The Griefer With The Coin Bag

Got back from GDC week and still trying to get back into the swing of things… and here comes a funny story straight from GDC! Go ahead and read it, it’s pretty funny.

(Original story) (Cached version because it’s very popular and is hammering their server)

You didn’t read it, did you. Sigh. Fine, I’ll paraphrase a bit. Ryan from Untold Entertainment went to one of those dumb GDC “rant sessions” where you hear industry bigwigs rant for a while and then leave. (You usually don’t even get to comment back to them: it’s worse than even a blog! And you pay a lot for the privilege! Ugh.)

But anyway, as people shuffled in, they were given a coin. A projector slide explained:

The person who collected the most coins from the other players in the room by the halfway point of the session would be invited to the front to do a “guest rant” on social games.

So what did Ryan do? He went back to the entrance, lied to the volunteer giving out coins, and took the entire coin bag. Most people didn’t even get coins, and had no idea what the overhead projector was talking about.

So when the voting was tallied, he was the winner… by, uh, a very large margin. The panel vetoed his win. (But the moderator let him do a mini-rant later anyway, which he overstepped the bounds of also.)

It’s a funny story, and I’m leaving out the funniest bits, so if you haven’t read it, you won’t understand why I was laughing at the end of it. When (top-tier indie developer) Evan Miller commented that the panel should be ashamed of disallowing his win, I nodded along.

But the next day I read it again, and realized I’d been duped by his funny writing into not seeing the full picture. Ryan presented his story as one of sticking it to the big guys, breaking the rules that the industry giants arbitrarily made. It’s a good David and Goliath story. But it’s a terrible story to read much into.

Griefers are Griefers

Ryan was a griefer. The definition of a griefer is someone who keeps a significant number of other people from enjoying your game, and does so intentionally. Griefers are griefers regardless of whether they are “playing within the rules” or not. When you have a griefer, you have to take stock of your game: is your game designed for griefers?

Sometimes it is. EVE is a griefing hellhole whose other fun mechanics cannot redeem it. (Yes, that’s just my opinion. But guys, I sure would like to play a non-hellhole space-trading game like we had on BBSes… won’t somebody make that MMO?)

Even World of Warcraft had features that were intentionally designed to let you grief others. (Killing NPCs of other factions.) But this is widely seen as a mistake by the players I game with — and you can tell even WoW is backing away from the design in the newer expansions.

In general, if your game is about griefing, then your game is full of adolescents (and mental adolescents) who are happy to harm others in order to be clever, funny, or sadistic. There’s an audience for that. But sadly, griefers aren’t satisfied to stay in those sorts of games: the competition is too high. Griefers need suckers, because griefing other griefers is hard. So griefers show up everywhere. As a developer, they are a significant threat to your game’s lifespan. Unless your game is designed specifically for griefing (in which case, ugh!), you need to wipe them out.

Don’t Let Griefers Hide Behind Rules

Griefers mustn’t be allowed to profit from their behavior, or they’ll multiply. It doesn’t matter if they found a loophole in your game’s rules or not: if they are intentionally ruining the game for others, and they broke an implicit rule that your target audience should already know, then kick them out.

Don’t make the newb mistake of thinking you can say “ha ha, very cute, never do that again.” That never works. Even if the original person doesn’t do it again, others will. And you’ve set a precedent. You’re just making things worse by letting even one obvious manipulation of your game go by.

Just kick them out and never look back. It sounds draconian, because it is: it is also the only policy that works. You are a small team (at best) — your chances of writing a perfect set of rules for your game are pretty much nil, especially when a vast number of people are actively looking for loopholes. So unless you fancy being a lawyer instead of a game developer (or if you’re running money-based games where the other guy might be a lawyer), you simply have to kick the people out when they are obviously abusing the spirit of the game.

And not just games: any social system. These days I adamantly refuse to put up long lists of exact rules for forums or chatrooms or whatever. “Thou shalt not call people names or spit on them or make them feel uncomfortable or…” for chrissakes, if I have to spell this stuff out to you, I know you’re immature and I don’t want you around. And the only thing that happens if I list all those rules? People revel in finding where I failed to specify things exactly. “I said he should take the sticks out of his mangina. That’s not on the swear list and it’s not ‘making fun of gays’ because I was making fun of hermaphrodites, which are not listed in the rules! You can’t punish me!” Augh! Get out of here, griefer! (Admittedly, I’ve successfully avoided ever making or running games for 13 year old boys. Some audiences are going to be more miserable than others.)

Obvious versus Not-So-Obvious Rules

On the FGL forums, the discussion of this story boiled down to the key distinction of whether Ryan broke the “rules” or broke the “obvious social conventions” of the game. Most people said that he didn’t break the rules. (Although personally I think he did: the rules were to get as many coins as possible from other players; he didn’t do this. The coin-giver was not a player.) But for the sake of argument, let’s say he didn’t break the rules: he just broke the implicit conventions that anybody at the conference would have made.

But the thing is, you shouldn’t have to list every possible social norm that your game rules operate under. If you’re a big company, your lawyers will handle the key ones. Trust me, though: you do not want lawyers writing all the rules for your game. Players don’t want this, either. They just want to be asshats and get away with it.

But sometimes you do need to write out some rules. If your game has a lot of PvP, then it can be confusing what “griefing” is, exactly, and you’ll need to give some guidelines. The worst case scenario is when players who aren’t griefing are afraid of doing anything new because they don’t understand what is bannable or not. But in practice, this is not a hard line to find. (Normally when it seems like a gray area, it’s because the live team is intentionally muddying the line to keep people scared. I don’t think that’s a good long-term policy.) If your target demographic really won’t understand the rules you want them to abide by, you have to give them guidelines.

I also want to distinguish between banning “griefers” and banning people who cheat in a non-griefing way. Personally I’m much more lenient on the latter, because they don’t make other people’s experience miserable. You can patch things up, spank the player if they were obviously being jerks, and go on with life. I don’t want to give the impression that I think all things should be bannable offenses. Just the ones that affect other players significantly.

They’re Always There

No matter what sort of game it is, there’s always rules lawyers. There’s always griefers. These groups often overlap, and cause much misery. So Ryan’s behavior is a very useful lesson to developers: you will have these sorts of players and they will abuse your system and they will act holier-than-thou when you ban their ass, and lots of people will take their side because “he didn’t break the rules!”

That doesn’t mean you should let him get away with it: you just have to take the PR hit for banning him. It’s the less-expensive evil.

Indies are Bad Seeds?

In this story, the “social game” was pretty un-fun. (A popularity contest among nerdy game developers? Oh boy oh boy, sign me up!) So it can be hard to see Ryan’s activity as wrong. But the fact is he committed several misdemeanor crimes. If he’d stolen, say, coins for an arcade game, or something else the audience valued even a little bit, there would be a lot less sympathy for him. But in this case, yeah, who cares, stupid game, funny story. (Is it even griefing if the people you grief didn’t know they were playing the game?)

I think his behavior is eminently “indie”, and I don’t begrudge him being a jerk in order to try to get ahead in a game with stakes this low. But I also don’t begrudge the panel for disallowing his behavior.

In the end, I don’t care about the game per se, I’m just wary of Ryan’s takeaway lesson, which is “in short: break the rules, get the coins.”

Ryan is saying that as a small developer, you need to break existing conventions in order to make room for yourself: a lot of those conventions are there to make it harder for you to succeed. I completely agree with that. But if the end result means that everybody has to be a griefer, we’re setting ourselves up for an even worse industry than we have now: when everybody griefs, nobody wins.

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41 Responses to The Griefer With The Coin Bag

  1. lifedeathsoul says:

    You Sir, are a champion of Morals and fun. I cannot like this post enough. IMHO rules are created for a reason, and if you break them, then you most definitely should not be allowed to play in the game.

  2. Scott Jennings says:

    I am entirely too amused that the middle-aged woman on the guild’s vent server, once again, would have taken all the coins had it not been for those filthy griefers.

  3. Matt says:

    “The definition of a griefer is someone who keeps a significant number of other people from enjoying your game, and does so intentionally.”

    Then he’s not a griefer, even under your own definition! He kept Jane McGonigal from enjoying the game. On the flip side, he allowed tens of thousands of people– many who weren’t even at GDC– to enjoy the game. He’s like a reverse-griefer. A Robin Hood of griefers.

    “But the fact is he committed several misdemeanor crimes.”

    Is that a fact? Just a question of legal geekery at this point, but did he actually deprive the owner of property? He took it under false pretenses, but with the purposes of returning it to its owner. It’s not clear to me, on an initial reading of CPC 484, whether that would count as theft. I’m sure there are reams of precedent on this sort of thing, though.

  4. Ben says:

    Thanks for pointing out the original story, it was a very entertaining read. And I have been reading your blog regularly ever since I found it, so please don’t take this the wrong way.

    But your judgement on this issue actually made me kind of mad, and I could barely finish reading your blog post. Despite all of your knowledge and experience (which I highly respect), you seem to be completely blind to a whole world of game design and theory: that of competitive gaming.

    Competitive gaming can be aptly summed up by paraphrasing a line from this very article: “Griefers griefing griefers.” But when everyone does it, it isn’t exactly griefing anymore. It’s called Playing to Win, and it can be very strategic, thought-provoking and fun. And friendly, social, and positive, as long as you aren’t playing with scrubs (or “suckers,” to use your terms).

    The game they played was competitive (zero-sum). So he did exactly what he should’ve done, and furthermore, if you are a game developer, he did exactly what your players will constantly be trying to do in order to be more successful at your game, no matter what kind of game it is. In competitive games, that sort of creativity is rewarded. It’s too bad that other types of games see it as harmful and try to stamp it out.

    Normally I would link to David Sirlin, but this time let me leave this link instead:

  5. Cymbaline says:

    I’m basically copying and pasting what I wrote on Scott’s site (BrokenToys), as I have not enough creativity to pen two posts on the same thing.

    Eric, I find your take on the issue rather distasteful, really.

    What you seem not to realize, even in the slightest, is that rules aren’t there just for users, they’re also there for the administrators. Yes, the rules will tell users what they can’t do, and they will lead to rules lawyers who look for loopholes, but they also tell the administrators what they can and can’t do. I mean, have you ever taken any sort of civics course? Do you know why we have laws? Heard of habeas corpus? The Manga Carta? Laws are about telling people what they can’t do, yes, but they’re as much, if not more, about telling the government what it can’t do. E.g. hold you indefinitely without charging you with a crime. I should think this is obvious.

    You says that you don’t make rules on your forum because if people need them, they’re immature and you don’t want them around. Well, if you don’t make rules and just have the admins ban the people they don’t want around, you’re going end up banning Bush supporters, Obama supporters, pro-life activists, pro-choice activists, lawyers, salesman, people with funny sounding last names, and people that wear hats on Sundays. If you don’t think that administrators will ban due to emotional reaction if given the chance, you are kidding yourself. If you don’t have rules in place that state when someone is worthy of a ban, admins will ban when they feel like it. The chances of having a group of admins that only ban when they should is equivalent to the chance of having a benevolent dictator who never abuses his power.

    Personally, I am of the opinion that if you setup a system that allowed itself to be broken like this one was, it was your fault. Take your lumps, give the guy his rant, and make damn sure that you tell the guy handing out coins next year that he’s not to give the bag to anyone save the panel head.

    So too it goes with online games.

  6. lifedeathsoul says:

    @Ben: Yes Sir, I would agree with you on your points as well.. but I would raise some issues with it. Please don’t take it offensively though. From the Ryan’s post he did talk smack with Jane Mcgonigall about winning the ‘Game’. I’m not sure what the culture in the states is like, but in Asia we try not to do that. “Giving the guy some face” is what we term it here, which basically amounts to giving your opponents a little respect. Isn’t talking smack something akin to dumbing your opponents down? Which kinda goes again it being a friendly competition. Couldn’t he have done it the same way as her? by using the same sets of rules? I would reckon if he did it the same way as her, he would have gotten much more respect from the Audience. Don’t get me wrong, I like friendly competition as much as the next PvPer, but I do draw the line at talking smack to my opponents, preferring to let my actions do the talking.

    @Cymbaline: Yes I totally agree with you. Rules have to be followed. Administrators do need to use the rules as well as a guideline. Extreme force being exercised on minor misdemeanors reinforce the strict actions. A good example of administrators enforcing rules would actually be Team Liquid. Though I would say this much, being a little bit erratic helps in controlling the mob as well. If your actions are can’t be followed, the people in the mob will err on the side of caution and stick to performing safer acts in order to remain in the community. This is my own personal opinion though. With clear cut rules, people would tend to try to push the limits.

  7. I find it hard to agree that what Ryan did is on par with griefing. Maybe I’ve just had to deal with more severe griefers on a hard-core PvP game than others have.

    I guess I see it more from a business point of view: the rules were stacked against him so he decided to “game the system”. It’s the same thing an independent game developer has to do in order to get press attention. The “obvious social rules” for marketing is that you make a game then spend a lot of money to promote it in industry mouthpieces. But, an indie can’t do that, so we often have to go against those rules and create a reason for attention beyond the relative quality of the game.

    From a development point of view, your article reads like a “you’re playing my beautiful game wrong!” rant. And, as Matt points out, the only person that Ryan possibly disrupted was Jane McGonigal, and she got her rant in anyway. Plus, given how many introverts are in game development, Ryan might have actually improved the experience for a lot of the audience members by not having to deal with others trying to gather coins.

    Anyway, griefers do need to be smacked down hard and fast, but I don’t think this is quite the same.

  8. Nathan says:

    Bravo on a great article. I hate when people break the spirit of a game and hide behind the flaccid excuse that the rules were not explicit enough. He knew what he was doing was wrong, and wrecked the game for lots of other audience members.

  9. Eric says:

    @Ben: it is never okay to break a game out of its context. It simply isn’t. The sort of cyber-stalking and account hackery that EVE encourages should never be a “legitimate” part of a game. If you can do it within the context of the game, you could argue about “playing to win” for some audiences.

    Some games have an exceptionally broad context — the game Diplomacy is one such game. But even in Diplomacy you can’t just punch the guy who owns the game box in the face, knock him out before everybody else even knows they’re playing, and call yourself the winner. That’s an absurd “playing to win” argument.

  10. Eric says:

    @Cymbaline: it may make you happy (or sad, I dunno) to learn that you can hire people to moderate forums, and give them very simple instructions such as “keep the conversation clean and friendly”, and these hired people can do that job without resorting to banning people who post on Sundays or who hate Obama. Neat, huh?

    Plus, if you’ve ever run a forum, you’ll know that almost nobody reads those rules anyway, unless they are trying to subvert them or are trying to find a way to argue that their ban is inappropriate. Which is why most forums these days add a blanket “anything the moderator says, goes!” line at the end, completely obviating the rules in the first place.

    More generally, please don’t bring extremes of real-world law arguments to a game or mini-social (forum, chatroom) context: these are always subsets of reality and reality’s implicit rules fill in the void. That’s the point of the post.

    Arguing that “the rules didn’t SAY you can’t BURN THE GAME BOARD, SO I WIN!” doesn’t ever hold water — it’s not an argument so much as a mental disturbance. If you break the game’s context, you are a cheater and you lose.

    This is a basic concept of what it means to play a game: games have rules and if you break them you are a cheater. Many of the rules are implicit (don’t burn the game board, don’t kill the other players in order to win, don’t…). If you can’t figure out what the implicit rules are (based on societal norms for the situation you’re in) while 99.9% of the other players can, tough break for you friend, because you’re kicked out.

    I’m not discussing law school, I’m talking about a game. People who can’t get contexts as broadly different as that… well, they aren’t invited to play again, that’s for sure. And if the person who has the problem with breaking context is the guy who is running the game? Well, traditionally the gamers vote with their feet. Civics lesson needn’t ever enter the picture.

  11. Cymbaline says:

    @Cymbaline: it may make you happy (or sad, I dunno) to learn that you can hire people to moderate forums, and give them very simple instructions such as “keep the conversation clean and friendly”, and these hired people can do that job without resorting to banning people who post on Sundays or who hate Obama. Neat, huh?

    Uh, is this a serious reply? I mean, are you being serious? Have you ever actually been to a forum before? I got the link to this site from Scott’s site, I’m not sure if you read his or not (I know some of the commenters here do). If you do not, I would be happy to link to you the dozens of posts from his site regarding forum administrators given general instructions such as the ones you mention who eventually start banning people willy nilly. Though really, it’s not willy nilly – they’ll tell you with a straight face that they ban Obama supporters and people who post on Sundays in order to “keep the conversation clean and friendly”. Though they won’t tell you that they “ban Obama supporters and people who post on Sundays”, they’ll tell you they ban “disruptive trolls” or something like that. Been there, done that, seen it with my own eyes, even been guilty of it a few times, I’m sure.

    I mean, this phenomenon is basically what Lum the Mad (the site) was founded on: EQ developers banning people for entering an area they were supposed to – despite the lack of a virtual “No Trespassing” sign – EQ developers banning guilds for beating a boss they weren’t supposed to be able to, EQ developers… well, you get the picture. If you are really naively innocent enough to think that a few general guidelines will result in a utopia of mods who don’t ever abuse their power, well, I have a bridge to sell you. And a few links I can post, too.

    Not trying to be a dick, or anything, but really, as I said, any time you have authority and those presided over, you get the same dynamic, whether it’s forums, online games, or laws. If there are not rules, the people with authority will not remain benevolent, perfect beings in all situations at all times. Rules help.

    Also, please don’t bring extremes of logic to a game context: games are almost always subsets of reality and reality’s implicit rules fill in the void.

    Reality has no implicit rules, other than those of physics and thermodynamics and so on.

    Perhaps you mean social norms and all of that, but, again – as was the point of Ryan’s rant – social norms usually serve to keep those currently in power and control perpetually in power and control. Sometimes there is a great value in breaking them. It’s all over history, both grand and small.

    Sure, they discourage griefers and trolls, but they’re not things of pure light and right.

    This isn’t law school, it’s a game, and if you can’t tell the difference, you aren’t invited to play again, that’s for sure.

    That’s exactly what I’m saying. Next time they have their rant party at the GDC, don’t invite Ryan from Untold Entertainment.

  12. Brad says:

    Did I just learn the wrong things from watching my niece and nephew play?

    One of the key elements that people seem to forget about playing games with actual live people is that THE RULES ARE NEGOTIABLE. And on top of that, whether or not the rules are negotiable is negotiable. It’s true for both game play and for real life. See, for instance, the 60′s and 70′s.

    The attendees were playing a game. One of the players disliked the rules, and decided to play a different game. The controversy arises because the panel members wanted a non-negotiable game, and at least one of their players disagreed.

    So as a game played as Indie’s vs. Big Buys with Games, obviously the Indie player wants to re-negotiate the game rules, and the BBwG players don’t. And if you’re running a game as a developer and think you know what the game play should be like, you don’t want the players trying to renegotiate, either.

    But it’s not going to stop people from trying if they think they can either have more fun playing their own game, or get an advantage while still playing yours. Game play behavior doesn’t change just because it’s an electronic game.

  13. Eric says:

    @Cymbaline: Yep, serious reply! I have in fact run forums, and even run several of them right now. They all periodically have drama that needs to be dealt with, but when using mature paid moderators, “people getting banned for liking Obama” is below “people not figuring out how to reset their password” on the list of serious problems. It’s… just not on the list.

    I’ve posted various times about forums and their dangers, and I’m not making light of them: moderators posting hot, mods going on power trips. But your argument that “without explicit rules, your mods will go insane and ban everybody they don’t like”? Yeeeeaaah, guess what doesn’t keep mods from going on power trips? Little sheets of rules! Guess what does work a whole lot better in my experience? The threat of stopping getting a good wage.

    Seriously, among the many problems a professional forum has, “power-mad moderators” is a very easy problem to handle and its danger certainly doesn’t justify desperately trying to encode all of human existence into a sticky post. I do get that volunteer-driven forums have a lot more issues with this. (Mine do, too. But you get what you [don't] pay for.)

    I feel like you didn’t actually read my blog post before commenting, because your arguments gloss over the majority of my post as if I hadn’t written it. Let me quote myself, then:

    “But sometimes you do need to write out some rules.” [Whenever people aren't going to be able to figure them out from context.]

    If your forum or whatever has unusual rules, of course you need to make people aware of them. But if “keep it rated G and friendly” is going to be a source of contention, you will never be able to write a ruleset that truly encompasses the problem. Even the trillions of pages of law don’t do it very well. Either people get it from societal context, or they don’t, and have to leave. (Or, more often, are just being obtuse to grief others. And have to leave.)

    “Normally when it seems like a gray area [where you can get in trouble for unspecified crimes], it’s because the live team is intentionally muddying the line to keep people scared. I don’t think that’s a good long-term policy.”

    Yes, EverQuest is the classic offender in this sort of FUD-style management, and I don’t agree with it. But don’t mistake their actions as ignorance. I can tell you for a fact that EverQuest’s live team didn’t care whether you got the “implied context” or not; they believed banning to instill fear was a reasonable way to run their game. That’s not related to naive misunderstandings of which rules can be easily inferred and which can’t. It’s a different topic altogether, really.

  14. Griefer? Asshat? Immature 13-year-old boy? It’s like we’ve already met. :)

    An interesting footnote to the story is that while i *thought* i had the entire bag of coins and was depriving the entire room of playing the game, i actually had the *smaller* of two coin bags. What happened to the other, larger coin bag, you ask? One of the other delegates in the room took it from the CA and ran. :) There was mischief in the air that day.

    >Next time they have their rant party at the GDC, don’t invite Ryan from Untold Entertainment.

    That’s part of what makes it a good story. Fact is, they already *hadn’t* invited Ryan from Untold Entertainment to their rant. They invited Chris Hecker and Ian Bogost, who speak on multiple panels every year. The event was emceed by Eric Zimmerman, who emcees a number of panels. Winning the game was Jane McGonigal, who i’d already seen speak a few times at that very conference.

    My original idea was to rant about this very fact, but the people around me said the panel would probably lynch me, and i really would be barred from attending GDC in the future. My point would have been that even in social games, experienced players twink new players by giving them armour and weapons to help them advance through the first few difficult levels of the game, so that they don’t get bored or discouraged and move on to something different.

    Likewise, i thought that these game dev superstars should consider twinking other devs – perhaps some of the indies relegated to the Indie Game Summit … or just new voices that we *haevn’t* heard at GDC before. (For example, if you’re doing a debate about the damage done by social games, why not invite a psychologist to the panel?)

    When it gets to the point where these guys run a “debate” with all the usual suspects (see the Great Gamification Debate and this:, and everyone on the panel is FOR the issue, it’s probably time to consider getting some new blood into the conference.

    It’s the David vs. Goliath angle – the plucky upstart vs. the GDC Old Guard – that seems to have made this story so popular, and has made people willing to overlook the fact that i weaseled my way to victory.

    - Ryan

  15. lifedeathsoul says:

    ^ clearly he doesn’t really know propriety and has totally misunderstood the context of the discussion that is going on here, since he is trying to explain why his actions are still defensible.

    It is extremely clear that it is not. Trust me, I have not overlooked the fact that you gamed the system as well. From your post it is clear you understood that it was wrong. IT WAS WRONG, and YOU KNEW IT. That is what makes it so unforgivable.

  16. lifedeathsoul says:

    @Brad: Hi ya, Good morning :) From my understanding, I thought that rules were non-negotiable in a game actually? If the rules were negotiable I thought it would violate the definition of a game to be honest. This is of course basing off the definition given by Jasper juul in his book, ‘Half Real’.

  17. @lifedeathsoul Oo-er … you appear to be very passionate about this. What’re you going to do – spank me?

    …. please? Please will you spank me?

  18. Stabs says:

    I think people are missing Eric’s point. As players it’s natural that some will be Sirlin-type competitors.

    It’s fine to be like that and that’s not the issue.

    The issue is about the management of a game with those players in it. Eve caters to them although the implication that they encourage illegal out-of-game actions is unfair. Sure people hack their rivals’ forums but I’m sure people do similar underhand things in athletics, chess and fashion. It’s just high stakes competitiveness and not the game developer’s “fault” as such. People who break the law are always responsible for their own actions.

    I think what Eric’s talking about is essentially triage. You can support the ruthlessly competitive (eg Darkfall) or you can make things very accessible to everyone (eg Farmville). If you are running a company that intends to pay its bills there’s a clear winner.

    Interestingly WoW has segued from a highly inaccessible raid endgame (Naxx 40) to a very open raid endgame (Wrath of the Lich King) and has now moved back a bit towards inaccessibility. It will be interesting to see how that works out for them.

    I certainly think there’s room in the market for a mixture and Ryan’s shenannigans at GDC suggest he might be best suited to the ruthlessly competitive type of game.

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  20. Michael Wright says:

    I didn’t realize that griefing was such a big problem. These posts indicate that it is also a very emotional one.

    If Ryan’s goal was to encourage greater participation of “indie” developers like himself, how did pissing off the management encourage them to see his side? It seems that they would be less likely to allow him or others like him to participate more actively now.

    Ben seems to miss the point. Eric’s definition of griefer isn’t someone who is over competitive. The example of Ryan may have obscured that point. It’s “someone who keeps a significant number of other people from enjoying your game, and does so intentionally”. As a result, you lose customers. That’s why it’s seen as harmful and why companies discourage it. They lose money.

    Brad is right about the rules being at least somewhat negotiable, but he overlooks the fact that negotiating requires both parties and that the rules need to be agreed upon before the game begins. Players can’t decide to change them in the middle of the game without telling anyone and expect everyone else to abide by those changes. Every MMO that I know of provides players a forum to lobby for the changes that they want to see made.

    I think Eric is just being pragmatic about it and pointing out that banning those who drive customers away, either in game or in the forums, is a practical necessity. Being told repeatedly that you are an unreasonable villain for doing so must be very frustrating.

    I have always enjoyed Eric’s and Sandra’s perspective as industry insiders. They are willing and able to point out the harsh realities of what it takes to actually get a game out the door and maintain it.

  21. Eccentrica says:

    Expressed indignation at breaking or cirumventing of rules assumes that everyone accepts the will of the majority, or that the majority accept the will of the minority, and transgressors are the enemy to be defeated at all costs.

    This is simply not the case. Some of us are not built that way. For example, the “Rules” may state that I may not swim at a particular beach, and probably for good and logical reason. However, the decision of whether or not to swim is mine and mine alone, and I may choose, for similarly good and logical reasons, to ignore that “Rule”. I do not blindly accept and bind myself to the will of others. I am slave to no man, and follow the paths of my own design. Sometimes those paths may converge with accepted norm, and sometimes they may not.

    When rules and conventions are proclamated, formulated, published or otherwise made known to others, it represents the imposition of one will upon another, and some simply won’t stand for it.

    Now, I respect the existence of others, and would never seek to physically harm or otherwise impair anyones ability to live their lives in the manner of their choosing, but declare a rule which I determine to be stupid, and I will gladly ignore it. My existence is my own, and I am ruled by no man or nation.

  22. matt says:

    “If Ryan’s goal was to encourage greater participation of “indie” developers like himself, how did pissing off the management encourage them to see his side?”

    His stated goal, above, was to bring out “new voices that we *haevn’t* heard at GDC before.”

    The fact that everyone’s talking about Ryan Creighton, instead of the panelists, indicates success.

  23. Lighstagazi says:

    Playing to win is a very tough line to tread, especially since game rules ARE arbitrary, and you can’t tell what is intended, unintended but acceptable, and unintended and unacceptable. Or you can’t until you try. Sirlin himself says it is very important to play within the rules (no punching, lighting the board on fire, not hacking the game etc). However his “teachings” also place a great deal of importance on making sure you are playing within the REAL rules, and not the implicit rules that you perceive.

    Couldn’t he have done it the same way as her? by using the same sets of rules? I would reckon if he did it the same way as her, he would have gotten much more respect from the Audience.

    Flip that around. If she wanted to win that badly, why didn’t SHE play by HIS rules? She was passive and complacent, and showed that she was in fact not playing to win; she executed a planned strategy with known resources and payouts, and she got her expected outcome. He took a gamble and tried an alternate tactic.

    If he had written a post about how he tried to get coins the “normal” way, and only managed to get 15, would you have responded and said “Good job, I respect you!”? Where is your showing of support for all the players in the room who tried to get coins OTHER than these two? If his goal was respect, he has it in spades now compared to being just another face in the crowd.

    From your post it is clear you understood that it was wrong. IT WAS WRONG, and YOU KNEW IT. That is what makes it so unforgivable.

    He knew he was breaking an implicit rule. As social creatures, we are all hardwired with some level of automatic rule following, and breaking even obviously bad rules will cause feedback like he describes. He saw a rule that everyone else was following, decided it wasn’t actually relevant, and discarded it.

    I expect if someone was to give a candid account of their adventures at their first StarCraft tournament, I would expect the same emotions and tensions if he did a zergling rush and heard one of the tournament officials say “He’s rushing _again_? How cheap!”

    Do I think he should be held up as some exemplarary pillar of moral justice for children to learn from? No. Do I think he did something amazing in it’s own right, and is a tribute to human creativity (especially if he is normally as in-the-box as he describes)? Yes.

  24. Dblade says:

    Problem was that you guys design games for players to lose in, not win.

    This social mini-game was designed for one person to win, and everyone else to lose. So, rather than just sit back, and hear another clueless Jane McGonigal speech because she is (to use MMO jargon) the OP FOTM class, Ryan broke the rules.

    If the game was structured better, there’d be less problems. If in the social game, one coin equalled a mini-rant of ten words, would Ryan have felt as much need to steal the whole bag?

  25. Nathan says:

    So, we have a crappy popularity-contest game, which Ryan turns into an interesting story through “griefing”, and the take-home message from that is “griefing is bad”? How, in this context, was the griefing negative? The game sucked! It deserved to be broken. Propping up a terrible game with rules isn’t a way to stop griefing, it’s just a way to make a crappy game even worse.

    Eric, the problem with your post is that you’re trying to argue a stance (griefing is bad) that just isn’t supported by the story you chose to base the post on. Ryan’s actions made the world a more interesting place, and you’re up on your soap box trying to tell us that’s wrong. But griefing is not always a negative experience. Sometimes the griefer is the person that adds value to an otherwise forgettable experience, like Ryan did.

  26. Gary Martin says:

    (Yes, that’s just my opinion. But guys, I sure would like to play a non-hellhole space-trading game like we had on BBSes… won’t somebody make that MMO?)

    If you’re talking about TW2002, that actually was under dev by another company but they twisted it into something strange and it luckily never saw the light of day.

    All of this talk of “cheating”, “griefing”, etc brings back a lot of old memories. When I was doing Tw2002, the big thing was to find ways to cheat the game, ways to take advantage of bugs (there were a lot of those *grin*), etc. Of course as a dev it was *my* viewpoint that they were abusing the system. To the end players, it was their viewpoint that they were just playing the metagame.

    When all things are said and done, it’s really the end player’s viewpoint that counts. After all, this is an entertainment medium aimed squarely at them. Whatever they think about the rules and playing the “game” is what matters, not what a game dev thinks.

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  28. SavageX says:


    If the game leaves huge loopholes open, it is unrealistic to believe that no one will discover them and that no one will use them. The challenge of design is to anticipate the ways that your precious snowflake can be broken and harden it like any other system. That said, if your game is awful enough that people just want to skip to the end, it’ s not much of a game.

  29. Eric says:

    @Gary Martin: you got me: I was in fact thinking about Trade Wars. I cut my teeth as a programmer making a shareware add on for that game that “fixed” some bugs and added some more “features”. I have fond memories of it, and I had a very active community for it on my BBS… but since I took a very hands-on approach to managing it, I don’t remember it as being a hellhole of cheaters.

    It’s true that what matters is what your players think, not what the designer thinks. But that’s only half the story, because you get to decide which players you get. I had a certain sort of player for my version of Trade Wars, and other BBSes had a very different atmosphere.

    You attract a player base through your actions. It’s true that you shouldn’t arbitrarily change directions in a way that your desired playerbase won’t understand, but it’s fine to shoo away people who aren’t your target audience anyway.

  30. Eric says:

    @Nathan: you have a point to some extent: it was a terrible game and it’s hard to draw meaningful conclusions from it. But I’d say both Ryan and I are building on the same house of cards. You can argue “it’s not griefing if more people like it than dislike it,” as that could be the case here, I dunno. But at the same time, “take the coins, win the game” is not a universally appropriate motto either, just because the game wasn’t fun.

  31. Eric says:

    @Ryan: Interesting note about the second coin bag. Did it ever turn up?

  32. lifedeathsoul says:

    @Lightstargazi: That is an assumption on your part that I did not respect the other players who followed the rules. It is the fact that I feel great indignation for the other players that I remarked so strongly on the fact that the Bloody griever ‘HAX the game’ (To use MMO parlance)

    And there is a reason why we do not break that implicit rule. The implicit rules are there so that other people can have fun, and enjoy themselves. He has garnered attention, so what? Clearly it also showed his extremely disrespectful behavior towards others in general. From his previous flippant responses and totally casual way of dismissing the views of others it only shows one thing. He is a Troll of the greatest magnitude. I would say his goal was not respect to be honest. IMO he was just juking it for giggle and laughs.

    For SC2 competitions, yes there are cheesy all-ins done against the pros. However, the player who does do that kind of strategic plays are often met with scorn and derision. In one of the tournaments last year, a Bitbybit did that against a lot of the players. He eventually lost, and got jeered out of the tournament by the entire community. Even in a game with only one win state, there can be still player honor.

    Last point from me before I wrap things up for the night. Did he pull off an amazingly creative move? sure it was creative. But his attitude? Clearly not worth my spit.

  33. Joe says:

    I think you’re overselling the extent to which griefers are adolescent in games like EVE… I look at games like EVE (and the Darktide server of your very own Asheron’s Call) as more exercises in (consensual) clever sado-masochistic play rather than anything. “Let’s see what they can do to me, within the framework of the game, and let’s see what I can do to them…”

  34. Mike Grem says:

    I don’t see why people are ganging up on Eric. Under the assumption that there was not a second bag, he *is* right– Ryan griefed the game by robbing players the facility to play it; broken ruleset or not. I don’t think we should be talking about how the panelists took it in regards to griefing– that’s its own separate topic.

    Of course, with the knowledge that there was a second bag, the point breaks down a bit, but in its original context I see little wrong with the message.

    I also see a lot of commenters ragging on the EVE-bashing. While I think within the confines of New Eden anything goes, if players are hacking accounts, that’s not “playing to win.” I’ve read some of Sirlin’s stuff, and I don’t think cracking accounts and real world harassment are part of that “playing to win” strategy. I saw a comparison to “lighting the board on fire,” and that’s roughly equivalent. I’m not sure if CCP is actively encouraging this (I’d have to go with “no”), but I think the accusation was levied more at this lawless behavior than a general attack on PvP some seem to think it is.

    Then again, Eric’s original blog post is kind of ambiguous, so hey, maybe I’m wrong too!

    All that said, I have to respect Ryan for his massive, two-ton balls. He may have griefed the event, but I think the end result was worth it. I’ve never met Jane McGonigal or any of the other people there, and I don’t think they’re as flippant as his account of the event makes them sound, but it still takes massive bravery to upset a balance like that. And who knows, something good might come of it, aside from random internet controversy.

  35. Lighstagazi says:

    @lifedeathsoul – If you feel he was not doing it for the respect, why did you say this?

    I would reckon if he did it the same way as her, he would have gotten much more respect from the Audience.

    Of course, your opinion is entitled to change, but that is what I was referring to. I even quoted it in that post.

    [blockquote]It is the fact that I feel great indignation for the other players[...][/blockquote]

    Sure, now, after the fact. And it’s possible that you are a special snowflake, or possibly that I misunderstand Asian culture that much. However, I find it difficult to believe that even if you were in that room you would have looked around the room at some point and though “Look at all these people following the rules of this game. I respect them for doing so.” Nor do I believe you would have had any of the underlying emotions that are tied with that. It is expected, and you can be penalized for breaking them, but there is no reward for doing as expected. They become “just another face in the crowd.”

    Ryan did say he wanted some respect for his inginuity. That may not have been the basis for his actions, but it was a reward he expected. And on that basis, following the crowd and playing “the” game would have gotten him nothing. And if he’s a secret mastermind doing this for his 15 minutes of internet fame, he came up with that in spades.

    [blockquote]And there is a reason why we do not break that implicit rule. The implicit rules are there so that other people can have fun, and enjoy themselves.[/blockquote]

    I think it is more likely that people follow rules because thinking about abstract concepts (such as rules) takes a lot of brain power, and thus, burns a lot of calories. Calories that may not always be available – and Ryan’s pictures don’t make him look like he is suffering from any calorie malnourishment.

    I am not in any way attempting to support the end decision that he made. But I am 100% in support of him actually making a decision on the matter. Following the rules without thinking is a great way to avoid rocking the boat. One thing he made clear from the very start, however, was that he wanted to rock the boat. Hard.

    [blockquote]For SC2 competitions, yes there are cheesy all-ins done against the pros. However, the player who does do that kind of strategic plays are often met with scorn and derision.[/blockquote]
    Boxer is one of the few SC personalities I know anything about, and he is known (to me at least) exactly for doing cheesy, unexpected, all-ins. While yes, he is also a great, skilled SC player, I can’t say I know the names of more than 1 or 2 others, even though there are many world class players. In fact, when looking up who Bitbybit was, I found people linking videos of Boxxer doing similar tactics, telling Bitbybit to “eat his heart out” etc. Clearly, what defines what is acceptable and unacceptable has some room for contextual interpretation. And to a significant extent, the victor helps define that.

    [blockquote]Did he pull off an amazingly creative move? sure it was creative. But his attitude? Clearly not worth my spit.[/blockquote]
    I’m not asking for anything different. Take what’s worth learning from it, and move on. Again, I’m not suggesting he be held up as a model citizen to the rest of Mankind. But there are components from this story that have merit, and some that don’t. I’m not exactly campaigning to turn this into a childrens storybook.

    Also, while I don’t care that you spelled my name wrong, I do find it insulting that you can’t even be bothered to copy and paste someone’s name, and it suggests to me a significant lack of care about your comments.

    I also noticed that you changed my name to 3 base words (if “gazi” is a word), to match your own. You also specifically called out SC2 in response to me mentioning SC, rather than leaving it in the form I mentioned. Again, of course, you’re welcome to redirect conversation where you please, and on it’s own the SC2 change means nothing. But in conjunction with my sudden name reconstruction, it suggests that you are reading what you want to read, again calling into question whether you actually reasoned your opinion. Or the alternative, that you care so deeply that you didn’t take the time to copy and paste my name and I’m the one reading what I want to read (which I’m definitely guilty of doing as well).

    The onus is on me to determine whether what you say is worth listening to or not, regardless of the method (or lack of) you used to come to your opinion, but I see no reason for you to give me, or other readers, shortcuts to dismiss what you are saying.

  36. Lighstagazi says:

    Oh wrong brackets and no preview or edit buttons >_<

  37. Callan S. says:

    Isn’t it uncanny how it’s everyone else but yourself who is doing something wrong? Doesn’t that seem extrodinarily lucky that your always on the right side of the line?

    It’s funny how much people, when they put on a moderator hat, cease to consider themselves as possibly being part of or even the whole of the problem? No, it’s all getting down to dealing with these griefers, with not a single second thought about that assumption that they are at fault. I think the hats must be a bit tight.

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  39. thade says:

    I’ve yet to see a system that can’t be gamed, sadly. What would really fix the problem would be a lack of people who were motivated to enjoy the spoiling of other people’s enjoyment. No dice there, huh? What a drag.

    I second your request for a space-trading MMO that’s fun to play.

  40. Supplanter says:

    Ryan was not a griefer in this situation. Using your definition -
    “The definition of a griefer is someone who keeps a significant number of other people from enjoying your game, and does so intentionally”

    Ryan’s ‘intent’ was clear, he wanted to WIN the game, his intention was not to keep the other people from enjoying, it was to WIN. The game was poorly designed, and Ryan saw that he could not win the game using the intended methods, this did not stop him from wanting to play and win. So he had to think of a way that he could win. His method didn’t even prevent anyone from playing using the intended methods. Everyone in the room still could try and get as many coins as they could no matter if they were given a coin in the beginning or not. There was no rule stating you had to start with a coin to collect coins from others.

    In this case Ryan was NOT a griefer, he thought out of the box and took the prize. The only person affected was the one who had other wise collected the most coins, and she still enjoyed the game, unless the only enjoyment was winning, in that case I guess she was the griefer.

  41. BenMS says:

    Sorry to nitpick, but did you mean eminently “indie”?