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Spare the Rod, Spoil the Game – with Lots of Graphics!

November 8, 2012

Dear Reader,

In continuing support for Navi’s Anti-Asshat week, which to be clear is not against wearing a fedora on your posterior but against jerks, I thought we’d take a look at the relationship between the players in the game of bullying.  To be fair, I’m making all this up, but the more I’m thinking about it, the better it sounds.

Here’s an ugly Stubborn graphic for you.

This shows the most basic bullying relationship.  The bully attacks the victim for something from the audience – it could be popularity, support, attention, or fear – while the victim seeks help from the authority, who (should) comes down on the bully.  This diagram is, of course, the simplest possibility; there are times the victim does not seek help or rare occasions when bullying is done totally in private or when the audience goes to the authority as a proxy for the victim.  However, those are rare situations and not really related to MMO play; in an MMO, there’s virtually always an audience, even if the victim is not aware of it.  In Gen’s situation, it’s clear the jerk’s guild was having a good time about it, even if she wasn’t privy to that.

In this diagram, the audience is a passive entity.  It is affected, but affects nothing.  Blizzard, of course, allows players to report, but since it’s hidden how Blizzard reacts, the diagram looks a little more like this.

Here, the audience is supposedly more empowered to act by putting in an appeal to the authority using the “report” feature.  However, since the authority’s responses are secret, all the audience can observe is the effect of the bully on the victim.  Human beings are surprisingly simple creatures.  If something is out of sight, it’s often out of mind.  If the audience believes they have no efficacy in a situation, no ability to change things, then they won’t try (and often will become very dissatisfied with their position, whether it be work or a LFD group).  You’ll note too that there’s no visible arrow going into the bully; everything is output or unrelated.  That gives the bully all the power.

Invisible lines of justice do this.  Punishment needs to be clear and visible for it to be effective.  Take my favorite infographic to include, the League of Legends Tribunal infographic.

Look how visible this is, how motivating.  It’s a story about efficiency of a system and efficacy of the player.  It’s a light against the darkness of the constant complaints about – or worse, acceptance of – the horrible gaming community.  Or take what ArenaNet did, as reported to me by Siha.  They went to Reddit, the Mos Eisley of the Internet (take that as you will), and explained their decision to ban players who were behaving in racist or otherwise offensive manners.  Both of these teams made their punishment public without breaking any privacy standards.  In those cases, the bully square might like more like this.


Here, the authority’s response is large and visible.  It empowers the audience to speak out against the bully, because they know that the authority backs their standards of acceptability.  Here, there’s as much input going to the bully as output.  Here, the victim’s being defended on two sides instead of facing the bully apparently alone.  This is the ideal outcome of a bully situation, though of course the true ideal is that bullying stops.  The audience rejects the bullies behavior, the victim and the audience report it to the authority, and the authority visibly punishes the bully.  This diagram of relationships is what we should strive for during anti-asshat week.  These expectations are what we should communicate to the devs on a regular basis.  This should be the standard, not a penalty failcano of opportunity for repeated abuse.



Stubborn (and graphic)



15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2012 8:22 am

    On the level of generalized punishment and justice I agree with you. The specific problem is in applying this to WoW, as you seem to acknowledge. How do you suggest we modify a relationship in which our only options are to quit or report to GMs who do not seem to expend any effort in community policing? The only thing I have is utterly fanciful – get some MMO fairy-godparents to buy enough Activision Blizzard stock to position the board.

    And to avoid written word misunderstanding: I want to move Blizzard toward a more responsible position but have no idea on how to make it happen.

    • November 8, 2012 4:50 pm

      Start a Kickstarter:
      Donation goal: 1 billion dollars (or however much Blizz is worth now).

      You’re right, though; there’s only a limited amount anyone can do, but just getting everyone to acknowledge the problem and work to correct can make a lot of small improvements build up to a larger one. The apathy – modeled by the devs and replicated by too many players – is what really kills me.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. kaleedity permalink*
    November 8, 2012 11:46 am

    I love LoL’s tribunal system, and it’s one of the reasons why that game is so successful with pulling in e-sports viewers. You give players a reason to play on an even, competitive field, and you’ve given them a reason to watch others on it.

    Blizzard’s situation is more complex. While WoW could be considered competitive on many levels, it isn’t at its core. To do the overwhelming majority of any given traditonal MMORPG’s content, you do not need to compete with anything other than passing a one-size-fits-all encounter bar. Competition does a few things; it forces you to scrutinize your allies, it forces some kind of camaraderie, and to an extent it weeds out less effective players. Those bits are not all positive; scrutinizing your team mates can lead to some godawful situations, many people don’t want to work with each other for stupid and ignorant reasons, and weeding out “less effective players” leads to the kind of problems that the Fighting Game or Starcraft communities face nowadays. However, if you can entice players to respect each other and play well at different skill levels, you’ll have a success story like LoL (a game, ironically, I can’t stand to play, but that’s due to something less tangible).

    That’s the easy problem. The larger problem is that you have paying customers, and a lot more than you can properly handle. Blizzard is large, but their organization is tiny compared to their workload. Merely investigating repeated, petty, superfluous reports already limits their moderating potential to its current state. Not only that, but the nature of asshat players is different in a persistent game like WoW. In single-instance games like LoL, you have time to chat with players prior to a match — before you’ve seen action — and afterwards your chat is going to be detrimental to your prowess unless you confine it to your respawn time. Subsequent chat responses are hampered by the action, and you might be able to avoid playing with specific players in later games. That is, there’s less of an audience for the bullies to operate alongside. In WoW, you can take a five minute break after every encounter to berate your fellow allies, and in guilds the berating can go on for months at a time. More opinions are going to be out festering in the open, and a lot of peoples’ opinions are stupid and report-worthy.

    League of Legends and Guild Wars are free to play, and while players can generate bits that can be bought and sold for actual cash, I don’t think there’s a way they can compete with how much gold has been sold in WoW. That’s another problem; Blizzard is already banning thousands of accounts for behavior deemed illegal in-game. There are enough issues handling the obvious ban-able offenses without even considering the “soft” reports against generally bad behavior. Not only that, you’d have to explain why you’re removing the most important source of income for your game due to some player’s opinion each time it happens. Basically, I don’t think it’s possible to handle popular subscription-based game authority economically.

    Minor addendum. You’d need a lower tier of Mos Eisley for the -chan anonymous boards. I don’t imply that reddit isn’t worthy of the name.

    • November 8, 2012 5:00 pm

      Well, there were good people in Mos Eisley, too – that jazz band seemed like upstanding individuals, and the dude whose arm got cut off was probably a helpful fellow who noticed Luke had dropped a few sand quid (I had to go Brit because sand dollars are something else! PLus it’s obvious Lucas wishes he was British.) out of his pocket…

      Seriously, though, I think the main problem is your last real point: when a company ties its income to keeping around as many people as possible, it makes itself vulnerable to the whims of the most outsider elements of society. At some level, it’s like the old saying, “If you owe the back 100,000 bucks, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank 100,000,000,000 bucks, you own the bank. WoW simply can’t threaten to cut off too many subscriptions without having to answer to its shareholders, so the jerks get a VERY wide berth to operate in – hence the penalty failcano.

      Following that logically, as you pointed out, games that have a different payment model can be harsher on jerks. If you’ve got your box price or are F2P, then you can do basically whatever you want to the players without risking the bottom line.

      Once again, business presents wonderful opportunities while simultaneously ruining them.

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • Owledge permalink
      November 18, 2012 12:34 pm

      “If you owe the back 100,000 bucks, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank 100,000,000,000 bucks, you own the bank.”

      As a sidenote: This is a bad allegory, and I’m not surprised it’s an old saying. Few people know that banks make money out of thin air, basically just through credit, which is newly created debt. Thus, a bank is very happy if customers owe them insane amounts of money as long as they eventually get it back – in the form of interest, material goods confiscation and/or subservience. (Subservience means that if a bank’s pyramid scheme is revealed due to a crash situation, they usually own governments to a sufficient degree to get a bailout. This is a scam, too, since a government doesn’t HAVE to play this game, but can just print its own money without giving away the authority to do so. But governments are people, and people can be fooled and tempted with power, made to participate in the scam, which makes it a pyramid scheme.)

    • November 19, 2012 11:07 am

      AIG would disagree. The caveat is precisely what you said in your response, that “They eventually get it back.” If by holding it hostage you create a situation wherein the bank is somehow “under your control,” then you own the bank.

      I believe on a literal level that concept is that if you owe the bank more than its worth, then your defaulting on your loan would destroy the bank. Look at the housing crisis, where banks were using unreliable mortgages as collateral worth many times the actual house’s worth. In the end, the homeowners as a group owned the bank; they didn’t know it and couldn’t organize anyway, but that’s how the metaphor is meant.

      China’s “owning” America is a similar situation. Some people fear that the Chinese will eventually cripple us by calling in our debts to them, but we owe so much to them that doing so would destroy their economy as well. The bank doesn’t own us; we own the bank – though really it’s a situation of mutually assured economic destruction, which isn’t the case in the reduced individual in the initial metaphor, so again similar but not perfect.

      So really, I don’t think we’re disagreeing, just writing it differently. Thanks for the comment!

  3. November 8, 2012 3:47 pm

    Do you actually play LoL? I don’t; I’m just genuinely curious, because for all the praise I’ve seen for their tribunal system… every time I see people talk about the LoL community they still say it’s horrible. So maybe it’s not quite such a miracle solution? Or else the game might be suffering from having built up too much of a bad rep in the past.

    • November 8, 2012 4:52 pm

      I have, on and off for a while now. Mostly off, as it’s probably 5th on a list of 6 games that I like to fool around with, but my most recent stint was prior to GW2. My first time I had a bit of a jerk situation, but that was a while ago. I went back to give it another try and found very little problems; I think I experienced my usual bad luck in my first match. After that, people I asked for suggestions or patience were pretty helpful – or at least silent rather than belligerent, so I racked up 8 or 9 summoner levels. That’s nothing, of course, probably akin to 20 or 30 WoW levels, but still, it’s a sample of behavior, if a small one.

  4. November 8, 2012 4:51 pm

    What an intelligent and cogent post Stubborn – I wish I’d had the presence of mind to present something like this in my original post! As you may have seen in the comments, one of the ‘asshats’ who was one of the main aggressors responded a number of times, saying I brought the situation on myself.

    (A number of other comments were also made under different usernames with the same IP address along the lines of ‘You people are so naive – Genowen is the worst offender of all and has been doing this for years’ etc etc that didn’t make it to the public forum because I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of a response to what is a blatant lie – why would I put myself out there publicly if I was guilty of the same behaviour?)

    They even went to the point of saying,

    “I can say this because I was one of the people that ‘harrassed’ Genowen and I’m a part of that guild. Do I regret it? no. Do I feel like I was out of line? no. Did her actions make any difference? no. Does her taking the matter to Blizzard affect me or anyone else in the guild? no.

    Blizzard must not really be that concerned otherwise they would have taken further action by now. This gives the impression that it isn’t really a big deal..

    Obviously, Blizzard have bigger things to deal with than someone who feels insulted over what was said to her.”

    It’s this kind of response that demonstrates exactly what you’re saying here – that ‘unseen’ responses empower the bully, and take any sense of ‘justice’ away from the targeted player.

    I am truly hoping that Blizzard are just snowed under at the moment (as was mentioned in their email responses to me), and that just when these cretins think they’ve gotten away with it, they get slapped with the ban hammer. Unfortunately, I think sub numbers are more important to them at this point than weeding out bad players.

    Perhaps we need to look beyond the ‘traditional’ methods of dealing with this kind of behaviour, and consider some type of petition to Blizzard to introduce a SPECIFIC ‘report harassment’ feature into their increasingly automated CS structure. Sadly, I think this would just increase their workload further as these same asshats would just report people all day for kicking them, ignoring them, reporting them to their guild masters etc, and genuine reports would take much longer to be resolved.

    • November 8, 2012 5:08 pm

      That’s the thing about LoL’s tribunal system. A lot of people say it couldn’t work in WoW, but I disagree. Essentially, players above a certain bar – in LoL it’s level, but it takes a LOT longer to level there than WoW, so it might be sub time, achievement points, or something of the like that takes time and dedication to earn – are allowed to create special tickets that are immediately elevated in importance and taken more seriously. This doesn’t increase the dev’s workload; quite the opposite, in fact. The info in that graphic from LoL indicates just how egregious the real offenders are – the average number of tickets SKYROCKETS with the biggest jerks.

      Incidentally, if you haven’t already, I’d send that info to Blizz, too, just to keep bothering them. Sometimes the only way to get what you want is to be the squeaky wheel. It may not feel right, and it may be a bit of a pain in the butt, but sometimes that’s what it takes to ensure justice is served, especially with big, bureaucratic entities like corporations – or governmental departments. When I moved to NY, I had trouble getting my certificate, and the state was dragging its feet. I finally got a response – which rejected my perfectly-valid credentials. I wrote a VERY terse letter and waited. Sure enough, someone of greater authority – and thus, likely, less actual work took a look at my stuff and accepted it. That may be what it takes with Blizz; keep going up the ladder until you get someone who gives a damn.

      I am really, really sorry this happens to anyone, and I hope that if nothing else, the blog posts that have been spawned as a result of your story have made it less upsetting- though nothing can ever make bullying “worth it.”

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. November 8, 2012 6:25 pm


    Great article. It really describes well what’s going on with online gaming communities and self-policing, using tools given by the game developers.

    Still, is it a wonder that the best examples of punishment (i.e., quick responses and actual bannings) come from games that don’t have subscription fees? (e.g., Guild Wars 2 and League of Legends)

    I have to maintain that subscription games will lag behind non-subscription games in doling out punishment because these games rely on the subscription fees for their revenue, and the last thing companies want to do is cut their own revenue. It’s not until they start data mining why people are leaving the game and that the loss in subscriptions due to people leaving is greater than the loss in subscriptions due to banning that those companies are likely to really start banning in great numbers, but by then, it’s probably too late.

    It does make me want to see if the games people always mention for quick discipline (specifically Guild Wars and League of Legends) are as idyllic as people seem to feel these measure make them out to be.

    All in all, though, great analysis, Stubborn.

    My 2 yen,


  6. November 9, 2012 6:48 am

    Gosh that LoL tribunal system is really impressive. This is a great post Stubborn on bullying and the graphics in this post are really awesome. I really hope that Blizz introduces more anti harrassment features like Gen suggested, and make our game a bully free place where we can all have fun.

    Great post Stubborn 🙂 And thank you for supporting antiasshat week!


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