interesting also to note that Reddit founders originally welcomed the trolls and their sleazy porno subreddits because they helped build the site up. It reminds me strongly of Zynga’s reputation for doing all manner of dodgy ethical deals when they were building up their business.

Clearly profit trumps business ethics and any manager worth his salt will happily toss the privacy of a few underage girls under the bus if it brings them a few power users and their hordes of sleazy hangers on. If the net communities cannot manage their own trash then don’t be surprised if the much vaunted freedoms of speech do eventually come under threat. Ultimately, it’s down to all of us who use these communities to speak up against the trolls, even when it involves pissing off power users and their fans.

More links: GW2 and more

As people get to max level in GW2, I am reading more complaints about the max level content. It isn’t really correct to refer to this as endgame, because you can do what you like in GW2. But there is a theme to these comments.

Zubon discusses the Ruined City of Arah.

It is probably the worst instance I have ever run, second only to the collective, multi-hour pain of the City of Heroes Shadow Shard task forces that spanned entire zones.

Entombed writes at Divinity’s Reach about annoyances and other bothers with GW2. This is an exploration of the various ‘endgame’ options at the moment, and discussion of why none of them really works.

And the personal story.  Oh the personal story.  Something that was ultimately just empty promises.  Will NPC’s actually care about you now if you re-enter your personal instance?  We were promised this repeatedly leading up to launch.  I can walk into my instance and see nothing of value and certainly no NPCs that I remember or that remember me.  Will my choices matter?  No.

Dusty Monk discusses some of the strong and weak parts of GW2, a game he still loves playing. And he also takes issue with the personal story.

I’m at level 72 or so in my personal story, and am quite honestly completely uninterested in finishing it.

Azuriel also finds his enthusiasm ebbing, although disagrees with Zubon about the worst dungeon.

… dungeons were the one bright spot when it came to enjoying playing my character, even if the specific dungeons I have played thus far have been fairly bad; Caudecus’s Manor in particular is the worst designed dungeon in any MMO I have ever played.

Since my Mesmer just hit 65 with lots of pauses to go play Pandaria, I haven’t touched on many of these issues myself. Although the one instance we did wasn’t really all that fun. However, maybe that turns out for the best, because Arenanet has lots of new content planned and a Halloween event, so not being burned out on the ‘endgame’ might be a good thing. It may be that GW2 simply isn’t a game that suits the grind-100-hrs-for-a-1%-bonus hardcore as well as it suits the more relaxed player, but that doesn’t really excuse Arenanet for messing up the last story boss in the game or making the dungeons an exercise in tedium.

But I enjoy my time in the game a lot, even more so with friends around.

In other news:

Shintar finds that hunting datacrons in SWTOR can be really fun with friends.

I’ve experienced strangers being willing to jump through various hoops purely to show someone a datacron as well. There is clearly a certain appeal to the feeling that you’re sharing “secret” knowledge with someone, even if you’ve got nothing tangible to gain from the experience yourself. Being on the receiving end of this kind of sharing isn’t half bad either, as it makes you perceive other players as helpful and promotes community.

Beruthiel ponders what makes healing fun in MMOs.

Tipa posts about her experiences with Pirates 101, a game I’m looking forwards to trying when it’s out of head start.

There has been some discussion on blogs about the notion of a ‘three month MMO’ and whether the phenomenon of a rush of players to new games and then numbers dropping massively after 1-3 months is down to the game design or changes in player expectations. Liore is squarely in the latter camp, and argues that it’s all down to the player.

The dream of Elite Online is not dead, Chris Roberts (designer of Wing Commander) is crowd funding a new space combat MMO called Star Citizen.

Redbeard ponders how playing a rogue in WoW makes him act like all the rogues he used to hate.

I can’t count the number of times I’d been ganked by a Rogue while in that BG, swearing that if I ever decided to start a Rogue I’d never do any of this stuff.  And yet there I was, roaming around in the rez zone, waiting for toons to respawn so I could gank them before they could buff themselves.

Oestrus writes about her decision to stop playing as a hardcore raider in WoW.

Chris at Game by Night is surprised at how outraged PvE players get if they feel they have to do PvP to get gear for raids.

Is it so terrible that there could be more raiders and more PvPers to fill out your teams? Give me one good reason why. And please make sure it’s not related to your ego. Thanks.

Grumpy Elf explains why he thinks the best time to raid in random LFR raid groups in WoW is on the first few days that they are released. He clearly didn’t experience my group (but somehow we did make it through, an indication of the lack of difficulty I think Smile ).

25 thoughts on “[Links] Gaming ethics, Trolling trolls troll each other, and flimsy excuses to post a cute red panda picture

  1. Thanks for the link love, Spinks!

    Okay, here’s a question for you: do you think that Bioware’s defections are because of TOR alone, or do you think it was TOR + ME3? Or, perhaps, EA’s pressure to find heads to roll?

    • I think the SWTOR people leaving was just because of SWTOR, truth is that once a project goes into maintenance mode (which I suspect SWTOR has, as they mostly focus on monetising existing content), it’s not as interesting a place for senior designers to work. It may be that F2P will be massively successful for them, I enjoyed the game a lot and think other people will too, and then maybe they will think more about new content.

      Plus I imagine morale was down, maybe bonuses also, and having your own CEOs walk depresses everyone. And add to that any reprimands from more senior management about the game failing to meet expectations. So am assuming it was made clear to these guys that a promotion was not in the air and EA wanted to look outside. Yeah, I’m not surprised.

  2. Free speech is a tricky topic. We can find examples of where something was restricted for a “good reason”, but then that just lead to the slippery slope of extending the reach of the original restrictions to apply to things that aren’t quite so seemingly black-and-white. In the U.S. in particular we’ve seen erosion of freedom carried forth by the rallying cry of “think of the children!”

    So while defending pictures of underage children is morally suspect, it is a line in the sand in an attempt to prevent further erosion. As I’ve written before free speech is about defending the right for people to say unpopular things. An extreme advocate of free speech might see any activity where someone is not violating any laws or where someone else isn’t directly harmed as defensible, trying to separate out personal views from actual harm done. And, sometimes the defense needs to be even more strenuous when dealing with a highly emotional topic.

    (For the record, I’m not a serious Reddit user and had not seen the particular “subreddits” discussed in the article. I’m not trying to defend or justify any particular behavior here. I’m merely speaking as someone familiar with the issues surrounding free speech arguments, particularly involving video games.)

    This is also complicated by the fact this is on Gawker, the internet tabloid. I strongly suspect they’re posting this more as a way to generate hits (and boy have they) instead of a strong moral desire to stop questionable behavior on Reddit. As Spinks points out, outting the person just moves this into the realm of mob justice and retribution, which is something else that our modern society tends to frown upon.

    I read another, much better, article about dealing with a troll this week: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/26/day-confronted-troll It shows someone who was causing much more direct harm and how one person dealt with it. I would have liked to have known more about the troll’s motivation, but the story shows you don’t have to expose someone in a public spectacle to (hopefully) set them on the right path.

    • Yeah, my argument is that due to the specific history of the net, in practice totally free speech online is why so many forums are so horrible for women in particular. And the rape threats, et al. So when I see people say the equivalent of “well, it’s just the price we have to pay for FREEDOM” I think “why do they hate women?” (not saying you said this btw.)

      I just think there is a definite feminist angle to this, particularly for women who are in favour of free speech, but who want and deserve better moderated forums that don’t accept this behaviour because ‘omg free speech’ or because ‘sleazy porn guys bring in the hits’. I saw that Guardian article and thought it was interesting, but I don’t actually think its the responsibility of the victim to go find the troll and try to persuade them to change their habits.

      And the slippery slope argument is widely considered to be a logical fallacy.

      • I suspect part of the issue is different cultures. In the U.S., we allow overt racists to organize and profess their beliefs in the name of free speech. People have argued that it could be better knowing someone is a virulent racist (or any other hateful person) by their protected speech rather than being surprised by it when encountering them. But, this philosophy of the right to free speech tends to bleed over online as the U.S. set the tone for a lot of the internet.

        Note that this does NOT include threats or violence, as those are quite obviously a direct harm against someone. You can say you don’t like a particular race/gender/creed/orientation, but you can’t point to a specific person of that category and threaten to kill them.

        There is nothing wrong with wanting a moderated space that is welcoming to everyone. The problem is when people come along and demand a change. Reddit has a history of valuing free speech, up to and including morally questionable things. You can apply pressure for them to do the right thing and clean up morally questionable areas, but I think it’s misguided to think that every space needs to follow the morals of the least common denominator.

        And, “slippery slope” being a logical fallacy does not mean that slippery slopes do not exist. Rather, it means that when engaging in a debate you cannot assume that a slippery slope will happen as the basis of your argument without demonstrating how it could happen. I can demonstrate plenty of cases where freedom of speech has been eroded in the past starting with a seemingly protective action. Look at my blog post linked above and the discussion of the Comics Code Authority for one example.

      • Reddit has a history of welcoming sleazy dirtbags and making them moderators because they brought a lot of traffic to the site. I don’t think it’s doing anyone any favours to dress up an argument that is basically about the bottom line with histrionics about idealism and free speech. Although I’m sure that’s what the trolls want to happen.

        Anyhow, I think this news story is important because these discussions are important. But the idea that users can’t ask existing arenas to change is dangerous. Do we want to be stuck with a misogynist internet forever? Because it was good for the bottom line of a new startup once upon a time?

      • I didn’t say “ask” to change, as that is well within your free speech to ask people to change their behavior. I said “demand”, as in there’s an expectation that it must change and an implicit threat that things will get “worse” unless the change is complied with. It’s the difference between a shopper asking the parent of a crying child to leave a store, compared to demanding they leave or threatening the store owner if they don’t remove the parent.

        Also, as I said, I am not speaking to Reddit’s specific policies as I am not an active user. I created a username once to participate when someone posted about Storybricks on there, but haven’t been back since. I have very little first-hand knowledge of how the site works.

        This discussion has inspired me to post on my own blog, and I’ll go into more details there, as my comments here are already too long, but not quite detailed enough to convey the necessary nuance here. I will, however, say that you have met me in person and I hope that you didn’t go away assuming I’m an abusive person.

        On the topic of logical fallacies, I’ll point out that you’re making the False dichotomy error in asserting that either we must fight against misogyny on Reddit or have an entirely “misogynist internet”. You might also be heading toward abusive ad hominem territory by implying an equivalence between people who support free speech and those who participate in misogynistic behavior.

        I do agree that this discussion is vital to have, but it’s imperative to keep the discussion from becoming the equivalent of a screaming match. I wouldn’t be posting on here if I didn’t expect an intelligent discussion.

    • I honestly wasn’t intending any personal attacks, I don’t doubt your motives for a moment and I’m just interested in exploring some of the areas around free speech on the internet, consequences, and how our communities have become the way they are now. I also think that the best way to protect freedom of speech is for internet communities to self moderate, and “well they’re just the price we have to pay” isn’t a good way to deal with trolls. So I’ll be interested to read your views.

      But you have to admit it is ironic that in the Guardian article you quoted, the only reason the writer was able to confront his troll is because he had access to an internet expert who let him break the troll’s anonymity.

  3. “That isn’t to say it cannot ever be ethical (or at least as ethical as any other way to sell a game, particularly an ongoing persistent world type game), it’s just increasingly difficult for anyone to think of successful examples of F2P games (either ethical or not) that have stood the test of time.”

    Are we talking about FB games or F2P MMOs? And what’s the definition of ‘test of time’? 5+ years? Because I can think of several F2P games that have been around for several years off the top of my head like Mabinogi, Allods, and DOMO… and other games that have been largely ignored for most of their lifespans by most MMO bloggers.

    • I can only write what I know, so thanks for drawing attention to some of the other games in the genre. We tend to also have less information about the numbers (ie. players, profits, etc) for those games, since the devs aren’t public companies, although yup, I’d assume they are successful since they are still going. Runescape again is an outlier, partly because it’s from the same era as WoW, EVE etc so if player mindsets have changed then Runescape benefited from earlier, more long term minded, players. There are also P2P MUDs from that era like Threshold.

      But I’d still think it interesting that of the western games that have converted to F2P, it hasn’t seemed easy to make this model last. And I’d include games like Aion and TERA (which aren’t western really) in that list.

      • I think sub-games converting to F2P in order to stave off total failure are not proper representations of integrated F2P, if only because those games were already determined to be not worth a sub fee by a significant number of players (generally because of content/gameplay weaknesses that won’t be magically solved by devs jury-rigging a cash shop onto the game). A weak game is a weak game; the payment model will not magically fix that.

        Conversely you have a game like Rift that, amid a sea of dying MMORPGs, has made the sub work and appears to be thriving. Despite being released as a ‘WoW-clone’, it seems to have delivered on content and service to where enough people consider it worth 15$ a month. I think more people need to examine it as a study of post-WoW sub-model success.

      • Yes. Rift is fascinating because it seems to buck all the trends: that sub games won’t be sustainable, that only sandbox games with lots of player created content might be able to do that, that it’s too expensive to make enough content to keep players busy, etc. I don’t know how many players they have but I wonder if they’re actually running at a profit.

      • Trion got something like 85 million dollars in investment funding this year, which says something about the health of their 2011 balance sheets, I’m sure. 😉

  4. The other thing I found interesting about Psigoda’s presentation, is that rather than the stereotype of ‘dumb casual player’ being the one supporting F2P in China, it’s the minority of min-maxing, hardcore, competitive PvP types that form the backbone of their model of F2P.

    I also think it’s interesting that most of the successful F2P MMOs I’ve heard of in the U.S. have been Korean, not Chinese. I think that’s because (like Psigoda mentions) so many of the monetization mechanics used in Chinese browser games are abhorrent to Western players. Personally, I agree with you that the common model of Chinese F2P game sound terrible. I think there is room for a Western style of F2P model that is much more sane paired with games that are far better made.

    • I saw a lot of interest around Dishonoured, people queueing for the demo etc. It didn’t especially grab me on a quick walk past but I have heard a lot of good things about it also. And since my partner (unusually) has shown interest, it’s going to be on his Xmas list this year so will know more about it then 🙂

  5. Pingback: Links for October 15, 2012 | Andrzej's Links

  6. I’m very much in favour of free speech – what’s so poisonous is the combination of free speech and anonymity. I can’t bring myself to put someone who denounces a corrupt regime, knowing the consequences, with some asshole posting child porn for teh lulz because he knows he can’t be called to account for it.

    Of course there are limits – I try and keep my “Tremayne” identity pretty well separated from my real life name and job, but on the other hand I try and ensure that all of my gaming related posting is done under the one persona.

    • I disagree that anonymity plays a large part in trollish behavior. You can find all sorts of idiocy on Facebook, and people are very much linked directly to their real names and other identifying information. I think it’s more the feeling of separation. Consider how much more aggressive people can be while driving. You can even see the other person, but that doesn’t stop some people from saying the most shocking things about that person or their parentage, because they feel separated enough from that other person.

      You’re also setting up a double-standard where anonymity is fine for you because you want to separate parts of your life from other parts, but not for others with whom you disagree. This is one reason why free speech supporters tend to be viewed as absolutists: once you start judging who is worthy and who is not, you open up the door to value judgments about speech. This is fine, until a group decides that political dissent or speaking out against misogyny/racism/whatever is “bad speech”.

      Finally, you’re setting up a strawman with your “child porn” comment. If they were indeed posting child pornography on Reddit, then this should be a case for the police. As far as I know, the U.S. government takes the exploitation of children very seriously and it carries severe penalties. Since there hasn’t been reports of busting a child porn ring on that site, I have assumed that the pictures are non-pornographic as I have no other knowledge of the site. You might find the pictures distasteful or the purpose of viewing them offensive, but that’s different than someone posting up harmful, exploitative pictures.

      • There is a power associated with online anonymity (ie. not being accountable iRL for online actions) which can be used for good, bad, or neutral purposes. And being able to remove that anonymity is a form of power also.

        And for some people, access to power is used as a license to abuse others. So I don’t think it’s unrelated to trolling, although clearly some people will find ways to be anti-social regardless.

        I think we’re going to keep seeing examples of internet trolls/anonymous experts taking out the anonymity of people they deem disreputable. Like Anonymous exposing child pornographers. Not sure how the free speech advocates would respond to that particular use of free speech, but you can imagine what might happen if they made a mistake and outed someone innocent.

      • Yes, anonymity has power. But, I don’t think anonymity was a big issue with the Reddit troll. He went to meatspace meetups, he used only a single account, and he was obviously traceable enough for someone to figure out his real identity. As I said, I think it’s more like sitting in your car, feeling separated from everyone else and unlikely to meet most of the people again, so you feel freer to act out and do rude things you might not even consider when face-to-face with someone. I think the fear expressed by the troll when the article writer messaged him with knowledge of his real name is more like suddenly finding someone in your car when you thought you were alone rather than someone coming up and ripping off your mask.

        (Sorry, I know this is a fairly U.S.-centric way of explaining it.)

      • I wasn’t specifically thinking of Reddit with the child porn comment – I was actually thinking of an incident back when I was at university in the early 90’s before half the people on Reddit were even born (and in that case the perpetrator was caught because we was using the university computers to host the pictures… and then let off with a slap on the wrist to avoid any bad publicity).

        I may have not made my point well about my own anonymity – let’s say that while I’ve got reasons not to link the “Tremayne” persona to my real life name, job and address that persona itself doesn’t get to hide behind anonymity because it’s the one I use for everything game-related. I don’t use another name to go and post inflammatory comments elsewhere, for example, so if someone doesn’t like what I say somewhere they’ll know it’s me wherever I’m posting.

        Good point about separation… although the anonymity is definitely a big part of creating separation, and as I recall each of the Facebook trolls prosecuted here in the UK was posting under a false name.

        I guess I’m an advocate of one online identity per person, firewalled away from their real ID unless they choose to ‘out’ themselves. Which is one of the reasons I don’t like Facebook, as they would insist on outing me for the sake of having marketable data on a consumer.

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