Editorial - Oghma
What a week!
First, we begin with the banning of an entire guild, followed by a patch update which allowed players to mint their own platinum. The excellence of the patches, which opened up the Plane of Fear and made many changes, particularly to the much-maligned warrior and rogue classes, were completely overshadowed by these events. The Plane of Fear was temporarily shutdown because a data error made the monsters weaker than they should have been. We finish with the opening and subsequent shutting down of Tallon Zek. All these events made for a pretty eventful week, and I'd like to share some of my thoughts.
Not everyone in that guild was banned, despite what the message boards said. Those individual members who were caught doing the exploit were banned. Verant had confessions from several of these individuals. Those in the guild who were aware of the exploit and did or said nothing had their accounts suspended for 3 days (a slap on the wrist, really).
From the accounts from the guild, however, the GM's were rude and abusive to those guild members. The guild pages state that they were harassed and then had their characters reduced to level one (Some of these characters were in their 40's.) before having the accounts removed.
I am not going to indulge in speculating which side is in the right, since I want to talk less about right and wrong and more about how player bans should be accomplished.
I tend to think that banning players is a GOOD THING. I have adminned a few MUDs, and I know how difficult it is to make sure that you are fair and aboveboard to the player population, while at the same time catching those that have discovered a way to exploit the game and are abusing the system and hurting the game as a whole. I was very leery of using invisibility and snooping powers, and would only use it when I deemed it absolutely necessary for the good of the game. We ran logs of players wealth at login and logout, and when they broke link. We had other ways of logging certain things what were checked only on occasion where we heard rumors of exploits. Banning players is a very sensitive issue, and must be done swiftly and with incontrovertible proof. Another important aspect, besides the detective work in discovering and removing the abuse, is the notification of the individual and the rest of the gaming population.
When the individual is notified, of course, all your ducks must be in a row, and you must have logs, eyewitness accounts, or useful proof of some sort to back you up.
Letting the game's population know about bans serves two purposes. It first shows that you are serious about making sure that players do not exploit the game. It tells the gamers that you are watching and do not want the system to be abused, and if it is abused, you will catch and punish those individuals. It also gets the facts out about the ban before the punished individuals get a chance to cloud the issue.
I am appalled that the EverQuest population were not told about this until more than a day after the banning. We, the gaming population, were inundated by posts, rants, and speculation about Verant and how unfair and abusive the GM's who handled it were. We got no chance to see the official side of it. In this day of instant dissemination of information, there is not one reason I can think of that there wasn't an instant patching of the ban and a scrolling marquee about it. Well, ok, maybe not a scrolling marquee. During the beta test the public notification of the banning was extensively discussed, with some folks wanting it to not be done to avoid embarrassing the banned players, to which most people said, essentially, that avoiding the embarrassment is easy - don't cheat.
As for the GM's being abusive to the players, I once again am astonished. Bans should be handled in a professional and business-like manner. Anything else gives legitimacy to an otherwise not credible individual or group of individuals. The conversation should go something like: "You duped items, we have proof, sorry you do not want to be part of the player base, we are deleting your account." If you have proof, no discussion about the facts of the incident is necessary, it's was either done or not done. Extensive abuse and accusations of lying aren't necessary. If you say anything, it's more like "Your account of the events do not explain that we saw you dupe a Rubicite Breastplate 20 times." and stop there. Abusing the cheater may give you a nice little rush of self righteousness, but in the end, it just plain looks bad.
By publicizing a price change in pottery, Verant allowed speculative players to abuse a patch by buying pottery sketches for 12 cp and sell them back for around 5 gp after the patch. This allowed the typical player with 8 slots and enough platinum to fill 16 backpacks on mule characters with sketches to cash in to the tune of over 10,000pp. You know, I take that back - it's not a typical player that would do this, only a greedy, selfish, and short-sighted player - I hope. Now the game economy will have to suffer a bubble of inflation, where players who earned their wealth legitimately will not be able to purchase saleable items from other players because players are running around with way more platinum than they should. It's not the end of the world, but ouch! it's a big oversight that never should have happened. Verant should know by now that any abuse players can find, they will, and act accordingly. Just... ouch.
On Friday night, Tallon Zek was opened after much speculation and anticipation. Over 5000 players logged in and forced a subsequent server shutdown and put Verant in the hot seat by forcing them to not open the Race War server until they had two, or even more servers. Once again players went on a rampage on the boards and in chat, expressing their frustration in rants of varying quality. I was one of those anticipating individuals, and sat in chat for a good while, but I had to leave chat be for it opened and got back after it had shut down, and so didn't get a chance to see the population explosion.
After the shutdown, the chat rooms were, in a nutshell, insane. GMs and guides tried to explain what had happen and calm the crowds, but with four chat rooms packed with unhappy players, it was about impossible to do. Rants played upon rants and though guides and GMs tried moderating the channels and calming people down, spamfests resulted when the unhappy players decided to "show" Verant what they thought. Bravo, players :P.
What can you do if you are a Verant person? Hell, I think I would, at this point, probably cry in frustration. Even though 5,000 players logged in, you just know that only about a third of them will really stick with it. The other two-thirds have main characters somewhere else and will never stress the servers like that again. Shutting the server down was the only option, but after weeks of work and tuning on the test server, I'd be nuts having to shut it down. Friday night was an unfortunate choice of times to open the server up, I think, because just about everyone is free at that time. It was the MMORPG version of an Internet IPO - massive initial speculation fed by a public frenzy, followed by a massive loss of value. Now, to address initial player interest, you have to spend the time and effort to create another server that may very well not be needed.
By now many of you may be thinking "Wow, Oghma is generally so positive about Verant, this seems almost a rant against them." Well, it's not, really. It's an expression of frustration. I apologize to the Verant employees who have worked hard and do work hard every day to continue making the game that has held my attention for almost two years now. Please, please, please take better care of those of us who aren't your constant detractors, using whatever gift for eloquence they have to abuse and slam your company and product. I feel like a staff apologist, even though I am pretty careful to look at both sides of an issue.
I know, too, that your company is not a faceless mask. I know a few of you and have consistently been VERY impressed with your dedication and ability. I guess that's why I'm astonished and disappointed when weeks like this happen. You must feel crazy at how this last, and excellent, patch was absolutely uncelebrated. Warriors and rogues got tweaks, many spell adjustments were made, the Plane of Fear was opened. It seemed that everything you touched went bad.
At the same time, I am getting increasingly irritated with my fellow players. The irony is that probably those players I am most irritated with do not read EverQuest Express, and so I'm preaching to players who in general have a positive attitude about the game. After reading the boards for a week, I now remember why I stopped reading the boards. The occasional thoughtful, insightful post is obscured by thirty mindless, misspelled rants and anti-Verant screeds. Here's a tip: if you give one company such power over your life and happiness that you feel justified in spewing your self righteous drivel on the 'net like hate, you probably need to adjust your priorities. If you find yourself threatening others to cancel your account on a weekly basis, please do. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to enter the game because of the potential to run across your twinking, money and item-grubbing, abuse spamming selves. Those of you who do not fit this category are welcome to ignore these suggestions.
I am stuck, now, on how to conclude this editorial. I want to say something, do something, that will encourage those players and Verant employees who love this game for what it can be and see Verant's efforts, though occasionally mis-steps, as a striving for a better game. I want those players and employees who put themselves in the way of this goal to feel shame at their actions and renew their commitment to a better game or get away from it.
Norrath is a state of mind and a refuge for many of us. We allow it's wide, open plains and towering mountains power over our personal happiness because we enter it knowing that we will, if careful, succeed, advance and even excel in ways that the real world does not offer us. We know that we will meet people, friends, who we can share this with and have a good time doing it. We know that in Norrath there are moments of extreme exultation, when a group finishes a melee with everyone's health bar less than a bubble, with no one dead. Seeing your first sand giant fall, soloing Ambassador D'Vinn, casting your first teleport spell that takes you across the ocean in a blink, completing a quest which took you weeks to uncover - all these are moments where pride, joy, and accomplishment mingle with wonder.
Because it is a world of wonders, we are frequently disappointed when that sense of wonder is brought into the harsh, glaring light of reality. An abusive player, an unfair bug or glitch, the loss of a corpse through the idiocy of players and trains, so distress us that we feel the need to lash out at something that caused our unhappiness. Frustrated players abuse each other and Verant. Frustrated GM's and guides, knowing that really, any action is a potential torrent of abuse, get gun-shy, stressed and even despondent. We lose sight, all of us, of what we are doing, and why we are doing it.
Keep the sense of wonder. If you are frustrated by camping and twinking, get away from it! Do something new, go somewhere new, do something that is not focused on any goal but the search for wonder. Verant employees, keep striving for new ways to show us wonder. Don't let us, in our short-sightedness, discourage you from your vision. Allow us to contribute to it, to expand the world of Norrath in ways you aren't able to do. Let us know what things are happening that affect our world. Keep us informed of the good and the bad, and know that our rants and complaints are merely indicators of our passion for the sense of wonder Norrath has allowed us to experience.