Making A Design Mountain Out Of A Mole-Hill

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I had to stop trusting other players today, at least temporarily, because of one jerk’s actions.

For the most part, I’m a pretty laid back guildmaster.  We don’t even have a real “officer” class.  If you’re a cool person and you make it clear through your interactions with us all that you can be trusted, I’m going to promote you from the beginning rank up to the one right under mine.  My tailor can make the ilvl 476 gloves and robes, so if a guildie needs gear, I’ll ask them to just send me over whatever Windwool Cloth they can and I’ll plant a farm-full of Songbell Seeds to speed up the process of making the required Imperial Silk for it, no charge.  I don’t require applications or anything like that to get in; all I ask before sending over the guild invite is how you found the guild and why you want to be in ours versus the million and a half others out there.  Since we’re Torchwood Institute, I get a lot of “I love Doctor Who!” and that makes me happy.  Sometimes people mention that they read our guild finder note about how we’re all older and they’re looking for other adults to hang out with, which is great, too.  Unless you flat out tell me “lol don’t care just want rep boost,” you’re probably getting an invite.

Last night, one of the guys in the guild who I’ve been playing with for years invited a kid who was looking for a guild in trade chat.  Nothing seemed too unusual about that until I noticed a few strange things with the guild bank and checked the tab logs.  I saw a bunch of withdrawals from the new guy, but noticed our number of members had gone down by one.  Uh oh.

Sure enough, the kid apparently accepted the invite, cleaned out what he could from our bank, and then /gquit for another guild without a word.

I understand that a lot of guilds out there don’t even allow access to their bank until members reach some kind of officer or trusted status, but I have a tendency to  give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  In my eight years playing this game, and others, I’ve only had to deal with one other thief, and that was back in the days when Wrath of the Lich King was still fresh.  He had been taking items out of the bank and asking other members to withdraw for him, then putting them on the auction house to make money for himself.  His argument was that there was no rule against it on our forums.  I replied that if he couldn’t figure it out for himself that doing something like that was dishonest and selfish, then he didn’t need to be a part of our guild, and if he needed gold all he would have had to do was ask us rather than steal.  Against my better judgment I gave him another chance, and ended up having to kick him a few weeks later when it became obvious that he had given his account over to a gold-farming/power-leveling service.  I have no idea what happened after that, if he ended up getting banned or scammed another guild or quit altogether.

Guildmasters usually have to take a player’s history at their word.  Unless they’ve done something so notorious that the entire server knows them as a ninja-looter or a bully (and there have been a few of those in my time), or the guild in question requires references and a detailed history as some raiding guilds do, there’s no real way to know if the guy you just invited is a thief or a botter or any of that.  I have an uncanny ability to tell when somebody’s lying or hiding something from me if they’re sitting across a table from me — as a result, no one ever wants to play poker with me — but when they’re just words on a screen, it’s a little harder to know if they’re just pulling off some kind of act.  With this guy, who knows if this was his first offense or if this is something he does on a regular basis?  He was only level 15, but alts are such a common thing that you can’t even really assume he’s a new player just because he’s a low level.  For all I knew, he had six level 90s fully decked out with the gold and items he’s stolen before.  Paid appearance, name, race, and even faction changes make it even easier to escape detection.

So I very sadly put on my Sherlock Holmes hat to figure out where this kid had gone after loading up from our bank and peacing out.  I knew he hadn’t deleted his character or switched name/faction because I was able to friend him.  He wasn’t online, but a quick character search on the official website brought up his profile and showed that he had joined another guild already.  A /who for the guild name brought up a list of all online members, and one polite inquiry via whisper led me to the guildmaster.  I explained the situation to him calmly, in private, and gave only the facts: this player was in our guild for all of a couple of hours, stole from our guild bank, then quit and joined his guild.  The GM of this guild was quite horrified and apologetic, even offered to replace what had been stolen (thankfully it was all replaceable and of course, not his fault, so no way was I going to allow him to do that), and assured me that he was going to leave the player on a restricted rank and put a note in his tab so that he didn’t forget.  I thanked him for his time, he thanked me for the heads up, and we went on our way.

I’m not going to give out the names of anyone involved, or mention the other guild, because I don’t want this to turn into a call-out.  There’s more to this than me being upset about a thief or the fact that afterwards I had to lower the daily withdrawal limit from 30 to 5 and turn off the ability to withdraw gold, except for repairs, for this particular rank.  Though by this point we only have one or two people still on this lower rank, either because they’re very new or haven’t been on enough for us to get a feel for them, it still bothered me that in order to make sure the guild was secure for everyone I had to throw them under the bus, too.  I like being able to just kick back and hang out with people rather than needing to “manage” them.  I don’t like having to put people on a blacklist.  But sometimes it can’t be avoided.

This all got me to thinking about ways to deal with this from a designer’s perspective.  Obviously, small matters such as a guild bank thief are whatever the in-game equivalent of civil cases are, and should be dealt with as internally as possible.  In this case, simply contacting the thief’s new guildmaster sufficed.  Back in the days of vanilla, you could frequently find someone sitting in trade chat sending out repeated warnings about specific ninja looters or thieves, but I never really felt comfortable with that concept.  After all, there is the chance, no matter how tiny, that this kid is brand new and like 10 or something and didn’t know that doing what he did was a major faux pas, and putting him up for massive amounts of trolling and harassment like that would be horrible.  But what happens if this kid moves on from his new guild?  Will that guildmaster contact the new one as well?  This chain of communication about dishonest players only stays strong so long as people talk to each other, and that doesn’t always happen, whether due to apathy or anxiety about bugging a complete stranger.  So how do you put together a reliable system that can’t be easily abused to let other players know who’s shady and who’s safe?

XBox Live features a scorecard system that allows you to “rate” the person you’ve just played with.  Liked them?  Leave them five stars.  Did they scream abuse into their headset or spawn-camp?  You can choose from the list of preset infractions and have a lower rating put on their scorecard, visible to anyone who checks their profile.  If you didn’t enjoy playing with them, the matchmaking system also does everything it can to avoid pairing you up with that player ever again while showing preference to players you’ve rated highly.  A few alterations here and there, and you could easily tailor it to fit World of Warcraft’s interface with a few different options.  In fact, it could probably be adapted for Battle.Net as a whole to cover StarCraft and Diablo, as well.

First things first — where would this information be displayed?  The addition of a “Statistics” tab to the Character window, viewable on inspect or via Character Search on the World of Warcraft website, could also open the door for lots of useful numbers, such as:

  • Player’s specific raid lockouts
  • List of dungeons, raids, and heroics run, and number of times successfully completed (to last boss)
  • Number of times vote-kicked (with reason recorded)
  • Number of times run in each role
  • Average DPS/heals/threat gen/etc. per run

Here’s a quick and very dirty mockup of what some of this information could look like — of course, headers and such could be switched around, rephrased, et cetera.

All numbers 100% pulled out of my ass.

All numbers 100% pulled out of my ass.

“Contribution” itself would require the implementation of a Recount-esque feature, but World of Warcraft is no stranger to integrating useful code developed by modders into its interface.  I remember back in the day when EquipCompare was required to be able to view two tooltips side-by-side and Scrolling Combat Text was the only way to see your combo points, regen, and really much beyond how much damage you were doing and how much you were being hit for.  Now their features are available in the regular, un-modded interface.  Almost every player I know runs some form of damage or healing meters to begin with, so this would seem the next logical choice for integration.  Of course, when utilizing any system of averages, there are some challenges to be faced to make sure that the end results aren’t skewed, such as in the case of a shadow priest who only heals on occasion, but is great at it when they do.  If it were an overall average, including their time spent melting faces, the number would be much lower than it should be.  If healing done was only taken into account when they engage their Holy spec, then it would be much more accurate.  In this case, I don’t know why I gave the imaginary Death Knight here 125/s healing, but I’m too lazy to open Photoshop and fix it, so just ignore it.

The “History” heading showing how many guilds a player has been in can be extremely useful information for endgame-centric guilds.  If someone has a high number here, it could send up red flags that they may be a guild-jumper who takes useful items from one and then moves right on to another.  For players who have been around for years, this could potentially skew the data, so a “Years Played” or some similar entry  may be useful here to offset any confusion.  Thus, if you see that someone has played for 7 years and been in 7 guilds, that should be less alarming than someone who started playing 6 months ago and has been in 10.

The final category depicted, “Scorecard,” would record player complaints selected from a list of pre-determined values, which is where things can get tricky.  There’s the obvious entries, like:

  • Ninja-Looting/Theft
  • Language
  • Abandoned Group
  • Spamming
  • Verbal Harassment
  • Physical Harassment

XBox Live has infractions listed in theirs for players who queue for matches above their skill level, but that’s where it gets tricky in World of Warcraft, and why I instead chose to implement the Recount system.  The numbers there can speak for themselves, rather than risking abuse of the scorecard system from less savory individuals.  Of course, there’s the risk of abusing any complaint system, but I honestly feel that “skill level” would be the most open-to-abuse option here.  I also neglected to list “Griefing” and instead used the broader complaint “Physical Harassment,” which would cover killing questgiver NPCs over and over rather than being used by those upset about being ganked while PvP flagged or playing on a PvP server when no real offense has been committed.  Link harassment, language, and spamming complaints to the GM ticket system so that a report must be submitted in order to record the offense on a player’s scorecard.  False reporting can result in a suspension or even a permanent ban, meaning that the chance of frivolous complaints being made is lessened, and in the event that they do happen, they can be removed from the player’s scorecard.

Average ratings would be generated based on how many complaints have been applied against a particular player and how many positive marks have been granted to them, although in the case of player apathy (more on that later) having the potential to skew these ratings, some very careful number-crunching will be required.  Enjoyed grouping with someone?  Right-click on their portrait and mark them as such.  The dungeon finder tool could even be modified in order to set priority on grouping you with these preferred players, much like XBox Live does, and applied to work cross-realm.

If it sounds like a lot of complicated change, well… it is, and for this reason, no matter how awesome and useful of a system this would be, I highly doubt we’ll see it implemented anytime soon.  In order for any system like this to work to its full potential, you’d have to find a way to encourage the player base to take the two seconds to participate, which can sometimes be a challenge.  Offering an achievement for rating x number of players, positive or negative, could encourage participation, or perhaps the preferential matchmaking could be enough incentive, but regardless of how it’s done, the danger would be having an otherwise great player with one complaint and no positive votes simply because no one else could be arsed to rate them suffering with an extremely low rating that they don’t deserve.  There’s also the risk of encouraging elitism, with guilds and groups refusing to play with those whose numbers may not be the greatest, thus not giving them a chance to learn what they need, but my argument here is that any guild or group with that mentality is going to find ways to exclude new players regardless of how readily available the information is.  For my own guild, the only extra stats I’d be looking at would be the behavioral ones, since we have a very strict “no jerks” policy; maybe this is me being too trust-y again, but I’d wager that plenty of casual guilds out there would feel the same way.

You know, in a way, I’m kind of grateful to that druid — at the very least, he’s helping me build my design portfolio.

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6 responses »

  1. The only change I would make would be to allow us to upvote/”like” other people we group with in the groupfinder but not the reverse, i.e. we’d start out with a low score and gradually get more as we played. Maybe give two categories, one “skill” and one “behavior” since some people don’t care if someone’s a poo-flinging simian as long as they can play and others would rather deal with a complete newbie than aforementioned simian. Personally, I’d like to see how many kicks have been initiated by that person, too.

    Oh, and present a popup with the like buttons upon finishing a dungeon, showing everyone who had been in the dungeon and include Report Player buttons on it as well.

    In my guild, the biggest deterrent to guild bank thieves is our application process. Nobody gets in without going to our website and filling out an app, including a short RP section (since we are a roleplaying server, we figure everyone should at least do that much.) For some reason, the only guild bank theft issue’s we’ve had have been compromised accounts *evil grin*

    • The challenge with not allowing the negative marks system, though, is how do you know if someone’s got a low score just because people can’t be bothered to put in their vote, or if it’s low because they’re legitimately mean in groups or a thief? The kicks initiated thing could be useful, I’ll agree with you there, but any voting system involved with skill as a category is… not always going to be accurate, just because of the propensity for people to blame everyone but themselves for their shortcomings — for instance, the tank who blames the healer for being bad, when he was the one who ran ahead while the healer had no mana and pulled the entire instance.

      The pop-up thing would definitely put it in front of people and make the more likely to participate, for sure, if for no other reason than to make it go away. 😛

      Applications can be useful deterrents, but if you’re a casual PvE guild like ours, there’s really no way to implement them without having people go “lol, really?”. Typically only raiding guilds or hardcore PvP guilds (or RP guilds, though of course my experience with them is nil) utilize them. A feature like this, though, could serve that same purpose, or at least somewhere near for the less-hardcore groups.

    • Would that count kicks that don’t succeed, or attempts to kick that don’t go anywhere because players can’t be kicked shortly after combat/during loot rolls/for fifteen minutes/etc.?

      I totally spent five minutes last night trying to initiate a vote kick in frustration (Combat? We’re not in combat!), only to realize that half the LFR had actually gone off into combat and there was my problem. I couldn’t tell you how many times I repeatedly kept on trying in the hopes that something would change.

      • With my system, I’d only count successful kicks against a player, but also tidy up the /kick system so that initiating the vote could be done more often. The problem with counting the attempts that don’t succeed, too, is you’d end up having to factor in how many of those is just a tank having a temper tantrum or a healer trying to get rid of all the other clothies for loot — for every legitimate kick request, there’s probably a dozen BS ones.

        Also, looking at my graphic, I don’t think I made it particularly clear — vote-kick would count how many times a player has been booted, not how many they’ve initiated themselves.

  2. I like the general idea, as I have been longing for a way to replace the way social expectations function in real life. It’s not ok to insult someone face to face, and it’s not ok to be a hardass-u-noobs-suck type in the real world either, so it frustrates me endlessly that there’s nothing I can do in-game short of ignoring the person/turning the other cheek or attempting to initiate a vote kick/remove them totally, which is an immediate if unreliable solution.

    I can’t report them for being assholes, but I don’t WANT to report them, and I don’t WANT to turn the other cheek. (Not like vote kick even works to the offended player(s)’s advantage with all its current prohibitions.) As a user, I want to be able to send a signal or even punishment for Not Nice behavior. Yeah, I know nice is relative. I’m not asking for Ps & Qs, and I’m not saying that we all need to appreciate everyone’s special little snowflake personality and be as gentle as possible. What I want is a system that enables me to say that you know what, insulting your party members is not cool. The rest of the group may not care, but *I* do. In real life I’d call the person out on it right on the spot, and I want some sort of equivalent here.

    My fear is that the costs of creating something like this “personal reputation” and actually putting it into practice in meaningful ways would be prohibitive to the point where we’ll never see it. Just adding it without changing the current setup of LFD/LFR/BGs/all the queues would do nothing, since that’s where most people will encounter strangers. You can choose to not buy from eBay sellers with low ratings, and X-box may attempt to avoid sticking you in groups with a Low Rater, but Wow just doesn’t give a sheeyit. I can ignore people all I want currently, but LFD will still put me in the same group with them. I can vote kick people, and I’ll wind up with ’em again the next time I queue.

    As a casual with many alts and varying skill with each (God help me on rogue), I’d vote for simplifying it down to a Fun rating, or something, and having it character by character. I’d rather have my rogue suffer alone than my whole Battle.net “self” get downrated because I suck so bad on rogue. You could choose from preset reasons you had fun playing with a person, or preset reasons why playing with a person sucked.

    p.s., I want /punch to be a punch to the face and not a punch to the shoulder.

    • It’d definitely be based on individual character, I think I could have made that clearer in my article — all of the stat and damage/heal/etc. calculations would require a setup like that, and it’s like you say, you don’t want a character you’re not really fantastic with bringing down all of your averages.

      The current system of just vote-to-kick, /ignore, and report is definitely not enough. I share the same frustration with having someone on ignore, and then having to play with them in the very next dungeon — the technology hasn’t been implemented to factor in “ignore” as “do not want ever,” and of course as a designer/dev myself I’m going to defend my brothers and sisters and say I don’t think it’s apathy as much as it is an oversight, or possibly a current technological limitation. With the implementation of the cross-realm matchmaking tool, personal accountability has gone down the tubes. Used to be that nobody would even dream of pulling off half of the stuff they do now because they knew word would spread like wildfire; but when you’re the only one from your server in a group, what can you do?

      And yeah, Vote to Kick is… it’s really hard to get someone out of a group. Which I guess is what they intended, so you couldn’t just kick everyone come loot time, but the 30 seconds of combat thing is annoying. Removing that alone would make a huge difference.

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