A long time ago on a website far, far away, we were having a discussion about modern MMOs and their inability to make sandboxes more than thinly disguised FFA gankfests. I suggested that devs riff on Star Wars Galaxies and its early TEF (temporary enemy flagging) system as a way to incorporate optional FFA PvP into a PvE sandbox. As it turns out, the system was incredibly complex from a design and implementation standpoint, and it also assumed a certain amount of player competency if PvP avoidance was desired.
Raph Koster, the designer of SWG’s original TEF system, has posted a lengthy blog entry that outlines all of the challenges inherent in the system from both a developer and a player perspective. It’s a pretty fascinating read whether you’re a fan of SWG or one of those PvE players who would love to play a sandbox MMO but for the incessant Lord of the Flies vibe.
Koster says that the TEF was far from perfect, in part because of the way it allowed players to grief those who didn’t learn the mechanics. “For the cautious and savvy player, [knowing how the flagging worked] wasn’t that big a deal. But cautious and savvy players aren’t at risk of subscription cancellation. They are already bought in. It’s less sophisticated players you need to worry about, and who will make the mistake, and get burned by it and quit.”[Source: Koster’s blog]