DrunkenGamer’s Omerta (December 2010)

This month has been a busy one for me. In the earlier part of the month a small bunch of disgruntled players decided to cause problems for the fair players.

When you are working with anything as complex as an mmo, it is impossible to find all the bugs. While we always try to stay on top of them when your dealing with many many thousands of lines of code, sometimes they do slip by no matter how hard you try.

On those occasions we rely on the players to tell us as they find them, the same as any other mmo developer. Thankfully more often than not the players do exactly that, however on this occasion the player did not.

One group of players found a bug that allowed them damage another players account, and decided to use it. Before we knew it the problem was spreading like wildfire. Quick work was done to solve the problem, what was really difficult was refunding all the players unfairly affected by the abuse.

Thankfully we found a way and that was all sorted.

Once we got all that sorted, I was unfortunately was called away from the office for Jury Service. When your registered to vote here in the UK, you can also be called up to serve on a Jury.

This means I have had little time for designing this month, however all that has gone on in the last month has made me think about the concept of crime and punishment.

Now being based in a criminal world, we overall deal with crime and punishment all the time. You can go to jail for almost any crime in the game and how long you will spend in jail differs based on the severity of the crime. Stealing a car can see you in for a couple of minutes, while a Organised crime can put you behind bars for hours.

But that’s not the context that I’m on about this time. Its cheaters and abusers in the game and the question of what to do with them.

Now at the moment we have a basic scale of punishments
Minor Rule breaking – we will remove a percentage of the players statistics
Major Rule breaking – we Admin-Kill the account
Repeat Offenders – we IP ban them from the games servers

Now these rules may be a bit harsh, but they are not taken lightly. We never go as far as Admin-Killing an account without being sure that an account has cheated.

This however had one slight drawback, that need for absolute certainty did for a while create a large grey area for cheaters to hide in. They would make their cheats look like fair (but high skilled) players.

We would still catch them however it would just need more effort. That is why when I took over Deathmatch, I decided to take a look at reducing that grey area, as well as looking at a new way to deal with them.

To cut the grey area I actually took a little gamble. You see the grey area they were hiding in was that of the skilled players, the ones that were at the very top of the game. If I tightened up here there was a chance that it would result in some genuinely skilled and fair players would get caught up and punished.

Thankfully this gamble paid off. We did actually hit a few of those players, but they actually were willing to accept the hit if it made the game fairer overall. That system was the online time limit, which has now be expanded across all the versions.

The second way of dealing with them was slightly different, that was to make them socially unacceptable.

Oh sure nobody in the game liked cheaters, but some families would turn a blind eye to the fact that a member of their family may have cheated. This was quite difficult to do anything with when I first took over, but there was always a plan.

You see, I had always wanted to make changes to the families in way that when a cheater was found in their numbers, they would all suffer in some way. When I overhauled the family system, I worked that concept into it from the start.

Now when a cheater is found in a family, the family will take a punishment as well when they are dealt with. This has lead to less families willing to turn a blind eye. Seeing as so much of the end game revolves around families, it is a very good social deterrent.

Obviously we are not done yet with cheaters, there are always new ways to route them out and get rid of them – but unfortunately we have come to the end of my write-up this month. With luck next month I will be able to get back to design talk again.

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