[problem players] Pictorial version – problem players or problem behaviours?

victory of the daleks 1


“Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”
Winston Churchill

So imagine we have a group of people in the room. One of them is secretly a dalek who actually hates all life and has anger management issues and a disintegration beam. Those people might argue, they may have bad days, but only one of them is going to ever disintegrate people.

That’s one model of problem players – that some people are not like other people and are inevitably going to go dalek. The reason is not important, just that when you put them in that setting, they are going to be a problem. So if you can find and turf out those guys ASAP, the game space instantly becomes less threatening for everyone else. For lulz you could separate them into their own space where they can exterminate each other rather than just turfing them out completely.


dog socks


Here’s another model: dogs aren’t bad, they are just dogs. And sometimes that means they might do things that annoy other people (or dogs) if they aren’t properly trained.

So if you socialise your dog properly, identify the behaviour you want to stop, and put in some training,  then all will be well. If we want people to stop being abusive online when they lose a PvP match or end up in a PUG with someone who they think is a noob, then we have to teach them this is not acceptable and that bad dogs will be shamed. It is, ultimately, behaviour that players can control if they want to.



“In this country, it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, in order to encourage the others” (Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres).” Candide (Voltaire)

An example of using a ban as a teaching mechanism for others.

So let’s try this again with less labelling

I don’t like labelling people as problem players. Or in other words, everyone is someone else’s problem player. But there are legitimately some people who struggle more with playing with others. We don’t need to know the reasons for this – some people are on the autistic spectrum, others have abusive backgrounds, others have been used to a community where smack talk and rage outs are acceptable, others are roleplaying being internet heroes. Maybe it’s patriarchy to blame, or capitalism, or the internet, or testosterone, or the NHS, or young people today, or the parents.

In the ideal world, there would be help and support. In the real world, they get to stomp all over the rest of us while society figures out how to best regulate the internet. And at this point I am equating problem players in MMOs to trolls on the internet. It isn’t the first comparison I am going to make but it does demonstrate how there is a difference between committed, organised trolling and people who just rage out from time to time when they’ve had a bad day at work. And as an added bonus, lots of people rage out when they encounter any kind of rules or regulation that involves them being told off. (I can say this from my experience as a mod on rpg.net).

And as soon as we shift from talking about problem players to problem behaviours, we have a problem which (potentially) could be solved. Make no mistake, solving the problem of online bullying is up there with climate change and water shortages and war in the middle east as one of our generation’s Big Problems.

Unfortunately, bullies don’t want to be ‘solved’ and will spend many happy hours figuring out ways around any mechanisms that are in place, so that they can  make other people’s lives more miserable. Or in other words, Lum is wrong and actually it may be a problem if the cats want to play with the box rather than the cat toy. Why do I say it? Because if some people are determined that their game is really about playing with the other players whether they like it or not, they are ruining the sandbox for others.

For a lot of others though, the behaviours can be channelled and the larger and more successful massive online games are finding ways to do that. I will talk more about Blizzard later this week because I think they and Riot are right up there with the best of any online organisation, public or private sector, in managing the player base. MMOs/ massive games are going to be where these techniques are honed and the ones which work will see use more widely later.

And at the same time, we can argue about how well this behaviour management is working. WoW is still a game in which you may zone into a PUG/ LFR and be abused/ booted while you are a new player and trying to learn the strategies. LoL still has a reputation for similar types of abuse. There are other games which have more pleasant communities and reputations. So the other angle would be – how do we build nicer communities?

Thanks all for the feedback on yesterday’s post! I see some agreement with the general principle that we’d like our online spaces to be less hostile, and some equally valid concern about the mechanics of how this might happen and what kinds of rules could be fairly applied online.

8 thoughts on “[problem players] Pictorial version – problem players or problem behaviours?

  1. There are a number of in game system that have often been implemented to help with players griefing. They are not always 100% bullet proof and can sometime be used as a tool in the griefers arsenal.

    My favourite was the Planetside (original) grief system that built up points the more friendly injuries you inflicted, as you gained more the multipler increased this ultimately resulted in you gaining more levels in the chart.

    <10 grief points – Nothing
    <500 grief points – a Reminder/Warning
    <1000 grief points – a strong Warning
    <5000 grief points – Grief Lock*
    5001+ grief points – 3-day Ban

    * Grief lock basically made the player unable to fire weapons and reduced their top speed of vehicles.

    Grief points would gradually reduce at the rate of 1 point every 10 minutes, forcing the player to play in a different playstyle. It's worth also noting that the grief lock time was like to how much damage was done and even though the grief points redcued while the players was offline the timer on the lock carried over between sessions.

    From this point forward I shall have t use the term "go dalek".
    Great to see you back bloggin btw.

  2. The problem starts with deciding on what unacceptable behavior is, what should get punished for.

    As long as you have the power you can enforce your opinion, like what you do with a dog. But you wont find a consensus on what is acceptable in an MMO. I’m sure that for everyone who thinks you should get banned for writing “ogogogo” you’ll find someone else who thinks you should get banned for being in a dungeon without watching a youtube guide first.

    • True. And there are also questions around privacy. For example, if every interaction is monitored all the time, what does that mean for people? What if authentication devices were worn and also measured a player’s blood pressure or heartrate and stopped them queuing for LFG if they gave out indications of being stressed?

      Is it even right to measure behaviour like that? It’s actually more of an ethical minefield than it looks. But the root is people playing aspects of the game they don’t like with players they despise for a reward that isn’t that important anyway — and how do you cure THAT?

      • > and how do you cure THAT?

        Horizontal progression.

        Blizzard did teach its player for the last 10 years that the game is only about upgrades. And they accelerate this vicious cycle with every add-on by increasing the power inflation.

        What’s the damage difference between full T16 and full heroic dungeon blue gear? It’s probably about 4 times the damage or something like that. If more than 75% of you damage come from gear and not skill it’s not so surprising that gear becomes the one and only thing people care about.

        Vanilla WoW had a much smaller difference between the T sets and dungeon blues, mainly but not only because the sets “wasted” some points on resistance.

  3. Welcome back – and now, I’m going to disagree with you 🙂
    The problem is that people aren’t dogs (except maybe the ones who are, after all nobody knows you’re a dog on the internet). You can train dogs, and you can teach children, but adults are supposed to take responsibility for their own behaviour, and don’t take kindly to being treated like children (or dogs). This is why so many people rage out when they’re told off – because unless you accept the authority of the person telling you off then it equates to being treated like a kid and kicks off a “you’re not the boss of me” reaction.
    Which brings us to the crux of the problem – that the internet is full of people, most of whom are adults, and where the default behaviour is to treat them as adults, but a sizeable minority (and I hope to God it really is a minority) act like spoilt children (or Daleks) and we don’t really have much in the way of authority figures from whom they’re willing to accept correction. It doesn’t help that a good proportion of gaming’s ‘authority figures’ and role models raise assholeness as something to aspire to (certain EVE Online celebrities spring to mind, but so do all the “-50 DKP!” shouty raid leaders in WoW).
    I think you’re right in that most of the jerk players aren’t actually irredeemable, like daleks, but I don’t think that targeting the behaviour will necessarily work because adults are quite resistant to having their behaviour modified. What we really need to do is make online interactions more like offline interactions, where we see much less trollish behaviour. How do we do so? I see two main factors to address here:
    1) Personalising people. This is NOT the same as removing anonymity (anyone remember the RealID debacle?) but we need to make people online see the other avatars as people, and not just convenient automata to be used or mocked for the lulz.
    2) Consequences. In a face to face conversation, the typical internet troll would get punched on the nose in short order. We need an internet equivalent of the punch on the nose, but without creating a griefing tool for the trolls to use against the rest of us. Suggestions on a postcard please…

    • Actually adults, and especially gamers, are fairly malleable to having their behaviours modified. Just reward the behaviours you want to see and punish the ones you don’t… theres a whole beanch of psychology about it!

  4. You seem to be vacillating between targeting the behavior or the player. I mean, you spend several paragraphs arguing that one needs to target the behavior, and then you state:

    “Unfortunately, bullies don’t want to be ‘solved’ ”

    Which to me seems to indicate that targeting behavior was pointless, and targeting people would have been better.

    • I wouldn’t say it was pointless. But it could be that both are true …. the behaviours are a problem but there are also a smaller number of people who just cant play nice with others. So yes, I am vacillating a bit 🙂 next post is taking another step back to look at the triggers for problem behaviour.

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