Game talkYou are all cheaters!

 Posted by (Visited 19405 times)  Game talk
Dec 282007
 

So, there’s an interesting side note to the post I made a while back on cheating, and the discussion surrounding RMT. A whole lot of people seem to think that the sort of info in Internet strategy guides isn’t cheating.

As someone who has been gaming for thirty years, I want to pat these people condescendingly on the head, and tell them to stop trying to make themselves feel better. But they happen to be highly influential bloggers, so I had better refrain from sarcasm (man, am I turning tetchy in my old age or what?). ;)

Here’s how Ten Ton Hammer puts it:

There is a very significant difference between reading a strategy guide and buying money or characters. The former educates you on how to be a better player, sending you out into the virtual wilds to do the work yourself. The latter takes the game out of your hands and supplies you with the end result of the labours. Real money trading (RMT) bypasses the game mechanics taking the player to the reward without experiencing the journey.

In a single player game nobody cares. Your actions don’t affect anyone else. In a MMOG the person who uses RMT services is cheating by giving themselves an unfair advantage over those that are playing by the rules. There is no grey area. It is cheating. Players have a right to be upset about it.

And a similar set of comments from The Common Sense Gamer:

Are game guides like Prima, Thottbot, Allakhazam cheating? No…no they are no because you are not sidestepping a mechanic of a game. Just because you read four or five strategies on how to take down Onyxia does not help you in the act of taking her down. You still have to deal with the mechanic that the game presents to you in order to succeed. Getting information is not introducing an artificial mechanic to the game. It does not give one player an advantage over the other because all players have access to this information from various free and paid sources. The same can be said about RMT…different players can afford differing amounts of gold, and some can’t afford any at all. Having that information available to all players is key to this, because that may not have been the case back in the days of the MUD.

OK, let’s look at the arguments in their proper order.

  • Information is not a mechanic.

What, did you never play Battleship or Stratego? Or Poker?? Or any adventure game?

Information is absolutely a mechanic. Look, I knock game theory often enough, but this is one case where those guys have the terminology and the logic to back it up, too.

The key thing to realize here is that games provide information to you, the player, about the game state. What’s more, they provide it under defined circumstances. Once you have that knowledge, it’s certainly “in the wild” and you can do with it whatever you want, but the game releases it on a schedule and in specific places, by choice.

For example, in variants of Poker, we see differences in how much information is given to other players. In Texas Hold ‘Em, each player sees their hand, each player sees the face-up cards, each player cannot see the other hands. There could easily be a poker variant where players do not see their own hands, but do see everyone else’s. Poker is a game driven heavily by lack of information.

So are role-playing games. RPGs do not give you the location of every spawn in advance, the stats on every weapon in advance, the solution to every quest in advance, and so on. For a reason. Finding the spawn, discovering the stats, solving the quest is part of the game.

Now,we may argue that this part of the game is tedious (“why should I have to click all over the screen to find the hotspot??” is exactly like “why should I have to traipse all over this dungeon to find the specific kobold!”). We may say that the game would be “better” if it provided you a waypoint directly to that location. But that is beside the point — the game chose to hide this info from you, therefore you are not supposed to have it, and having it is cheating.

Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.

  • But everyone has access to the info, which makes it OK. This may not have been the case back in the mud days.

So if everyone cheats, it’s OK. :)

Look, just because the info is widely available does not mean that it stops being info presented outside the game context. Let me repeat that:

Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.

What’s ambiguous there? It does not include the “but everyone else cheated already” clause.

The reason why Common Sense Gamer and Ten Ton Hammer do not feel the sense of outrage here is essentially generational. In today’s world, the notion of “hidden information” seems more and more ludicrous. In particular, the notion of keeping static data hidden for the purpose of forcing players to discover it seems antique.

Because of this, designers have increasingly simply designed around the assumption that the info will be shared — that players will cheat.

In the case of something like WoW’s Armory, they simply threw up their hands, and instead said “this isn’t cheating anymore” by providing it themselves.

And yet — pushing people through the process of finding items and quests by hand, figuring out things like what a binary search is, and so on, is a valid thing for a game to want to teach a player. We’re losing the ability to teach them those lessons that come from hidden info.

PS, info flow was easier on muds. They were smaller in every sense. Less data to convey, less people to convey it to. Plus, we did have the ability to set up steam-powered “strategy websites” back then.

  • A strategy guide teaches you how to be a better player, but you still have to do the work.

The “work” is figuring out how to be a better player by yourself. The actual killing of the raid mob is, as our programmers like to say, “just typing.”

The vast majority of the content on “strategy” sites consists of:

  1. Item locations and means to obtain.
  2. Solved “builds” of character and gear.
  3. Raid “strategies” which are actually “solutions.”

I’ve talked about the first one already.

A build is not a strategy, it’s a solution.

The last one is important — a raid is a puzzle game. Raids are carefully constructed encounters, where you can think of the enemy as having a rhythmic pattern of attacks. The pattern shifts in response to certain stimuli — certain attacks, stage of the mob’s lifecycle, etc. But it’s a pattern, just like the patterns in a shooter. It is designed to be figured out, mastered, and then made trivial.

Oh, you can mess it up even when you know the solution. And this is why raids are so compelling. The second challenge they offer, besides figuring out the pattern, is coordinating the actions of a team. And doing this in what is essentially a large-scale rhythm game is hard.

In fact, if I had to draw the most extreme analogy, I would say that all raids are just highly elaborate versions of Lunar Lander. You only have so much gas, you can thrust, and you have to try to land there. It is a game of resource management, and of timing. In a raid, you have 20-50 people all able to hit the thrust button, all coming out of a common pool of fuel. And the ground is shaking in a predictable pattern.

A strategy guide that gives you the pattern may not teach you the timing, but it’s giving you info you are supposed to learn the hard way.

  • In a single player game, nobody cares.

Well, you should. You should feel furtive and somewhat shamefaced as you reach for the walkthrough. Now only are you breaking a societal norm, but you are cheating yourself of the education that the game is trying to give you. You are bypassing its carefully constructed lesson plan. You are saying “I’ll take the fish, instead of the fishing lessons, please.”

(But since there increasingly aren’t any single-player games anymore, of course it impacts me. I like Crystal Quest, for example. But the top scores in Crystal Quest on XBLA show me a whole bunch of exploiters. A flaw in the game? Arguably — no, definitely. So what? I still cannot measure myself against other people thanks to the cheaters. The massively parallel game of climbing the ladder is ruined.)

This, of course, is the same thing that pisses people off in MMORPGs where people use RMT to “skip ahead.” Consider this quote from Ten Ton Hammer again:

In a MMOG the person who uses RMT services is cheating by giving themselves an unfair advantage over those that are playing by the rules.

Unfair advantage in what? You sound like there’s some competition going on. But the RPG isn’t actually ranking you in terms of a competition (except in the narrow cases of PvP, and honestly, this exact same reaction has been there in the PvE games — that quote could have come from Everquest; and ranking ladders).

In strict game terms, you shouldn’t get mad because of keeping up with the Joneses — it’s literally “not in the game,” but rather an importation of human psychology. Some level 25 buying a magic breastplate off eBay has no “unfair advantage” over your level 65 in anything at all.

In general, the only “competition” in a PvE MMORPG is self-invented. You’re not competing over getting to a level faster. You’re not competing for spawn points (there are supposed to be enough for everyone). Alas, because this aspect of psychology is also so prevalent, gamemakers have started to put ranking ladders and stuff in, which is kind of a bad idea because we know from the get-go that it’s all exploitable. But the core of an RPG is a non-competitive game.

You shouldn’t be pissed because the RMTer “beat you” to something, you should be saddened that they cheated themselves of an experience.

All of this is just to reinforce my point from earlier. The actual mechanics of all of this stuff — RMT, strategy guides, twinking, etc — it’s all cheating. What has changed around it is primarily cultural.

Now, I am not going to act all moralistic on you. My first significant cheating was when I hacked Colossal Cave, aka the original Adventure, so I could see the storage room where the game spawned all the game objects from. I did it with a steam-powered chainsaw, back in the day when we had to walk uphill in the digital snow, both ways. But I have two points to make there:

  1. I actually learned something in the process.
  2. I knew it was cheating.

Never did beat that game.

  181 Responses to “You are all cheaters!”

  1. source:You are all cheaters!, Raph’s Website What do you think? Please post a comment, thanks!

  2. threw a curveball: Information not provided within the game is cheating.Of course, I disagree. Otherwise this would have been a very boring blog post. The central idea in Raph’s argument is that information is a mechanic. Poker would be a very boring game if everyone knew what cards the other players have. Card counting,

  3. here, mostly due to the holidays (and my now-unhealthy obsession with Rock Band), but Raph Koster began an interesting thread on cheating over at his blog. This prompted a surprisingly intense response from Common Sense Gamer, and then another Kosterfollowup. In Raph’s original post, he got me fired up about the topic by invoking some gaming history… The thing that’s funny is that yes, of course players regard RMT as cheating. But make no mistake,

  4. and such like, partly giving myself a few weeks off, and partly wallowing in the throes of a fairly savage bout of Seasonal Blues. All very maudlin and the mood takes me from time to time; dark soulsearching hours in which I wonder whether I’m notjust a big fat cheat, whether I ought to be playing online games at all, and whether I have any business writing about them on the interwebs. Holiday gaming was mostly EVE Online and Guild Wars this year, with both Second Life and City of Villains, my other two current

  5. source:You are all cheaters!

  6. that developers spend a little bit of effort to keep some of the mystery of a game *inside* the game. As opposed to letting 200 odd websites spill the beans regarding this quest or that map point. After recording our show, I came acrossTHIS

  7. The popularity and ubiquity of game guides is a sign of lost trust in game designers. Can I trust this game not to be bugged? Can I trust this game designer to not send me on a wild goose chase, a soul crushing farming expedition or a painfully unfair fight? Most people, through experience, have learned that the answer is no and will look to a guide for the experiences of other players.

  8. I agree with you as someone working in the game industry. I do wish more people would spend time exploring games and learning about them themselves. But as a person who has very little time to devote to any one game, I can’t imagine trying to play without strategy guides and websites like Thottbot.

    It’s not fun for me to spend all my play time wandering around accomplishing nothing because the quest description says “south of here” and that area is huge. Granted, most MMOs are subscriptions and the whole business idea is to spend time in-game, but without that key “accomplishing something” factor I most likely wouldn’t log in again.

    It seems like so much of “Game Design” these days is making things obtuse and ambiguous. I want to cut through that chaff and just play the freakin’ game, and that’s what having that information available allows me to do.

  9. In a single player game, nobody cares.

    Everyone I know that played single-player RPGs (myself included) avoided strategy guides in order to avoid spoilers. We did care. We’d still hit them when we got stuck or couldn’t figure out how to get the “good” ending, sure, but not with the thought that they were completely kosher.

    (Of course, nowadays the first thing I do if I get a new RPG is hit Gamefaqs and search for “Missable Events / Items” and “Good Ending”, but hey.)

  10. Speaking of cheaters, people who work behind the system, people who have a secret ‘in’ or with influence behind the scenes or with s interest vested in things about which the ordinary player has not an inkling, is it true – apropos of nothing in particular – that you are married to a Sony or a SOE executive? I heard that in quite ordinary cocktail chit-chat this Christmas and for a moment felt like the little boy who was told by his parents not only that Santa Claus did not exist but in the Christmas movie showing on the TV in front of him, Viktor Lazlo was actually married to Major Strasser.

  11. theresab said:

    It’s not fun for me to spend all my play time wandering around accomplishing nothing because the quest description says “south of here” and that area is huge. Granted, most MMOs are subscriptions and the whole business idea is to spend time in-game, but without that key “accomplishing something” factor I most likely wouldn’t log in again.

    Personally, I think if you find yourself unable to play and enjoy a game without using a strategy guide or spoiler site, you should not reward the developer by continuing to pay for their game.

  12. Excuses, excuses!

    “I cheat because OTHER games I have played have been buggy or bad!”
    “I cheat because it’s too hard and slow to find the thing they sent me to find!”

    I’ll edit and extend this comment over time. :)

  13. Well, I agree except for one point.
    MMO’s should always consider that players are in competition among themselves. These are supposed to be social games, and thus should include the aspects of social interactions. Competition among the interacting people is as much a part of that as cooperation. It’s human nature, and can’t be surgically removed as long as it’s a social environment.

    Other than that though, I agree completely. Especially with this:

    We’re losing the ability to teach them those lessons that come from hidden info.

    Not only that, a game is cheating players out of entertainment. We want to learn from hidden info. Again, this is an integral part of human nature. Our minds are shaped around this, molded exactly to do this. It is highly entertaining for us, rewarding when we succeed and frustrating when we fail. And in failure, what do we do? We get hooked on solving the problem. We can’t help it. We may give up for more pressing issues or lack of direction (a sin from MMOs), but it’s always there in the backs of our minds to find the answers.

    That brings us to cheating. Yes, God help us, we will cheat at any opportunity. The shortcut gives us the answer.
    When cheating in important things such as survival, we admire it.
    But when cheating in what’s supposed to be friendly competition, then our sense of fair play comes in. Then we start to say, “hey, you cheated”.

    Cheating in itself isn’t a “wrong” thing. It’s cheating against a greater good that is. And as you are pointing out Raph, that’s exactly what players are doing. But more importantly, it’s exactly what game design is not only allowing, but fostering. And people will cheat, that too is a part of human nature.

  14. I cheat because I’m lazy and my time is too important to run around a zone for 2 hours to look for one single mob. Is that a problem with me, the zone, or the quest?

  15. I cheat because I’m lazy and my time is too important to run around a zone for 2 hours to look for one single mob. Is that a problem with me, the zone, or the quest?

    Yes.

    It’s a problem with you, because it means you picked the wrong game.

    It’s a problem with the zone, because it wasn’t designed to make the process of finding the mob interesting.

    It’s a problem with the quest, because it isn’t a well-designed quest — “find the mob” should be an interesting puzzle.

  16. It’s a problem with you, because it means you picked the wrong game.

    It’s a problem with the zone, because it wasn’t designed to make the process of finding the mob interesting.

    It’s a problem with the quest, because it isn’t a well-designed quest — “find the mob” should be an interesting puzzle.

    Ya beat me to it, and I agree. The problem in a nutshell is that TheAmazin’s time is worth more than the game’s play. So, really, it’s got more to do with the game design than with his/her game play choices. But still, playing such a game in the first place seems like a bad call.

    And people play these games by the billions, and cheat by the billions. What’s that say? Should we look yet for the competition?
    (Frankly, it’s obvious on many message boards that players are doing just that.)

  17. TheAmazin, it’s you – you said it yourself in the post.

    This all does though offer up some interesting potential to think about if one could design to avoid the perceived design weaknesses. Is it a reflection on the whole “people want casual games they can play now and then with out huge time commitment” thing?

    Another random aside. You could almost look at cheat guides/web sites as very well done open source projects – masses of public contributors creating a near-perfect (bug free) system (of information).

  18. In general, the only “competition” in a PvE MMORPG is self-invented. You’re not competing over getting to a level faster. You’re not competing for spawn points (there are supposed to be enough for everyone).

    This is a fine principle, but, in reality, there rarely are enough spawn points. This is sometimes deliberate – e.g. the developers want to limit the rate at which a high-demand drop enters the world for economic reasons. But regardless of the why, competition for spawns is something that affects player time-reward ratios in most non-instanced online worlds that I’ve seen.

    The point about hidden information is a valid one, but I’m not sure what a developer can do about it. Is there a brain-wipe station to erase my memories of my first time through the game, so that my second character isn’t guilty of cheating? (Then again, I occasionally find myself repeating previous characters’ mistakes, so perhaps the advantage of memory is tempered by the disadvantage of imprecise memory? ;))

  19. Speaking of cheaters, people who work behind the system, people who have a secret ‘in’ or with influence behind the scenes or with s interest vested in things about which the ordinary player has not an inkling, is it true – apropos of nothing in particular – that you are married to a Sony or a SOE executive? I heard that in quite ordinary cocktail chit-chat this Christmas and for a moment felt like the little boy who was told by his parents not only that Santa Claus did not exist but in the Christmas movie showing on the TV in front of him, Viktor Lazlo was actually married to Major Strasser.

    No, I used to be an SOE executive. I left over a year ago though. My wife has never worked for SOE (though she did work for Origin back in the UO days).

  20. Games could themselves bring the players back if they remembered things and gave them a LOT better history of past events. I suffer from an EXTREMELY bad memory, I have trouble remembering what I yesterday much less last week. All those stats of monsters that I might have figured out through repetitive testing of weaknesses could be gone for me in an instant. If games want to keep me from “cheating” they will have to build a custom guide book detailing all past events I’ve had so that I can keep track of everything.

    Keeping track of things back in the day wasn’t so hard, where there were no guidebooks (or they were very small or compilations) because there were only a few nigh impassable or very important points. Take Mega Man; there were only eight bosses (plus a big guy) they each had a single weakness and there was only one or two parts per level that was considered hard. Back then I could keep track of EVERYTHING I needed about all the games I played in a single 80 page spiral bound notebook. These days, an 80 page spiral bound notebook won’t even account for the first “chapter” of most games. If I wrote in the smallest print I could. And squeezed multiple lines into every last white space on each page.

    During the SNES age things expanded rather quickly and by the time the N64 rolled out and the PS1 you would have SIGNIFICANT loses of gameplay (read: value) if you did not pick up a guide book or spend ridiculous amounts of time building a library of scrap books with notes. Not only this, but most gameplay mechanics aren’t revealed in the first few passes anymore. In old games like Final Fantasy 1 there wasn’t three dozen different types of damage, sixteen regular stats, eight types of resists, twelve body slots and 1400 different pieces of equipment. There was maybe one or two new spells and items in each new town you visited, your characters could hold a weapon, armor and maybe an item.

    I think it’s a fact game designers no longer design for the explorer, because in order to find all the items, stats, weak points WITHOUT a guide (built in or store bought) you would most likely be spending upwards of a year or more on each game you bought if you only played that game for at least 4 hours every day. In summary, what I’m trying to say is I think strategy guides are far more of a game mechanic in themselves (not to mention extra revenue).

  21. This is a fine principle, but, in reality, there rarely are enough spawn points. This is sometimes deliberate – e.g. the developers want to limit the rate at which a high-demand drop enters the world for economic reasons.

    Ah, we’re back to the “specific named gear that is optimal is bad design” problem. :) Because really, in any MMO of decent size, there’s LOTS of spawn points that are deserted. It just happens that they aren’t ones you WANT because of other factors.

  22. Ah, well, yes but no. Obviously I withdraw my question then with urbane grace trusting that you will have the good taste never to mention it again. Damn, I wish I hadn’t wasted my question now. I would have asked whether you were prepared to speculate (ha!) on Bioware’s super-secret upcoming MMO partnership with Lucas Arts. No we’ll never know.

  23. Here’s something I’ve been contemplating for a while. If you get extra information from other players in-game, is that cheating? It seems very much in the spirit of a game to walk into the Goldshire tavern, find a dwarf sitting in the corner (either cybering with a night elf or dueling random newbies who don’t know any better) and ask that dwarf “Do you know where to find Goldtooth?” The dwarf props up his feet and lights his pipe (or rolls his eyes at another clueless newb) and says “Goldtooth can be found in the mines to the south, on the upper level. Take the cliff-side entrance, not the ground entrance.”

    But this isn’t something coded by the devs. This is something that grows organically out of the game, and I think it’s pretty cool. It’s also essentially the same as going on the web and finding the answer on Thottbot or Allakhazam. Does it matter how the information is conveyed? Does the information have to come from the devs, in order for it not to be cheating?

  24. There are rewards for completion of a raid or a quest that go beyond the puzzle dynamic and the rewards for solving that puzzle – the physical pay-off and the emotional pay-off, I mean. I am thinking now of ‘soft’ rewards that game designers sometimes forget in their eagerness to complete the perfect puzzle – like the positive emotions that come from safely traversing dangerous space or the opportunity to view/interact with rare elements, characters and landscapes or the peer status that comes with fast raid/quest completion. These, I submit, are not formal ‘puzzle solving’ rewards and yet they are rewards nonetheless. I would say that one of the reasons that WoW is so successful, for example, is that their instances are decorated so vividly.

  25. Alex, a good designer DOES plan for those rewards.

    Slyfeind, on some muds, even doing that was illegal. :) On some quests, an admin would shadow you to make sure that nobody was giving you hints…

  26. Oh, and there is another quest reward that comes from ‘cheating’ – or at least circumventing consensus quest-resolution paths – and that is the emotional climacteric that comes with doing something easily that others find hard. How to rate this particular pay-off is a question for the individual conscience.

  27. How about this one…

    “I cheat because I do not respect the game.”

    This would describe me, when I do cheat. Two examples:

    If I ask another player in-game, “Hey, where are these Crawlers I need to kill for this quest?” and hear, “Oh, that quest is bugged,” I am, at that point, hitting the websites. Which quests are broken is hidden knowledge of a type that I do NOT want to figure out for myself.

    If, on the other hand, I decide I don’t like the game but still have a few weeks before my subscription times out, I’m going to become a tourist, meaning I’ll hit the websites and try to see as much of the cool “landmarks” as I can. I’ve stopped caring about the game, in other words.

    Now, one more example of something slightly different: 90% of the time, when I’m on any MMO site, I’m looking at the character info. I’m looking at class ability lists and hitting the class-specific message boards. I’m searching for information that, to me, ought to have been in the instructions (or maybe was, but it’s changed since the booklet was printed).

    Lack of respect for the booklet in the box? Maybe, but I think modern MMOs count on the websites to take the place of (or at least be an extension of) a solid, up-to-date instruction booklet. As much as there are spoilers galore, I think designers are taking advantage of these sites as much as the players are to reveal information to the players even though it is outside the game proper. Patch notes, future additions or changes, developer feedback… some of the information revealed is meant by the designers to be revealed in that way.

  28. Raph –

    Boy, you are having “fun” over the holidays!

    So, we should be able to create co-categories of “Cheaters” for each Bartle type:

    1. Achievers vs. RMTers and Power-Levelers and Farming Bots
    2. Socializers vs. Griefers
    3. Explorers vs. Guides & Hints
    4. Killers vs. Bots & other Unauthorized Play Aids

    Thus, the types of cheating we object to reflect our own game play biases. Most MMO game developers tend towards being Achievers and so are more obsessed with RMT-type abuses than other problems. Griefing & Guides are problems that are often “written off” in MMOs.

  29. I don’t know…maybe this is a generational thing. All I’m saying is that presenting the player with a strategy (..could be one of many…) to kill a boss does not kill the boss for them…they still have to deal with the game to do that. Asking over general chat where a named mob is for a quest and getting the answer does not complete the quest for you.

    The two definitions you put up there for logic and terminology refer to “perfect information”, and says nothing of whether that information is a mechanic or not. Something like this would give us a hint though:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_mechanic

    http://waxebb.com/writings/gamerhet.html

    For adventure games, yeah, you may be right that getting extra information on the order in which to “pull the levers” or the “sequence of lights” to use to open a door is a cheat…fine….conceded. For that, yeah, you guarantee your success by having that information and you have received an unfair advantage over the game and other players. However, getting information about a quest, or a strategy for a boss in an MMO is not a cheat because you still have to deal with the gameplay and game mechanics presented in order to succeed. Having that information does not guarantee success, does not give you an unfair advantage over the game or other players and therefore cannot be considered cheating.

    If you want a pure MMO in which no information is available then you guys, /points a Raph, need to come up with more dynamic ways of presenting the world and the information to players.

  30. I realized I went on a bit of tangent :p

    To respond to darrenl, a boss guide from any reputable source usually contains enough information to complete the boss challenge. Note the word, complete, as in finish. The only work left resides in the ability of your fingers to follow the pre-written code in order to beat him. In old style Game Genie cheating, you typed a code to get access to new items. If you did not know where those items were, but you got them just by knowing a code I’d consider that cheating. However, as previously stated, the game developers forgot about how much information we are supposed to be keeping track of, and fail to give us any other choice than to rely on standard sets of websites and guides in order to ‘complete’ their games.

  31. @Cybercat: give me one Onyxia guide that will give me all of the information I need to take her down by just relying on the ability of my fingers. We had those strats…same as everyone, and it NEVER guaranteed success. Ditto on all of the other MMO bosses that I’ve had the pleasure of spanking. There is a lot more to taking these things down than knowing where to stand.

    …same can be said with quests.

  32. […] &middot Blogs &middot MMOs &middot Links &middot Store &middot Login &middot Register Raph Koster – You are all cheaters! http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/12/28/you-are-all-cheaters/ "So, there’s an interesting side […]

  33. In adventure and puzzle games, I never read guides or ask for hints, unless I’ve been stuck at it for literally days, weeks, months. A couple of Infocom games had puzzles I never could solve, finally had to use an invisiclues, but I think that’s the only time in 3 decades of playing these games. And no, I didn’t need help for the Babel Fish.

    When it comes to RPGs, it used to be that I didn’t use hints at all; Phantasy Star II came with a strategy guide in the book because the dungeons were almost unnavigable and unmappable thanks to the stupid overhanging parallax girders, so like everyone, I used the dungeon maps, but I think that was the only strategy guide I ever used until the late ’90s.

    But RPGs are significantly larger now, and in most cases they are not designed as a coherent whole, so there is rarely enough information to actually complete the game. So at this point, I recognize that I don’t have 80 hours to devote to a game, I maybe only have 40, or 20. To do that, I have to use a guide to plan my way through dungeons, to find the one person in the world I have to click on who’ll advance the plot. That is certainly cheating, and I know it, but bad game design has to take a lot of the blame, too. When the game is designed right from the start (Final Fantasy III-DS, for example), there’s no need for a guide.

    My solution in my own RPGs is to make pseudo-random worlds, put the information to solve the quest in the game, and give the player an ’80s-era gaming experience, back when games didn’t suck.

    However, the experience of MUDS has little to do with MMOs in this regard. Most MUDs were adventure/puzzle games, and those have no gameplay except solving the puzzles, so of course any use of cheats ruins the gameplay. This was a terrible idea, using a game design appropriate only for single-player games in a multi-player world.

    MMOs are generally descended from Dikus, where sharing information didn’t affect the gameplay, because you still had to organize a group to go fight the mobs, and that shared experience is the gameplay; where and when you would find the mobs, and where to get the gear to fight them, that was incidental window dressing. A Diku or WoW’s “campaign game” could just be a series of 10’x10′ rooms with monsters inside, and just let you open the next door when you want, and they’d have the same gameplay.

    This is why URU Live is such a tragic disaster, because it’s an MMO adventure/puzzle game like old-timey MUDs, and so everything in it is geared to solo or small group solving of puzzles, and you can’t share information without ruining the gameplay. This destroys the social aspect which is the whole point of an MMO.

  34. 1. Achievers vs. RMTers and Power-Levelers and Farming Bots
    2. Socializers vs. Griefers
    3. Explorers vs. Guides & Hints
    4. Killers vs. Bots & other Unauthorized Play Aids

    That’s very perceptive, Steven, and that explains a lot.

    I’m an explorer, and my attitude towards RMT is that it lets me bypass the boring levelling stuff and get to more content. This attitude of course bugs the crap out of achievers who think their self-worth is measured by how much longer than me they can level-grind, and griefers who get their jollies by harassing low-level underequipped explorers and keeping them from getting anywhere. When these people try to prevent me from using RMT, they’re making me deal with the most boring, banal, horrid part of MMOs: the grind. I’ll just leave instead, go somewhere interesting.

    However, I don’t object to guides, because I would simply never use them in a case where they’d damage my gameplay, and I don’t care how anyone else plays, as long as they let me play my way. I think the ideal of the explorer is to personally see new stuff, so there’s no competitive instinct to prevent anyone else from seeing it, too.

    “Griefing” is just another term for the “gameplay” of killers. There’s no distinction between a killer and a griefer, and they are all sociopaths. The anti-griefer/killer “cheat” is to channel them into PvP instead of annoying decent, honest people, or ban them.

  35. I agree with Cybercat’s comments regarding the dearth of information IN the game, which forces the player to look OUTSIDE the game for that information. As it stands, strategy guides aren’t cheating, they’re a PLAY MECHANIC, because that is the only way in the entire game where you find out that you need to jump in place 200 times to get a given item, or talk to the same NPC 50 times to unlock a quest. (The later Final Fantasy games are notorious for this.) The game is designed to be played with a strategy guide.

    While by no means the only reason, part of why strategy guides are popular is because game designers have lost the trust of the player, because the player’s trust that there WILL be enough clues in-game has been abused too many times, and because the player’s trust that solutions WON’T be arbitrary has been abused too many times.

  36. I agree with Raph again. But I also agree that it *seems* that a lot of fault lies with the game design. I never looked at or bought a strategy guide for an RPG game until WoW but a large portion of their quest system is clearly designed to be an annoying time sink (for example, the quest chains that have you repeatedly returning to the same camp to kill the next level of mobs) so that I feel I need that extra help sometimes to actually have fun.

    On a slight tangent, I’m kind of old school on the whole overly informative stats issue and long for the days when you had to use a special skill just to find out that the player in front of you was ‘Amazingly Strong’. It seems as if number-crunching has become the focus of MMOs rather than immersive escapism.

  37. Not trying to be rude, but I have to know, why did you not complete boss mobs when you had the guide? The following are from my failed raid list:

    -Game disconnect by an important PC (tank, healer, even dps)
    -Bugged mob (gets “stuck” on something)
    -Lag (see above)
    -Mistargets or miscommunication
    -Server crash
    -Incorrect classes to complete the quest/boss (no healer, not right type of healer, druid instead of priest for example)

    None of these are deviating from the strategy yet they fail. Unfortunately, they all fail because of things OUTSIDE of the game circumstances. All of them. None of them were because we didn’t know the mob would run back to heal if the tank didn’t hold agro of his lieutenant, or that he had a second form, or that we didn’t know he had an AoE breath weapon that did massive fire damage. It was all because of bad code, unexpected network problems, pizza deliveries and things WAY outside of gameplay. The knowledge how how to complete her was already DONE though. You don’t suddenly find out, “Oh shit, I totally didn’t expect the mob to call the minions in the upper level of the dungeon down” or “Wow, that mob has an AoE push-attack that threw everyone into the water!”

    What I’m saying is, the GAME part of the gameplay is already completed by stat guides. What I’m ALSO saying is, I believe the way games work these days with hideous amounts of stats and items and almost no in game way to track them, it’s EXPECTED that players will ‘cheat’, and REQUIRED in MMOs. But you are not conquering new gameplay, tactically, you have already conquered it because you know that doing X or Y will complete it if you do it properly (and without interruption) EVER SINGLE TIME.

  38. Good points Nabil, especially regarding the the trust issue…that’s something I haven’t thought about. Although I would argue that these guides are part of a person’s gameplay, not a game or play mechanic.

  39. […] this specific instance, I wholeheartedly agree with Raph on the subject of information as game […]

  40. There is a further point. If a player, without tampering with the game coding or employing any kind of programme hack or exploiting a technical bug, does ‘cheat’ – eg. by using ‘out of game’ information resources – should they be penalised? And, if so, how?

  41. DarrenL:

    All I’m saying is that presenting the player with a strategy (..could be one of many…) to kill a boss does not kill the boss for them

    No, it just does the hard part, which is figuring out HOW to kill the boss. The actual killing is the easy part. Seriously, think about what a raid is like if you come to it completely blind. THAT is what the game actually is (and it’s easily ten times harder, no?)

    The two definitions you put up there for logic and terminology refer to “perfect information”, and says nothing of whether that information is a mechanic or not.

    Feedback from the game is a mechanic. All info from the game comes in feedback, and the designer decides what gets presented and what does not. Information not provided is therefore also a mechanic.

    If you want a pure MMO in which no information is available then you guys, /points a Raph, need to come up with more dynamic ways of presenting the world and the information to players.

    Actually, we’ve had those ways, and players chose to cheat around them instead because cheating was faster and more convenient. ;)

    Nabil:

    As it stands, strategy guides aren’t cheating, they’re a PLAY MECHANIC, because that is the only way in the entire game where you find out that you need to jump in place 200 times to get a given item, or talk to the same NPC 50 times to unlock a quest.

    A) you play bad games B) that sounds like a case where the game developers themselves put out the strategy guide C) I don’t know any MMOs like that.

    Tholal:

    I never looked at or bought a strategy guide for an RPG game until WoW but a large portion of their quest system is clearly designed to be an annoying time sink

    “I cheat because the game is annoying!”

  42. Raph:

    “I cheat because the game is annoying!”

    How about, I employ an alternate approach to increase the fun I receive from playing the game.

    It’s only cheating if, by employing this alternate approach, I decrease the fun or perceived fun of others also playing the game.

    And it’ll only get you banned if, in the long run, use of this alternate approach is likely to cause more monthly subs to be cancelled than subscribed (or in other words, is the Net-Net fun of said alternate mechanic positive or negative for the game’s players in totality).

    RMT might even be grudgingly accepted if it didn’t play havoc with in-game economics and if gold farmers / gold selling spammers weren’t so annoying.

  43. Tuebit:

    Cheating is often fun. No need to cover up the word “cheating.” Cheating has nothing to do with increasing or decreasing the fun of others. Some games, such as Monopoly and Munchkin, specifically allow certain forms of cheating via a special mechanic, and it can make the game more fun. Some games, like Paranoia, practically mandate it.

  44. There is only one real currency in every MMO that I’ve played, and that currency is time. Everything from death penalties, to item decay, to rarity of spawns all can be expressed in this currency.

    And this is a real-world transaction. You’re exchanging your real-world time for in-game benefits. So the real design criteria for the developers should be ‘is this content or game mechanic I’m designing worth the time that people will have to spend using it?’

    Any time it’s not, you can’t expect people not to do things that reduce the cost, to the point that it is worth it.

  45. Skip — yes, of course. But the question is not “why do people cheat” or “why designers are stupid to expect people to want to play their game the way they intended.” The question is “is this cheating?”

  46. I’m definitely a cheater with no excuses and no apologies. I cheat because it’s my way to overcome my limitations.

    With that out of the way. Limiting the sharing of information seems like a poor mechanic to utilize since one of the major objectives of an MMO is to promote social activity. If player A is looking for the Raphian and shouts for its whereabouts and player B responds with it, that is cheating right? However, that is also promoting community – with one member helping another.

    I I tell a guild member how to find the mystical shard of ignorance because I’ve done it before, is that leveraging community interaction or cheating?

    I think a lot of us (at least me :)) compare these activities to our “real world” experiences. If I know a friend is looking for real estate and I see a nice new home that is under foreclosure I would surely tell him. Similarly, if I knew a friend was looking for the Raphian, I would surely tell him where to find it.

    Good discussion.

  47. Great conversation, everyone :) I’ve always taken a huge “anti-anything external to the game” attitude towards these kinds of discussions, and continuing to see the companies create sites like WoW’s Armory is really disheartening to me.

    I tend to annoy my guild-mates with my most frequently uttered phrase, “Play the game, not the system!” yet it seems to be more and more of a losing battle because most people I come across are more worried about getting the next big thing than enjoying the experience and the journey. Ladders and rankings just exacerbate the problem in my eyes and makes parts of games that aren’t intended to be competitive to lose their focus.

  48. Actually on the “jump in place 200 times” thing, there is a special chicken pet that you can get in WoW by doing the chicken emote 100 or 200 times in front of a particular NPC. LoTRO also has an entire set of emotes that can only be unlocked by doing specific emotes over and over again, or in some cases by getting PCs to do specific emotes to you. I haven’t messed around with the system much, but it’s not documented in game at all. I think it’s pretty much a given that players are expected to hunt these out online.

    More on topic, I think the use of strategy guides became a tradition in MMOs because the great majority of quests in EQ were incredibly badly designed. Without using online information, it was often next to impossible to figure out how to complete a quest, and it was surely impossible to know what quests were worth your time. The great majority of them did little to expand the lore of the game, and were much less rewarding then simply standing in one spot killing rats during the time it took to do them.

    Since then, designers of these games have gradually gotten better at quest design. This is in fact one of the things I most enjoy about LoTRO. The quests often have interesting lore attached to them, many yield useful rewards, and you can actually figure most of them out without resorting to a walkthrough. In LoTRO I will actually spend a good hour beating my head against a quest before giving up and looking online for info, because I know that if I’m not getting it the odds are much better that I am being stupid than that the game designer is stupid.

    Nothing pisses me off more than spending an hour or two trying to figure something out in game, only to look it up and discover that the solution is actually next to impossible to intuit from the information given in game. Unfortunately, until very recently this was the norm among MMO quests. So reliance of strategy guides also became the norm.

    Put another way, good game design discourages players from cheating. Bad game design encourages it. If the majority of players are “cheating” in a game that you design, I seriously doubt that the primary problem lies in the moral fiber of your audience.

  49. On the “fish versus fishing lessons” analogy: What if I care about cooking the fish instead of catching it?

    In other words, I’m only cheating myself if what I’m giving up has more value for me than what I’m getting. This has to be viewed with the caveat that I probably don’t know (or understand) the acutal values, or the long-term values, and in the context of the rules and norms of the environment. Looking in a book for the answers to a test is only cheating if it’s not an open-book exam.

    The abundance of strategy guides, and their implicit and sometimes explicit acceptance by the game company (links to guides from the official WoW website, anyone?), have made those guides less of a cheat than otherwise. I think that gives more weight than Raph allows to the argument that the guides aren’t *really* cheating. :-)

    Finally, in case you think I’m nitpicking – yeah, I am, kinda sorta. I’m happy to have found this blog (via links from WoW Insider and Massively), and find myself mostly in agreement with our host, and find his posts to be interesting and thought provoking. And Crystal Quest FTW!

  50. “No, it just does the hard part, which is figuring out HOW to kill the boss. The actual killing is the easy part. Seriously, think about what a raid is like if you come to it completely blind. THAT is what the game actually is (and it’s easily ten times harder, no?)”

    The actual killing is not easy at all. OK, so you have the strategy in your hands…which usually consists of where to put your healers, tanks, DPS, pullers, etc…placement. It usually has timing information, i.e. when the boss will use the “death debuff”. Yadda yadda. OK, now you have 20-40 people on Skype…now put that into practice. Not easy at all. One boss encounter could take days for a guild to get down right, never mind a whole instance encounter. In most, if not in all cases, we threw away the plan we got from the interwebs and made our own based on what we learned from the experience. Most plans we got, did not fit our style of play and we usually beat the boss better once we understood the dynamic of the encounter.

    Having the plan is one thing…executing is another. True, designing those plans yourself and executing is 10 times harder, granted, but how are you going to control that information and stop it from being part of a person’s gaming experience? More importantly, how are you going to design a game mechanic that does not encourage it? Also, a non-Thottbot world just isn’t possible for most casual gamers. I’ve seen quests that say, “Kill mob X that is to the east of the villiage”. Well, if the village is in the west part of the land, everything is to the frickin east! Are you really expecting casual players to run around for an hour to find mob X? Are they cheating when they look up a general map co-ordinate then exercising the game mechanic and killing him? Not really.

    We must have a different definition of cheating…because for MMOs, I just don’t see how reading someone else’s experience for encounters/quests gives you an unfair advantage, given that you still need to execute on the quest and/or encounter.

  51. Raph said:

    “As it stands, strategy guides aren’t cheating, they’re a PLAY MECHANIC, because that is the only way in the entire game where you find out that you need to jump in place 200 times to get a given item, or talk to the same NPC 50 times to unlock a quest.”
    A) you play bad games B) that sounds like a case where the game developers themselves put out the strategy guide C) I don’t know any MMOs like that.

    You don’t know one of your own MMOs? How often did you have to repeatedly use skills to improve them in Ultima Online? UO skills taking FOREVER to develop is the reason a lot of macrobots got written. UO was the avatar :) of boring, repetitive activity, and things that could only be understood by painfully long analysis which you’d then share with others. It was massively improved in game fun by the cheat sites, and by software to hack the game.

    For that matter, almost all MMOs, certainly all the Diku-likes, are based on something equivalent to clicking on a box 200 times (The Grind).

    Whether that box is obviously related to the possible benefit is irrelevant; it’s still noxious anti-fun gameplay.

  52. Make cheating a part of the game. Voila! Problem solved.

    darrenl wrote:

    I just don’t see how reading someone else’s experience for encounters/quests gives you an unfair advantage …

    For example, provide players the tools they need to share information about encounters and quests in-game. I mean, roleplaying, if I were a real adventurer in a fantasy world, I’d be researching the quests and tasks assigned to me. I’d be hopping from pub to pub, shop to shop, to find out what I can about what I can expect on my travels.

  53. I respect how Raph “feels” on this issue even though he tries to butter my muffin by calling me “influential” and then becomes a turncoat by writing that he wants to “condescendingly pat me on the head”, but the fact is that anyone who buys gold or characters has an unfair advantage. Raph believes that they don’t, but the fact is that they do. Here is one example of why this is the case.

    I’m level 20. You are level 20. We both want to get into guild ABC because they are a proactive raiding guild filled with superb players. They take into account, as any good progression guild does, what level we are. We are both currently level 20. That is important.

    I buy gold OR have my character powerleveled. In a week I’m level 50. You have worked hard, leveled like mad and you are level 30. The perception that I am better than you, even if we have the same skill (again this is important) is screaming out at guild ABC like 10,000 PETA protesters at a greased pig catching competition. If we have the same skill and my purchase of gold (I could afford better armour/weapons/etc.) pushed me to higher levels (in this case that is important) than you then my cheating benefited me and harmed you.

    Another example: I play by the rules and do not buy gold. I grind and grind and grind to make my virtual bank account soar, but no matter how much I grind I can’t afford that fancy sword that I want because prices are inflated by people who buy gold and spend it in the auction house. It is easier to buy the gold and spend it than to play (earning) the gold and spend it.

    Cheating (buying gold and levels) is an unfair advantage. It DOES affect the “honest” gamer.

    As for information being a mechanic. This is not Battleship or Stratego or Poker. The game does not change the information in a quest from hand to hand or session to session. Once the information is “in the wild” it’s out there. Any developer who doesn’t think that his quest information is going to be all over the Internet is deluded. If you aren’t building the quests with that in mind, well, you failed the players. Your company is selling strategy guides for Pete’s sake. You are charging players for the information!

    To claim that killing the raid mob is “just typing” while finding NPC 123 who was described as being “Somewhere yonder in the Boogalooga plains” as a mechanic is, well, wrong. Sorry Raph. I respect you, but in this case, you’re wrong. Nobody can be right all the time. It reminds me of a quote I happened upon, “I’m never wrong. I thought I was once, but I wasn’t.”

    When I wrote “In a single player game, nobody cares” I was in reference to other players. Do you think that I care if Raph or anyone else cheats at a single player game? I don’t. Why would I? It doesn’t affect me or anyone but the cheater. In a MMOG that is not the case.

    Do I really and truly deep down in my heart care about cheaters? It certainly doesn’t keep me up at night, but perhaps that is because as a veteran in this industry I’ve seen most of the patterns thrown against me before. I don’t need to cheat, though sometimes I like to read a good MMOG guide, especially if one of my comrades at Ten Ton Hammer wrote it. I like to see how other people think that a class should be played or how others would go about attacking a raid problem. It’s interesting to me. I enjoy it, no I love it! I have a passion for this industry that goes beyond writing about it. I’d be part of this even if I didn’t get paid to do it.

    So, thanks Raph for the 15 minutes of fame on your site and thanks for reading what I wrote. We can agree to disagree and leave it at that. That’s what makes the industry so great. We can both pick a side of the fence and be happy on it.

  54. Raph said: Some games, such as Monopoly and Munchkin, specifically allow certain forms of cheating via a special mechanic, and it can make the game more fun. Some games, like Paranoia, practically mandate it.

    You seem to be defining “cheating” as “anything labelled cheating,” which is just silly. If the game specifically allows it, its not cheating (regardless of how its represented in the rules).

    The dictionary and common usage, would have me believe that cheating must involve to an attempt to defraud or swindle or gain an advantage by breaking the rules. In all definitions I’m aware of, you’re depriving someone else of something? Can you think of an example of cheating that does not ultimately deprive another?

    Raph wrote: “Cheating has nothing to do with increasing or decreasing the fun of others.”

    In this context, cheating has everything to do with depriving others of fun … in the case of MMO, there are only two things you can deprive someone of … fun and possibly time.

    Another strict (but unhelpful) definition would be “any action not permitted by the EULA” or something like that. But in the end, the EULA is just an expression of the company’s desire to maximize its value.

    Cheating (as in depriving other players of fun) is anathema to fun. Subscriptions / revenue are driven (in part) by fun. Games that are more fun are likely to do better in the long run. Value is determined (in part) by revenue. The EULA (and therefore the very technical definition of cheating) is just a reaction to this chain … trying to prevent players from engaging in activities that decrease fun.

  55. “As it stands, strategy guides aren’t cheating, they’re a PLAY MECHANIC, because that is the only way in the entire game where you find out that you need to jump in place 200 times to get a given item, or talk to the same NPC 50 times to unlock a quest.”

    I don’t know any MMOs like that.

    You don’t know one of your own MMOs? How often did you have to repeatedly use skills to improve them in Ultima Online?

    No, no, you misread. In UO you KNEW you had to do that. :) The question was whether you had to look up the “jump in place 200 times” piece.

    Boomjack:

    I respect how Raph “feels” on this issue even though he tries to butter my muffin by calling me “influential” and then becomes a turncoat by writing that he wants to “condescendingly pat me on the head”, but the fact is that anyone who buys gold or characters has an unfair advantage. Raph believes that they don’t, but the fact is that they do.

    You’re mixing up two different things there. The (tongue-in-cheek) remark about “patting on the head” was in regards to the assertion that strategy guides are not cheating — not the RMT issue.

    On your two examples — the “competing to get into a guild game” isn’t Blizzard’s game. It’s the guild’s game. They are the ones setting the rules. It’s an emergent game.

    I completely agree on the RMT effect on inflation. But I already commented that this is because of how the incentive structure is broken. :)

    As for information being a mechanic. This is not Battleship or Stratego or Poker. The game does not change the information in a quest from hand to hand or session to session. Once the information is “in the wild” it’s out there. Any developer who doesn’t think that his quest information is going to be all over the Internet is deluded. If you aren’t building the quests with that in mind, well, you failed the players. Your company is selling strategy guides for Pete’s sake. You are charging players for the information!

    Anecdote: the UO team actually rebelled at the idea of having a strategy guide. It was a HUGE controversy on the team, because the team saw it as cheating.

    Of COURSE it’s going to be all over the Net, the same way that walkthroughs of adventure games are all over the Net. It’s cheating your way through the adventure game to use the walkthrough, and it’s also cheating to use the quest walkthrough in an MMO. There’s no difference. And yes, of course designers just assume that it’ll be cheated. I don’t see what the disagreement is, except that I use the word “cheat” and you don’t. :)

    To claim that killing the raid mob is “just typing” while finding NPC 123 who was described as being “Somewhere yonder in the Boogalooga plains” as a mechanic is, well, wrong.

    Hang on — I didn’t say that the killing of the mob isn’t a mechanic too. Of course it is. Finding is one mechanic, and killing is another, and discovering the strategy to kill Onyxia is another. Bypassing any one of them would be cheating.

    I don’t need to cheat, though sometimes I like to read a good MMOG guide, especially if one of my comrades at Ten Ton Hammer wrote it. I like to see how other people think that a class should be played or how others would go about attacking a raid problem. It’s interesting to me. I enjoy it, no I love it! I have a passion for this industry that goes beyond writing about it. I’d be part of this even if I didn’t get paid to do it.

    So, of course, I picked the word “cheating” precisely because of the emotional associations that players have with it. But I reiterate — I DON’T attach those visceral nasty feelings to it. A designer cannot afford to, IMHO. Cheating isn’t “bad,” it’s an orthogonal solution to a problem. In the book, I used the phrase “An Alexandrine solution to a Gordian problem.”

    You don’t get the benefit of what the game system was trying to teach you, but you probably do get other benefits. The negative consequences of cheating are almost all social, and not within the game itself.

  56. You seem to be defining “cheating” as “anything labelled cheating,” which is just silly. If the game specifically allows it, its not cheating (regardless of how its represented in the rules).

    The games I cited actually label it as cheating, then say that you can try doing it anyway. :) So those cases are a bit tongue-in-cheek, for sure.

    The dictionary and common usage, would have me believe that cheating must involve to an attempt to defraud or swindle or gain an advantage by breaking the rules. In all definitions I’m aware of, you’re depriving someone else of something? Can you think of an example of cheating that does not ultimately deprive another?

    In common usage, we frequently make reference to cheating in cases where all you swindle is yourself. Peeking in Solitaire is an example.

    Cheating (as in depriving other players of fun) is anathema to fun.

    As many have cited within this very thread, that’s not always the case. A wall hack or infinite lives within a single-player game is undeniably cheating at the game, and can be a lot of fun, or can ruin it for you. Cheating does not always equal less fun, for you or others.

  57. The game theory you linked to is a branch of applied maths used in economics started before computer games were invented. The term Perfect Information applies suitably though. I’m just wondering if as you said, you “sometimes knock” game theory the applied maths, or game theory as in the emerging – game media studies / game design theory?

  58. The dictionary and common usage, would have me believe that cheating must involve to an attempt to defraud or swindle or gain an advantage by breaking the rules. In all definitions I’m aware of, you’re depriving someone else of something? Can you think of an example of cheating that does not ultimately deprive another?

    Any single player game that the player cheats in, hence all those cheat code sites. Any multiplayer game I can think of has elements that can be reduced to a single player game. It stands to reason you can cheat yourself in them.

  59. The “game theory” I sometimes knock is the subset of applied mathematics. It has relevancy and applicability to game design, but often gets the psychology wrong because of incomplete modeling.

    I suspect I am one of the larger players in the whole “game design theory” thing, so I don’t tend to knock it. :) I am a big supporter.

  60. All this serious talk, I had to throw in an anecdote. Some of the most fun I ever had was sitting down with my hex editor at the age of ten brute force hacking my characters in Ultima III. I remember the moment I figured out that the byte order for large numbers was reversed on disk. It was like I stumbled onto some dark secret. How exhilarating!

    Hacking that game was way more fun than actually playing it as it was, IMHO, plodding and uninspired (Ultima IV on the other hand…). Was it “cheating”? Absolutely. It was still entertaining, which was the whole reason I got the game to begin with.

    How does this advance the discussion? It doesn’t. I just had to share after Ralph brought up hacking Colossal Cave.

  61. Raph wrote: In the case of something like WoW’s Armory, they simply threw up their hands, and instead said “this isn’t cheating anymore” by providing it themselves.

    The Armory is not nearly inclusive enough. A better analogy is WoWhead, or any other place like Allakhazam, Thott, etc. Not only is this cheating, the players themselves entered the information. So even the first people who did discover a thing cheated by putting it out there :)

    It’s only cheating because of the rules of the game. And the rules of the game have followed the same formula since D&D. Create character, explore, find, defeat, get, grow. The only thing that’s really changed is that the obstacles have become static as DMs were replaced by AI. And choice has been removed for fear of having people make the wrong one and stop paying.

    But it’s even deeper than that.

    Rote itself is still used at a time when just about any fact is a Google|wikipedia|KartOO away. Yes, this is not a global-spanning privilege. And yes one EM-based doomsday weapon can wipe that out. But it still remains that the tech of today is fundamentally changing how people think.

    So apply that back to the “go here for X and there for Y” element of most modern RPGs. Why should players waste time doing things the old way when the rewards can come faster with the silly stuff removed? And why should they care about doing things the “right” way when the devs themselves didn’t seem to care enough to wrap objectives in compelling story arcs (takes too much time), add elements of choice (too many branches to manage, too hard, see above), and were too concerned their crafted expensive content wouldn’t be used enough to justify the work that went into it (spend time in this zone doing kill x/collect y quests so we send you to all corners).

    Games themselves need to change to stop the wonton “cheating”, because cheating itself is anachronistic as defined.

    PS. If the game itself was the only rules that should be followed, then a) they can’t change; and, b) they’d have to go back to useful manuals :)

  62. We must stop the wonton cheating!

    (It’s not fair to the dim sum).

  63. If the argument is “acquiring the information which the game witholds from you is cheating”, then it fails when it comes to MMOs — as these are, by Raph’s own words from the RMT argument on this very site, social games, where the players are expected and supposed to support each other.

    In this sense, the MMO is not witholding information from the player about location of any particular spawn, raid strategy etc. This information is made readily available, through the chat box which allows to pull that information from other players participating in the game. This acquired information can be of course vague, incomplete or plain misleading at times… but it is there. And since it is there, obtaining it cannot be called cheating, can it?

    Once you accept it, the sites with collected information available on the web are not different. It’s after all information provided by other players of what’s supposed to be social game. When it comes to games like EVE-Online this line is blurred even further as the game has its own web browser which can be used to access such information never leaving the game world.

    It’s not even that different from the poker game given as example — while you are not outright shown the hand other player has, this information can be deduced from actions and behaviour of the people you play against. And it’s not considered cheating when you manage to do it.

    tl;dr: information is not a mechanic, but obtaining the information is.

  64. That lack of a Dungeon Master is the fundamental difference between the socially engaging gameplay found ’round the gaming table on a Saturday, and the “grinding” gameplay found at the computer, online.

    If you engage the player in a story, they’ll tolerate just about anything else you throw at them. If you don’t, as most MMORPGs fail to do, then the player will just move on when the “grind” gets to be tedious.

    The fundamental and unfortunate failure of the Star Wars Galaxies/Virtual World model was the lack of story. Cries of Alderaan was great, but then someone realized how much developer time it was taking up and said “ixnay on the oriestay.” What was left? The hologrind for Jedi… because there are very few people who are actually capable of writing and running a cooperative roleplaying storyline. Certainly not enough to engage every player of SW:G.

    So, for a long long while, the only continuing story in the game was the simple social interaction between players, with a Star Wars backdrop.

    Quite frankly, I find it frustrating that the gameplay design of an MMORPG requires me to do things like level up or seek out better gear in order to participate in limited content. I’d rather participate in the story than have my character go out and kill 15 anything in order to get back and be told that I have to kill another 20 somethingelse. That’s not story, that’s levelling mechanics with a thin veil of “content” draped over it.

    I wish I had a real answer to this problem.

  65. Incidentally, I have run short-lived campaigns for pen and paper RPGs, so I do know how hard it is for me to come up with adventures that make sense within the game system/universe I’m running.

    It once took me three months to come up with a 20k word adventure for FASA’s Shadowrun system.

    So those designers that manage to write up, set up the dialog paths, design the challenges and puzzles, get the art set up for, test and debug, and then finally release several new quests every two months… they have my respect, they really do.

  66. […] Raph Koster posted today that we are all cheater because we uses Internet strategy guides to help us. A few […]

  67. So is reading a book about chess cheating?

  68. Raph, you’re trolling, shame on you.

    –Dave

  69. I wonder about RMT causing inflation. Got data? Seems like it would be easy to prove given WoW gold is much much cheaper on EU servers. Therefore, by that theory, the auction house sale prices would be much larger on EU realms. Though that’s also assuming the RMT isn’t exclusively for the sinks or avatars, in BoPLand.

    I remember reading an Eve GM that simultaneously complained about RMT causing deflation and inflation in the same post. Seems like you can’t have it both ways, if the net effect is small and null.

    Maybe people confuse RMT with dupe hax?

  70. […] I’ve just read Raph’s post on his blog about people cheating in MMOGs, which I couldn’t agree with more, and is […]

  71. I am amazed watching the people justify their usage of spoilers saying the exact same thing as the people who are buying gold and still arguing that it’s a different short-cut. I don’t see it.

    Jane takes 5 days to work out all the puzzles and find all the mobs and finish the quest. John uses a walk-through and completes it in one hour. There is no question that John has an advantage over Jane: he spent less time and effort to get to the same point.

    However, has John in any way interfered with Jane’s gameplay? Not directly, no. Jane did the quest and still has her quest reward. Regardless of John’s method of completing the quest, Jane’s experience is unaltered.

    That holds true even if John bought the quest reward and didn’t do the quest at all.

    Now, why did Jane do the quest and why did John spend his cash? They both did it for the reward, a Cloak of Never-Ending Discussion. Meanwhile, the cloak is being farmed like mad to sell to people like John. Jane was very proud of her Cloak until she realised that lots of people had them. When it was a symbol of having achieved the quest, it meant something. Now that the rarity value is much less, she’s less excited about it.

    John argues that he doesn’t have the time! There’s other issues there, the quest details aren’t specific enough, the puzzle is too hard. He just wants the cloak, so he used a spoiler. Or even simpler, he bought it. Developers expect it, he tells Jane. They know that it’s a huge time-sink. They set it up that way.

    What’s the solution? Jane is just as frustrated when the encounter is made easier, she still feels her reward has been devalued. It’s not interesting if anyone can do it. The sense of achievement has been lessened. She focuses her attention on new releases: games and expansions. The way to prove that she managed the game without the spoilers is to write the spoilers. Jane is happy again and playing hard.

    At some point, she realised that her desire to be first actually has a real-game value. She wrote a print strategy guide for a game: the kind of thing that sells for cash. Lets assume for the moment that the guide was wonderful and every purchaser felt he got real value from it. Now, is that RMT? She’s trading in-game information for cash. John can get that Cloak of Never-Ending Discussion easily now because she’s solved the puzzle.

    That line between “John bought the cloak” and “John is using a spoiler” starts to get fuzzy, doesn’t it?

  72. Quoth Raph (#15):

    Ah, we’re back to the “specific named gear that is optimal is bad design” problem. :) Because really, in any MMO of decent size, there’s LOTS of spawn points that are deserted. It just happens that they aren’t ones you WANT because of other factors.

    Actually, what the incentive is has little to do with spawn desirability. You could remove stats from gear, currency/reputation/crafting materials/other proxies used for the purchase of gear with stats, remove experience, etc, and promise players cake as an incentive. Players would still be doing SOMETHING in your game, and they will still prefer the spawns that maximize that incentive within the limits of cost and time. Even if you somehow balanced the game so that every level X mob drops loot worth exactly X silver on the auction house (a factor which the developer does not fully control), players would simply prefer the easiest level X mob (or, perhaps, killing larger numbers of lower level mobs instead). You cannot prevent this unless your game only has one kind of mob in it.

    That’s hidden information right there – the full contents of mob drop tables aren’t known to players upfront, though they may learn certain portions of it as they play the game. (E.g. WoW players who need primal water at level 70 to craft equipment might remember having obtained motes of water from water elementals they were sent to fight on a number of quests as they leveled.) And perhaps that explains part of the animosity towards RMT farmers – they’re actually cheating twice – once when they read the game information databases (which they’ve been buying up to make sure they stay in business) to determine which mobs to kill and then again when they sell their gains.

    Which brings me back to my previous comment. If you increase quantities of a rare reward (e.g. earn one billion points and Raph Koster will personally deliver you a slice of moist, delicious cake) to the point where there is no longer competition for that reward and that reward will no longer be rare (and, in this example, becomes impossible, turning the cake into a lie). Players are going to identify your most desirable spawns by hook or by crook. You can mitigate this factor by increasing the value of your other spawns, but there will always be a winner. In a non-instanced world, competition will ensue.

  73. In general, the only “competition” in a PvE MMORPG is self-invented. You’re not competing over getting to a level faster. You’re not competing for spawn points (there are supposed to be enough for everyone). Alas, because this aspect of psychology is also so prevalent, gamemakers have started to put ranking ladders and stuff in, which is kind of a bad idea because we know from the get-go that it’s all exploitable. But the core of an RPG is a non-competitive game

    This is exactly how I feel. I am always baffled by bloggers that try to use the argument the RMTers are somehow, mysteriously, ruining the game for other players because they used real money to purchase their rewards. It’s utter complete nonsense really. When I played Neverwinter Nights 2 coop campaign with other players many times I knew the players hacked their avatars (gave them best equipment) but as long as they did their job the bottom line is that was all that mattered too me

  74. Inkling said:

    So is reading a book about chess cheating?

    Depends… are you reading a book about the rules of chess? or are you reading a book on strategies used by other players?

  75. Depends… are you reading a book about the rules of chess? or are you reading a book on strategies used by other players?

    To me, this makes it sound like education itself is cheating.

    Is it cheating for an aeronautical engineer to learn about aircraft before building one? Does he have to rediscover the Bernoulli Effect to be a “real” aeronautical engineer? Should he make his mistakes and learn the hard way? Are you going to fly on an airline that purchases his planes?

  76. Morgan wrote:

    For example, provide players the tools they need to share information about encounters and quests in-game. I mean, roleplaying, if I were a real adventurer in a fantasy world, I’d be researching the quests and tasks assigned to me. I’d be hopping from pub to pub, shop to shop, to find out what I can about what I can expect on my travels.

    …exactly.

  77. I would say RMT is cheating when the game is not designed to support or work well with RMT. On the other hand, I´m fairly certain that for example WoW was designed with guides and strats and info sites (read: community) in mind. Raph, you can say that´s lazy (or bad) design, but I firmly believe that this kind of community content (information about the game) is one factor in the game’s popularity, and it was taken into account in Blizzard’s design choices, thus making it a valid “part of the game”. Of course, that’s just my impression.

    vajuras: other players RMTíng in your game do not affect you until you have to compete with them: compete for spawns, for spots in groups, for items in trade, in PVP, etc. The impact of RMT in player competition can easily force other players to step up and use RMT thmeselves, or be left behind. However, when RMT is not designed into the game, players who use it devalue their experience; often, they skip content they should enjoy, and limit their gameplay options. It’s not about morality, it’s about ensuring that the game is and remains interesting for as much of its target audience as possible.

  78. Bah.. never comment after waking up but not yet being fully awake. It also depends on the context of the chess being played. If you are playing chess in a competition it is expected by all players that all players study. So, no, reading a book on chess, any book, would not be cheating. Though having an earpiece and someone feeding you moves as a game progresses would be.

    An aeronautical engineer isn’t cheating by learning to build aircraft, it is expected by his profession. The people who hire aeronautical engineers expect them to have learned to build planes. On the flip side, most game designers, naive as it may be, do not expect players to approach their game with a walk through, strategy guide and a set of spoiler sites. They expect the players to know little to nothing and to learn while they play, hence the reason lower levels are very often more simple and explanatory, to teach you the game. Usually all a game expects you to know is how to work a keyboard and a mouse, though only in general as specific use can and will be dictated by the game.

  79. Cheating: The Never Ending Debate…

    Greetings all!  I trust that the holidays have treated you all well.  Sorry for my absence, but it was Christmas after all.  As another four day weekend is upon us and I have no plans at all (yes, I am not a new years party goer) I have just settled…

  80. As I eluded to in my blog, it is not that we don’t view these sites as cheating as once you examine the true meaning of cheating it is clear that they are.  However, as I point out I think they have in one form or another been embraced by developers hence making them a sanctioned (even if unofficially) form of extended game knowledge.

  81. @ Yeebo comment #40…You’re explanation is spot on! I don’t look up information for a quest unless the information given is extremely vague and I don’t see a reasonable way of completing the quest unless I seek additional information. Significant frustration in completing poorly designed quests impacted by decision to only quest in limited amounts in most MMOs. I create my own adventures and opportunities to level without being sent in ridiculous circles for little gain.

    I attribute a lot of RMT purchases in games where it isn’t allowed to the same fact. Too many time/gold sinks built into the game that players don’t find any enjoyment in completing. It’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun. If large amounts of our audience is electing to by pass content or experience certain “growth” paths and are instead buying their way there, I’d say revisit the content and mechanics. I don’t think the average person sets out to pay for a game, pay a subscription for the opportunity to play the game and then pay (RMT) or cheat not to experience it.

  82. I think understanding this question requires more than game-theory terminology. It also requires a bit of thinking in terms of literary theory.

    Cheating is violating the rules (explicit or implied) of the game.

    The two questions of import:
    1) What are the rules of the game?
    2) Who writes the rules?

    Raph is taking the hard-line stance that the author, or game designer, is the dictator of these rules.

    When I play Monopoly with friends and we give out $500 to anyone who lands on Free Parking, we’re violating the explicit rules written by the “Game Designer”. We are not, however, cheating, as we have agreed to explicitly rewrite the author’s rules for our game.

    IIRC, when playing Ultima 7 and gambling after joining the fellowship, a simple loophole in statistics lets you acquire arbitrary amounts of money. Is a player to see this as a bug to be avoided? Or a feature to turn off gold as a limiting factor when the player reaches this point in the game? As a player, I must make my own interpretation and become the game designer myself.

    This is why I brought up literary theory – the idea of an absolute “author” is a slippery slope. It is not sensible to think of a reader just passively absorbing the text – to read is to interpret, and to interpret is to write.

    The game of WoW isn’t played by 9 million people any more than the game of Monopoly has been. It is more accurate to see people playing WoW as playing their own variant with rules defined by the loosely defined social network they belong too.

    When I went dungeon crawling in Ultima Online, my group refused to use boxes to block in creatures that we were fighting. This was standard practice according to most players, yet within my loose group during these crawls it was classified as against the rules of fair play. Now, if I were, outside of this group, to travel with another group to the same dungeon, and this time use boxes to block in the creatures, would I be cheating? If this second group approves of box-blocking, I would say not.

    The rules defined in these loose groups are defined by the game-physics (as written by the designer), slightly by official designer principles (play nice policies, etc), and by peer pressure from other groups. That they change over time should not surprise us, nor that they vary from group to group.

    I guess this puts me in the “nothing is cheating or everything is cheating” camp. MMORPG playerbases are too diverse and too loosely connected to have a single coherent game for terms like cheating to apply. Moongates to break into houses are a creative form of magic in one group and cheating in another group – both viewpoints are valid and remain valid independent of “official” developer positions.

  83. […] went down… I wrote this: http://loading.blogs.tentonhammer.com/?p=408 Raph Koster wrote this: http://www.raphkoster.com/2007/12/28…-all-cheaters/ I replied with: I respect how Raph feels on this issue even though he tries to butter my […]

  84. Really, the question is a simple one. Is it cheating. Answers to things almost always can be found by simplifying it down, breaking off all the baggage and parts that people add onto the question.

    But what it boils down to is that the game maker says. It’s that simple. Nothing else matters. They don’t even have to offer a reason. If they say something is cheating, it’s cheating.

    In sports they sometimes change the rules. One year something is OK to do, the next year, it’s cheating. And this is only so because they said so.

    So, if you do something that the game says is cheating, it doesn’t really matter what you think, what I think, or what Raph thinks. It doesn’t matter what reasoning you or I use to justify doing it. It doesn’t even matter if the rule is just and right. If they (the game) say it’s cheating, it’s cheating. Pure and simple.

    Once we recognize this, as we all have if we really think about it, we can start arguing whether it should be considered cheating, as we all have. But really, they are two different stories.

  85. Brask Mumei:

    “When I play Monopoly with friends and we give out $500 to anyone who lands on Free Parking, we’re violating the explicit rules written by the “Game Designer”. We are not, however, cheating, as we have agreed to explicitly rewrite the author’s rules for our game.”

    There is one fundamental thing you are missing here. When playing a MMORPG you are playing in the developers house (their server) and must play by their rules. Just as they would do if they came over to play Monopoly at your house. Think of it like this. If you wanted to play in a sanctioned Monopoly tournament, you would not get very far when trying to implement your own rules. In all cases, people ply according to the “house” rules. Just like Poker tournaments. You pay for a right to be at the table, not to rewrite the rules.

    Brask Mumei:

    “When I went dungeon crawling in Ultima Online, my group refused to use boxes to block in creatures that we were fighting. This was standard practice according to most players, yet within my loose group during these crawls it was classified as against the rules of fair play. Now, if I were, outside of this group, to travel with another group to the same dungeon, and this time use boxes to block in the creatures, would I be cheating? If this second group approves of box-blocking, I would say not.”

    Again, you are talking about personal choice here. You are not changing anything in the way of “house rules”. It is no different than someone saying that they will adventure for everything and not use the auction house at all. You are only createing a personal subset of rules that you want to abide by.

  86. […] + PvP + Gambling = The Most Popular Game in China – ZT Online While wimpy Americans can whine about “cheating” in online games, quibble about Real Money Transactions (RMT), complain about gold farming, gripe about […]

  87. Interesting post Raph, I agree and all, even though I am a cheater in some games. Once I cheated checking Discworld walkthroughs, and found out I had actually somehow corrupted/confused my game and although I knew what to do and how, it wasn’t possible!

    The other major time was Sam & Max, I feel horrible for doing so, but after the major frustrating puzzles, I said I’d see the end even if I cheated.

    I’ve cheated other times with cheat-codes and suchlike, usually after completing the game or when modding/checking the design out. Bit more obvious these are cheats though :)

    Online play; I’d agree, it is cheating to know everything beforehand, although how it comes across can be interesting. Being taught tricks, strategy and other things from other players (in any kind of multiplayer game, from Chess to anything else) could be part of the learning, and certainly being told your mistakes by other players, especially if you play against them, can be helpful and is nearly impossible to avoid anyway (be it a screaming teenager shouting to you over some voicechat that “Take the flag the other way, stupid!” or similar ;) ).

    Reading guides though? No more then cheating, really, since as you say information is the mechanic. You might as well type “No Fog Of War” in a realtime strategy game, or use a wallhack in a FPS. I’m surprised it needed stating really!

    The comments are interesting too, although most are entirely off topic I guess, revolving around if it is right, fair, or under what circumstances the “rule” applies, hehe.

  88. Yes, yes… Meta-Gaming is cheating.

    Didn’t you people learn this during your pen & paper sessions?

  89. Jason wrote:

    An aeronautical engineer isn’t cheating by learning to build aircraft …

    Building aircraft isn’t a game…

  90. The main beef I have with strategy guides is not the sharing of information per se – you can think of that as your character hanging out with more seasoned adventurers and learning from their experiences. My problem is the way these sites are often treated as received wisdom by players.

    Guides tend to be written with “this is THE best talent build” or “follow THESE steps to defeat boss X”, and a large body of players follow this slavishly. If you use a non-standard character build (perhaps one tailored to your own personal playing style) or advocate trying different tactics you can find yourself left out in the cold when it comes to raiding or other high-end content.

    I don’t think this is so much a game design problem as a gamer psychology problem, though. Even where a game is designed so that there are multiple valid tactics available, you will find a slavish adherence to “the one true way”. For me, this cheapens the game experience – one of the major reasons I got out of WoW raiding was that my guild had moved away from experimenting with different tactics and refining our techniques and had started to strictly adhere to website guides and judge players solely according to damage meters and log parser results.

  91. Morgan Ramsay said:

    Building aircraft isn’t a game…

    Wasn’t my example… however, my wife’s estranged father builds aircrafts for fun, it is his hobby, and to him it is a game. I wouldn’t want hobbyist aircraft builders working for any commercial airline though.

  92. […] hasn't yet reached the same point?Raph Koster (of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies fame) thinks so.Personally, I think he's way off base. To whit:QUOTE(Raph Koster)Any info you get that […]

  93. You’re fuckin stupid.

  94. You’re fuckin stupid.

    You’re surrounded by intelligent discussion from several sides of the debate, and that’s the best you can come up with? Disagree, if you like, but do so with some class, OK?

    Overall, the best argument I have heard against the use of Thottbot and the like being cheating is that “it’s an inherently social game.” And I agree with that.

    I suggest that then, we start designing these games so that the puzzles and quests and stats are actually designed as massively multiplayer social problems to solve, rather than scaled for the difficulty of one player. Thoughts?

  95. I suggest that then, we start designing these games so that the puzzles and quests and stats are actually designed as massively multiplayer social problems to solve, rather than scaled for the difficulty of one player. Thoughts?

    The ‘massively multiplayer social’ part makes me a bit nervous…it brings back [to my taste] bad memories of games where you had to be in a group of size X with composition Y to do anything. I spend the bulk of my gaming time duoing with my wife and the rest of it ‘soloing with others’. I already skip the ‘group required’ portion of games I play. My initial thought is that it’s a design I’d probabably skip.

    On a less selfish note, how do you design a quest as a massive social problem to solve? Something like getting the Griffon Towers built in EQ II?

  96. I think we need to start paying more attention to ARG’s, then. The only true “Massive Multiplayer social problem” I’ve seen in an MMO are the raid scheduling problem (which WoW made irrelevant with instancing of raids) and the Alliance politics of Eve. ARG’s are the only thing with problems/puzzles so complex they require crowd-sourcing
    to solve.
    –Dave

  97. This really is a funny discussion. Raph is completely, 100% right. Guides are still considered, flat-out, to be cheating in some text MUDs. In our own, we gave up the ghost on that awhile ago but sharing quest information in-game, at least, is still highly frowned upon. Further, twinking gets you banned as it’s a violation of the magic circle that’s not permitted.

    In other words, twinking, guides, etc as cheating are not a historical curiosity. They are considered cheating RIGHT NOW, TODAY but truly old-school, hardcore gamers.

    –matt
    P.S. Myself, I don’t care one way or another, but it’s what our playerbase wants.

  98. One thought immediately leaps to mind: Horizons.

    Not a successful MMO, but extremely innovative in a number of ways. One thing they did right was truly world-spanning, everybody-pitching-in events, such as getting crafters and adventurers together to excavate a tunnel to a buried city (the caves were not safe, and the adventurers had to fend off monsters so that the crafters could work. People had to run supplies down and back, since not everything could be constructed in the bowels of the cave (allowing even really low level characters to be involved), and the kinds of things needed varied immensely, such as crafted shovels, support struts, even explosives I think. I’m working entirely off memory and paraphrasing a lot). There *are* ways to do these things.

    After all, why do we need to know these things so badly? Why is it so important to research an MMO in favor of playing it? I think part of it is definitley the level-and-stat-numbers approach nearly everyone uses; if Level 45 is universally, unequivocably BETTER than Level 40, if the special-color sword hidden somewhere in the world is BETTER than the ones found anywhere else, if doing an obscure quest results in a boost that makes my Strength BETTER than it would be without it, well, it strongly compels one to find out how to get that level, that quest and that sword.

    Players having a desire to know or get things is one thing, but game design often pushes a lot of those awfully close to needs, particularly in a competitive context (leader boards, PvP, etc. Game-designed competition, leaving aside completely emergent competition).

    For the above event, sure, you can only do it once. The important thing, though, is that close to everyone could pitch in. You don’t need the levels, the sword, the stats… you might be working on different tasks based on what you were capable of, but you weren’t locked out. BETTER at something didn’t mean as much when it was cooperative rather than competitive. It was highly social, and the process and goal was clear enough that spoilers weren’t necessary (the big question was what was down there, not what could we do to get there). But, now think of Asheron’s Call, its serial content and skill-based system, and what could be made if the two were combined…

  99. Raph Koster wrote: I suggest that then, we start designing these games so that the puzzles and quests and stats are actually designed as massively multiplayer social problems to solve, rather than scaled for the difficulty of one player. Thoughts?

    I’m reminded a bit by that massive decryption mini-game added to SWG at some point. I can’t remember why it was in, but it was a bunch of items with parts of a large code in them. People figured that part out and started a few 300+ page threads on the forums about decoding it. Err, if I recall correct, you actually designed it :)

    I think that can work because it does offer an array of methods to be involved with it, from the folks who are getting items with codes through folks who want to talk about it on forums to folks who have the interest in figuring it out to folks who actually lead the effort. Sorta Player Pyramid in action (belated thanks for outlining something I’ve referenced quite often Mike!)

    As long as the activities at various levels can be engaging to those various levels. For example, the starting point of items, if it’s fun to get those items and/or they’re the result of quests that can be soloed (which iirc they were), this is a good way to grab the masses without expecting them to hit the forums (which most won’t).

  100. Jason wrote:

    Wasn’t my example…

    Oh, I thought you said that game designers are naive for expecting players to refrain from cheating because aeronautical engineering is a game and those who play that game are, technically, always cheating.

    … however, my wife’s estranged father builds aircrafts for fun, it is his hobby, and to him it is a game.

    The term "game" in this sense differs from how we’re using the word elsewhere. In this sense, "game" means "like a game." Distinguishing between games and activities is important here. Something you do can be part of something you play, but something you do isn’t something you play.

  101. I suggest that then, we start designing these games so that the puzzles and quests and stats are actually designed as massively multiplayer social problems to solve, rather than scaled for the difficulty of one player. Thoughts?

    A Tale in the Desert does this beautifully, in that it would be almost impossible to progress in the game unless there are a thousand other people subscribed. In fact, unless there are at least 255 active players at the end, then the playerbase loses the game. (And those 255 active players would have to be very busy indeed.)

    Fortunately, the stakes aren’t that high, so losing the game doesn’t have much of an impact on the players when the world ends and the sequel begins. It’s more of an ego blow than anything else.

  102. Seems to me that players are more easily motivated by competition than cooperation with each other on a large scale – when they do cooperate, it’s often to compete with another group of players (e.g. raiding guilds). The best community spirit I’ve encountered in an MMO was playing Dark Age of Camelot, where there was a real sense of Hibernia being the underdog realm on our server in terms of numbers, and people had to work together in order to overcome the greater numbers of the opposing realms.

    One idea, then, might be to create “massively multiplayer quests” that unlock some advantage (a new character class or piece of equipment) for the faction that completes it first. The problem then is balancing just how good this reward is – too good, and it imbalances the factions and results in a lot of people switching sides to get access to it; if it’s just fluff, then many players will decide it’s not worth their effort to help with the task.

  103. […] week, Raph Koster laid down an analysis of why strategy guides are cheating. He contends that playing the game is what you are supposed to do, and anything outside of playing […]

  104. I suggest that then, we start designing these games so that the puzzles and quests and stats are actually designed as massively multiplayer social problems to solve, rather than scaled for the difficulty of one player. Thoughts?

    This was already the case in EQ1 with the epic quests. It was quite clear that the only way the quests were going to be solved was through community effort on message boards and sharing of information. Since then, a lot of games use this tactic, knowing that once the walk-through/spoiler appears, that aspect of the quest is finished – but it generates a lot of interest and discussion in the meantime.

    In fact, thinking about one you mentioned earlier, all Neopets quests (they call them plots) are based on this premise. These events are based around community and cooperation, using different aspects for people to get involved. Brainstorming (what do we do next? has anyone tried hailing the purple chia with a rare wand in their inventory?), searching (hints are scattered all over the place and you need a combination of people finding them and people knowing what they mean), and gameplay (there are ten thousand blocks of cement in the building. The next stage of the plot will not take place until they have all been taking out individually via the “remove cement” quest).

  105. Seems to me that players are more easily motivated by competition than cooperation with each other on a large scale – when they do cooperate, it’s often to compete with another group of players (e.g. raiding guilds).

    People need challenges. Cooperation happens when a group of people all agree that a challenge needs their powers combined to tackle. Competition happens when no such challenge presents itself, or when people feel others are more of a challenge than the bigger goal, or when people feel that cooperation will cause them to lose something in the long run (which raises the challenge profile to “Change how the cooperation occurs”, better known as “politics”).

    See world peace/hunger.

  106. “Any info you get that isn’t presented to you by the game in normal gameplay sequence is not supposed to be available to you.”

    The problem is that the raiding aspect of the MMO endgame is currently social in nature. Using WoW as our easy example: I need 24 other people to do Serpentshrine. So let’s say that 24 friends and I go out and learn Serpentshrine by ourselves; let’s then further say that one of them is unavailable one night and I’ve recruited a new player to our midst. She’s never done the place before.

    What’s “normal gameplay sequence”? Is it acceptable for me to give her a tanking assignment, or do I have to wipe on Hydross a bunch of times while she learns the pattern and figures out that she needs to pick up one of his attendant elementals?

    If it’s acceptable to give her a briefing on the raid, is it acceptable to brief her before the raid? Can I keep strategy notes on my guild web site?

    It is possible that “you” in the quote above could be taken to refer to the guild as a whole; i.e., the entity trying to solve the puzzle game is not any individual person, but rather the guild as a whole. So can someone talk to friends in other guilds to gain knowledge? Is it OK to take a new recruit who’s already been through the place, and who can help write our strategy?

    And what’s sacred about the unit of the guild, as opposed to the unit of the playerbase as a whole?

  107. What if any given bit of information could be held in a game object of sorts such that those bits of information could be traded between players using the in-game economy? The problem with game sites and guides is that they are obsolete in days from their release as far as MMOs are concerned. Web sites improved the effeciency of the cheating by being more up to date. The bottom line is that 99.999% of quest designs do not meet the information needs of the player and that leads the player to want to ask for more. The NPCs can’t answer more than they were programmed to so the player asks a guide be it a book, web site or another player.

    Players should be able to broker information between themselves in-game. Make information valuable. Make it a collection game and it will quickly become a collection that has no end and an explorer’s treasure. Want knowledge of a spawn point, we trade and I give it to you, now there’s a minimap point on your map that I just sold to you in-game. You’re free to sell it or hold it for your own. Sure it takes much much more storage on the backend but wouldn’t the brokering of information in-game sorta make the game guides useless? I’m assuming the search interface and trade mechanisms are well designed in this thought.

    Think of all the things you could do with something like that. As you walk by a spawn point, the game tells you that you collected information on this two months ago and it’s as if you remembered something. Strats, map points, item information could all be included. You might even be able to design an interface where even player names/identities were traded as part of this information object. Some given freely, others paid for from a trusted player. The misinformation, disinformation and information games could be fun if designed properly and the social ramifications could be fantastic. All by screwing with the way information is presented and shared in a MMO. Then guides are not cheating.

  108. Raph said:
    I suggest that then, we start designing these games so that the puzzles and quests and stats are actually designed as massively multiplayer social problems to solve, rather than scaled for the difficulty of one player. Thoughts?

    Yes, and I highlighted the “rather than” part because the static and repeatable quests for individual gain as the main feature of the game has to go. It’s OK to have some of that in a scale of low importance, but not at a level that still allows for constant, predictable gains that can be used for RMT purposes. Yet, you can’t just take it out of the game, you have to replace it with something. And that something needs to benefit the individual player just as the current quests do. Well, not “just as”, but in a manner that equally important in the context of the game. If a current quest gives a reward of level 50 0n a scale of 70, in this new version of game play it might be a reward of equal scale in the mind of the player. But that can be anything, there is loads of room here. Entertainment is the key, and even that is subject to a wide latitude.

    (And a note here. Everyone talks about “fun”. But what is fun? Does entertainment qualify? Does “interesting” qualify? All in the eye of the beholder, but it’s worth something.)

    If we decide to take out the static, repeatable quests and replace it with something else, then we no longer need to have the ladder rungs of levels to the same degree as in the existing games. This is important because the existing games break social interaction too much. And what we ant is to build social interaction, not divide it. But here too, if you take this aspect out, you need to add something to replace it.

    So now I’m talking about a game where we’ve taken out static repeatable quests and level grind, and replacing them with social interaction plus whatever we can add to that and other means of interesting game play.

    To make a long story short, what needs to be done is make a game where social interaction is very important to the individual, and individuals are brought together for their own goals too. There are lots of ways to do this. In just about any aspect of gaming, there can be greater individual accomplishment if there is something that enhances the individual through social interaction.

    In RL, people build things together so that each individual can prosper in what they do. Sometimes this prosperity comes as a result of that social cooperation. Sometimes it’s a means to better individual performance. And I’ve been saying for years now, look at RL for examples to make a better game. In a fantasy or sci-fi game world, you can even add the mystical or scientific.

  109. […] of the interesting questions that came up in the discussions on cheating is basically the issue of whether you can have a game design that limits information flow, in […]

  110. Re: Raph @47: I wasn’t calling out MMOs in particular, as it’s a general game design flaw, not one specific to MMOs. But yes, I think Kami @43 had the point in principle if not in specifics: creating repetitive, boring actions that the player needs to perform abuses the designer/player trust. To obfuscate the value of that action further abuses it, and encourages the user to look elsewhere to find some sense of value or worth out of a given action.

    I recall a post you made a while back, which discussed how you obfuscated the use-based skill system in UO, and you commented that users worked hard to dig that information out, and whenever they did, it would get changed. That IS an example of abusing player trust, in one of your own games. It’s taking a frustrating, grinding act in the first place, and adding an arbitrary, unspoken rule, and then getting annoyed and penalizing the players for figuring it out and sharing that knowledge. Of course that sort of information is going to be shared — from the player’s perspective, the rules governing that behavior were unjust, and SHOULD be shared so others don’t have to figure out unfair behavior.

    There are NUMEROUS examples of this sort of behavior in many, many games (WoW’s chicken pet quest comes to mind, where you have to /cluck at a chicken 12-20 times to get the quest, with no hint that the chicken would respond in such a manner), including ones that are well respected and considered “good” games — shrugging off the observation as me “playing bad games” doesn’t negate the fact that this is what’s out there: these are the options provided to us. Enough “bad” game design behavior, combined with an information-addicted culture has created a situation where we as players no longer trust the game to provide the information we need, nor trust our own ability to figure it out without hours of experimentation or help.

  111. RE: (various ‘generation’ comments)

    Raph, The Common Sense Gamer is the nearly same age as you. Don’t get too caught up in dismissing ‘the youngsters’ in the blog community because most of them seem to be pretty close to the same age as you. We Zorked, we Apshai’d, be BardsTale’d, and we wizzed on Muds just like you.

    We understand that you’ve been studying this closer than most for the last ten years, but let’s not get dismissive in your ‘old age’ of 35-ish.

  112. brent wrote:

    Don’t get too caught up in dismissing ‘the youngsters’ in the blog community because most of them seem to be pretty close to the same age as you.

    If you’re not a Tween or a member of Generation Y, you’re not a "youngster."

  113. I recall a post you made a while back, which discussed how you obfuscated the use-based skill system in UO, and you commented that users worked hard to dig that information out, and whenever they did, it would get changed. That IS an example of abusing player trust, in one of your own games.

    Hmm, I think you need to re-read that post, because that’s not what it says. The 8×8 system was an attempt to reduce mindless grinding. It is a good example of where knowing how a system worked actually drove people to do more grinding and unfun gameplay, rather than just enjoying the other systems.

    In addition, given the way the skill table was set up, mindless grnding was actually hurting everyone else in the playerbase. Which was a design flaw, for sure. But everyone KNEW it hurt everyone in the playerbase (we told everyone how the system worked), and everyone did it anyway. And when 8×8 went in, we told people “staying still and grinding won’t work anymore.” It wasn’t hidden at all.

    I am unsure how you get to the unjust bit. Players at the time were complaining mightily about advancement rates and the effect of macroing. In fact, it caused as much complaining as RMT does today.

    FWIW, WoW’s chicken strikes me as an Easter Egg more than anything else. Like cow-tipping in UO, it’s there for fun only and has no significant gameplay impact.

  114. Brent — heh, fair enough. :) I shouldn’t assume.

  115. Day late, dollar short. I know. :)

    I’ve always put it like this:

    RMT:Achievement::strategy guides:Exploration

    Most online RPGs are developed with an Achiever focus, therefore, anything that short-circuits that is seen as “cheating”. However, allowing people to avoid the “Exploration” aspects is not really seen as cheating.

    I tend to avoid strategy guides, myself, if I really want to enjoy the game. However, I have a lot less time to game now than I did when I was a kid, so I sometimes go hit GameFAQs in order to get info that would have taken me a long time to explore myself. As someone mentioned above, the whole “missable items” or “good ending” things are big on my list, too.

    My thoughts.

  116. […] about meta-gaming (reading on-line guides) and buying currency for real cash. You can find his view here. This topic has come up before, but I’d like to open it up again. What do you think? Is reading a […]

  117. For me the main two flaws in the argument is what I’d call the “designer’s intent fallacy” and the idea that “information is game mechanics”.

    The first fallacy is that players have to play a game (online or offline) at the terms that the designers originally intended.

    For example, a game gets designed to have tricky riddles with an estimation that exploring clues for the riddles will take X hours. The player however doesn’t actually care to play the game for the riddles, they want to see the story unfold. Hence the player bypasses the riddle to progress the story faster than the designer intended. This isn’t “cheating”. It’s having different intent and possibly a different idea what “fun” is. (i.e. the player may not find it fun to keep dying in the same situation too often in a row, even if the game designer thought that the fun here is overcoming the challenge.)

    Basically the reason why I use offline strategy guides is because of exactly this. I actually don’t like some game design decisions, and rather than play the game on the designers terms I ease the situation to be able to play it on mine.

    One could actually take this as one measure of good game design: Are gamers likely or less likely to seek external help or relief. Rather than putting this on the gamer and calling them cheaters one could well put this on the designer and question if they made a game that matched what gamers wanted or provided mechanism that was tedium and not fun and people want to bypass them.

    But for MMOs it’s even different. Thottbot and Alakhazam is not more cheating than a guild forum or a guild channel or even an ingame channel with people asking for help. Yes Thottbot offers extra information on top of it but there again it’s actually blizzard’s decision that they accept this. Given their ToS/EULA they could actually sue data-miners but they don’t. Thottbot and other sites are the “meta” game that goes with WoW and is very much part of the design. How great is it for a game that people send time exploring what to do next, what treasures to hunt, how to solve a difficult encounter _while not even in the game_. By having people engrossed in the meta-game, MMO designs win. Cheating is something that’s against the rules. Per Blizz’s rules at least, those web-sites are not cheating because they aren’t sued. After all everything that’s in WoW is Blizzard’s property and they certainly could if they wanted to.

    And even if they wanted to, people can and will discuss strategies. It’s a social game and one cannot control communication. Asking for help on a quest and actually getting tips is not cheating at all. It’s supported by chat channels and guild structures.

    Finally, if programmers think that if you have a full strategy to a WoW raid boss that means you just type as you enter and everything is done, those game programmers have no idea. Seriously. And I say this as someone who extensively researched and implemented raid strategies for raid groups.

    Let me put it like this: Just because you know the theory of 10-finger typing and the basic rules of patterns in the 10-finger layout to get to words, doesn’t mean that under pressure you will type without mistakes.

    That raid encounter programmer (as you seem to claim) don’t understand this is intriguing to say the least. By your argument most of WoW’s raid encounters should be downed by all raid groups who try, because after most use strategy guides extensively and they are available in abundance. Funny enough raid groups still learn on encounters that are reduced to typing for them at this point.

    I actually also disagree that finding the strategy is the hard part. At least in WoW raiding finding the strategy is a matter of staring at the combat log and seeing what killed you. In virtually all cases it’s rather obvious what the counter is. In fact good boss designs will gently teach you what the counter is. Take tranq book dropping off the first MC boss and the second MC boss going into a frenzied state. In that design it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to give you the answer: Tranq the frenzy. If your tank gets feared, use abilities that control fear etc. The only raid encounter in WoW that took very long to get a strategy for was four horsemen. Why? Because the encounter design drastically broke expectations, by actually requiring raid groups to stack tanks (8 instead of the typical 5) and the generic assumption was that Blizzard would never design encounters that would force classes to be benched. They did and it took long for people to learn that lesson. Other than that implementing strategy is harder than learning it in most WoW encounters.

    Heck everyone knows that you need to click the cubes at Magtheridon (and the encounter design pretty much gives that away as being the solution) and they still wipe to it.

    The challenge to raiding is (a) finding a strategy and (b) implementing it. And in good raid design (b) is non-trivial and this is true for WoW raiding at least. If (a) and (b) takes too long combined, then the game designers failed not the raiders who read strategies others posted. I.e. back to the “designer’s intent fallacy”.

    I’ll stay away from the RMT polemic though. I don’t find it very helpful to equate those things simply because noone ever broke into an MMO account and stripped a character to improve their raid strategy. But people certainly do just that to make some real money. No RMT is not like strategy web-sites for sure… The real question is if something is wanted or unwanted. A level 1 character spamming the say channel with RL commercials is not wanted on an RP server, yet economic drive makes it happen. This is a completely different thing than people asking in the same channel if someone can give a hint on a quest they have trouble with (that one is wanted). People do write hacking programs, but funny enough the majority do consider those cheating, because they are breaking game mechanics. You claim that information is game mechanics but that’s a mistake, because you cannot control information hence you never designed it. If you design a game assuming that no guide book can ever be published it’s a designer flaw not a gamer flaw.

    And if an offline game really drives people to use trainer programs, it’s again very likely a design flaw. If players wanted a managable fast mode and the designer didn’t offer one the design is flawed and not the reaction to the design.

    Let me give another example: Threat in WoW. This mechanics is originally hidden, but started to play a crucial role in the ability to beat encounters (non-taunting tank rotations, like needed for Vaelastrasz or Huhuran) to beat the encounter players have to learn threat. The design of the game literally encouraged people to research how threat works and they did. Today we have fairly accurate Threat meters that tremendously help at threat based encounter designs. What is Blizzards reaction? Not banning threat meters or calling them bad. Rather they announce that their own interface will give more visual cues related to threat. They could have made the threat mechanism more hidden by adding more randomness, but they chose not to do so and the mechanisms was revealable, and it’s allowed to be such. In fact the meta-game of understanding game mechanisms is a crucial part of WoW. High-end raiding is literally impossible without some level of understanding _unpublished_ game mechanics. No manual by blizz ever informs the gamer how to reach crit immunity, yet boss encounters are unbeatable if the boss crits a tank. The whole game is to allow the community to unearth the mechanism and that is very allowable and I’d argue intended.

    But had threat never played a crucial part in beating encounters I’d argue that threatmeters probably wouldn’t have developed. Their appearance was “designed”. And yes, some designs are unintentional but the game designer did pick the selective pressures even if not forseeing the reactions.

    There are things that Blizz does not like, which is in-game bypassing of paced content. But here again it’s design flaws that reveal this possibility. Currently warlock summoning is disabled in Zul’Aman because in conjuction with terrain exploits people could bypass content that wasn’t intended to be bypassable. Real problem is that the terrain wasn’t safely designed. Typically Blizz here too takes the right approach and rather than calling people cheaters and leaving things be, they fix their design mechanisms to prevent the unintended bypass. In a sense this is exactly the point: The thing they do have control over is the actual game mechanics and not the information. Blizz controls in-game mechanics but not information flow. Rather information flow is encouraged and allowed. Hence information is not game mechanics in the same sense as game mechanics is. Information is a separate meta-game that the designer doesn’t have full control over (and will fail if he tries).

    I really believe that WoW at least is already in a way a socially designed game, exactly through the meta-game discussion it induces. If we want to be funny we can call that social meta-game “cheating”.

  118. So, Moroagh, usually “playing the game in a way the designer did not intend” is somewhere between “harmless playing around” and “breaking the rules.” I am comfortable calling the stuff that breaks the designer’s intent to that latter degree “cheating.” What else would you call it?

    There seems to be this huge negative association with the word “cheating.” It isn’t necessarily as negative as people seem to feel. As I said a lot of it is effectively cultural. To wit:

    For example, a game gets designed to have tricky riddles with an estimation that exploring clues for the riddles will take X hours. The player however doesn’t actually care to play the game for the riddles, they want to see the story unfold. Hence the player bypasses the riddle to progress the story faster than the designer intended. This isn’t “cheating”. It’s having different intent and possibly a different idea what “fun” is.

    It is cheating. It may also be more fun. These two things can co-exist just fine.

    One could actually take this as one measure of good game design: Are gamers likely or less likely to seek external help or relief. Rather than putting this on the gamer and calling them cheaters one could well put this on the designer and question if they made a game that matched what gamers wanted or provided mechanism that was tedium and not fun and people want to bypass them.

    No game fits all; therefore you are setting the designer an impossible task there. A better question is whether the intended target audience abandons the game or resorts to cheating.

    Per Blizz’s rules at least, those web-sites are not cheating because they aren’t sued.

    No… one can break the law and not get caught, or not get charged, or even fail to get convicted, and that doesn’t stop it from being illegal. Going to the extent of suing over this is simply not how far the company is willing to go. (And it’s manifestly stupid to sue your own customers for loving your product).

    Finally, if programmers think that if you have a full strategy to a WoW raid boss that means you just type as you enter and everything is done, those game programmers have no idea.

    That really isn’t what I said.

  119. Psychochild wrote:

    RMT:Achievement::strategy guides:Exploration

    “Um, yeah, I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there.” — Bill Lumbergh

    RMT:Access::walkthroughs:Achievement

    Nobody who buys virtual items for real money considers the acquisition of those virtual items “achievements.” Sir, people who engage in RMT (which includes me) do so for the purpose of increasing their access level. Both items and character levels are keycards in many online games. When you have a certain keycard, you can walk through a certain door, and through that passage, you can experience what the game has to offer. RMT enables players to customize their game experience by providing them the access they need on an at-will basis. In other words, RMT:Portals::walkthroughs:Signs.

    Walkthroughs, which is what most so-called strategy guides are actually, are not about exploration. Exploration is all about discovery. You can’t discover things that you know were already discovered by someone else. To discover something means being the first to lay your eyes on (or experience) that something. You can’t claim credit for prior discoveries that are not your own but you can use them as a foundation for achievement. In other words, using walkthroughs is akin to standing on the shoulders of giants. You might be supported by another, but you can still reach toward the sky higher than any other. That’s an achievement because that’s something you can boast about. Following my post here, RMT:Fun::walkthroughs:Pleasure.

    At a basic level, RMT and walkthroughs are the same thing. Players either way are customizing their game experience. You can’t claim that they’re “bypassing” content because in both cases they (or someone they’ve paid to stand in line for them) are still walking down the same corridors as other players. The only difference is that they have Felix’s magic bag or Potter’s magic map. They simply approach the same content as other players in a different way. The point at which RMT and walkthroughs differ is, as described, largely motivational.

  120. You missed my point Raph. The critical part is that (a) you cannot control information even if you intend to, that includes if you in your own mind make up what a game is intended to be, you cannot actually fully define that intend.

    Let me take this out of the computer game context: People buy and play a board game, they decide they don’t like a design aspect of the game but there is a way to reappropriate it so they enjoy it more. They do so. And play and enjoy the game.

    In this as in the computer game case is it cheating? The relevant Webster definition of cheating here is “b: to violate rules dishonestly”. Well. Yes, the game designer in both cases can feel cheated because they may feel that it’s their “right” that their game design be honored (even if it was a bad design from the player’s perspective). However from a player perspective there is no cheating at all. They quite honestly just define for themselves what the rules are. They are not mistaken. The game designer never had control how the pieces they release for used are actually used. So if they are upset it’s really their personal problem of misunderstood control in the context.

    The fallacy is that game designers do not have full control over information. Hence if you insist that people broke rules and the rules are about information, then I agree that you can be upset and feel cheated, but to be honest that’s your personal problem and not a global problem because you never had the control over information in the first place.

    And you are partly right about the suing. I was bemused when I heard prince suing some of his fan sites to take off some pictures. But that’s not my argument either. The point is that Pardo and crew knew that Thottbot would come up (in fact their interface allows for rather convenient and powerful tooltip scanning by design!), after all comparable sites existed for EQ etc before. If you search the web you will find Pardo and other senior designers of WoW discuss these sites in positive terms, i.e. as where raiders would go and brag about loot (i.e. they would exactly the discuss the meta-game and its benefit, can’t find the link right now, it was an interview of roughly March 2007 at Blizzard by a game magazine).

    Blizz is smart here, because they understand they cannot control information and go with it rather than against it. I don’t think Blizz made Armory because they carved. They made it because they always wanted it but only eventually got around creating it. These sites are part of the game design. But you can ask Pardo at the next game convention.

    No game fits all; therefore you are setting the designer an impossible task there. A better question is whether the intended target audience abandons the game or resorts to cheating.

    I’m not setting the designer any task except to let go of of being a control freak and calling gamers cheaters for it when they are just acting sensibly. ;) Sorry for that.

    Also I nowhere said that every game has to fit everybody. But yes if people want to play the game but don’t act as the designer intended, the designer ought to take a hard look at their design and their attitude. But the design may be fine, the fact that people go to fan sites may actually be a benefit not a detriment to the game. It’s serves the same function as trading gold to a friend: helping (your own argument basically). Helping is only cheating if it’s against the rules and dishonest.

    Alright even with the qualification of an intended audience I’d argue that the vast majority of WoW players “cheat” by your definition because they frequent web sites.

    But they don’t. Cheating is breaking rules dishonestly. Blizz never stated that visiting these sites is against the rules so nothing ever gets broken.

    Of course if you have the mandate to define the rules for every game then yes in your definition people cheat here, but it’s just a stretch and in my mind at best something to keep a discussion prolonged. I don’t particularly see any value in calling these sites cheating because it doesn’t fit what meaning the definition of cheating has in an appropriate context (i.e. other than you claiming it).

    I think you’ll have to accept that you can’t control information flow and you’ll realize that people don’t cheat. Currently you make them into cheaters in your mind because you claim control you don’t really have.

    Same with the old MUD thing. Checking strategy sites for some MUDs was cheating because their relevant opinion-makers defined it as such. This however never was a universal principle. The MUD I was involved in never broke a sweat how people handled information about the game outside the game. In fact it never even occured to us to worry about that or that it could be “cheating”. Frankly only now, some 15 years later I read that apparently some MUDs did consider it cheating. So yes you can call people cheaters but that doesn’t make that a universal truism, or something that has value for everybody.

    Btw the “intended audience” idea is again the designer’s intent fallacy. Game designer may intent to reach an audience, but what matters is the audience that they actually reach, even if that happens through reinterpretation and reappropriation of the game.

    WoW for example has the audience it has, independent of whether they fully intended to have this audience. So I think it’s a little tricky to set up arguments around “intended audiences” because it’s a designer centric look at what’s going on again. It’s more sensible to worry about the audience you have and how to attract more.

    That really isn’t what I said.

    You said:

    The actual killing of the raid mob is, as our programmers like to say, “just typing.”

    and in response to comments for DarranL:

    No, it just does the hard part, which is figuring out HOW to kill the boss. The actual killing is the easy part.

    I’d say I paraphrased sensibly what you said by writing:

    Finally, if programmers think that if you have a full strategy to a WoW raid boss that means you just type as you enter and everything is done, those game programmers have no idea.

    Yes it’s turning “easy” into “done” but you aren’t the last to take slightly extreme positions to make a point (like it’s “cheating” if you didn’t break any rule the game designer stated).

    Let me milden this:

    “Finally, if programmers think that if you have a full strategy to a WoW raid boss that means you just type as you enter and everything is easy, those game programmers have no idea.”

    Doesn’t change anything of the substance here though.

    Anywho based on what you wrote I gave detailed argument why your complaint that strategy guides trivialize raiding at least in a WoW context isn’t actual. (Wowjutsu actually gives hard numbers about this, certainly the number of raiders beating Illidan since the full strategy was released by no means indicate it’s easy to get there, quite evidently it’s hard despite information being available in abundance). Heck my raid group is wiping despite knowing all the information we ever will have. You telling us that we spend weeks (which often is longer than we want to spend) on the “easy” part is from our perspective at best silly and a lack of understanding how this actually works and what the actual challange is.

    Seriously, if your programmers consider raiding to be just typing and if you think the execution part is easy, you set yourself up for designing a really bad raiding game. You fail to focus and design the execution part.

    I think your raid argument wasn’t the best basically and it misunderstands what makes WoW raiding difficult.

    DDR is “easy” (your definition) because you know what’s coming. The game gives you the information beforehand (luckily people can play that game without being cheaters :D). Yet it’s still hard because you have to execute it. The main learning here as in raiding is execution. You can design raid games where the struggle is figuring out the strategy, but if that’s your design philosophy you will design bad raid encounters because you cannot control information. You can control difficulty of execution.

    And if your raiding game forgets the value of the meta-game of people spending mental attention to it while away from the game, that’s likely not good design either.

  121. OGRank – Raph Koster: You are all cheaters!…

    With a recent blog post , Raph Koster, founder of the company now developing Metaplace , and formerly game designer for Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online, suggests that the majority of MMORPG players are cheater….

  122. Moroagh, I feel like we are talking past each other here somehow. Let me try to cut through the misunderstanding a bit.

    A designer defines rules in a game, decides what the system of interaction is. They also define what parts of interaction aren’t possible, but cannot control all interaction. They do so for a purpose, and that is what makes the game a game.

    A player then chooses whether or not to engage with the game according to designer’s intent or not. If they do, then they have a direct conversation with the designer, learn the systems that the designer intended, and often learn more about them than the designer even knew (since the designer is often creating chaotic or incredibly large possibility spaces).

    The player, if they choose to engage with a game outside of the designer’s bounds, is perfectly free to do so. I have said many times that how players play the game is outside of the control of the designer. So we’re in total agreement there. However, knowingly going outside the bounds of designer-imposed constraints is cheating the rules of the game. It’s peeking in solitaire, etc.

    The player may also choose to redesign the game. That’s fine too — it’s the folk process. This is the money under Free Parking in Monopoly, which is a folk addition. The player has to do this by adding rules, not just doing whatever they want.

    There’s more, of course. The player can just treat the game as a toy. This is what people who hack games do. They can treat it as an artifact to study, and so on — lots of ways to treat it, and there’s a table of them in the book and somewhere on the site here.

    All of these are perfectly valid ways for the player to interact. But that doesn’t take away from the notion that if a player knowingly breaks a constraint the game offers, then they are breaking the game’s rules. And information display is one of those rules.

    Now, when a folk practice, like strategy guides, gets to be common enough, the development community as a whole may throw up its hands. I was there when this happened for UO, when strategy guides came up, and I think I recall there being angst about it on the EQ side as well. Designers recognized that it was an unenforceable rule, and let it slide.

    The original intent of this series of posts (and it’s stated very directly in this one) is to make the point very firmly that there is no significant difference between RMT and strategy guides. Every argument you have offered here is a pro-RMT argument. It is not a series of posts about how cheating is bad. Rather, it is about how folk practice and culture and gamers rewriting the rules is making RMT more acceptable over time, just as they made strategy guides more acceptable over time, even though both used to be equally heinous banning offenses.

    Btw the “intended audience” idea is again the designer’s intent fallacy. Game designer may intent to reach an audience, but what matters is the audience that they actually reach, even if that happens through reinterpretation and reappropriation of the game.

    You’re crossing the streams again, and making it seem like we disagree when we don’t. The “intended audience” bit was in terms of assessing whether a game design met its goals — not whether a designer has control of the game after it is created.

    Finally, as far as difficulty of raiding:

    Yes, raiding is very hard. On a scale of 1-100 it’s like a 50.

    However, raiding with no strategy and no information is like a 500. Raiding is “just typing” relative to the actual hard work of determining the pattern. This is why the first people to beat a raid have to work so damn hard, and why older raids are much much easier than they used to be.

    I am not minimizing the difficulty of “just typing.” Typing is hard, it takes years to get fast and accurate. But the hardest part is the mental model of typing. What’s more, that’s what the game is actually about all games — the mental model. Not the execution.

    I almost typed “mere” execution, because really, the execution is in many ways the least important part. There are probably well-oiled raid teams built out of twins or former Navy SEALS who can coordinate stuff perfectly first try. :P Yes, team coordination is very very hard. But the game is fundamentally learning the principles of team coordination.

    The game is learning to dance. Everything after is just practicing specific dance routines.

  123. “…the game is actually about all games — the mental model. Not the execution.”

    But the reality of play is actually the reverse. Something I read somewhere from an early Atari designer (you may know the source; I forget): “We constantly overestimated their intelligence and underestimated their physical dexterity.”

    What ARE the principles of team coordination? Are they independent of the game? Are they the principles one might find in the US Army Leadership Course of Instruction?

    Interesting topic…

  124. So, Moroagh, usually “playing the game in a way the designer did not intend” is somewhere between “harmless playing around” and “breaking the rules.” I am comfortable calling the stuff that breaks the designer’s intent to that latter degree “cheating.” What else would you call it?

    The player, if they choose to engage with a game outside of the designer’s bounds, is perfectly free to do so. I have said many times that how players play the game is outside of the control of the designer. So we’re in total agreement there. However, knowingly going outside the bounds of designer-imposed constraints is cheating the rules of the game. It’s peeking in solitaire, etc.

    With trepidation, I think I have to agree with Moroagh here…I think Raph [understandably] gives too much weight to the designers intentions and notr enough to the intentions of players.

    A long time ago I bought an el-cheapo chess set for one of my sons. To the best of my knowledge neither of my sons ever actually played chess. Instead they had great fun for years having little miniature battles using rules of their own creation. As far as I’m concerned they weren’t cheating at chess, the rules of chess were irrelevant.

  125. “…the game is actually about all games — the mental model. Not the execution.”

    But the reality of play is actually the reverse. Something I read somewhere from an early Atari designer (you may know the source; I forget): “We constantly overestimated their intelligence and underestimated their physical dexterity.”

    That’s audience-dependent. Many games have no dexterity requirement at all. They all have a mental model aspect.

    What ARE the principles of team coordination? Are they independent of the game? Are they the principles one might find in the US Army Leadership Course of Instruction?

    Yes, I think so. At least one critic (Chris Suellentrop) has argued that games these days teach rote obedience to rules, and his slant to me read like a comparison to military training — his article concluded “games teach us to salute.”

    A long time ago I bought an el-cheapo chess set for one of my sons. To the best of my knowledge neither of my sons ever actually played chess. Instead they had great fun for years having little miniature battles using rules of their own creation. As far as I’m concerned they weren’t cheating at chess, the rules of chess were irrelevant.

    So they didn’t even play chess, they used chess pieces as a toy. That’s not the same thing at all. They didn’t engage with the game of chess, therefore not cheating.

    Here’s a different but equivalent definition to what I have been using: cheating is choosing partial engagement with the rules.

  126. Raph thanks for the elaboration. Let me highlight our disagreements, but I think we get more clarity here:

    However, knowingly going outside the bounds of designer-imposed constraints is cheating the rules of the game. It’s peeking in solitaire, etc.

    This is an important but subtle point. Checking web sites is not like peeking in solitaire. I said it many times, Blizz never said that it’s against the rules to check these sites. Again, the MUD I was part of running had 0 anxiety of people getting outside information. We didn’t define that as cheating.

    The WoW equivalent of peaking at solitaire is of someone manages to reverse-engineer and then publish the encounter scripts with all hard numbers or manages to eavesdrop on the voice chat of arena opponents. That’s peeking. WoW strategy sites are like someone posting how to win against a computer solitaire program or how to solve rubic’s cube. They are no different than the guide books you can buy in the game store with full company endorsements. I.e. as I have been claiming all along noone is cheating the rule of the game as you are allowed to look!

    there is no significant difference between RMT and strategy guides

    I am not particularly interested in RMT arguments so I’ll stay away from this. I do disagree though and I have expressed this earlier with specific examples.

    How is saying that noone ever got his account hacked to improve raid strategy but people often get their account hacked for real money reasons an endorsement for RMT? It really isn’t. And equating people who use legitimate, company-endorsed or tolerated information source to people who against company policy bring real life economies into the game is completely different. Because one didn’t break the rules while the others did. Calling both cheaters is rather unfair to the first group.

    Every argument I have given is a pro-gamer argument, not a pro-RMT argument. As said I don’t care for the RMT debate and I think it kinda misses the real point, which is if people enjoy the experience. If a setup has very limited RMT and people enjoy it immensely, great. If people have an extensive RMT setup and buy virtual furniture by the bucket. Great too. For me RMT is really close to a non-topic that is really hot and loud. As a game developer just pick the business model that you think will work and the customer will let you know in due time if you were right.

    However I don’t think you can tell everybody that you “should like” or “should dislike” RMT. And I think the core reason why I find the RMT debate so pointless is because most of what I read seems to fall in this oddly useless pro/contra-RMT bantering.

    Just like it makes no sense if someone told me “you absolutely have to read the quest guide from this site to play WoW” and “noone can ever communicate anything about quests” doesn’t make any sense to me as choices.

    But that’s pretty much how the debate feels to me.

    I do however understand that you hardfast want to make that connection between strategy guides and RMT, and it’s not helping the debate at all I think.

    I don’t like the universalising trends in those arguments just like there were MUDs who did not scream murder over strategy guides in the 90s (mine and many others) and just like right now people actually participate in heavily RMT-based games, while some don’t.

    Finally, as far as difficulty of raiding:

    Yes, raiding is very hard. On a scale of 1-100 it’s like a 50.

    However, raiding with no strategy and no information is like a 500. Raiding is “just typing” relative to the actual hard work of determining the pattern. This is why the first people to beat a raid have to work so damn hard, and why older raids are much much easier than they used to be.

    Let’s make carve out this hypothetical a little more. My raid group, knowing everything about strategy there is to know, wipes on WoW boss for over a month of 2 evenings a week trying. Lets take your ratio as actual just as a thought experiment: We’d be looking at almost a year of figuring out strategy and wiping for one encounter.

    Luckily your ratio is wrong, as I extensively argued, figuring out WoW strategy is counter to what you claim the easier part.

    But lets stick with the hypothetical for a moment longer. This long for a raid encounter is way bad design, sure will people reduce the load because clearly the execution part is hard enough. So as I said, that would be bad design and people’s reaction of trying to cut 500 (totally unreasonable) to 50 (still hard) is perfectly natural. In this hypothetical setup rather than calling players cheaters you should call the designers bad designers!

    But lets remove the hypothetical. As said I have extensively done strategy in WoW. I do not dread entering any encounter fresh and have done so multiple times. We will have sensible strategies faster than learning to execute the fight. In fact strategies we used often contained aspects of the game that online strategies overlooked even if we used those.

    If I use your number scale and fix the 50 of execution, strategy for most encounters is 0-20 (0 for encounters you 1-shot upon entering, like Attumen), typing it up and dealing with the logistics of refinement and communication is another 10 but this you have even if you use strategy guides for the most part. But noone ever cheated about the 10-20 difficulty here because the rule of the game never forbade communication about strategies. So no cheating. If in competitive bridge you table-talk, you are cheating. It’s against explicit rules in a well-designed game that is fun with this rule in place. The rule makes the game.

    This may be another point to consider: If you make game play rules as designers and the rule doesn’t make the game and people are inclined to break it, there is something wrong with your rule.

    But you wanted to drive the point hard that online strategies hurt the raiding game badly. Frankly it’s just not true. WoW raiding is well in spite and or even more because of strategy sites (it would be too hard without because for many it’s too hard and time consuming already, if a strategy guide saves you 1-2 nights of learning the abilities that’s already great help).

    As for the difficulty of figuring out the strategies from scratch: Virtually all boss fights (except 4H) have literally been beaten within days of being first seen. That includes finding the strategy and execution!

    Execution is not the least important part from a player perspective if that’s the thing that wipes you for weeks. And this is for players who have learned team coordination for 2+ years now!

    People die to dark glare at C’Thun not because it’s hard to figure out the strategy: Run away. But because execution components like attention, distractions and the short time frame from the beam forming and actually hitting play a way bigger role than finding the strategy.

    I think you really were just pile-driving a little hard how “cheaty” strategy sites are. They aren’t. And their impact isn’t that huge in fact their impact is positive and adds to the meta-game. And it was never cheaty to begin with anyway because WoW’s design never had the “tough shalt not share strategy” rule printed in the manual, thank goodness. Blizzard is good at nurturing the meta-game. That was a good design decision.

  127. So they didn’t even play chess, they used chess pieces as a toy. That’s not the same thing at all. They didn’t engage with the game of chess, therefore not cheating.

    No, they used chess pieces to play a game of their own devising with it’s own rules, not the rules of chess. You’re right that they didn’t engage with the game of chess, it had no attraction. That’s why I don’t place the intentions of the designer [i.e. the pamphlet that came in the box] in a privileged position compared to the intentions of the players.

    Here’s a different but equivalent definition to what I have been using: cheating is choosing partial engagement with the rules.

    So if they used the movement rules from chess and their own rules for dice rolls to determine ‘combat outcomes’ were they cheating at chess or playing their own game? To my mind they weren’t partially engaged with the game of chess, they weren’t engaged at all, despite using the board, the pieces and a subset of the rules of chess.

  128. This post does help, and it highlights some places where we are still talking past each other. :)

    This is an important but subtle point. Checking web sites is not like peeking in solitaire. I said it many times, Blizz never said that it’s against the rules to check these sites. Again, the MUD I was part of running had 0 anxiety of people getting outside information. We didn’t define that as cheating.

    OK, we need to start leaving Blizzard out of it. The question is NOT about whether it is cheating to use a strategy guide with WoW specifically, and never was. Any given game can say “this is against the rules or not,” and plenty of games have gone one way or the other. WoW in particular PUBLISHES a lot of the info, which by definition means that it’s info granted by the game, which removes it from what I was saying altogether.

    The logic is very simple: IF the game says “this is hidden/unlockable info” AND then the players bypass the hiding/unlocking. Your examples are not meeting those criteria.

    On top of that, you still come to this with the assumption that my use of the word “cheating” means “bad.” I have to say this very bluntly: quit being defensive about it. I am not making any value judgement on it whatsoever. The whole thread started because I said cheating was relative in the first place! We’re not on opposing sides on that.

    I’m not endorsing RMT OR strategy guides, I am saying “devs don’t want it, players do it anyway, and because of that, probably it’ll be legal and devs will make it legal and that will be that, because the definitions of cheating evolve. And along the way, the nature of the games will change, and that’s just how it is.”

    I do however understand that you hardfast want to make that connection between strategy guides and RMT, and it’s not helping the debate at all I think.

    That connection is the starting premise of the thread, as summarized above. They are exactly the same thing, done by players in different ways. To use your lingo, they are both cases where players decide they want to take a game and play it their way. And I even think you agree with that. So I am unsure why you think making the connection is bad.

    As far as your WoW example — we’ll just have to agree to disagree here. I am glad you find the execution part so challenging, and the strategy development so trivial. My bar is this, basically: if a macro can do it, it’s “just typing.” The hard part — and more importantly, the interesting part — is knowing what to type and when. There’s great fun to be had in flawlessly reciting pi, but it’s rote learning. Executing a raid is rote learning. Rote learning is hard. But it’s not universally applicable, and what games do is teach you universally applicable skills.

    You’ll have mastered “raiding” when you can come to any raid and succeed fairly quickly because of learning from other raids. That’s what games do, how they work. I suggest to you that the folks who beat each raid within a few days of it appearing are people who have done that.

    But we can disagree here… lots of people can play a given piano piece because they learned it by rote, but learning to play the piano is a different thing. You are working on learning lots of different piano pieces, basically. Not learning to play the piano.

  129. So if they used the movement rules from chess and their own rules for dice rolls to determine ‘combat outcomes’ were they cheating at chess or playing their own game?

    Playing their own game. A mashup, perhaps. :)

    It’s if they say they are playing chess, and mutually agree they are playing chess, and then one of the players chooses to disregard some rules. (In the case of a single-player game, the computer/designer is the other player — all games are played against an opponent).

  130. OK, we need to start leaving Blizzard out of it.

    The reason why I keep blizz as an example is simply (a) they do this right, (b) their success isn’t in question and (c) raiding was brought as an example. I gave other examples that are not Blizzard too.

    Any given game can say “this is against the rules or not,” and plenty of games have gone one way or the other.

    Yes so this is the funny thing about us not really talking to each other. I have been saying since the beginning that games cannot actually fully do this. Or at least they can’t do this and not at the same time turn it into a bad design. The decision isn’t neutral. Just like Prince’s decision to sue fan web-sites isn’t neutral.

    WoW in particular PUBLISHES a lot of the info, which by definition means that it’s info granted by the game, which removes it from what I was saying altogether.

    Not at all. I have given examples of Threat as information that Blizz to date never has given away. Also Blizz has never published how mitigation really works even though it’s needed to succeed at raiding.

    But Blizz understand that people unearthing these mechanisms is a meta-game and they embrace it. They are smart to remove what you are saying.

    WoW is an excellent example on how to handle strategy and info flow in a social game. Games need to “design” this rather than making up rules “you can’t do that”. As said WoW understands the meta-game.

    The logic is very simple: IF the game says “this is hidden/unlockable info” AND then the players bypass the hiding/unlocking. Your examples are not meeting those criteria.

    Yes, and as said we don’t talk to each other exactly about this point. It’s this “IF” and it’s meaningfulness that I have been questioning since the beginning. It simply makes no sense for a game to say player cannot find info X if there is actually ways to get and share that information.

    The argument is exactly that trying to do so is not sensible.

    On top of that, you still come to this with the assumption that my use of the word “cheating” means “bad.” I have to say this very bluntly: quit being defensive about it. I am not making any value judgement on it whatsoever. The whole thread started because I said cheating was relative in the first place! We’re not on opposing sides on that.

    Hehe, well I’d say quit being offense and use a word that has a clear negative meaning per it’s dictionary definition :D But i’m not at all hung about about cheating I just think you are wrong about that game designers can and should try to control information flow. I cannot think of a situation where that reflects good design. Instead they should design the game with the free information flow around it in mind.

    And I disagree about cheating being relative, there are situations where cheating is quite an absolute category.

    Just because people do write hacking programs for MMOs doesn’t mean that game companies will ever condone them or support what they do in-game.

    I’m not endorsing RMT OR strategy guides, I am saying “devs don’t want it, players do it anyway, and because of that, probably it’ll be legal and devs will make it legal and that will be that, because the definitions of cheating evolve. And along the way, the nature of the games will change, and that’s just how it is.”

    Yep, and I’ve been saying that game devs should maybe start being more observant and answer the whys rather than insisting on what they want…

    That devs don’t want strategy guides is devs’ personal problem and not a game problem. That some MUD admins considered strategy info cheating was their personal problem and/or a problem with their quest/reward design so they felt forced to control people outside the game because they failed to properly do it inside. It’s like saying noone should write a bridge book or a book about solving rubik’s cube. If your game design doesn’t have appeal when people learn more about it it’s a game design issue.

    Sharing information about computer games is about as old as I can think, the oldest games magazines I know had strategy tips and walkthroughs in them.

    That connection is the starting premise of the thread, as summarized above. They are exactly the same thing, done by players in different ways. To use your lingo, they are both cases where players decide they want to take a game and play it their way. And I even think you agree with that. So I am unsure why you think making the connection is bad.

    Take raiding and the existence of strategy guides and take gear catch-up and RMT bought gold to achieve that.

    * Strategy guides are user driven for the most part and help mediate difficulty across different skill and time commitment levels. There is some real money component to strategy sites, but it seems to be rather mild and benign. The content is instances and no gameplay of another was impacted.

    The reason for RMT are diverse
    * They are a simple funding model. You furnish your chat room. They have nothing to do with cheating or bypassing game mechanism but simply are how the business model is brought into the game.
    * When they are related to speeding game mechanics RMT are driven by users _and_ deep commercial interests. They exist because of limited ways that MMOs offer to catch up without that investment. There are real money related very negative impacts on both the game companies and players like account hacking, channel spamming, spawn camping that are rather specific to the real commercial interests that are involved here.

    These are but two examples, the spectrum of possible RMT can be more diverse (and yes you darn suckered me into discussing RMT bleh).

    The only negative impact strategy guides have are insulted egos of devs.
    The negative impact of real money interests in MMOs can be totally unproblematic to very disruptive.

    The argument that strategy guides and RMT both are mechanisms to bypass content is shallow, for the very simple reason what the specifics in which that happens and how that relates to what motivates people in the game is different. No strategy guide gets you to level cap instantly. No strategy guide (if the game is well designed) will have you bypass all content but only milden certain things or allow for adapting playing styles (i.e. riddle solvers vs story followers). RMT can in the worst case have much more impact. What the whole discussion completely misses is diversity in RMT, in impact on game design of these mechanisms etc.

    Strategy guides do not modify the prime motivator that drives people, i.e. see content and shiney loot.
    RMT can make people bypass game mechanisms in a way that makes them consume and burn out on content too fast or get the loot and lose the motivator instantly. I.e. buying a level cap character in best possible gear leaves less to explore in the game and has the potential of removing more of the game.

    A character leveling on a level strategy guide will see and learn character abilities (again if the game is well designed). A character bought at level cap misses this. The impact on the intended design (i.e. that people learn to play their class gradually while leveling) is not broken by the strategy guide, but it’s absolutely broken by character buying.

    But don’t get me wrong. All this very much depends on the game design. A game can be designed so that a strategy guide can bypass crucial game aspects, but that would be a game design flaw. And same a game can be designed to be more or less prone to negative impact of RMT. For example if in WoW epic mounts were a quest chain rather than a money purchase, one of the prime motivators for gold buying would be greatly diminished.

    That’s why I find it silly to categorically discuss RMT outside the specific game design.

    Take Hobbo hotel, here buying furniture is tied into the actual game of socializing in personalized spaces. The RMT-like virtual item buying is tied into the design inherently.

    In Dungeon Runner you cannot get very far because you need to buy rights to buy items. Here RMT is a blocker to content for everybody.

    In WoW’s design RMT is for: Purchase tradable items for real money, purchase a top level character. Main money items being mounts. Blizzard has changed the game design to give a more structured gameplay route to mount money (dailies) but they haven’t addressed the need to allow people to get to level cap very quickly (they have increased the leveling speed by 30% though).

    RMT here serves 3 different functions, some not “cheating” at all, some bypassing in-game time investment for real money.

    I know of no real money related cyber crimes in Hobbo, yet I can tell from my personal surroundings that cyber-crimes (specifically character hacking&stripping) is a very real and troubling phenomenon in WoW.

    Comparing all this to the existence of strategy sites doesn’t do the topic justice I think. That’s why I disagree to equating those things.

    Really comparing these things completely hides the diversity that is in the label RMT. We talk everything from Hobbo Hotel to organised account hackers stripping and selling off innocent players effort and wasting man-hours and real money on the MMO company to handle it. And all the diverse interplay of wanted and uncontrolled commercial interested impacting on the experience. Problems around RMT are more related to a pub owner deciding if he tolerates flower sellers in his place (or offers that service himself) or if he wants third party ad banners up or not (or wants to profit of advertisement himself) or how he handles pickpockets harassing his customers. It’s also more related to whether the pub owner makes money via club memberships, via selling goods or other mechanisms. It’s also closer related to whether the specific types of customers will accept whatever he decided. This is a very very different world than whether or not people share information how to play a game or read a book called “How to solve rubics cube in 30 seconds”.

    As far as your WoW example — we’ll just have to agree to disagree here. I am glad you find the execution part so challenging, and the strategy development so trivial. My bar is this, basically: if a macro can do it, it’s “just typing.” The hard part — and more importantly, the interesting part — is knowing what to type and when. There’s great fun to be had in flawlessly reciting pi, but it’s rote learning. Executing a raid is rote learning. Rote learning is hard. But it’s not universally applicable, and what games do is teach you universally applicable skills.

    Sorry Raph you are basically outing yourself as someone who has no or very limited idea about how raiding functions in WoW. Not a single raid encounter can be beat with a macro in WoW. And if you actually raided you’d know that.

    You cannot script a strategy and 25 people walking in and guaranteeing success by everybody following a cookbook. It’s a serious misconception how the game works. A strategy is more like a cheat-sheet in Jazz than a full annotated classical piece. Why? Because you can only prescribe so much in a design that uses randomness and short adaptive reactions times.

    That is why WoW is really in a way like DDR. In DDR it’s a cololored arrow, in WoW it’s a randomly triggered ability that needs responding and isn’t fully scriptable because you do not know when exactly it happens. You only know which colors you can get in some have predictable timing while some don’t. You can learn which positions and actions maximize your chances but some things are random enough that you will have to adapt.

    The view that WoW Raiding is macro-scriptable is very far from what it is. And that’s good because people are smarter than that. And it’s good because it’s an interactive challange and not just solving a puzzle.

    You can wipe to an encounter that you have already beaten and not be braindead. In fact some of the most hardcore groups admit to rewiping on raid encounters after beating them quite openly (read Elitist Jerks forum if you care).

    You cannot really beat a WoW raid encounter without understanding it, guide or not.

    So people do need to learn to play Jazz even though they got the standard placed in front of their nose, to use your piano analogy. So there isn’t all that much to belittle about the whole process really. If you like learning try learn to raid in WoW ;)

    Again I know you don’t want me to bring up WoW but WoW design is good because strategy guides did not break their raiding game. It might be a good idea to try to understand that ;)

  131. Morgan Ramsay wrote:
    Nobody who buys virtual items for real money considers the acquisition of those virtual items “achievements.”

    Didn’t do well on the SAT analogies section? ;) What I’m saying is that RMT circumvents the required investment in Achievement just as walkthroughs circumvent the required investment in Exploration. The pessimistic way of saying this is, “One uses RMT to avoid the grind, and walkthroughs to avoid wandering around for hours.”

    Further, I’m using these two terms, Achievement and Exploration, in the Bartle sense. You can certainly explore something in a game that someone else has seen before. Otherwise the only explorers would be the people creating the content. (Of course, these people are usually Explorer types.)

    The reason why this is interesting is because of the way people react to these two things: RMT is often reviled while walkthroughs are seen as legitimate tools. This is because most games have a heavy Achiever focus, and the fact that RMT helps circumvent the investment in Achievement is seen as terrible cheating. But, at the heart, Raph is right in that both RMT and walkthroughs are the same.

    I’m not making any particular value judgments here, just pointing out my point of view.

  132. Moroagh wrote:

    I do disagree though and I have expressed this earlier with specific examples.

    You can’t just disagree and not explain why! That’s trolling. Bad, bad, bad!

    Every argument I have given is a pro-gamer argument, not a pro-RMT argument.

    *sigh* A pro-RMT argument is also a pro-gamer argument.

  133. You can’t just disagree and not explain why! That’s trolling. Bad, bad, bad!

    Search for “That’s why I disagree to equating those things.” and read extensive discussion before and after it. There is more too but…

    A pro-RMT argument is also a pro-gamer argument.

    The one thing I learned now is that you are pro-RMT, I didn’t learn anything else here because you didn’t say anything else. So why are you calling anybody a troll? And why isn’t Raph moderating your troll baiting?

    As far as I am concerned Raph should delete your post above and this my unnecessary response to it here. Neither is constructive nor carries any new information. Raph?

  134. Moroagh wrote:

    So why are you calling anybody a troll? And why isn’t Raph moderating your troll baiting?

    You’re a tad defensive, mate. Nobody says “bad, bad, bad” seriously, except for mothers… and I’m not a woman.

    The one thing I learned now is that you are pro-RMT …

    I’m a proponent of growth, which precludes complacently embracing the status quo and vehemently rejecting change without due diligence. Those who argue against the monetization of data in entertainment software are usually oblivious to the fact that those who engage in such commercial behavior are vested consumers of the product. They are not a separate, external group of people abusing and attacking the establishment with wanton abandon. They represent market segments. They are players, too.

    Whether you support RMT, in-game advertising, or what have you, you are supporting the right, requirement, and desire of consumers to customize their experience with products and services they engage. The “rules” argument is dependent on the odd and relatively recent notion that there should be an authority that enforces the rules. This sort of authority is largely made possible by the Web; although, such authorities had existed in the form of tournament organizers, for example.

    As a previous poster described, emerging gameplay—which includes all forms of cheating—has always been an important aspect of games. You can purchase a Monopoly board game that comes with a set of designed rules, but you and other players are empowered with the ability to customize or completely replace those rules at-will. This is unlike scenarios involving online games where the publisher, ultimately acting as a tournament organizer, can create and enforce rules of competition.

    While rules of play are necessary, they were usually agreed upon by the players; however, with the advent of massively multiplayer online games, developing consensus with thousands upon thousands of people is nigh impossible. Consensus is also necessary, especially where massively multiplayer online games are concerned, since these games are inherently noncompetitive.

    Game operators should therefore proceed carefully, researching the customers they have (and not the customers they prefer) to identify common interests. The role of the operator should primarily be that of support. If consumers by-and-large demonstrate significant demand for expanded monetization of data for entertainment purposes, then the operator should satisfy that demand by providing the tools consumers need to realize their common interests.

    Thus far, consumers have demonstrated significant demand for expanded monetization of entertainment data, and so supporting such commerce in general is prudent. Growth does not occur when demand cannot be satisfied due to constraints on an organization’s ability to deliver (e.g., rules of play that when enforced eject customers.) Growth often necessitates abolishing certain existing rules and the development of new rules to deliver on evolving customer specifications.

  135. I don’t think he’s right to call you a troll, but I also think you’re too dismissive of his second point. It is very easy to get to the position that “anything players do that they find fun is appropriate” from some of the examples you have used.

    The reason why I keep blizz as an example is simply (a) they do this right, (b) their success isn’t in question and (c) raiding was brought as an example. I gave other examples that are not Blizzard too.

    They do it right for your playstyle. For someone who loves questing and puzzle solving, WoW is incredibly tedious.

    I was going to go through and quote large bunches of your post, but it comes down to this: you and I have a fundamental disagreement:

    * I see hidden static info as a valuable tool in the designer’s toolkit.
    * You are saying that using it is always bad design:

    I just think you are wrong about that game designers can and should try to control information flow. I cannot think of a situation where that reflects good design. Instead they should design the game with the free information flow around it in mind.

    Fog of war. Logic puzzles. Any PvP situation. Lack of full info is a very very common mechanic.

    As I tried to say right at the beginning, removing it throws away huge amounts of sorts of games — and they are NOT bad sorts of games. Adventure games, quests worthy of the name, puzzles of all sorts.

    I am willing to concede that these things are bad fits for the environment in today’s Internet and gaming community. But they are not intrinsically bad. I am also unwilling to concede that “nobody wants that” because if that were so, there wouldn’t be adventure games on the endcaps in Wal-Mart.

    In particular, btw, the thing that is badly damaged by strategy guides is any use of unlocking narrative. They call them “spoilers” for a reason. Following your logic, I end up at a place where “having anything spoiler-worthy is not sensible.” And that’s a painful place to be, I think, for games as a whole.

    But Blizz understand that people unearthing these mechanisms is a meta-game and they embrace it. They are smart to remove what you are saying.

    I have to point out that we made this same decision on UO a very very long time ago. We chose to embrace that larger community. The endgame of this, of course, is not to have any real quests. U Omostly didn’t even implement them. This is basically where the entire MMO industry is today, of course. A WoW quest has more in common with a signpost than an adventure game, but that is not where quests came from.

    And I disagree about cheating being relative, there are situations where cheating is quite an absolute category.

    Just because people do write hacking programs for MMOs doesn’t mean that game companies will ever condone them or support what they do in-game.

    Actually, the exact same logic applies. There’s a network stream that is fundamentally unprotectible being sent to the client. By your logic, it is not sensible to try to protect it, and it is bad design to hide anything in it. This is exactly the logic behind “never ever trust the client.”

    But there ARE games which are better with no minimap (minimaps being the fundamental hack that an open network stream gets you). It is not always “bad design” to not have a minimap. We then start getting into the realm of what is technically possible and how you conceal that info, and so on.

    Mazes would be the canonical example. One of my favorite online gaming experiences ever was solving a particularly complex non-Euclidean maze on Worlds of Carnage, which had plnety of combat along the way, but which was fundamentally a difficult logic puzzle. This maze is the sort of thing that by your standard should just get cut forever and ever because it’s “bad design.”

    Strategy guides do not modify the prime motivator that drives people, i.e. see content and shiney loot.

    This is a very narrow take on the motivations players have. Have you read Nick Yee’s stuff?

    Now, on RMT, I think the sort of RMT everyone was discussing is specifically player to player transactions, which generally do bypass stuff. And i think that it’s illustrative of the gap I am saying exists between real learning and character abilities. At one point you used the word “character”:

    A character leveling on a level strategy guide will see and learn character abilities (again if the game is well designed). A character bought at level cap misses this. The impact on the intended design (i.e. that people learn to play their class gradually while leveling) is not broken by the strategy guide, but it’s absolutely broken by character buying.

    And basically, I disagree with this. I believe that there are things that someone using a strategy guide or walkthrough simply does not learn how to do. They end up less capable in the end. *shrug* “Character” abilities are not the game and not where the learning happens. The learning happens in players.

    That is why WoW is really in a way like DDR. In DDR it’s a cololored arrow, in WoW it’s a randomly triggered ability that needs responding and isn’t fully scriptable because you do not know when exactly it happens. You only know which colors you can get in some have predictable timing while some don’t. You can learn which positions and actions maximize your chances but some things are random enough that you will have to adapt.

    The view that WoW Raiding is macro-scriptable is very far from what it is. And that’s good because people are smarter than that. And it’s good because it’s an interactive challange and not just solving a puzzle.

    I am NOT a raider, so I hardly outing myself. :) I am very upfront about that. That said…

    I would bet money that WoW raids are macroable. Macros can absolutely adapt.

    You also say that I am belittling raids by saying this. Not at all. MANY games, GREAT games, work the same way. I actually think that raids are a very good game design.

  136. To put what you say simply as I understand it:

    You say there is market pressure from customers for RMT. I kind of already gave my position to this:

    “As a game developer just pick the business model that you think will work and the customer will let you know in due time if you were right.”

    I don’t see any problem there at all. If you think that makes me pro-RMT that’s a misunderstanding because I simply don’t think the word is in yet or also it’s simply not a category I care strongly about. And I personally haven’t yet enjoyed any game that had a heavy RMT model nor do my closer friends enjoy these games. Basically on a personal level I can not give an affirmative example of a RMT heavy game I enjoy. That neither means it will not happen or does it mean that it will happen. Neither of the options is actually a concern for me.

    I do care strongly about the very negative effect real money can have on gaming experience but the RMT debate never seems to get out of the dichotomies to ever really go there. Those things spoil fun and that’s why I care about them.

    RMT or not isn’t my concern. It’s whether games are fun. If they happen to be RMT or not is a coincidental to that. Because I find it so coincidental is why I find the constant push of this topic over more interesting matters, like now much players get to control their own enjoyment gets clowded by these kind of more mundane coincidental topics of how game companies ought to chose their business models, when the real answer is simply: They should chose them and economy decides. There simply isn’t fun game design in that topic unless people would dare to try to talk specifics how RMT actually embeds in the game and how that actually is a fun part of the design.

    Or how RMT related phenomenon (or back to the discussion of cheating and strategy sites) reveal shortcoming in the actual gaming design.

    Wasn’t it stunning that the SOE Whitepaper actually said that people wanted to play together and level gaps was the economic driver. One could rather than embrace RMT equally well ask the question: How can a game be designed that inherently lets people play together and have fun and by construction avoids mechanistic segregation of people! But RMT is such a political topic that I have limited hope that one can bring the debate in this, what I’d find a more interesting direction. Social play is much more interesting for me as gamers than whether SOE can make money because people want to be social.

  137. Thanks Raph, interesting stuff. We keep kind of misunderstanding each points but it’s good. And we do agree on stuff even if it doesn’t shine through too much.

    “anything players do that they find fun is appropriate”

    I’m actually not saying this at all. For example griefing isn’t OK in my book i.e. one player intentionally spoiling fun for another.

    I am saying though that game designers have to be careful in defining for players what is appropriate.

    And I believe that lots of things that players do (like check strategy sites) is absolutely benign.

    On WoW you write:

    They do it right for your playstyle. For someone who loves questing and puzzle solving, WoW is incredibly tedious.

    That’s fine. I agree that WoW’s questing structure isn’t deep but I wasn’t discussing that. I was discussing the impact of strategy guides. I love adventure games and play them as well and I full well appreciate intricate story lines with unexpected twists and turns (best in my book in recent history is Witcher) and challenging well-made puzzles (Portal). But despite that I do not consider anyone who does use a strategy guide even for those games cheaters. Seriously, if I want to pick my brain and solve a puzzle I’ll do that, if I get stuck and still want to see what comes after I will check a guide. Call it a design flaw. The puzzle game doesn’t have enough hint, or unstuck features. If the idea of the game design is that one ought to get stuck then I’m sorry for not appreciating that design philosophy.

    I was going to go through and quote large bunches of your post, but it comes down to this: you and I have a fundamental disagreement:

    * I see hidden static info as a valuable tool in the designer’s toolkit.

    See in an odd way I’m saying the same. But of course with different intent. And also with a different caveat. I say that hidden static information is good game design and that it can enrich the gaming experience (meta-game). But I also say that the designer simply cannot control what people do outside the game. So if your design in order not to break relies on people respecting information as taboo I’m basically just saying that I don’t see how that can work.

    * You are saying that using it is always bad design:

    Yep exactly in this context. If you insist that people behave in a certain way to information that is revealable, how are you going to control them? Shame them by calling them cheaters? Ban them from the game? I don’t see any positive fun reinforcements here at all that work to protect the secret that you plan to keep respected.

    But one can protect some aspects of design by construction and not needing to control people. I do hate to bring the WoW example but I do thing they are very good at that.

    Fog of war. Logic puzzles. Any PvP situation. Lack of full info is a very very common mechanic.

    I don’t have any problem with any of these. And there is a lot of this lacking information that you cannot get even if you go to web-sites.

    That isn’t my argument. My argument is that if information is available to players in some way. I.e. if the map has been revealed and posted on a web-site, you cannot be mad at gamers for it. Some games have an inherent toggle in game as a normal option (Warcraft series I think) where you can decide as gamer if you want fog of war in-game or not.

    Allowing people to chose how to engage isn’t all that bad.

    As I tried to say right at the beginning, removing it throws away huge amounts of sorts of games — and they are NOT bad sorts of games. Adventure games, quests worthy of the name, puzzles of all sorts.

    I never said to remove any of these. I said it’s no big deal if people have the map or breeze through the puzzle. This does by no means negate the game at all! If a person buys an adventure game and plays it through end following a walthrough to get the full story line and they enjoyed the experience, it’s a win. Nothing got lost. Another player plays it for the puzzles and each player type is satisfied. I don’t think there is any reason for fatalism just because not every player may play a game exactly to the designers intent.

    These games do well (at least in my personal enjoyment scale), even if there are strategy guides around. In fact it’d be interesting to see how many games actually get more enjoyment because rather than deleting it from the hard-drive because one got stuck in the adventure and is frustrated out of your mind, they did get to see the end of it.

    I am also unwilling to concede that “nobody wants that” because if that were so, there wouldn’t be adventure games on the endcaps in Wal-Mart.

    And I never said that nobody wants that. A disproportionate amount of games I buy are adventures and it hurts me that this segment is sorely starved for quality material. It’s a gross misunderstanding that I think that nobody wants that, I think that I and lots of other games don’t think they are cheats for checking a walkthrough, completely independent of what the designer thinks. (Basically the designer has to get of his high horse if he has an issue there, and that’s all).

    In particular, btw, the thing that is badly damaged by strategy guides is any use of unlocking narrative. They call them “spoilers” for a reason. Following your logic, I end up at a place where “having anything spoiler-worthy is not sensible.” And that’s a painful place to be, I think, for games as a whole.

    I don’t believe in the fatalism here. The fact that spoilers exist doesn’t mean that everything gets spoiled or everyone wants the spoilers. My reasoning isn’t that games shouldn’t have surprises at all. My reasoning is that players can chose spoilers if they want to. But I’ll be clear that neither means that everybody should do that or that it invalidates the game design or a reason for doing it. If people buy it, write great reviews and buy a similar game again, you have won. Games are fine. I played BioShock on one ending and have no time for another. I have no clue still about the other ending. Till today nothing was spoiled for me because I simply chose not to have it spoiled. Yeah I could go and find the info that’s unlocked if you make different decisions. But I haven’t. I think you can trust gamers to actually play.

    A WoW quest has more in common with a signpost than an adventure game, but that is not where quests came from.

    As said I agree that WoW’s quest structure is simplistic. For me the main misunderstanding of WoW is exactly the reward structure and why people the heck do play for 3 years (or play Sims that long etc). Clearly quests have limited intellectual appeal, and so does a lot of other MMO (or general game) content. I don’t think the reason are strategy guides though. I rather think the reason is ease of designing this content at the pace that’s needed but you are inside and you can confirm or deny this hunch.
    There is a lot of content in WoW, I’m not surprised that they look for simple recipes to put out content and the quests that bug out are exactly the complex script ones.

    Another good reason could well be that people don’t want to be constantly intellectually challenged. Yes WoW can be seen as bland food, but there is nothing wrong with mindlessly spending time at the mall when that meets ones needs (of say unwinding). If one wants to be puzzle master one can boot that up.

    And as you said, each game doesn’t have to be for everybody. If one doesn’t like WoW, there hopefully is something else.

    Actually, the exact same logic applies. There’s a network stream that is fundamentally unprotectible being sent to the client. By your logic, it is not sensible to try to protect it, and it is bad design to hide anything in it. This is exactly the logic behind “never ever trust the client.”

    Not at all, I said technical limitations are fine. I said it’s impossible to protect information that you do put out to be visible. (Like revealed fog of war maps or walkthroughs). One can do a whole lot to protect the integrity of the network and the client. It’s bad design to neglect I agree with you, but you completely misread me. Didn’t I just say above that hacking isn’t OK?

    But there ARE games which are better with no minimap (minimaps being the fundamental hack that an open network stream gets you). It is not always “bad design” to not have a minimap. We then start getting into the realm of what is technically possible and how you conceal that info, and so on.

    As I said, hacking has an absolute and companies will not condone hacking programs. If it wasn’t clear I actually agree to this, especially in a multi-player context.

    The reason for me being however, not to protect the designers intend, but rather to protect the other gamer’s experience.

    Lets take the minimap example in an MMO setting. I do believe that you can make an MMO that is hard to automatically map if you so chose. However if the goal of the game is to constantly challange players with static maps that they can draw (say even by hand) to later reproduce it and your game concept falls apart because of that, then it’s bad design. If stuff needs to be not tracable it needs to be ramdonized. So people cannot actually draw maps of their surroundings.

    Mazes would be the canonical example. One of my favorite online gaming experiences ever was solving a particularly complex non-Euclidean maze on Worlds of Carnage, which had plnety of combat along the way, but which was fundamentally a difficult logic puzzle. This maze is the sort of thing that by your standard should just get cut forever and ever because it’s “bad design.”

    No, you completely extremize and misunderstand my position.

    I’m not saying cut those mazes. I say relax if someone else but you wants to bypass the maze and not engage in the puzzle. That’s a completely different thing.

    It’s “bad design” if you yell at people for revealing the maze. It’s not bad design if people enjoy the game. I don’t get how you can think that one person using extra information spoils everything for everyone. It really doesn’t. Didn’t you yourself say that somewhere on here?

    A thought experiement: Lets assume I have played that maze and I actually bypassed the mental exercise of solving the maze and I never met you or told you. What difference would that make to your experience of the game? None. There isn’t any design issue at all despite strategy guides being present.

    It would be “bad design” if the game itself ceased to function if people had that information. And that’s the only legitimate reason I can think off for yelling at anybody for using available info.

    Let me clarify: If your game has a threat mechanism, and players by engaging in normal gameplay can measure out the threat mechanism and you didn’t want that to happen it’s not the gamers fault but the design’s fault.

    That doesn’t meant that threat or any hidden mechanism is inherently bad design, it just means that you failed at protecting it. How could you have protected it? Randomization? Not giving in-game comparative measures or numerical outputs? There are lots of very concrete ways how for example WoW could have hidden Threat’s mechanism if they wanted to (they didn’t want to but that’s not the point here).

    This is a very narrow take on the motivations players have. Have you read Nick Yee’s stuff?

    Sure, you’ll find some of his stuff linked on my blog. I love Nick’s work but I do think that the theory of MMO motivation is still very shallow and there is a lot more to for example my motivation than what Nick has unearthed so far.

    What I wrote re motivation was not to give a full explication how I feel about motivation but to give some notion of impact of strategy guides vs RMT. It’s kind of hard to write a whole dissertation about game design to get a simple point across, like “don’t yell at people for using strategy guides because there isn’t an actual problem there”.

    Now, on RMT, I think the sort of RMT everyone was discussing is specifically player to player transactions, which generally do bypass stuff.

    Well I don’t really talk about RMT in those terms. For me RMT is any real money economy that becomes involved in game mechanics.

    I said:

    A character leveling on a level strategy guide will see and learn character abilities (again if the game is well designed). A character bought at level cap misses this. The impact on the intended design (i.e. that people learn to play their class gradually while leveling) is not broken by the strategy guide, but it’s absolutely broken by character buying.

    to which you responded:

    And basically, I disagree with this. I believe that there are things that someone using a strategy guide or walkthrough simply does not learn how to do. They end up less capable in the end. *shrug* “Character” abilities are not the game and not where the learning happens. The learning happens in players.

    I find this weird, simply because I didn’t make that argument out of vacuum. It’s specifically around the WoW leveling experience. But lets take any abstract notion of a game. I understand that you insist that the player has to learn what you put in front of them, and every of it. They have to be fully capable in the end. I say, to heck with that. What matters is if people had fun. But because I was thinking WoW, even with quest guides typical players will spend 2 weeks with the game mechanics and get gradually introduced to abilites etc. The guide in no way bypasses that. It serves to speed up the process somewhat. But I agree with you that in some gaming designs a strategy guide can absolutely remove aspects of the game. I just disagree that there is a problem with that if the gamer so chooses.
    In some sense it’s “their loss” if you wanna see it like that. I just basically don’t think that game designers have the control to mandate how a player approaches the game that is put before them. The designer is good to try, but clearly given that there are strategies for every single game out there it fails. And that’s not a downfall to the game at all, it’s mostly a reflection of the game designer and how he copes with a gamer seeing the game differently than what the designer wanted.

    I would bet money that WoW raids are macroable. Macros can absolutely adapt.

    You can win or lose that bet mostly on your definition of macro. If it is that you can write a reactive script that would allow a computer to beat the encounter, I absolutely agree. But most games on the market fall under this category. Even those where supposedly you need to be smart about stuff. Macros I think may well do better than people, not having reaction time, attention, concentration or neighbours to worry about.

    It’s still a problem though because the point remains that the learning and achievement (i.e. of not being a perfect macro and still pulling it all together) is minimally impacted in WoWs design through strategy guides. And that people enjoy the experience despite strategy sites abound.

    I do believe you’ll have to raid to actually understand this from a not so theoretical point of view.

    And yes a macro will win DDR. I think it’s a neat thought experiement actually. People enjoy DDR despite the fact that a macro can do it flawlessly, and despite there not being a puzzle to it. And people enjoy chess even though now computers reliably can whoop their behinds.

    The whole road how we got to raiding and the macro question was that you claimed that strategy guides significantly impact the raiding game. That’s just not true and I invite you to raid and test my claim yourself. And people did not actually cheat themselves out of a rich experience at all by looking at the strategy sites. Rather they engaged with the problems and tried to figure out how to make things managable inside and out of the game.

    The raiding game design is “good” in the sense that it’s practically impossible to cheat it. I.e. it’s rather stable despite information abundance. Of course one could design games where revealed strategies absolutely destroys all enjoyment. I think this is self-regulatory though. If a game becomes distinctly unfun with extra information why would people keep playing it?

    E.g. there is lot of online card games. It is extremely easy to cheat because you could just have a chat program to exchange information. I haven’t seen any amount of this kind of cheating in online card games and my assumption is that even if folks try this it gets really old really fast. It may be cool to win 20 hands in a row but what then? Another 20 hands?

    And at the end of the day if you ask the raider if they had fun, that should matter, not if you ask the game designer if he is satisfied that that everybody learned exactly all lessons he wanted the gamers to learn.

    It’s the old Sid Meier thing about designing games for players and not for designers or computers (or macros). If the designer is happy isn’t the interesting category. If the player is, that’s what matters.

  138. Moroagh wrote:

    Basically on a personal level I can not give an affirmative example of a RMT heavy game I enjoy.

    Are you aware of the degree to which the players of the games you play engage in RMT? Can you be reasonably certain that data on RMT usage in those games is accurate? If players found engaging in RMT are punished, then any RMT usage data collected for those games is suspect. You are most likely already enjoying games with significant data monetization elements.

    I do care strongly about the very negative effect real money can have on gaming experience …

    Money doesn’t cause problems. People cause problems. Some anti-RMT arguments follow your concern, effectively claiming that “if you remove money from the equation, there will be no problems.” One would think that by now people would have mastered the concept that sweeping dust under the carpet doesn’t actually remove the dust.

    … and by construction avoids mechanistic segregation of people!

    I don’t think that’s possible, if only because our brains are wired to identify and distinguish between patterns. For example, national identity obfuscates cultural identity and geographical origins. I might identify as a fifth-generation Scottish American, but I’m also first-generation Filipino American descended from a range of Asian ancestry, and of course, the Scottish Ramsay clan is actually descended from a Norman (French) pirate, so technically, I’m French. But I was born in California, so I’m Californian. But California is in the United States of America, so I’m American. No, French. No, Welsh. No, Scottish. *shrug*

    If we go back far enough—see the book Mapping Human Histories—then I’m African or something, or perhaps more completely, just an Earthling. As we decrease the zoom on our mental microscope, the less we see the various boundaries we’ve constructed to identify and distinguish patterns. If we zoom even farther out, we’re all just a star in the sky to another world… uniquely identified and distinguished from the other stars in the sky. Like I said, I don’t think we can avoid segregating people.

  139. And I believe that lots of things that players do (like check strategy sites) is absolutely benign.

    Go back to my example with the maze. For solving that quest (it was on the Worlds of Carnage mud, btw) I got a kickass reward, plus a lot of game fame. Very few people ever solved it.

    You say:

    Lets assume I have played that maze and I actually bypassed the mental exercise of solving the maze and I never met you or told you. What difference would that make to your experience of the game? None. There isn’t any design issue at all despite strategy guides being present.

    Had it been on a strategy site, that fame would be greatly reduced. Were there any sort of reward of feedback mechanism around it, such as standings on a questing ladder, a “time to solve” sort of scoring system, or anything like that, I would be mighty angry to see my legit solution slip down the rankings in favor of people who walked through a rote solution.

    So yes, it’s easy to see scenarios where it is not benign. Just chatting a solution on the global chat channels is a case where it is not benign, and arguably rude — what about the people listening who want to solve it themselves?

    Now, I myself have argued that unless there is an explicit ladder there, there is no reason to make the comparison. You should feel the satisfaction yourself, and who cares what others did? But as soon as there is an actual game mechanic around it, there’s no question that it has an impact.

    I do not consider anyone who does use a strategy guide even for those games cheaters. Seriously, if I want to pick my brain and solve a puzzle I’ll do that, if I get stuck and still want to see what comes after I will check a guide. Call it a design flaw. The puzzle game doesn’t have enough hint, or unstuck features.

    I don’t think I am even being all that odd in saying that someone who uses a walkthrough for a game like that is cheating. I think that’s actually the vernacular in that particular case. Elsewhere you mention Rubik’s Cube. I well remember how that went. You had a Rubik’s Cube, you banged your head against it, you failed to solve it, then you got a book and walked through it or you disassembled it to put it back to start state. People saw it and said “wow, did you solve it?” and you said “no,” and they nodded knowingly and said “ah, you cheated.” :)

    It ISN’T necessarily a flaw in the puzzle design that you got stuck. It can very easily be a flaw in YOU, the player. It is legitimate for one puzzle to be too hard for a given player. It does not mean that it is a bad puzzle. You might just not be ready for it. And you are certainly cheating yourself of the “aha!” moment when you solve it. A good puzzle is teaching you ways to think, ways to problem-solve. The solution does not necessarily teach you that.

    The fact that spoilers exist doesn’t mean that everything gets spoiled or everyone wants the spoilers.

    Hmm. I cannot think of a single major movie in the last several years that I didn’t get spoiled before I saw it. I get TV shows spoiled for me every damn week. *shrug* Once the info it out there, it is very hard not to hit the spoiler. I know the whole plot to Season 3 of BSG, but I haven’t seen it yet. :(

    If you insist that people behave in a certain way to information that is revealable, how are you going to control them? Shame them by calling them cheaters? Ban them from the game? I don’t see any positive fun reinforcements here at all that work to protect the secret that you plan to keep respected.

    Actually, shame is exactly the commonest tactic. :) But it’s not the designers who tend to do it. It’s the other players who establish a culture within the game. In all games, the principal method of enforcing the cultural norm of “what cheating is” is via peer pressure.

    But one can protect some aspects of design by construction and not needing to control people. I do hate to bring the WoW example but I do thing they are very good at that.

    Well, they do it in part by just not having many game mechanics based on hidden info. :)

    One can do a whole lot to protect the integrity of the network and the client. It’s bad design to neglect I agree with you, but you completely misread me. Didn’t I just say above that hacking isn’t OK?

    Well, I am saying that really, it’s completely not protectible, and it’s silly to try. Really, the only reasonable response is to give everyone minimaps, precisely because it is better to let everyone have the info than only those who hack. It’s “good design” to have the minimap in the same way that it is “good design” to have everyone have the walkthroughs.

    I say relax if someone else but you wants to bypass the maze and not engage in the puzzle. That’s a completely different thing.

    And if I say to you that levels 1-70 of WoW are also just a puzzle to solve? A more sustained one, with some more real-time elements, but still a puzzle. Learn to play your character and your class and you can breeze through it. It is not different to me, in any way. You say

    A character leveling on a level strategy guide will see and learn character abilities (again if the game is well designed). A character bought at level cap misses this. The impact on the intended design (i.e. that people learn to play their class gradually while leveling) is not broken by the strategy guide, but it’s absolutely broken by character buying.

    But you can have exactly that same sequence with static info. Lore and knowledge that stacks data on data, quests or puzzles that teach ever more specific ways of tackling problems… You mentioned Portal, it’s a perfect example. “The impact on the intended design of Portal — that people learn to play with the portals and gravity and time — is not broken by having the walkthrough, but it’s absolutely broken by skipping to the last level” is exactly your argument. And I disagree. There’s still an execution aspect to Portal, but you do not learn the logic that way.

    So in the end, we certainly agree that fun is the key. It’s important to realize, though, that when a designer makes use of hidden info, she IS designing for players. She’s trying to give a specific audience the experience they want.

  140. Hmm. I cannot think of a single major movie in the last several years that I didn’t get spoiled before I saw it.

    Stop watching previews of movies you might want to see. I actually cover by eyes and hum to myself.

  141. And I believe that lots of things that players do (like check strategy sites) is absolutely benign.

    Go back to my example with the maze. For solving that quest (it was on the Worlds of Carnage mud, btw) I got a kickass reward, plus a lot of game fame. Very few people ever solved it.

    See I get it. What you are saying is that the reward structure is damaged (loot, fame) if it’s public. And I disagree that certain reward structures can change but funny enough in this example the reward structures are completely external to the game. Your pride in having exclusive loot and standing. I do think that games can and do design for these things and in fact games succeed doing so despite hidden information. Take your example: Track whoever first beat a puzzle and you advertise an exclusive standing reward structure that is safe to revealed information.

    But yes, I agree that certain things you simply cannot do. If you insist that not the first but the first n feel good about something but the achievement is perceived to be too fragile to draw the later achievements into question there is a problem.

    But that isn’t a generic problem and the second part is, that it tries to cater to a psychology that is hard to satify.

    Really, noone got cheated out of playing the game and noone got cheated out of the callenge to beat that puzzle and reap it’s reward. What has changed is the context and reward psychology that’s hard to control. I.e. that the player feels special in his social context.

    But that’s exactly why I don’t see a problem there. If your intended goal is to design a game that is about solving hard puzzles and at the same time encourage a sense of social standing and competitive achievement you’d indeed have to protect the relative standing of people. How can you do that? Do not use static information. Design puzzles that only are solvable if you understand them and are not repetitive.

    Yes that is a design limitation. And yes it may be harder for the designer, but it’s like any design process, you have to work with the constraints. It doesn’t make sense for a car designer in Norway to complain that they have to design cars around mountainous terrain.

    But real competitiveness is very tricky if that’s what you seriously want to design for, especially if it contains any kind of tangible information that goes into the competitive measure and knowing that information will bias the measure.

    Take competitive bridge. This is a highly regulated game with extremely strict rules what has to be known (it actually demands that all information that is communicated is public, and it demands that nothing out of a very tight context and code is ever communicated). It also regulates against hidden communication via body signals by blocking the view of playing partners etc and the games are heavily supervised.

    But real world competitive bridge is designed to solve the problem of information flow. By having supervision, by controlling communication and by being in a setting where you can.

    There are three things to this:
    * Normal bridge isn’t really all that hurt by competitive bridge. People can and do play with far less stringent setup and the game is fine.
    * Competitive bridge doesn’t work online because you cannot supervise communication.

    But that’s just the nature of real competitive settings. They need to be tightly supervised to guarantee integrity of the information.

    And I personally don’t have a problem there because simply
    * If you don’t have that you never really knew if there was integrity. The player may be under the impression that it’s fine but it cannot be guaranteed. For example take a puzzle like you mentioned, there is no guarantee that none of the few people who solved it solved it legit. If you demand integrity despite that yes you set yourself up for yelling cheater and banning in a rather sub-perfect attempt to socially protect the integrity. My argument all along is that you are fine to try that but it just cannot work. Hence calling it “bad design”. The game wasn’t designed to protect what you want from it inherently so you need inaccurate social measures to try to cover for it.

    Our difference is as I understand it that you think that’s “good design” the problem are people “who cheated the setup”.

    But really, they only cheat because you demand the competitive standing reward structure. If you remove that demand they didn’t cheat anything but the puzzle is there and everybody who wants to solve it and get the rewards legit can do that. Because they are not out there to feel special about it afterwards it’s fine and the thing is indeed perfectly benign as I said.

    I think you are fine to grief the trouble of protecting social standing rewards around static information, but from my perspective it has limited impact on play and can be mitigated or achieved by different in-game designs. So yeah in that sense the post you made about static information answering that it is indeed history is dead. I just disagree because it covers only one very specific reward type and not gaming as a whole.

    Seriously 9 million people play WoW and it has no information driven social standing rewards. It does have competitive standing rewards (world, server first, PVP ranking, loot acquired). So while it doesn’t protect the specific nitch of the information based case it does definitely cover the specific reward need of people to feel special. Clearly only a small subset of the population cares about this kind of reward structure given the size of the population and the number who can be classified as actually having achieved visible competitive achievements.

    It ISN’T necessarily a flaw in the puzzle design that you got stuck. It can very easily be a flaw in YOU, the player. It is legitimate for one puzzle to be too hard for a given player. It does not mean that it is a bad puzzle. You might just not be ready for it. And you are certainly cheating yourself of the “aha!” moment when you solve it. A good puzzle is teaching you ways to think, ways to problem-solve. The solution does not necessarily teach you that.

    The reason for the reward structure that we just discussed above is rather simple: Make people feel good about themselves.

    Independent of how specifically people will feel good about themselvs (socializing, achieving, exploring etc etc) I think that is actually a very frequent goal (otherwise we talk about depressed or masorchistic personalities, which I don’t expect to be typical).

    The real think about what you say above is: What message do you send the player.

    Design A:
    * If you are stuck at a puzzle you are stuck.
    Design B:
    * If you are stuck at a puzzle you can ask for gradually inreasing hints. (To protect competitiveness that could be recorded if one so desires)
    Design C:
    * If you are stuck you can ask to skip the puzzle for now and revisit it later.
    (To protect competitiveness that could be recorded if one so desires)

    Design A takes the player out of control. And sends the message “So you are stuck here you just aren’t good enough to go on” or the player may thing “this sucks there is no way to go anywhere now”. It locks down and excludes content.
    Design B gives the player degrees of help and some degree of control. It sends the message that’s it’s OK to solve a situation with some assistance. It may turn of puzzle purists.
    Design C gives the player control over the state of being stuck. It sends the message that “you the player desides what aspects of the game are managable for you and the game gives you the choice to explore”. It makes content available.

    I think all three designs are in principle thinkable. But Design A is the least player friendly and sends the most negative message to players.

    I’ll be quite blunt about myself. A game whose message is “you are stuck and deserve to not progress” is a “bad game” in my book and I won’t buy the sequel and I won’t praise the designer. If we want to be funny I’d just say that the game failed at social skills, it failed to work with me rather choose to work against me. But that’s the match of the design to my personality. Some people like it, let them have it. ;)

    It fails to achieve the “make me feel good about myself and happy” within the context of my personality. I.e. it fails at properly tapping into some personality-type’s motivation.

    I do believe though that game designs that treat people with guidance and sympathy have been exceedingly successful in the past. So many people may share my sentiment as to how games ought to operate with respect to players.

    But I do understand if indeed your goal is very competitive reward structure you have to tell people they suck so someone else can feel good about themselves.

    I think just design those games and players decide if they are the competitive type or the type that actually likes the game to work with them to some degree.

    About the “aha” moment. Players may not get it. But that’s fine. Those that want that can try for it. A game designer cannot force any gamer to do the specific work to get a specific type of achievement. If a player doesn’t have the inclination or drive to seek out aha moments that’s it and it’s fine.

    There simply is a mismatch in reward expectations. Players who don’t seek the “aha” moment can still enjoy a game design that includes heavy puzzles. By designing to demand that players pass the “aha” moment excludes player types. I think that’s a legitimate design choice but there isn’t any damage at all. The game never was designed for people who got stuck. And the designer chose that those folks thrown their game box into the trash and never return.

    But I do see a trend that lots of games do not do this. They support multiple, often as many as possible playing types and there is no problem there. Some get “aha”s and brag about their reward, some follow the story line. I personally think that these kind of multiple-personality designs are good (they manage to keep many personality types “happy”) but that’s a preference thing and we are good to disagree on that.

    But I know it’s impossible to keep everybody happy. Especially competitive social standing demands making some unhappy because “being better than that other” is what triggers the reward. I think (and see games) that even work with this. Rather than tell players loudly they suck, tell those that achieve how much they achieved. This minimizes that player feel they suck but maximizes that those who achieved think that the others did suck.

    Once the info it out there, it is very hard not to hit the spoiler.

    I’m just smiling at that one because it took me half a minute to decode what BSG even was (and the last one I have any knowledge about is from the late 70s). And yeah you got that wrong. You failed to control yourself more than anything else here. Tell me: How does one beat Kael’Thas in WoW? Answer: You very very likely have no clue so nothing got spoiled for you. The information is public if you want it. So you want a no-strategy raid group? No problem, start a guild with that premise. You’ll be pretty well protected.

    … and by construction avoids mechanistic segregation of people!

    I don’t think that’s possible, if only because our brains are wired to identify and distinguish between patterns.

    But Raph that wasn’t the context. The context was level gap in EQ2. If you actually cared you absolutely could be creative to design a game that doesn’t cause level gaps or if it does, doesn’t cause the symptom of segregation because of it.

    Ideas:
    * Design without levels!
    * Design where buddies can choose to level as a social entity and share levels.
    * Design content that works across wide level brackets (maybe is adaptive to individual levels of the players within a group) and keeps appeal for all participants
    * Design character levels so that higher levels can temporarily “downgrade” to their buddies
    * Design where people can bridge the level gap but get it for free
    * Design where people can bridge the level gap by spending money at Station Exchange or some RMT mechanism

    and one could brainstorm many more and some of these have been tried as you surely know.

    I think it’s a lack of willingness and creativity to not think about how to design games that don’t segregate social groups. Some existing game designs actually don’t segregate social groups btw, but I really feel that there is no real debate and concience of social group relevant design in MMOs when clearly the added social component and it’s relation to existing social ties is so big here.

    Other ideas that have floated the WoW sphere:
    * Guild keying instead of individual keying to avoid having guildies excluded from content and prevent social play

    A simple mechanics change that shifts from segregating individuals, to ensuring joint access of groups. Perfectly feasible and very little of the individuals identity was touched here, they still have their individual loot, their quest history and their guild label etc etc.

    There is loads one can do against segregation of people in games if one cares. It’s a design decision to segregate people.

    Social gaming is one of the hurting parts of many MMO designs because they don’t worry enough about how to keep social groups together and not split them by content mechanics. For me the next big thing isn’t RMT, it’s better design of games that actually inherently honor and support real life and virtual social ties.

    And as a side-note, allowing people to play together doesn’t mean that everybody is the same… or feels the same. It just means that content access and reward structures aren’t tied too tightly to gaming practices that happen between different people of a RL social group (e.g.
    difference in available gaming time for a husband and spouse setup).

    Think Nick Yee’s work on how people play WoW alone way more than what one might naively expect. Isn’t it kind of designed to do that? I think absolutely. One can have two reactions here: one is “oh we can’t do anything, it’s destroy our sense of identity” or one can have the reaction that “it should be possible to support social structures and support identities in that context as well, lets find ways to achieve that”.

    Now I’m just waiting for designers to smarten up about the issue ;)

  142. Morgan:

    Are you aware of the degree to which the players of the games you play engage in RMT? Can you be reasonably certain that data on RMT usage in those games is accurate? If players found engaging in RMT are punished, then any RMT usage data collected for those games is suspect. You are most likely already enjoying games with significant data monetization elements.

    Isn’t it kind of inconsequential? As I said the amount or RMT isn’t a category I maximize for. If a game is stealth RMT to me so be it.

    I do care strongly about the very negative effect real money can have on gaming experience …

    Money doesn’t cause problems. People cause problems.

    Money doesn’t exist without people so yes but this doesn’t actually have any content. Monetary interests are very different than other interests because they are our organised means of survival. There are very different pressures on real money economy than on whether or not one solved a puzzle in a game.

    Some anti-RMT arguments follow your concern, effectively claiming that “if you remove money from the equation, there will be no problems.” One would think that by now people would have mastered the concept that sweeping dust under the carpet doesn’t actually remove the dust.

    None of my arguments are anti-RMT and I didn’t say anywhere that “if you remove money from the equation, there will be no problems.”. Read what I wrote again. It was about a few things (1) describing money related impact on games and (2) that I’m actually agnostic as to whether RMT should be in games or not. And yes I did beg the question if alternative mechanisms can’t also address problems that RMT addresses (like leveling gap). Begging this question isn’t anti-RMT unless any discourse that may in any way not completely affirm the goodness of RMT in all walks is anti.

    But I have seen this often in RMT and other pro/con debates, an undecided/neutral/agnostic opinion or one that wants to see about the outcome rather than claim pre-hoc what will happen is always misunderstood by the pro-debaters as anti and by the anti-debaters as pro. Makes for not very fruitful debate.

    I actually do the opposite of the rugging the dust as you claim. I say there are problems like account hacking and we should discuss and solve it. There are real issues there but as I said before there isn’t diversified discussion in the RMT debate. Because I hear way too much arguments that boil down to “RMT solves it all, accept it” which isn’t diversified debate. And as said this is exactly why I dread the RMT discussion, one topic (RMT is good/bad) clouds the discourse (like the question, what kind of mechanisms can one think up to help mediate account hacking)

    I’d suggest starting a whole new topic on cyber crime (I have a post on it from a while back on my blog) and honestly discuss this as a topic of it’s own right. Wanna clear dust? That’s a way to do it.

    If you really want to talk about the impact of leveling gap and different possible ways to resolve it lets talk about that (dust!).

    But if you just want to say RMT is good and solves things I don’t think we need to discuss. You have already settled it for yourself ;)

    And I falsely answer your part about identity and segregation in the post in response to Raph. My apologies.

  143. Moroagh wrote:

    Isn’t it kind of inconsequential?

    No. If you are enjoying a game with a significant RMT element, regardless of whether you are aware, what does that say about RMT? Quite simply, in that regard, you would be enjoying RMT by proxy, so the issue is definitely not as black-and-white as some would prefer to believe.

    Monetary interests are very different than other interests because they are our organised means of survival. There are very different pressures on real money economy than on whether or not one solved a puzzle in a game.

    Not true. Currency is a means to an end, and the ends we as humans seek are always the same. Although we’ve acquired more tools and toys that complicate (and simplify) our motivated actions, our basic motivations haven’t changed since the dawn of homo sapiens. I read an excellent scientific article in a forgettable academic journal sometime ago. The article was called something to the effect of The Psychology of Luxury. I believe I was actually doing research for a game at the time. Anyway, that’s a great subject to look into for a deeper explanation than what I’ve written.

    None of my arguments are anti-RMT and I didn’t say anywhere that “if you remove money from the equation, there will be no problems.”. Read what I wrote again.

    Read what I wrote again. I never said you said your arguments were anti-RMT.

    I say there are problems like account hacking and we should discuss and solve it.

    There was, and is, account hacking without RMT interests.

    Because I hear way too much arguments that boil down to “RMT solves it all, accept it” which isn’t diversified debate.

    And I hear too many baseless arguments that claim RMT (and thus money) is essentially the root of evil. Again, not saying that’s what you’re saying.

    But if you just want to say RMT is good and solves things I don’t think we need to discuss.

    I think there should always be discussion about prospective solutions. I don’t care much for the turn-a-blind-eye approach. By the way, I’ve written tons on RMT just on this blog, as has Raph, of course. You’d have to dig in and search, but you’d find that I’m not just saying “RMT is good.” That’s certainly an oversimplification of my case. I’m a consultant though. Identifying and developing solutions is what I do.

    And I falsely answer your part about identity and segregation in the post in response to Raph. My apologies.

    That’s fine. Your response is better addressed to him anyway.

    Apologies for the terseness of this reply, but I’m practically on my way to Las Vegas for the 2008 International CES. I just wanted to get one last post in before I leave.

  144. Moroagh:

    I think we may have actually converged, finally. :)

    Yes, the reward structure is damaged. It is damaged in basically the same way that RMT damages it. Fundamentally, as soon as there is any sense of competitive ranking or comparison to other players, it gets damaged. It might be damaged in a purely psychological way, or it might be damaged literally if you have a game system that explicitly does the comparison.

    And that is why I said it’s just like RMT in that sense. The point you are making here is exactly the point I have made previously about this several times.

    If your intended goal is to design a game that is about solving hard puzzles and at the same time encourage a sense of social standing and competitive achievement you’d indeed have to protect the relative standing of people. How can you do that? Do not use static information. Design puzzles that only are solvable if you understand them and are not repetitive.

    Exactly. Which is what my other post was about. It is still a pity that big swaths of game mechanics become useless, but that is how it is.

    Game designs exist in contexts. The whole point of this series of posts was whether the context had changed around the mechanic making it more or less viable, and whether the definition of cheating changed over time. And I was saying “yes, it changes.” And at any given time there’s a population who feels that the change is invalid and therefore cheating, and a population that feels that it is just how things are now, and perfectly reasonable. But people are very ingrained in their culture, and cannot see outside it.

    Hence the shock tactics of saying “you are all cheating!” Absolutely everything you said can apply just as well to RMT, or really, to most any game system. After all, what a high-end zone looks or plays like is also static information, and it is a HUGE draw to users wanting to advance in WoW, a powerful part of the carrot.

    Seriously 9 million people play WoW and it has no information driven social standing rewards. It does have competitive standing rewards (world, server first, PVP ranking, loot acquired). So while it doesn’t protect the specific nitch of the information based case it does definitely cover the specific reward need of people to feel special. Clearly only a small subset of the population cares about this kind of reward structure given the size of the population and the number who can be classified as actually having achieved visible competitive achievements.

    So this is a logic error… you cannot assume that a small subset of the population cares about other reward structures just because WoW is big.

    It may BE the case that it is a small subset of the population, but you cannot arrive at it that way. You’d need a game with the other reward structure to compare to, at the very least. And we haven’t really had one of those.

    The reason for the reward structure that we just discussed above is rather simple: Make people feel good about themselves.

    Ah, this may merit a post in and of itself. :)

    Feedback is to make people feel good about themselves when they succeed. They also have to know when they fail.

    A lot of games these days are about making you feel good about yourself by not letting you fail. This isn’t always good design. It is if the learning ramp really is that gradual. But usually it isn’t that — instead, it’s that the games often just give you a bye.

    The entire premise of the grindy MMO is that — do it enough times, and we’ll give you a level, even though you may have been terrible at it.

    This is a feel-good experience, and very addictive, but it isn’t necessarily healthy for the player. As Jon Blow says, it’s kind of “empty calories.”

    I’ll be quite blunt about myself. A game whose message is “you are stuck and deserve to not progress” is a “bad game” in my book and I won’t buy the sequel and I won’t praise the designer. If we want to be funny I’d just say that the game failed at social skills, it failed to work with me rather choose to work against me. But that’s the match of the design to my personality. Some people like it, let them have it.

    I think everyone feels that way. It is a bit of an artifact of single-player games that we feel very little social pressure to “suck it up and figure it out anyway.” In the real world, and in competitive scenarios, you have to work harder. And if you are on a team and you are “stuck,” they may carry you for a while, or they may unceremoniously dump you.

    If games are training for real world problems of various sorts (something I firmly believe) then it is a bad thing that you can “cop out” so to speak. Empty calories.

    This is a separate issue fro the guidance and sympathy issue, btw. Very much a sliding scale here.

    As far as spoilers — they’re simply everywhere. I suppose I could cut myself off from all media and all human contact… :)

    Finally: I don’t know where the two quotes about mechanistic segregation came from originally, but the ideas you present are things that I have been saying for years, in some cases over a decade. So again, full circle.

    These days, segregation of people isn’t always a conscious design decision. A lot of it is taken for granted.

    one can have the reaction that “it should be possible to support social structures and support identities in that context as well, lets find ways to achieve that”.

    Yep. And I’ll assert that in many ways, original SWG and UO were both more soloable than WoW and also more social.

  145. Morgan: You said: “You’d have to dig in and search”. Well if there was discussion how to handle the real money impact that drives cyber crimes it’d be interested to read up on it. Pointers appreciated.

    Raph, before I leave RMT again, I just want to say that I simple do oberate with a different and likely wider definition of RMT hence I cannot agree with you there but that’s fine.

    It is still a pity that big swaths of game mechanics become useless, but that is how it is.

    See I just don’t agree with that. But it’s fine. It’s useless if you absolutely wanna please the type of personality I discussed. Frankly I wish that less games would cater to that personality. Virtually all game mechanisms I have seen 15 years ago are life and well today, and I just simply don’t share your fatalism about it. But the core of our difference here is simple: For me someone checking a strategy site does not destroy the game at all, while you insist that it does. So it’s nor surprising that you are fatalistic about it. I do think it’s best if we just agree to disagree on this.

    I don’t think that things changed as radically as you claim, certainly not in my perview. But clearly I frequented a very different MUD culture among other things. In my perview the acceptability of strategy guides hasn’t changed at all. It was perfectly acceptable to use strategy guides in the MUDs I played 15+ years ago. It was always acceptable to consult walkthroughs for anything in the gamer culture I was in. That in your world that’s different just means that there isn’t just one gaming culture. For me that mostly means that what you claim is change is more likely change for your gaming culture and maybe other cultures never suffered from specific problems that your culture created for itself (like needing to ban and shame people). So in a sense you are right about the culture thing there.

    The shock tactics you applied fell on wrong ears for me because plainly it doesn’t match my experience. Noone ever in many years of gaming has seriously suggested to me that strategy guides are a problem. It isn’t a new thing or a change that they are no problem. But I understand your point about RMT being a new phenomenon. I do disagree though that all have to learn and embrace it as a needed cultural shift if I understand you correctly as claiming that. Just as much as not everybody has to accept to be shamed and banned for gaming practices. I do believe that the way real money works in online gaming is very much in flux and we haven’t even seen what all will happen there but it doesn’t seem to me that’s the claim.

    But you see, the “cheating” example is a bad one because many people never went to that supposed paradigm shift that your circles evidentally went through. For me it was a very stunning thing to read that the UO crew was so vigorously against strategy guides as you posted. This is how different perspectives can be, and I can see that you perceive a radical shift coming out of that perview. But you may consider that many people who had odd reactions to your shock treatment had it not because they are youngsters, but because they lived in a different (maybe less adverserial and competitive) gaming culture.

    Feedback is to make people feel good about themselves when they succeed.

    No. I understand that that’s your belief but I disagree. That is only a subset of personalities that this covers (clearly you are included in it or you’d see it as limited).

    In RPG MMOs for example people get constantly rewarded by eye-candy for doing nothing. WoW has repeated 0-effort rewards and feel-good aspects to the game.

    The reason is simple: Not everybody who games wants to be educated and only rewarded for achievement. Some people simply just want to have a good time.

    Not everybody is the achiever type and if the game only rewards achievement (what you claim) you limit the fun for only those. And some personalities are not good at failing. They will play a game on easy mode to play it through and feel good about themselves. The absolutely avoid your “They also have to know when they fail.”

    Success and failure is only one pattern that can relate to fun and it’s the pattern of the achiever type.

    A lot of games these days are about making you feel good about yourself by not letting you fail. This isn’t always good design. It is if the learning ramp really is that gradual. But usually it isn’t that — instead, it’s that the games often just give you a bye.

    Exactly. But again of course I don’t see the problem at all but given that you promote the achiever type I see how you have a problem. But there is a difference between designing ill-tuned games and designing games that are well-tuned but work for different personality types. I don’t think that games having an easy-mode is any problem at all! Yes if you want to write an achiever-only game go ahead and make it hard to succeed to ramp up the reward for succeeding, but this won’t cover all types of having fun with a game. And yes you gotta hate strategy guides because people “cheated” themselves out of achieving… again that’s just one personality type.

    even though you may have been terrible at it.

    Again highlighting our difference in attitude here. For me that’s no problem at all. Not everybody has to try to achieve excellency. If they have a good time it’s alright. Yes you can emphasize skill while leveling and turn that scale widely. I think very skill based leveling games are also very limited games because they only meet the needs of those that want constant challenge.

    This is a feel-good experience, and very addictive, but it isn’t necessarily healthy for the player. As Jon Blow says, it’s kind of “empty calories.”

    Sounds to me like the “TV is bad for you” argument. I really don’t buy this. It’s like feature movies, we have a whole array of movies from braindead comedies and cookie-cutter romances to deep social criticisms and bizzare arthouse movies. I don’t believe that everybody needs to watch Kaurismäki or Eisenstein or stomach through the full lenght of the original Solaris. While I don’t enjoy many of the trash comedies I don’t care at all to tell people not to watch them. Yeah so police academy has 0 intellectual value. So what? People clearly don’t go to see it for the wittily picked Nitsche quotes anyway. They go to meet a different need.

    But as said I understand that you want to service the achiever type and in addition apparently want that everybody places themselves in at least some sort of achieving frame of mind. I don’t share that view. I think mindless relaxing and a fun social experience or exploring without learning anything but scenary are perfectly fine and acceptable if someone chooses such.

    Mindless bantering of silly jokes is perfectly good for people and in the same way playing games that are accessible and not permanently didactic is just as fine.

    But I know already that we will continue to disagree on that so we can leave it there no problem ;)

    If games are training for real world problems of various sorts (something I firmly believe) then it is a bad thing that you can “cop out” so to speak. Empty calories.

    As said I don’t agree that games are always didactic. They can be but they don’t have to be. Just as reading a book doesn’t have to be intellectual training but it can be relaxation (reading light stuff or deep stuff).

    But if reading a book is always with the the father behind you ready to smack you if you haven’t gotten that extra learning out of the book you basically for-short other values, like unwinding after a day of work, like dealing with non-competition and socializing, and like being allowed to take care of ones needs (whether they are achieving or relaxing).

    But don’t get me wrong I do like didactic value in games and I wouldn’t let my children just play anything. However to be frank I actually think a lot of achiever type games teach bad stuff. Take your MUD example. By telling people that they cannot discuss a riddle they learn a number of lesson: Don’t ask for help. Don’t discuss your problem. Don’t seek sources of information. I do understand that there is a conflict here between needs. But the reason why my MUD never thought of every doing anything like this is because we inherently valued the social quality and people solving situations together in our setup. Both are didactic but the lessons you teach are different. The first requires to limit communication and information to teach individual strive and achievement, the latter needs to foster and support information flow and communication to foster social skills, collaboration and social ties.

    Can you see how what in your setting is necessarily “cheating” is in my setting no problem at all, in fact is rather encouraged? And it was like that 15 years ago when I admin’ed my MUD just as much as now.

    A lot of socializing has nothing to do with achievement, it has to do with rapport, sympathy etc. Shaming and banning aren’t exactly the things that fit in the kind of setup that I thought interesting to teach (which may explain to you why I have a negative reaction to these punishing type social pressure things that you embrace).

    I never saw value in feeding the “I am better than you” attitude that is part of the social standing achiever reward structure that requires one to suck so the other wins. But many games encourage, teach and reward it. It’s a somewhat narcissistic and mildly (or given the degree of it more strongly) anti-social personality that is fed here but yes that can be coupled with strongly driven achievement. I rather have it if achievement is fostered based on awards that do not require others to be excluded.

    For me the most striking thing in MMO culture is exactly this attitude that some though certainly only a subsection of the player personalities have:

    * You cannot have it because it devalues that I got it.

    It’s spite, envy and narcisissm that makes this attitude. “I’m only good if I can see someone else fail”. Or on a milder scale “If you don’t hack it you don’t deserve it”

    It’s devalues helping and sharing, and allowing people access. It’s it’s certainly not compassionate or empathetic.

    That games could try to teach that one can achieve and be cordial as well might be a different approach. One could teach that if you have abilities and knowledge you share it (that sharing you call “cheating”). Then again of course you could try to teach how to share knowledge without cutting out learning. I.e. how to guide rather than give away etc.

    It’s a fine line between teaching achievement and teaching competitive nastiness (even our political leaders need to eat better food in that regard). And it’s certainly a fine line between teaching that one will not always succeed and that one has to fail so that others can feel good about themselves. And there are things that one has to decide how to teach in an achievement context. So would one want to teach that one supports and helps less able and gifted? Or should one teach that it’s “tough luck for you bro, I’ll win that turtle race thank you very much”.

    For me the anti-social is worse than the 0-calories.

    Sharing information may be spoilers in your view. In my view nasty people are spoilers. I think both make sense given a specific goal/motivation/personality structure and in each way both are “right”.But I actually believe that there isn’t a conflict between achieving and being social. But of course it is still as bad as trying to get a Myer-Briggs ESTP to happily coexist with an INFP personality.

    But as said it’s different cultures, different player types, and different needs and motives that are met or denied. And I do believe that we have very different views on these, which is fine.

    As far as spoilers — they’re simply everywhere.

    I really can’t follow this. Can you actually give me examples of a recent game that got spoiled for you and how?

    Because in my many years of gaming the only games that got “spoiled” for me I spoiled for myself by my own choosing.

    I don’t know where the two quotes about mechanistic segregation came from originally

    I got it from Morgan’s post. The comments don’t have very visible separators so I accidentally thought it was yours. Sorry for misquoting this. Glad we agree here.

  146. So the thing that strikes me most about your last comment, Moroagh, is that you apparently know very little about the design positions I have espoused for years.

    I am probably the LEAST achievement-oriented MMO designer out there. And WoW is a thoroughly achievement-driven game. It’s outright bizarre to me to have you say “in your achievement-driven circles” and the like, and then have WoW examples pushed at me. :)

    We also clearly do not have a common basis in terms of what games are about. I don’t actually think we are far apart in ultimate thoughts, but it doesn’t look like you have read most of the things I have written and said about what games are, how they work, what fun is, and so on. Most of the folks who comment here have, so to a degree you and I talk past each other. For example, a basic premise of mine is that all games are didactic, all the time. They cannot help it.

    You also say that my view of RMT is narrower than yours, when in fact I have been arguing YOUR points on that for years. Publicly took Marc Jacobs to task for using an overly narrow definition not very long ago, too.

    So this whole last post to me is a bit surreal.

    BTW, I am guessing that the muds you played didn’t have many quests?

    Recent games that got spoilered for me: BioShock, Portal. In both cases the narrative endings were absolutely everywhere and discussed by everyone. It was impossible to read anything related to gaming culture and not see references.

  147. Raph basically I’ve been responding to what you are saying. It isn’t all that bizarre I think if you follow the arguments.

    For example, a basic premise of mine is that all games are didactic, all the time. They cannot help it.

    I know this Raph, I just differ or rather I agree but in a way that doesn’t do the agreement justice. Because the idea that everything teaches something is too obviously right to question. But I just don’t have an issue with having the inadvertent lesson be that the gamer can actually make certain decisions and that the designer may not be the teacher or even able to do the teaching he set out to do.

    BTW, I am guessing that the muds you played didn’t have many quests?

    If you mean did we have very intricate deep puzzles that were very hard to crack? No. We did have riddles and stuff but it was comparable to the depth that some text adventures had at the time, clue-based with some deduction and trying. We certainly didn’t think or care to make it very riddle centric. We did have many quests though and each zone had at least one main objective (usually finding a way to get to and kill a lore mob, though some were about finding a treasure without combat).

    Though none of the MUDs I tried at the time had deep riddles. I never played LegendMUD.

    But there was no plan or direction, it was just a bunch of folks hacking stuff together. I can’t remember us ever worrying about what we wanted to control, in fact we had very little discussion about most things. Just lots of trying of ideas and adding things. We did react to some stuff (i.e. a rogue realizing that you could indefinitely pickpocket the NPC storekeepers , while other mobs had a limited wallet – a bug that we inherited from the standard Diku source :D), and we’d just patch it up after that. The reaction was “oh, that’s a bug” and it’s was changed and that was it. The border between developers/immortals/players was very blurry because in old Diku tradition top level players became immortals. The content creators and coder types became implementors and the rest drove story lines. Often immortals had player alts. Certainly we were creating a game for ourselves.

    The basic profile of the MUD was quests, riddles and combat, no PVP/PK, I don’t remember there being any player to player trade culture. People just gave away loot they didn’t need anymore or vendored it. Our player base didn’t care to play an economic game. However I have to emphasize too that a big thing was that our immortals loved to run immortal driven quests/campaigns. Usually immortals would prepare and prescript them and lead and oversee those events (and roleplay NPCs). Some were regular events with same or similar stories, some were unique. The similar story lines were typically not riddle based though, and rather had a teaching/guiding/introductory character (i.e. introduce players to the game in an RP fashion). Immortal driven quests were very popular even if they offered no reward beside interactive story telling. The static scripted quest lines were usually a blend of map-learning (navigate this unknown zone, with death-traps and clues), adventure-like story based riddles (find unknown flask, discover ways to identify flask, discover owner, guess from partial clues (broken signs) and such etc etc), some quests were actually related to loot drops, i.e. one had to discover which mobs owned certain things. Certainly in terms of learning challenge the backbone was exploring the maps and finding clues of death traps and heeding them and avoiding dead ends or cycles. We did have a few non-euclidean mazes too actually (these were very easy to do in Diku as the neighborhood link map didn’t enforce correctness) but I wouldn’t call finding your way through them very hard. We did emphasize group combat in multiple stages of a quest tour. Many weren’t meant to be done alone though we did have solo content, because the bosses/mobs weren’t really beatable alone or of you could don’t not get meaningful xp. The combat system emphasized group coordination and mutual support, specifically in the tanking behavior, with “chain” tanking (that is tanks rescuing each other to prolong longevity. There was also healing of course.)

    But a lot of this we did inherit, it was a Diku derivative, which did allow a lot of this but as was customary at the time we did heavy coding/extending on the base and by the end of it a lot wasn’t really standard Diku. I think a handful of later MUDs ended up using our code as base (and I just checked that we are even listed in the Diku family tree, how odd).

    We were blessed with a very active zone creator group so new content was frequent and people had new stuff to explore on a regular basis. We developed a lot of code to help content creation.

    Post hoc and in the context of our discussion I can tell you that we didn’t worry about content getting stale at all. We didn’t even think there may be an issue with people sharing how to get through a maze and which death trap to avoid. Doing so was just natural and it was typical to do so. But in hindsight we did have no problem providing new content either so stale content didn’t mean there was nothing new to do. But content never really was stale. And even if the maze was solved the mob combat remained challenging so stuff had decent replay value. And if someone knew how to get to the treasure chest, that was just fine. There was no competitive attitude, in that noone ever even thought about bragging of having explored a zone first, having been the first to actually make it through that swamp or killed a mob first, but this too may have been mediated by the fact that the real popular thing was the GM driven events. Some of these were competitive, like who solves the riddle first gets the loot. But it never had a lasting meaning the next day people just went on with whatever. The kind of loot pride one sees nowadays wasn’t there either. Loot had use value, i.e. you wanted it to be better equipt for the next harder encounter.

    I do know that MUDs had very different feels and people kinda shopped for the MUD that tickled their fancy at the time. We ended up getting the crowd that liked RP and our lore but didn’t like PK. Lag was also a huge issue though we still had a fairly international crowd and the server actually moved to another continent as the main admin changed.

    Anyway, this certainly was way more than you ever cared to know, sorry :P

    Recent games that got spoilered for me: BioShock, Portal. In both cases the narrative endings were absolutely everywhere and discussed by everyone. It was impossible to read anything related to gaming culture and not see references.

    Ah I get it. I think you are indeed a victim of a professional hazard. I don’t absolutely have to keep up with gaming trends, so I can chose to not read cursory spoilers. Certainly neither BioShock nor Portal was spoiled for me and in fact had I known more about BioShock’s story-line idea I probably would have bought it faster. I tend to read a lot about games after I got them not before.

    I think what is a minefield for you is actually quite safe for the rest of us. We don’t have to go there ;)

  148. It’s one thing to skip ahead to the last page of a Sherlock Holmes novel in order to figure out “whodunit.”

    It’s another thing entirely to refer to a cookbook when baking a cake.

    Frankly, I think there’s too many game designers (with all due respect, including you, Raph) who’ve likened themselves to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, when at best, they’ve got more in common with Betty Crocker.

  149. Frankly, I think there’s too many game designers (with all due respect, including you, Raph) who’ve likened themselves to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, when at best, they’ve got more in common with Betty Crocker.

    I think that’s unfair to pin that on one guy. The end products do seem to fall into that for the most part. But from playing a few games and actually spending most of my time looking for the Doyle in them, I also have to blame the players to some degree. I don’t know how many times I tried something only to hear from another player that “they don’t do things like that”.

    One time I think I proved that there was at least the design for a “Doyle” kind of thing, and I had a few players actually argue that it wasn’t there anymore (since I had shown proof that it was there at one point). How the hell would they know for sure?

  150. hanshotfirst wrote:

    It’s another thing entirely to refer to a cookbook when baking a cake.

    …because all games are, and should be, cakes, right? :roll:

  151. I really have to point back at this – where at the time, most people took the opposite position!

  152. Fascinating discussion. Some kibits:

    1. This is fodder-rich for cybernetics students studying the intersections of control emergence and social systems. It is particularly ripe as an example of third-order control emergence.

    2. Designers designing for designers are precisely like musicians playing for other musicians. It is a bad idea. The gig suffers. Why?

    It lights up a band or any player when competitors come to the gig and sit down front versus sitting in the back of the room. Both are after their gig but the front row sitters came to steal chops as well. I like them better. It’s a compliment.

    On the other hand, except that they push the band to play better at that particular show, they also push them to indulge in chops only another musician cares about (playing Bodhisattva or Josie for example). Audiences get bored. The show suffers. The club owners get angry. The band loses the gig. For that reason, a band I was in had a rule: if a musician insisted on sitting in, we insisted on them playing “Old Time Rock n Roll”. No exceptions. A good player can make a bad song exciting and a good entertainer knows why. Audience is entertained. Club owner is happy. Band is still employed. Players who wanted to sit in for fun did. Players who wanted to show off to steal the gig moved on.

    Humiliation is a powerful stimulus or reward. The player chooses which is which.

    3. RMT: There was an infamous black commedian in the 70s named “Daddy Rich” who said:

    “Money isn’t the root of all evil. The lack of it is.”

    In other words, a hypothetical dev wants to create a world/game where everyone wins by dint of talent, ingenuity, skill, and so on. A hypothetical player just wants to win. A player with lots of RMT tends to do to a world what the ownership society is doing to American politics. Somehow it feels wrong and somehow society survives it but it is a bad gig while it lasts.

    How can a game be designed to adapt to out-of-band signal except to take over the signal environment? Rules. That is Raph’s point and I agree. This is as true of social games as computer games: one set of rules for all players or there are no rules.

    At some point if that is impossible, the players move on. A game where you get beaten is challenging; a game where you can’t win because they are playing Monopoly with real money and you don’t have any is not a game for you to play. Maybe a game that is too much like life just isn’t fun.

    Hmm… the folks at Second Life may be in trouble.

    If the cheaters take over a game, they should buy the servers too because at some point, the devs will shut them down or move on. Too much work for the same pay at a bad gig.

  153. Raph said:
    I really have to point back at this – where at the time, most people took the opposite position!

    Hehehe

  154. Hope I’m forgiven (on multiple counts) for risking this cheesy parable. The only redeeming quality is that it has cake in it! ;)


    A boy scout leader says: “Look guys we are going to take a nice calm stroll up the mountain. Isn’t the scenary beautiful? Oh by the way, whoever get to the top first finds a bag with a million dollars there, but don’t run. It’s too nice here. Halfway through we’ll learn to make knots and try to unknot some difficult knots. Whoever unknots fastest gets a badge! There is a lift but don’t take it, that’s cheating. And stay on the road, that’s where we are meant to go.”

    The next day the boy scout leader complains: “You guys are awful. There was a great opportunity for a beautiful stroll, the fun and challenge to learn about knots and resolve them and what did you do? Rush for the money!”

    A boy scout says: “But I had loads of fun, check out my shinies!”
    Another says: “Yeah, what a race! And I want some shinies too next time!”
    A third complains: “I actually would have loved to learn some knotting but you greedy dimwits spoiled it for me.”

    The scout leader writes in big letters on a piece of paper: “The journey is the reward is a bloody lie, all they ever wanted was the treasures.”

    The scout leader’s wife pulls him aside and says: “Look, if I host a birthday party I don’t put the puzzle games right next to the chocolate cake and I don’t expect people to first solve the puzzle to get some cake. Some won’t like cake and some won’t like puzzles but that’s OK. Those that like puzzles will play it and those that like cake will have some. As long as everybody is happy and has fun!”

    The scout leader gets upset. “You don’t understand! Unknotting is fun! I do all these great things for the boys and they aren’t wise enough to appreciate it. The other day I wrote this book. The book tells about an adventure that the boys can very well relate to and there is a riddle at the end of every page. In order to be able to flip the page you have to solve the riddle.”

    “But these cheating bastards just wanted to get to the end as quickly as possible and refuse to learn anything!” the scout leader mumbles. “And I spend so much time coming up with the riddles and they just shared notes! The notes are now everywhere too! And the riddles are such a deep part of the story too and teach important lessons. What a shame! I’m gonna kick them all out tomorrow. And I’m going to protect the riddles better against cheating next time!”

    The wife tries to calm him: “But hun, it’s like the cake and the puzzle, some like one, some like the other, some like both. Those that like to solve riddles surely will try to solve them even if notes are around. Can’t you be glad they shared with each other and enjoyed your story to the end? It must have been an amazing story if they wanted to read it all so badly. A story like a chocolate cake!”

    “Shared with each other? Bah, that’s cheating!” he responds “they just refuse to learn anything, I say! All of them! They’ll never wisen up. And the notes are everywhere! Who, given the chance, would not use them? They all are cheaters!”

  155. […] studies , game philosopy , social I wrote this as my way to try to summarize how I say the debate on cheating that Raph started on his blog and that got me to actually participate in the discussion quite more than I should ever have time […]

  156. My point wasn’t that all games are (or should be) “cake” — nor was it to deny Raph’s “cheating” assessment.

    My point was that, unfortunately, all too often the argument borders on the pedantic.

  157. I simply do not agree with you that sharing information learned about a game is cheating, though I do agree that it is a mechanic.

    Cheating is in the eyes of the beholder. I’m sure the developers intend for certain information to be hidden from the player. So, from their point of view, the players sharing information to help overcome planned obstacles may be viewed as cheating. The problem is that it is impossible to keep that information hidden for long.

    Is the player cheating when they do the quest a second time, maybe on a different character, but now they know all the hidden quest information? What should they do – pretend they don’t know?

    What about when a player who has not done a certain group quest, groups with players that have done it before? Should they all pretend they don’t know how to do it for the newbie’s sake?

    Good luck getting friends to NOT discuss the details of any game mechanic, and share information in the process.

    The spread of information may be a rule of nature, at least it’s a rule of human nature. It should be EXPECTED by developers. Expected behavior can’t be viewed as cheating. Sharing information is what people DO. Our ability and drive to share information is probably a big part of what makes our species as successful as it is.

  158. tonyp5 wrote:

    Sharing information is what people DO.

    You’re arguing that what people do naturally is never cheating. Two words: school exams.

    Moroagh wrote:

    “Shared with each other? Bah, that’s cheating!” he responds “they just refuse to learn anything, I say! All of them! They’ll never wisen up. And the notes are everywhere! Who, given the chance, would not use them? They all are cheaters!”

    When you fail to learn, you fail.

    Len Bullard wrote:

    Humiliation is a powerful stimulus or reward.

    Just like many other things.

    … musicians playing for other musicians. It is a bad idea. The gig suffers.

    Two words: extrinsic value.

    This is as true of social games as computer games: one set of rules for all players or there are no rules.

    That might have been true fifty years ago. Personalization, customization—choice—is what consumers want now. One size does not fit all.

    … a game where you can’t win because they are playing Monopoly with real money and you don’t have any is not a game for you to play.

    Monopoly is a competitive game, and plus, being here in Las Vegas with slot machines everywhere, one must realize that the future of RMT and microtransactions in video games has been around for a long, long time.

  159. Tonyp5, it doesn’t matter. If the guys running the game say something is cheating, it’s cheating. It doesn’t matter if players don’t want to follow the rules, and for any reason, the rules are made by the guys making/running the game.

    Moroagh, in your scout leader example, who put the money out? Who designed the journey? If that person/designer wants to make rules for this little quest, shouldn’t he be allowed to do that? The rules were clearly stated, and the scouts who broke the rules did in fact cheat. It doesn’t matter if they should be or can be expected to cheat. They did cheat.

    But one thing this whole things makes very clear. Quests as they are in games are badly broken.

  160. […] Cheating – What was it, what is it, what will it be – we scratch the surface and reference Raph, Michael, Tachevert, and Darren in a topic so vast, you need an IMAX theater to appreciate just the […]

  161. Hey Raph,

    FYI…we discussed this on the latest SUWT. Turned out to be a great discussion with some other bloggers.

    Enjoy,
    D

  162. When you fail to learn, you fail.

    If you had learned everything there is to learn, but there is noone to share it with. What was it worth?

    And have you learned what the parable had to teach? I for one don’t think you failed if you haven’t.

    Turned out to be a great discussion with some other bloggers.

    DarrenL, thanks for posting this. I absolutely love this.

    Oddly enough one of the players who later graduated to be one of our main implementors engaged in what today would be called multi-boxing (back then it was just two telnet windows on a DEC). He wasn’t banned at all of course else he’d never had a chance to become implementor. The commenter claimed that Raph is right that MUDs considered this cheating. I think it’s right in a certain circle of MUDs (and I can see that multiboxing in a PK setting is much worse than in a setting that doesn’t have player to player competitiveness). Our multi-boxing implementor got the implementor rank in 93ish and he safely and soundly multiboxed his two characters in 1992.

    Given all the other views I have read here it seems we were incredibly progressive without having a clue.

    Another commenter said that MUDs were hardcore. It’s very interesting because our MUD had a distinctly softcore feel (in hindsight) though of course geek heavy. Very non-competitive. No grieving. Loads of collaboration and social play. As said we didn’t even punish people for discovering exploitable bugs and using them till they were fixed. In fact we didn’t punish players and I don’t remember there being any perceived need.

    While I was into MUDs I never felt that MUD culture was very monolithic. It was kind of server to server really.

    In fact there was a whole culture of completely non-competitive MUDs especially a lot of MUDs based on the MOO principle ended up emphasizing social play, education, collaboration and all that stuff. All that happened all the way through the late 90s though I only went on the very early ones of those very occasionally. There were a bunch of non-MOO MUDs around too that had a reputation of being friendly and social.

    There was a split of PK versus non-PK for sure and my suspicion is that the PK ones were indeed more hardcore than the ones I experienced, which were all non-PK.

    But I can see how competitiveness ramps the conduct problems or would attract the more aggressive types, just like the main source of grieving in WoW is PVP related though there is occasional PVE related grieving too. I just don’t think it’s a completely accurate assessment of the early MUD history that all of it was hardcore and saw information sharing on many levels as cheating and had policing to respond to that. That certainly wasn’t true everywhere at all.

  163. Oddly enough one of the players who later graduated to be one of our main implementors engaged in what today would be called multi-boxing (back then it was just two telnet windows on a DEC). He wasn’t banned at all of course else he’d never had a chance to become implementor.

    Given all the other views I have read here it seems we were incredibly progressive without having a clue.

    As said we didn’t even punish people for discovering exploitable bugs and using them till they were fixed. In fact we didn’t punish players and I don’t remember there being any perceived need.

    Moroagh, this pretty much explains your position, doesn’t it? I can see why you don’t consider cheats as cheating. You don’t see cheats as cheating. You see it as part of the culture and nothing else.

  164. Well maybe but not really. See he didn’t take anything away from anybody. There was no PVP so he didn’t kick anybodies ass. Everybody got to kill mobs and do quests. He just did some alone which others did together. Everybody did get to play and level their character and experience level cap. Often he helped others etc. Basically he played it like two people and both would participate in RP.

    If you categorically deny that as possibly legit, then so be it. I can see very little harm done to anyone in what he did, actually basically none. So what’s the punishable offense?

    I can see that him playing two characters in a different setting has a different meaning. But in our setting it was rather neutral. Noone complained about it, nor was it a secret. He didn’t brag about it either or wanted to grief or pwn anyone. It was just one way to play the game in a setting where it hardly could cause problems.

    I do see multi-boxing in WoW PVP as something different, it has a different context etc and it may not be fun for people who get pwnd by Xzin. But at the same time there is something cool to that and it can create a new game, namely 9 people teaming up and trying to take down Xzin 8+1 and check if 9 intelligent brains can beat one with the same number of characters. Or would it be cheating that Xzin only gets to use one brain? :D

    Sorry for that jab, anyway. I can fully understand if someone dislikes multiboxing in WoW PVP. I don’t care too much about PVP so it doesn’t bother me too much. Actual griefing bothers me more than knowing if someone multiboxes.

    And yes you completely missed my point in case you hadn’t noticed ;)

    If there was a bug it was the devs fault, not the gamers. That’s why we didn’t punish but of course we didn’t even think about punishing but it was natural to us that bugs were Dev’s responsibility. More self-reflective attitude to the problem I think than thinking people do wrong by doing what is possible.

    Thought experiment: Your favorite online game, you accidentally find a bug. You don’t immediately notice it’s a bug and use it a few times. When you discover what’s going on you stop. Next day your account is banned for repeatedly exploiting a known bug. Good? Or should the game company fix their darn bugs first and foremost and think a good long while before considering bans?

    Self-reflection and accountability by whoever creates the system are a very good thing.

    And the other point you miss is that it isn’t my position I describe here. I describe what for many people was the natural setup on our MUD. Hence I describe what many people naturally perceived. It’s not I who didn’t see “cheats as cheating” as you claim, it was everybody around me. So no I don’t see it as part of culture, I see it as the reality we had. Raph claims that the reality is that this stuff was widely bannable. That’s not accurate.

    Multiboxing in WoW is still possible because Blizzard thinks it’s cool. In fact Blizz has explicitly allowed multiboxing and the type of challenges that I discussed above. Question is do people play the game by the rules or do they want to force and punish? If you don’t like that don’t take it to me. Take it to Blizz.

    My point is neither whether activity X is neutral or not, it’s that the claim that everybody considered checking strategies in the early 90s cheating is just not really accurate. Nor is the claim that everybody thought that multiboxing is obviously a bannable offense.

    These statement have the same accuracy as someone claiming that all MUDs in the mid 90s had PK. It’s a factual thing and nothing else.

    And yes in hindsight we were progressive because evidently only now do major game companies endorse multiboxing when we kind of did it without any thought or quarrel in the early 90s.

    I said this a few times earlier in this discussion, cheating isn’t neutral. If he had written a program to hack himself to immortality by altering the server code before he was implementor, that would be cheating and we’d done something about it. But nothing of that sort ever happened.

  165. Moroagh wrote:

    If you had learned everything there is to learn, but there is noone to share it with. What was it worth?

    You can’t learn everything. Information is not inherently social. Learning is an individual pursuit. Hypothetical fallacies do not make for effective arguments.

  166. You can’t learn everything. Information is not inherently social. Learning is an individual pursuit. Hypothetical fallacies do not make for effective arguments.

    Basically so far you actually don’t want to argue, you just one-liner and then claim that others don’t provide proper argument against your simple claims.

    And you keep missing the point made.

    On last dissection before I leave this game of zero content:

    * You can’t learn everything. -> trivially true.
    * Information is not inherently social. -> empty statement. This neither comfirms nor denies the possibility that information can be social. No claim was made that information is inherently social so this doesn’t respond to anything.
    * Learning is an individual pursuit. -> this is a personal creed. No evidence or argument provided, no context provided. I’m not sure if you actually care to learn anything yourself or question anything critically that has to do with your own beliefs but if you do, try this as an easy example.
    * Hypothetical fallacies do not make for effective arguments. -> This is kind of funny for someone who hardly makes any arguments at all, at least in our very barren dialogue. And it’s a rerun too!

    Now tell me what I can learn from you that has value? I mean something that isn’t trivial, nor a personal belief nor a flowery but clumsy attempt to invalidate another persons attempt to argue a point?

    We can agree to not argue at all, because idle banter like this certainly isn’t for me. I’d rather learn something.

  167. […] The Ancient Gaming Noob Dennis – Potshot Craig – Voyages in Eternity Michael – MMOGNation Topics: You are all Cheaters Things aren’t simple Videogame Cheating Through the Ages Great Expectations – 2008 2008 – […]

  168. […] You’re all cheaters: Continuation of Raph Koster’s musings on cheating and RMT (real money transfer) in online […]

  169. You may have already discussed these two topics I’m about to bring up. If you have done so, I’d greatly appreciate some links; if not, I hope to hear your thoughts on them.

    1) @ Raph #127:

    Ah, this may merit a post in and of itself. :)

    Feedback is to make people feel good about themselves when they succeed. They also have to know when they fail.

    A lot of games these days are about making you feel good about yourself by not letting you fail. This isn’t always good design.

    As I read your post and the ensuing comments, the thought that kept coming up in my head was, “What does the incredible amount of cheating say about the design of failure?” If learning is to be emphasized as a valuable process in a game, what should designers do (and what are they currently doing) to convey this message?

    For example, if I die in a combat situation, I expect my failure to teach me how to survive better next time… but there are venerable classics that don’t provide even hints at such information. [That’s one big reason I steer clear of 1v1 fighting games: when I’m KO’d, I get no indication as to what kind of move will prevent my future defeat or how to execute that move — two missing links in the informational chain that prevent in-game learning!] Likewise, many game narratives are designed so that upon success there’s the reward of plot advancement and upon defeat… nothing. I’m fine with plot progress being the carrot for players to pursue, but perfunctorily terminating the game upon critical failure, without any sort of closure, sucks. In my opinion, that’s tantamount to reading a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book in which any page that’s a non-preferred terminal state simply reads “THE END”. Not only is it not fun, it’s not worthwhile from a learning / enjoying-the-experience perspective. In some ways, the rate of cheating doesn’t surprise me, because so many games (inadvertently?) construe failure as a waste of time rather than a learning opportunity.

    2) Another topic that came to mind from reading this exchange was how the ultimate reward, for some players (and to a limited extent, I include myself in this category), has shifted from reaching the planned in-game conclusion to deducing the hidden mechanics that govern the game. It’s not enough to finally be in the presence of the Wizard; we are compelled to look for the man behind the curtain.

    Because total understanding is usually accomplished through a community spading effort, rather than each player working independently, this re-definition of victory ends up awfully close to your perception of cheating. Should game designers embrace this re-definition of victory? If so, how? If not, why?

  170. Cyranix wrote:

    What does the incredible amount of cheating say about the design of failure?

    I understand that you were addressing Raph; however, I have to say that people cheat for many different reasons, including due to failure. Failure also doesn’t necessarily correlate to cheating either, so your question is unanswerable given that the underlying rationale is incomplete. I cheat in games, for example, because I’ve mastered the patterns of those games in which I cheat and therefore prefer to exclusively experience the other aspects of those games that I find more enjoyable.

    … we are compelled to look for the man behind the curtain.

    I’d say that’s largely a product of society, a sign of the times. With the debacles of Enron, Arthur Andersen, astroturfing, and even not long ago, The Economist labelled the U.S. VP as “The Man Behind The Curtains,” those of us at least in the West are increasingly concerned with who’s pulling the strings. The fact that resources such as opensecrets.org exists is proof.

    One mistake often made in looking at games and society is the idea that games shape society when, like film and television, the products are actually more reflective of the world in which we live. When we consider that society shapes the games we play, why we consider transparency and security important in “virtual worlds”—loosely defined—isn’t that far of a reach.

  171. There is no such thing as one-way shaping. Reflexivity is the feel of the brakes on the evolution train.

    Then there is Raph’s comment on “My Tiny Life”:

    “…the best book written about what it is like to live immersed in a virtual world.”

    He’s right. Spooky stuff.

    Emotional investment doesn’t equal social commitment. One may consider cheating in a game just another way to experience it, but if one didn’t place so much value on the experience for whatever reason one does, cheating wouldn’t matter. Most confidence games and all psy-ops rely on that fact.

  172. Thanks for your reply, Morgan. I’m definitely a neophyte intruding on a much more expert discussion, but at least my shortcomings here are quite likely to translate into learning experiences. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me” and all that jazz! I appreciate feedback from you, Raph, or anyone else.

    … people cheat for many different reasons, including due to failure. Failure also doesn’t necessarily correlate to cheating either, so your question is unanswerable given that the underlying rationale is incomplete.

    I agree with you in that failure avoidance isn’t the only reason to cheat, but it is a reason to cheat and likely a significant one. Even if it doesn’t paint a complete picture of cheating, might it not provide some modicum of insight to consider its relationship to the design of failure?

    My amateur definition of cheating would be “obviating the need for in-game skills, usu. to increase perceived personal enjoyment.” Wall hacks and god mode effectively sidestep combat skills; walkthroughs negate the importance of info-gathering and learning skills. In your case, you’re getting a better experience by cheating because, as a master player, you’re alleviating the boredom of simple victories. Some of us, however, might be cheating out of frustration or dissatisfaction with their (in)ability to progress. In that situation, it could be argued that the game’s design could be improved by giving players (1) better in-game access to methods of improving their next efforts after failure or (2) a non-preferred reward as an outcome — worthwhile yet not optimal — instead of an out-and-out, waste-of-time failure state.

    (2) is fairly simple to depict; I gave the example of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book to illustrate it — a short paragraph describing a “bad” ending beats “THE END” by a long shot. I like to think of (1) like a number-guessing puzzle in a children’s game:

    Version A: The child has five guesses to select the right number from 1 to 20. After five wrong guesses, the game ends and the child has to restart from a save point.

    Version B-1: The child has five guesses to select the right number from 1 to 20. The child receives feedback in the form of “You’re getting hotter/colder” after the second, third, and fourth guesses. After five wrong guesses, the game ends etc.

    Version B-2: The child has five guesses to select the right number from 1 to 20. The child receives feedback in the form of “You’re getting hotter/colder” after the second, third, and fourth guesses. If the child guesses a number that should have already been logically eliminated, his/her character explicitly notes this fact in order to steer the child back on track. After five wrong guesses, the game ends etc.

    Despite the blind number-guessing puzzle itself not being intrinsically well-designed, the game can still provide a way for the player to learn and adjust in the wake of failure. I think that the child who plays Version A would be much more likely to cheat by going online and finding the answer in a walkthrough than the child who plays Version B. Does this seem like a reasonable analogy to draw, or am I completely off my rocker?

    Oh, and one more unrelated thing, from Raph’s original post:

    There could easily be a poker variant where players do not see their own hands, but do see everyone else’s.

    Blind man’s bluff is a fun (albeit mildly paranoia-inducing) poker variant, in which reading others’ reactions is just as important as the numerical odds!

  173. Len Bullard wrote:

    There is no such thing as one-way shaping.

    All media reflects the nature of society. As that nature changes, so does the reflection.

    Simply because people use games to better understand society, albeit at fundamental levels, does not mean that games shape society. That’s the same argument that people use to blame video games and Marilyn Manson’s music for school shootings. That’s just scapegoating.

    Reflexivity is the feel of the brakes on the evolution train.

    Pink banana! Pink banana! Seriously, Len, I’m not a disciple of Confucious. If I wanted a fortune cookie, I’d go to a Chinese restaurant.

    CyranixSome of us, however, might be cheating out of frustration or dissatisfaction with their (in)ability to progress.

    …and that’s my point. There are many reasons for cheating… too many, in fact, for your question to have a useful, unambiguous answer.

    I don’t disagree with your suggestions on alleviating frustration though, but I wouldn’t attribute those suggestions to lessons from cheating. I’d attribute those suggestions to lessons from frustration.

  174. Len Bullard wrote:

    There is no such thing as one-way shaping.

    All media reflects the nature of society. As that nature changes, so does the reflection.

    Simply because people use games to better understand society, albeit at fundamental levels, does not mean that games shape society. That’s the same argument that people use to blame video games and Marilyn Manson’s music for school shootings. That’s just scapegoating.

    Reflexivity is the feel of the brakes on the evolution train.

    Pink banana! Pink banana! Seriously, Len, I’m not a disciple of Confucious. If I wanted a fortune cookie, I’d go to a Chinese restaurant.

    Cyranix wrote:

    Some of us, however, might be cheating out of frustration or dissatisfaction with their (in)ability to progress.

    …and that’s my point. There are many reasons for cheating… too many, in fact, for your question to have a useful, unambiguous answer.

    I don’t disagree with your suggestions on alleviating frustration though, but I wouldn’t attribute those suggestions to lessons from cheating. I’d attribute those suggestions to lessons from frustration.

  175. […] displayed by the interface in order to give to the player the information he needs and too much.  Ralph Koster also talks about information and how getting information is part of playing a game.  He considers […]

  176. […] Computer game cheaters If you read up on how to do a WOW raid then you’re a cheater (Post a new comment) anfalicious 2008-01-24 04:10 am UTC (link) I wouldn’t even consider RMT […]

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