Should MMOs ban more problem players?

Quick post today. I am going to spend the rest of the week writing about the problem of problem players, both in MMOs and online in generally.

There has been a tendency for devs to feel “don’t ban paying players.” I think that’s way outmoded. It’s time to moderate these game spaces properly, recognise that the bar for good behaviour (ie. don’t be an arse, don’t harass people, don’t deliberately spoil a group event for your grouup) is pretty darned low, and start banning people who can’t meet those criteria.

What do you think? Would you be more likely to play a game which was proactive about bans? Is it just the cost that stops devs from implementing this? (Yes I know Riot games has been quite inventive here, but LoL still has a pretty poor reputation for player behaviour).

13 thoughts on “Should MMOs ban more problem players?

  1. I feel that it’s often the bane of free to play games, if you rely on the funding of the few where is the business sense in banning them.
    SOE said that the worse cheaters in Planetside 2 were often big spenders too so it could be a catch 22 if a game is already struggling.

  2. Absolutely.

    I roll my eyes every time I see a new game coming out talking about how they want to promote a close-knit excellent community, with no roadmap about how they’re actually going to get there.

    It doesn’t happen by magic. Community consensus has to decide on appropriate standards of behaviour, and the devs have to be willing to back that up with actual consequences for toxic jerkfaces.

    (I have been saying this for years. :))

  3. Definitely. Within the context of the game though.

    There’s some behaviour that should be banned outright. Racism, sexism, or any other form of villification is unacceptable in any forum and should always be considered a bannable offence..

    At other times it depends on the game. In-game fraud like you see in Eve Online, well that’s part of the world the devs have created, and even though it has a real world consequence (ISK is worth money) there’s a level of player beware here as it’s a well known in-game activity. (Who doesn’t know there are in-game scammers in Eve?)

    But in WoW, the game is much less harrassment oriented, in some ways it’s almost a solo activity where players can choose to just enjoy themselves not interacting with other players. In this case harrassment, or the attempt to damage someones enjoyment of the game is more serious and should (maybe) be dealt with more harshly.

    In all cases though, the devs have to be clear and consistent in what behaviour is bannable. It’s not good to let a bunch of players get away with nasty behaviour in game, and then ban another player for swearing in the forums.

  4. Definitely needed. Why should I or any player pay money to play a game that supports or at least doesn’t punish bad behaviour? It’s one thing to shut yourself away from the wider community or to just play in the guild. But that’s not addressing the core issue.

    Pathfinder Online will be an interesting MMO to watch as it pushes towards beta (it’s just about in alpha now) since the devs have placed a major emphasis on community from the start. Since it’s a sandbox with player run settlements it will depend on in-game player organised policing to some extent. It’s probably not my sort of game but very interesting from a game-blogging perspective!

  5. Yes. Ban ’em. If you want a strong community that lasts, you cannot allow a few griefers to ruin it all. It’s always easier to destroy than to create. Bad behavior has to be hit where it hurts. In the toxic player’s pocketbook. That’s the strong feedback that says “This behavior is unacceptable and out of line. Shape up or ship out.”

    You can put in a warning or temporarily suspension system too, for various degrees of severity that don’t warrant an immediate outright ban, but something that spells out very clearly cease-and-desist this or that NOW, or suffer the consequences. This has to be consistent, and this has to be policed.

    I am definitely more likely to play (and pay for) a game proactive about creating and enforcing a positive-feeling nontoxic community.

    Did so with A Tale in the Desert. There was an interesting case of some griefers who came by to visit and actually paid for a sub so they could grief. There was some drama and complaints from affected parties, while I was doing my best to look invisible and non-reactive and head offline as a defence when the griefers turned up in my neighborhood (a nonresponsive target is a less fun target compared to someone else, y’know?)

    Eventually, the player population came together, realizing the old system of a player GM (Demipharoah, more of a mediator than an authority, really) with only 7 lifetime bans and certain times online was not going to cut it against these persistent griefers, Many bugged the developers enough to the point that they quickly wrote some code and shoehorned in a player-based banning system – one of the player Demipharoahs could submit a name to an Egypt-wide vote, asking if the player should be banned. If a majority voted yes, bang, perma-ban. That solved the griefer problem nicely, as they couldn’t make and pay for more accounts without getting those quickly banned too – griefers by definition piss off a majority of players in the community, after all.

    It worked for ATITD because there was a very established community in place, that would never vote in unknowns as Demipharoahs (not to mention, the whole process was a month-long kind of deal, so the less dedicated would run out patience with the game fast.). May be less easy for newer MMOs with too many factional communities or multi-game guilds that move in as a horde and might use it as a griefing tool.

    There’s always the GW2 way too, where you put your trust in paid company GMs to enforce an established set of rules of behavior, as laid down by the company.

  6. I’d be much more in favor of building game systems that simply don’t allow these kinds of behaviors to be exhibited in the first place.

    When SOE were developing EQ2 one of the clearest objectives they had was to prevent players from being able to act out the kind of bad behavior that took up so much customer service time in Everquest. Consequently all mobs locked to the player or group who aggroed them, no spells or abilities could be cast on another player from outside the group (even buffs), and so on. After a while they modified some of these systems to allow benign player interactions but, compared to EQ, the junior game remains a lot less griefable by design.

    When it comes to what’s said rather than what’s done I am a big fan of ctive moderation. Fallen Earth has highly moderated open chat channels in which GMs can and will mute players for infringements. I haven’t played for a while but back when I was there I never once saw the channels unmoderated.

    Once the designers have done all that they reasonably can do to prevent incidents from arising I’d say the games should operate in an analogous fashion to similar real-world businesses. I work in a book shop. Bookshops, by their nature, attract a lot of poorly-socialized, eccentric and strange customers. We therefore have a very high level of tolerance for unusual behavior, which I would see as quite an appropriate model for an MMO.

    The rule of thumb would be that so long as other customers aren’t being scared or threatened and the stock isn’t being damaged then there’s no need to intervene. Just because someone is being annoying is no reason to remove their right of access. In a physical environment it’s a relatively easy line to draw. It might be harder in a virtual world.

    In EQ, for example, quad-kiting druids and wizards were roundly despised by almost everyone else. It was, however, a legitimate, if highly anti-social tactic. I would be against banning people for just being selfish arses provided that they were being selfish arses within the context of the game and it’s rules. If you’d taken a poll of the entire player-base back then, though, I bet all those quad-kiters would have been banned overnight.

    Even when behavior is inarguably unacceptable I’d strongly favor a process of education over exclusion. People can and do learn to behave better. Peer group, cultural and social pressure can work wonders. I would reserve permanent bans for intransigent offenders who refused to change their behavior.

    Much simpler is the case of infringements of real-world laws and cultural norms. If an in-game action would draw the attention of law-enforcement agencies in the outside world then it should very definitely result in a ban from a game (there is room for some process of education here, too, but it may well reasonable to conclude that educating customers out of homophobic, sexist or racist attitudes is beyond the scope of a games company). That covers abuse of many kinds in all forms of text chat, including co-ercion, threats and bullying, or it does in the jurisdiction where I live. It might not in other jurisdictions, though, which is something to bear in mind.

    Overall, though, after fifteen years playing these games, I can’t say I have found many (if any) of the communities to be toxic. WoW was the worst – many, many things that would have risked legal action if said in the real world scrolled across my screen every time I was foolish enough to look at Auction chat. Even in WoW, though, if I turned chat off my actual play was unmolested.

    On the whole I’ve found most of the MMO environments I’ve experienced to be relatively open, friendly and pleasant, a trend which seems to be increasing and improving as time goes on. GW2 is a vicarage tea-party compared to EQ in its heyday!

  7. If the answer is to ban people that misbehave you didn’t design your game correctly for your audience. Banning for behavior is always the worst possible solution. It’s like imprisoning people after they’ve committed a crime. It doesn’t prevent the crime and costs a lot of money.

    The correct and only solution is to design your game to not allow the kind of grieving you don’t want.

    You can make a node shared or not. If you want your player to be nice to each other, make the damn node shared. If you like the competition, the “race for the node”, make the ore only harvestable by one person. But if ninjaing a node is “being an ass” in your game you didn’t pick the right decision.

    If it is “being an ass” if you ninja tag a named quest mob, make the damn quest mob a shared kill or instanced.

    If other people in LFR are “being an ass”, make the dawn thing runnable with henchmen. It wouldn’t be that difficult to replace the random LFR person with a henchmen and would be a lot more fun. (All that’s missing is some kind of garrison to collect your henchmen.)

    If people behave bad in LFR because they are only there for the loot, forcing people to run boring content weekly only for the reward is stupid game design.

    If you’re annoyed by random people in your dungeon group… maybe a dungeon finder tool isn’t the right thing to create groups that are expected to work together. Either design your game to have the player invest some time in creating a group (you behave better if your invested in something) or design your group to run the dungeons with henchmen or make content that doesn’t require coordination like world events. Nobody cares if you have to take care of your kid or dog during a GW2 world event because it doesn’t matter.

    • The LFR is a good example of where I’m not sure about this idea. The really toxic trolls are a very small proportion of the playerbase. Should everyone else be denied a fun LFR with other players because of a very small number of people who have to ruin stuff for others? I don’t say it’s right for everyone, but I like interacting with other players and I’d like to have the option to do it.

      • I have never experienced a troll in LFR and I did run quite a few LFR. The main problem are not trolls but conflict of interests. People are in there for different reasons and with different expectations. Very different expectations.

        Here’s the technical solution:
        – Turn it into a 25 man scenario where NPCs tank the boss. Nobody likes tanking in LFR unless they like being abused. This would vastly reduce the wait time for everyone else.
        – Let the game replace DD and healer by henchmen if not enough are queing. Let’s imagine that the game creates a new LFR every 5 minutes and fills the remaining spots with henchmen. Wait time reduced to max 5 minutes.
        – Replace player that leave with henchmen, don’t force people to run a half-complete LFR for 60 minutes wait time.
        – Make it impossible to pull a boss before everyone is ready (I’m not talking about a ready check where you can troll everyone by not pressing ready). There’s no reason a DD can start an event. There’s no reason why the Iron Juggernaut can be body pulled. That does add nothing to LFR.
        – Make player who release spawn within the raid, not outside the instance. You shouldn’t miss a boss just because you released.
        – If LFR is there for the story, remove the gear rewards. It shouldn’t be that raiders use it to fill out gaps or complete their set. And there shouldn’t be incentive to run it over and over again like for the legendary cloak. Treat it like a quest. Do it once and be done.

        Blizzard is improving in the LFR situation.
        – Flex is much better suited then LFR for guild groups. It does offer some challenge but isn’t a “one new boss every second week” situation like normal raids are for some guilds.
        – Flex doesn’t force you to take stranger with you to fill out a raid of 25. You can run it with 10-25 people.
        – They remove the set from LFR which removes all the people who are only there to complete their normal set and hate to be there. (Now they should just add different path to obtain sets. Collecting sets is fun and is something that must be available to every player, not only raiders.)

        Before you ban people try to design your game to encourage the behavior you want.

        Most people aren’t assholes. But if being an asshole is the most efficient way to play the game you completely fucked up.

  8. I have no objection to banning players, however my fear is that it will end up being arbitrary and capricious like CCP’s perma-ban system. Depending on the reviewing GM, the moon, the weather in Iceland and if you have slaughtered a goat recently you could get nothing, a slap on the wrist or a perma-ban of all accounts logging in from your computer. I’ve seen 4 people accused (and guilty) of the same exploit, all with no prior history, all using the same arguments (reviewed by alliance leadership) get 3 different results.

    Additionally, if you play intense games a lot sooner or later you’ll crack. You’ll play drunk, or tired or frustrated, snap and rip someone a new one. If you cherry pick my worst games of league you could come to the conclusion that I’m a toxic player. I’ve played ~4000 games of league. I’ve played after moving, after fights with my fiancee, after losing a job. Never had a ban, a chat restriction or even a warning. Honestly I’m probably completely silent in 80% of my games, only helpful comments in 15%, sarcastic comments in 4 and a bit %, with maybe 1 game a month where I just can’t take it anymore and give in to someone’s trolling or idiotic play and rage at them.

    Discussion of banning systems scares me because I could lose my league account if someone cherry picked my worse (less than 1% of games) and I had no real opportunity to argue it. In response to “There’s some behaviour that should be banned outright. Racism, sexism, or any other form of villification is unacceptable in any forum and should always be considered a bannable offence” Stropp, from above. I’ve never engaged in racism (don’t find it amusing), probably had some borderline sexist comments (i.e. when someone is playing Diana (a moon based LoL champ saying something like “You’d think a women would be able to bloody someone at least once a month”). But when I do rage, and it happens as described above, it’s certainly vilification of the person offending me, based upon their play or what they have said in game.

    People getting picked off standing next to un-warded bushes, people continually getting caught insanely out of position, people dying the same way five or six times combined with them raging in chat at me (I almost exclusively play support) is usually what sets me off. If you stand next to a bush, when I have 3 green wards and 1 pink ward out and you have no wards out and it’s one of the few bot lane bushes/areas without sight and then rage at me for not warding and you’ve died 5 times in 15 minutes, yes I’m might call you a idiot with a ton of expletives thrown in for good measure.

    Like I said, this terrifies me. I love league, I don’t feel that snapping every once and awhile and attacking someones play, almost universally after they have raged at me, is bannable. But if Riot was CCP I’d be sure that I’d randomly get an angry GM that perma-banned me sooner or later. Happily Riot has good review procedures (that honestly probably let a lot of truly toxic people through).

    Systems. We need them.

    • It doesn’t have to be a perma ban. I’m also in two minds about the racism/ sexism stuff. Sure, I don’t like it but if someone wants to make a guild where they can smacktalk shit with likeminded brodudes and it never affects anyone else in the game then it’s not my top priority. The person who gets toxic on my arse because they had a bad day at work/ got drunk/ had an argument with their partner and need to let off steam … that could make the target never want to log in again. If they’re anxious or depressed, it could really damage them.

      A lot of people won’t play league because of worries about running into that while trying to learn the game.

    • I’ll clarify.

      Villification, as used currently in Australia, generally refers to a fairly substantial slur based on someones race, religion, gender, disability, or some other characteristic. While I suppose it could mean having a go at someone for standing in the fire, it’s usually directed at behavior that could get you into legal trouble IRL, at least here in Oz.

      When I refer to sexism, I’m not talking about ‘minor’ sexism like you engage in (although it’s probably good to point out what one person considers minor might not be small potatoes to someone else: a random rape joke might not be a big deal to a bunch of teenage boys, but to a rape survivor? But that’s a whole other, very controversial topic.)

      As Spinks says, bans should also be considered on a case by case basis on severity and intent. The problem here, as I see it, is that most companies don’t seem to have a set of consistently enforced guidelines, and if they do, they don’t apply them consistently.

  9. Yes, but within the context of the game as has been stated before. LoL has tribunals, WoW uses lengthy investigations by GMs which result in waves of bans, etc. The key element here is that banning is supported on multiple levels and that the policies in place are both well thought-out and enforced consistently.

    Any behavior that is not desirable should be physically excluded to the extent that it is possible. Along with this there must be rules which both support and are supported by the prevailing ruleset – in other words, a “code” of conduct linked with the “code” that runs the game.

    Those who argue in favor of the slippery slope or some such wherein banning some players means you MUST ban this player or that player or MUST do Y if you did X are categorically false. If I were a snarky individual I’d posit that they represent the types of players most likely to be banned which is why they talk like that. But I’m more refined than that.

    You’ll get logical disconnects if you have a ruleset that says “no playerkilling in this particular RP zone” but playerkilling is not prohibited by the game rules. We’re a bit more evolved in 2014 and players naturally have a right to expect better from developers. In the case of LFR, you can certainly punish individuals for behaving badly as long as you have an established culture, game rules, and structure outside the game which are all in harmony. The usual histrionics and hysterics aside, any misalignment between those elements or perceived internal inconsistency within those elements will be perceived by the players as unfair or unjust; the bottom line is that it’s tricky to pull off – and even then it’s still highly subjective and subject to interpretation.

    I’m personally in favor of transparency when doing so. ArenaNet, for example, has a track record of publicly responding to individual account issues in an “Account Issues Followup” thread on their forums, including cases where players are appealing bans. This is a good step in the right direction – a step further would be something like LoL’s tribunal system which appears to represent a highly sophisticated and vetted system (which is also messy by nature) that goes to great lengths to ensure due process provided it is not abused.

    So, the tl;dr version of this superfluous philosophizing is: swing the banhammer judiciously, transparently, and in direct proportion to the existing level of asshattery.

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