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Article by Ragnar Scheuermann
One of the biggest design debates seems to be what to do about player killing. Some argue that there should be none whatsoever, while some want no PvP servers, or to divide the world into areas that are PvP-, and PvP+. Some would just have the system admins watch over the whole world and ban any grief PKs. The minority, which including the designers of Ultima Online and the current Shadowbane designers, believe that PvP is an important and interesting enough thing that it should be in all worlds. I fall in the later camp.
But why not just have a PvP+ and a PvP- server? There are 2 major problems with this approach. The simplest is that you are suddenly spending a large effort coding a set of rules and interest that can only possibly affect a (small?) percentage of your user base. The second problem is that when creating this segregation between PKs (wolves) and their prey (sheep), you increase significantly the ratio of wolves to sheep on the PvP+ servers. Unfortunately this reduces significantly any chance these servers have for setting up a society where the sheep can hold the wolves at bay by their sheer numbers.
For the sake of describing how a balanced society might work, lets then assume an integrated server and make up some number populations. Say 10% of the population are the ones who need the control, the PKs who slaughter innocents. This figure includes those roleplaying evil characters, as both groups need justice. Lets assume another 30% enjoy meaningful PvP, but are good, they participate in PvP for the good of the society when called for and fight wars with other groups for fun and practice. The remaining 60% include those mainly interested in PvE (monster bashing), socializing, and other non-combat activities, but are still capable of participating in PvP to some degree if necessary. So, basically the ratio of good to evil is 9 to 1. Evil does have a few points in its favor, including surprise, timing, and characters focused for the task, but goods sheer numbers should make up for this assuming its possible for them to do more than just slap evil on the hand to punish them. For player justice to work, 3 things are necessary. Offenders need to be able to be identified, found, and significantly punished.
Identification of a criminal is a problem that hasnt been done well at all in any game Ive seen. One of the more traditional solutions is just to flag anyone who has killed anyone else. An upgraded version of this is to only highlight people who have never killed anyone who werent already a killer. Some games let this flagging dissipate over time. Ultima Online possibly has the most complex system to date in the new reputation system that I wrote. It is an extremely complex system of criminal flagging, aggression flagging, murder reporting, and valid defense monitoring where the computer attempts to judge any action to determine if it was evil or not. Unfortunately computers are HORRIBLE at determining intent, and since UO has so many ways to interact, it didnt handle many of them well. Pets, fire fields, trapped chests, house trespassing, and stealing all caused problems where intent wasnt obvious. It also failed to handle non computer directed activities such as merchants ripping people off, teleportation scams, monster training, blocking corridors, etc. that would still be considered evil. Automated solutions dont work. What MMORPGs need is a solution that closer models the real world, a system that comes directly from the players, where claims are investigated by players, moderated by players, and the criminal flagging is ultimately done by players. Its the responsibility of the MMORPG developer to give the players the tools they need to do this. Hopefully Ill have the opportunity in the future to test the design I have for such a tool.
Once good knows who evil is, they need to find it. This is a tough one, as you also want to balance players desire for privacy and secrecy, occasionally. Lack of instant teleportation certainly makes tracking criminals a bit easier, since they are probably near where they were last seen. The MMORPG Shadowbane addresses the aspect of finding a criminal by having everyone have a home base that they must return to fairly often in order to train or resupply. This is the best approach Ive seen so far in that it gives a possible target of large-scale battles, creates a player driven locations that mean something, and maintains fiction. If towns have the power to exclude certain individuals, then criminals would end up being outcast into towns of anarchy, or those where they arent known. If a town becomes known as a haven of evil, it could be destroyed entirely by a large determined group of justice seekers.
The issue of punishment is another extremely debated topic, but everyone believes that evil players should be punished somehow. Many feel that the computer should dispense justice in the form of guards, shopkeeper banishment, etc. In a PvP+ society, the most severe wound that can generally be inflicted is killing another player. Ultimately, when a criminal is punished, he needs to lose or at least weakened in his ability to commit the crime he was convicted of for a significant amount of time. Again, I believe the best method of handling punishment is to put in into the hands of players. Make death significant. If you die, you lose experience, skills, and possibly property. There also need to be less severe and alternate punishments for death, such as property destruction, banishment, methods of skill/stat/exp loss that are less severe than death. Imprisonment or public humiliation could work if players have the ability to knock out, restrain, and move other players. Evil players would be able to do all these things as well, but most likely they wouldnt be nearly as organized about it, and of course they would have to deal with the retribution of good.
Its been said that players arent ready to police themselves. This is a cop-out. Some say that its impossible to create an MMORPG where player justice works. They are wrong! Earth is a multiplayer world that proves that player justice can work if criminals can be identified, tracked down, and if punishments can be severe enough to make the task of rebuilding difficult. The task of developers is to look at why justice works in our world, apply the ideas to their game, and find ways to make it fun.