One of the biggest issues you'll have to contend with is the players. This issue is unavoidable. You must manage player expectations, have respect for your players, and listen to them as well. You can and should care deeply about them, too. After all, these are your customers. Every time they log into your game, they make a decision. With a few clicks of the mouse, they choose to continue supporting you.
The player issue will cause an unsuspecting developer more
than anything else he or she can imagine. This is definitely not for the faint of heart. You may pay for, design, and create a world, but at the end of the day, if you want people to pay you their dollars, yen, and francs to play in it, sear this fact into your brain:
It isn't your game; it's the player's game.
focused on making a game. If they're not careful, this will breed certain assumptions, such as the world they created will
their world and the players will play the game the way the
That will not happen. Players have their own motivations and objectives. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of people with different personalities ”yet there are only 30 or so people who make a game. When a game goes live, the developers have to view it as a new game and a partnership with the players to make that world thrive. To do this, the developers need to understand who the players are, why they show up, and what makes them stay.
Who Am I?
of hundreds of thousands of players could be broken down into any number of groupings and categories to help explain behavior and objectives. For the purposes of this book, we'll simplify and break it into three broad categories. Players who don't fall into one of these three areas are usually
"general" players. General players are
neutral. They obey the rules, play the game, and might help out when they see someone who needs help. They aren't nasty and they aren't pillars of your community. They're regular "Joes."
It's important to note that there is gray area between these types. The categories that follow are
. Please don't expect all your players to neatly line up into the areas we've listed. It won't happen that neatly, we promise.
The barbarians are the "problem children" of online gaming. Their objectives vary, but one thing is consistent: They don't care what you or
Barbarians don't care about your intricately conceived game mechanics or your well-thought-out player
and accountability systems, or whether or not exploiting a bug is cheating. These are the "griefers," players who love the anonymity of the Internet and whose main enjoyment comes from ruining other players' experiences. They are the bug exploiters who don't care if duplicating gold, weapons,
, or whatever requires them to flood attack your routers and crash a server. It doesn't bother them that thousands of others have their game
Barbarians are the cheaters, script kiddies, account hackers, client hackers, and "k&wl d00ds," whose objectives are not
in a game, but making sure they and their small
of other social misfits can giggle behind their hands as they stare at the monitor, happy to have caused heartache and pain to someone else.
Identifying barbarians is a critical task, one easier said than done. PWs, or those with servers under company control, have the advantage of logging activity. Problems can be
and dealt with at a later time. In free-play peer-to-peer
, such as
Age of Empires
, it is almost
. The collective intelligence of client hackers and the anonymity of the Internet make it difficult for a developer to take action. This is why peer-to-peer games have such poor attendance online compared to sales; when the client hacks show up, the honest players give up in disgust. The same is true for PWs when bad behavior goes unchecked.
For some, the raw intensity of the "virtual psychopath" that many barbarians represent can be refreshing in its novelty. At first, some who encounter them
as though they are cute online versions of Hannibal Lecter. Soon after meeting barbarians, they notice what is missing from the comparison: education, erudition, and the ability to function in society. In
, Dr. Lecter's victims had some reason for becoming his entrees. Barbarians will eat your customers without any provocation or remorse. They are more akin to the mass murderer in the Richard Pryor movie who, when asked why he murdered all those people, replied, "They was home."
Barbarians are a statistically small group. However, they do a lot of damage to games. Reroute them or get them out of the game. It's that simple. The only players who will shed a tear at the banishment of griefers are other griefers.
The bottom line: Barbarians will drive customers away faster than Attila could jump on his horse.
The objective of the tribesmen is to ensure that they and their personal micro-community (guild, team, squadron, clan, or Saturday morning coffee and killing club) have a great time. They are very team-oriented; it is not unusual for them to call each other in the early morning hours to get the tribe online for some objective. They help each other out, and at times, are pillars of the community, helping new players and
trying to be a resource.
They can still cause problems in-game. For example, tribesmen have no trouble organizing "camping" parties. This is much like the big
staking out the
and not letting anyone else play. They put groups of players in an area and prevent others from
it. This way, only the tribe reaps the benefits.
If another tribe or player annoys them, they can organize quickly and for long periods to attempt to drive that tribe or player out of the game. The tribe may use a variety of
tactics. The goal: Make the game unplayable for the group or person they are
with; in other words, drive them out.
Group dynamics can cause people to view rules differently. What players might not think is acceptable as individuals can change when it's for the good of the tribe. There can be a bit of mob
. If something is seen as an affront to the tribe, you could wind up with an entire group retaliating against the game, breaking rules as a way of fighting back, or the whole group may decide to pack up and move to another game.
There is beneficial power to the tribe as well. When happy, the entire tribe stays where it is. Listen to your tribes. Give them tools to facilitate group management and communication. Keep in mind that your tribe
are your political lifeblood in the game. They influence large groups. If you disrespect them, you can
entire tribes into barbarians.
The citizen is the crown jewel of any online game. Think of these players as the good people you know in the real world. In a game setting, these are the people most likely to take new players under their wing, take part in role-playing events, lend their in-game cash and resources to a greater cause, and always have a civil word for passersby.
Moreover, they are willing to obey the rules and play the game "
" (according to your vision) and in-character and
others to do so as well. Their objectives are to create a legend for
, but not at the expense of the game or other players. They want the whole game and all the players to survive and thrive within the world you've created.
The citizen usually strives to become a community leader. If there is no political or diplomatic portion to the game, they'll create one from whole cloth and convince others to participate. They become player advocates, game advocates, and at times, can create around themselves a cult of personality that becomes more vibrant and important than the game itself.
Citizens are pure gold. They keep others in the game. Please remember that the citizens deserve your attention. They aren't your squeaky wheels (like your problem children), and it's easy to overlook them. Attention given to the citizens has a huge impact on the world. It benefits the entire community. Do not fall into the trap we've faced before. You spend so much time responding to the fires caused by your problem players that your good players feel neglected. Over time, the neglected good players become barbarians themselves.
We've been there and we've done it. It hurts the game. Learn from our mistakes.
Now that you know the three broad categories, what do you do about them?
When it comes to barbarians and upstart tribes, two words are key: logs and
Create logs for everything you can. Log player transactions and transfers above a certain size, character traveling speeds, player inventories, you
it. This is the best method you have for catching cheaters, dupers, speed hackers, and other exploiters.
As an illustration of how this can save you plenty of time and heartache, Damion Schubert, former lead designer for the groundbreaking
Meridian 59 (M59)
this story from his 1996 experiences:
I had coded
into M59 over the
, shortly before we were supposed to go gold. It was a rush job, but I took uncommon care and felt pretty confident that I had implemented something that was fairly bug-free. So imagine my consternation when a group of players told me something was totally broken.
One aspect of guilds was the guild halls. Players could conquer another player's guild hall by sneaking into the guild hall and flipping a switch. If it wasn't unflipped inside of 10 minutes, that guild hall was considered conquered. The key ”the only way to
in ”was if you snuck in the front door behind a player who belonged to the guild. Once inside, it was trivial to
the door, allowing the rest of your guild in. This simple design was such to ensure that players could only conquer guild halls while the defenders were actually online.
Except that the guild
yelling at me were
up and down that no one was online when their hall was taken over.
The way they figured it, the math was simple. They had 10 members; all 10 of them swore up and down that they hadn't entered the hall in the last day, nor had they gotten the ominous "Your guild hall is being raided!" message. I
to crack open code, pore over logs, and try to calm them down. Unfortunately, none of them showed me anything wrong.
Until one of the guild members, one who had been quiet up until this point, took pity on me. She sent me a private message saying, "It's not broken." She went on to explain that she had waited until the rest of the guild was offline, then she opened the door for another guild. I understand she got 30 pieces of silver for her trouble.
With that news, I coughed and told the
angry mob that I had explored all available information and discerned that the takeover was in fact legal and that there was no bug. I
to give more information than that. I never found out if they
the Judas in their ranks.
As for me, I
learned my lesson: LOG EVERYTHING, and offer a robust system for reviewing the logs. When hunting down
and/or reviewing player cries of foul, nothing makes the job of the
easier than knowing that he/she has perfect information and can state with 100% accuracy when a player isn't telling the whole truth.
Logs are fairly useless unless you can create
reports from them. Incredible as it may seem, most companies simply dump logs into a UNIX file and the poor schmuck investigating an infraction has to use
and other commands to tediously look through them, hoping to find the relevant portions. (Note:
is a common search tool used on UNIX systems. The manual page for this simple search program runs about six pages. It's a
. You can tame it, but why should you when better tools exist that mere
can use?) Talk about a waste of time! Data is useless unless it is relevant.
The best method is probably a searchable database that allows a comparison of various fields by date and time, size, and so on, with regular daily reports on some transactions. For example, if the game features "gold" as the cash medium, receiving a daily report on all accumulations or transactions above 1,000,000 gold (or whatever size makes sense for your game) can help you pinpoint dupers quickly. If the same character suddenly gains 20,000,000 gold, you know to investigate further.