From using racial slurs against other players, to kill stealing and camp stealing, from bashing someone’s mother, to deliberately training another player or group in order to make them wipe, MMORPGs are filled with examples of toxic behavior. While at one point in time games used to enforce play nice policies, the economics of big business changed all that when companies became more interested in driving a profit than they were in creating a community environment in their games.
The last time I can think of a play nice policy being actively enforced was early EverQuest, circa the Velious expansion. I played on the Morrel Thule server, and the raid guilds of the server took turns on the various dragons and boss mobs in the game. Not that they necessarily wanted to take turns, but they did so because of the simple fact that the GMs were still actively involved in the game at that point, and were actively policing reports of griefing from other players and guilds, and forcing people to play nice together by requiring them to adhere to a calender and take turns on the content.
By the time Luclin came around the company behind the game had changed hands, customer service was no longer interested in settling drama between players, and it quickly descended into free-for-all chaos. Since then, there has been a general decline in any sort of active policing of in game communities, to the point where toxicity is allowed to run rampant in just about every single game you can point to.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with play nice policies, they are typically buried in the Terms of Service and are part of the overall agreement you make prior to playing a game. While some of it is pretty standard stuff (no racism, no pornographic content, etc.), the parts that really matter are the ones related to player behavior in-game. Here’s a link to the old EQ2 PnP, and a more modern example from Zenimax Media Inc., but for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on harassment of other players, and zone disruption.
One of the “given” situations in the old days of EQ1 and EQ2 was camps. If you were the first person to an area, you were generally allowed to claim that camp for a “reasonable” amount of time, say for several hours. If someone else came along and it was a contested area or contested mob, there were two options: let the players who were there first finish up, or share the content.
It sounds like common courtesy, right? If someone is there doing something before you, then you wait for them to finish. The problem was that some player always would consider their “right” to the content to trump the rights of others, leading to camp stealing and kill stealing, to the point where GMs would step in and arbitrate, almost always ruling in favor of the players who were there first.
“The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience.” – Gary Gygax
This led to the establishment of group rotations, and players/groups/guilds being put on a list of “who gets to go next”. Which worked for a long time, until GMs no longer enforced the PnP, and the “we’re the only ones that matter” guilds went straightaway to perma-camping access content to block other guilds from progressing…which led to instancing being created so that developers could ensure progress for all players, or more modern variants like in ESO where pretty much everyone can share credit on mobs if they tag it.
In short, mechanics evolved over time to help weed out many of the issues, so that less time needed to be spent on customer service. Some good, some bad.
I’m probably showing my age, because play nice policies haven’t existed for quite some time, and common courtesy has, for the most part, gone out the window. Allow me to “QQ” for a moment.
One of my favorite two recent examples of this has been during our time on the Agnarr server of EverQuest, where we are currently playing with our gaming community in between our pre-alpha sessions. On one occasion we were in the Eastern Wastes at the giant fort, and a pair of high-level necromancers proceeded to come into the camp and start killing off the mobs without bothering to ask if it was okay for them to do so, despite the fact that we were very visibly camped at the front gate and actively engaged in clearing the camp (corpses everywhere; had been there for a couple of hours).
On the second occasion, we were at the Rygorr Fort in the same zone, and a similar situation occurred. In both scenarios we sent a tell to the individuals and politely reminded them that these areas were currently being camped, and if they didn’t mind /picking over to a different instance of the zone. Because you can totally choose another instance of a zone in many cases, and if not, well…common courtesy, right? There’s a huge game out there with tons of content to play through and if someone is currently camped at the area where you had planned to go, you simply find something else to do. Right?
In both cases, the “PG” version of their reply was “Camps don’t exist in the modern era. Deal with it.”
If you are the type of player who thinks that the above scenario is okay (in a PvE game) and that all content should be a free for all in open world (non instanced) settings, then you are part of the reason why play nice policies existed in the first place, and why toxicity exists in modern-day MMORPGs. In the old days, players respected camps and the other people playing the game alongside them. If they didn’t, they would quickly find their name or their guild name would be posted on the forums and they would be blacklisted as someone to avoid.
Reputation used to mean something, and if you were an idiot the server would find out about it and treat you accordingly. And if you were too much of an idiot, the GMs would step in and ask you to politely toe the line. And if you couldn’t, or you wouldn’t, then you would face disciplinary actions, all the way up to a permanent ban.
Over on MMORPG.com, someone brought up the concept of roleplaying, and how can you police players who are “roleplaying” bad guys?
Fairly simply. Roleplaying for fun (in a tavern setting, using speech patterns in /say, and so on) with the consent of the other players around you is one thing. Being disruptive of another person/group/guild by doing things like kill stealing or camp stealing (oh but my character is EVIL so that’s what he would do /har har har) would be a bannable offense.
We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us in terms of mechanics to help solve some of the issues (listen to the audio version below for some examples of things we are working on to eliminate camps, for example, and guarantee progression on quest mobs), but the at the end of the day it still comes down to players needing to play nice alongside others.
We have always said that our game is a cooperative, team-based environment. Players will be expected to play nice with each other, respect camps, and generally “get along” and treat each other with respect. Toxicity will not be accepted in any form, and we will absolutely be holding players to a certain standard of general niceness when it comes to playing alongside their fellow gamers. It’s not just about racial slurs or mom jokes; it’s about players who go out of their way to be idiots and jerks just because they think they can get away with it because they sit behind a computer screen with anonymity.
Our sandbox is for everyone, not just the “cool kids”, or the bullies. Instances of players being toxic to others will be dealt with swiftly; first with a warning, then with a temporary ban, and then with a permanent ban.