For MMO players, Improbable brought some interesting ideas to GDC this past spring. It also brought some games I wasn’t expecting, and the ones I was expecting were kind of downplayed. On the ground floor, developers from some of our favorite MMOs hadn’t heard of SpatialOS, a platform that allows games to be “bigger” by running multiple game engines in an innovative way, with a few developers being exceptions. I was set up for a meeting with Improbable CCO Bill Roper to help figure things out, but soon into our physical meeting he was pulled away and we had to follow up with emails, which rarely goes as well.
Fortunately, Roper had time to sit and chat again with me at E3. With SpatialOS’s first game out in the wild and more on the way, I felt like there was a lot Roper could explain about SpatialOS, MMOs, and Improbable’s role in it all.
There’s some interesting stuff to be unpacked in a recent analysis of Conan Exiles that characterizes it as replete with griefing, racism, sexism, and general unmoderated player garbage. Equally interesting is the official response from Funcom, which is essentially “this isn’t an MMO so we’re under no obligations to moderate this stuff.” You can read that as any mixture of “we don’t want to hire moderation staff” and “we want money more than we want players to be happy” as you desire.
It’s true that Conan Exiles isn’t a full MMORPG. It’s also true that there are official servers with Funcom’s name on them, which means that there’s a legitimacy there. And it raises the interesting question of what obligations studios have to the players in this particular environment.
What qualifies as “griefing” can have a wide scope and cover a lot of things, and some of that is part of the game at its core; after all, there’s plenty of griefing behavior beyond PvP that makes a game like EVE Online what it is. And that’s not even counting servers that aren’t officially run by the development team. So what obligations do studios have to provide a griefing-free MMO environment? Does it apply only to official servers? Only to MMORPGs? Only to sufficiently large servers? When is moderation no longer the problem of the game’s owners?
In Andrew’s hands-on with Worlds Adrift published Monday, he expressed some serious concerns over the title’s approach to PvP. Even as a hardened sandbox PvP player, he found that the early game is overwhelmingly set up in favor of medium-tier players who are free to grief newbies all day long – and do. Worse, he worried that it would turn traditional MMORPG players off from the game, and that it might not be fixable thanks to the physics system that underpins the entire experience.
The good news is that Bossa Studios has been listening to concerns like Andrew’s and is promising to do something about it. The studio notes that the game is in early access and that the PvP system will see a big revisit.
Rare isn’t completely oblivious to the griefing going on in Sea of Thieves, even if it probably hoped gamers wouldn’t notice so damn much of it. A blog post from Executive Producer Joe Neate explains that it’s attacking griefplay from multiple angles.
- Insta-brig abuse will be stymied by management tools that give players the power over whether they are open to matchmaking in the first place. Matchmaker filtering by mic status and language will also be possible.
- Rare is changing ship respawn view distance so the ship that sunk you can’t immediately find you and do it again and again.
- And the studio is pushing players toward scuttling in the event that their ship is taken over and they’re repeatedly murdered by the invaders. “We’ll assess this before taking further steps,” Rare says. “We are also considering options around moving ships to other world instances if they are caught in a griefing situation.”
What would have been even better is if Rare had listened to alpha players (or any griefplay observers from the last couple of decades) and fixed it before launch, but we’ll take it.
Did you think Sea of Thieves’ patch yesterday, which aimed to address respawn griefing, was going to put an end to players’ torment? Yo-ho-ho not a single chance of that, me hearties. Not while the brig is still in the game.
As we’ve previously covered, the “brig” is sort of a milder version of vote-kicking found in other games; if you annoy enough of your fellow crew, they can dump you in the brig of the ship, locking you up until you apologize or whatever. Rare defended it as a “creative” solution that allowed people to roleplay their way out of a bad social situation.
But just as it did with its proposed (and since canceled) harsh death tax, Rare is now finding out the hard way that if you give a griefer an inch, he’ll take a mile, and now the tool meant to curb griefers is actually being used by them to, you guessed it, grief everyone else.
Still arr-ing and ahoy-matey-ing and avast-ye-ing in Sea of Thieves? Today’s patch… well, it’s a wee one. Rare says it’s fixed a bunch of bugs, including the install bug, the “falling through the boat” bug, the matchmaking lockup, and the bounty captain spawn bug. You also can’t screw up mermaid teleporting anymore. And as for the ongoing griefing?
“When a ship sinks, we have significantly increased the distance at which the crews new ship will respawn. Ships will now respawn outside of visible view of the ship that sank them. This is in response to lots of player feedback which highlighted that the previous spawn distance was resulting in ‘griefing’ behaviour and stalemates at the forts!”
The studio does note it’s still aware of character customization borkups, delayed achievements, weapon equip issues, and DLC display problems.
Don’t worry, death-prone pirates: You won’t have to pay the piper more than once when you go down to Davy Jones’ locker.
Some players raised concerns over the recent announcement that Rare was planning to institute a death tax in Sea of Thieves for each time someone kicked the bucket. The concern here was that in addition to being a gold sink, this piled on the pain for losers in PvP situations who may already be ganked or griefed.
Happily, this won’t be the case. A spokesperson for Rare said that it won’t be going forward with a harsher death penalty: “We’ve heard the sentiment there, so I can confirm that death cost is, well, dead. Thanks for the feedback here. We’re listening.”
The devs are also paying attention to the griefing problem (yes, the one everyone was pointing out a month ago).
I was snooping around the Star Citizen Spectrum forums last week when I bumped into a topic that made me back up my snooping truck for a second look. The author attempts to define “sandbox” as a “newer classification” than themeparks, which will make vets grin for sure, but then it goes on to argue that by definition, there’s not really any such thing as griefing in a sandbox as all activities are on the table.
2014 me already argued – successfully, I’d like to think – that PvP isn’t a crucial element of MMOs, let alone sandboxes, so I won’t do that again. But what I did want to home in on is how we ought to be defining griefing. I’ve always thought of griefing as having nothing to do with what is technically legal or socially acceptable in the game but about literally causing grief. Not trying to win, or trying to take something for yourself, which seem like perfectly reasonable activities in any game, but specifically making causing grief in other players your primary goal of your activities, whether or not you’re playing by the game’s particular rules to do so. For example: camping newbie spawn points even when the game doesn’t reward you for doing so. Consequently, it’s just as possible in a game that forbids PvP as one that enables it.
Do you agree with the OP? Is it possible to grief in an open PvP sandbox?
Last month, I put together an article and pair of videos discussing Asheron’s Call’s Shard of the Herald event to celebrate the game’s first deathiverary. It was a bittersweet experience for me, as it was not only my first MMO but the game that taught me a lot about life, and a lot of those lessons occurred during the Shard event.
Naturally there was some good nostalgia in there for fellow AC players, but apparently for some families as well. Someone claiming to be the son of Vidorian, the infamous Shard Slayer recruited by Turbine to end the event in a way that would respect the lore they built, reached out to us in the comments section. A quick chat with her verified that yes, she was the infamous savior of Bael’Zharon, and she agreed to answer some of my questions about the event. Even better, she’s provided us an unseen screenshot of the event! More than a decade after release, I feel like I’ve learned a lot more about what occurred behind the scenes of one of the seminal in-game events of our early genre.
In one story here we have the best and worst of humanity on display. It all begins with 12-year-old YouTuber Peter Varady, who goes by Rolly Ranchers and has been doggedly making Fortnite videos to his small audience. This all changed recently when a much more popular YouTuber named Cizzorz paired up with the kid in a match and drove thousands of subscribers to Varady’s channel.
While overwhelmed with the generosity and support that came with the leap in popularity, Varady soon learned that a higher profile also meant a higher chance of griefing. Sure enough, some jerk swatted him by placing a 911 call that he and his mother were going to hang themselves. The police showed up, which frightened the family and led to an investigation of the report.
Elite Dangerous has once again become the battleground between griefers and everybody else, this time with real-life stakes.
A few weeks ago, the Elite community banded together to come to the aid of CMDR DoveEnigma13, a 39-year-old player dying of cancer. In his honor, players and Frontier announced what they called The Enigma Expedition, a month-long, open expedition throughout Colonia. Hundreds of players signed up to join in the journey, including DoveEnigma13 and his young daughter on what was likely be their last journey together in the game. Frontier even chipped in a huge megaship to anchor the event.
But midway through the expedition, griefers showed up to bomb and disable that ship. Because of course they did. Oh, and there’s a contingent of nihilists on the forums providing them cover. Because of course they are.
If betrayals, heists, coups d’état, and threats aren’t enough to pique your interest in EVE Online’s
metagame, maybe memes will do the trick.
As PCGN points out, EVE Online players are rushing to fill the vacuum left by last week’s theft of in-game property worth $20,000 (and subsequent banning by CCP of one of the victims for issuing multiple real-life threats to maim the perpetrator). Indeed, the winning cohort, if you want to call any of this “winning,” has now produced a taunting propaganda video set to Johnny Cash’s God’s Gonna Cut You Down and begun auctioning off some of the in-game property its members stole. I’d link to the pun thread as well, but as of press time, there are racist comments in it, so suffice it to say that EVE’s Reddit community has squeezed every imaginable hand- and mittens-related pun out of the whole mess.
Massively OP’s Brendan “Nyphur” Drain, who’s been covering the EVE universe for over a decade, has written extensively on this topic over the last week, discussing the particulars of this arm of the war, the fallout over the real-life threat, and most recently, the shift in what’s considered acceptable toxicity inside the game since its launch in 2003.
Even if you can overlook the expense, the current lack of games, the potential for nausea, and the annoyance of wearing a clamshell on your sweaty face, virtual reality has a looming problem: trolls.
Turns out that the same internet jerks who ruin online spaces and games via text and avatar show up to do the same in virtual reality too.
As MIT Technology Review wrote yesterday, part of the point of socializing in virtual worlds is to feel the “presence” of other people — but the very benefit that makes “virtual reality so compelling also makes awkward or hostile interactions with other people much more jarring,” such as when people invade your private space or try to touch your avatar without permission.
The publication highlights AltSpaceVR, a startup building tools to help people deal with trolls. The company has some of the basics already — like a way to make obnoxious people invisible with a block — but it’s also working on a “personal space bubble” to stop people from groping your virtual self without permission, which they would otherwise do because people are gross and have no shame.