Some of you know I put on a relatively diplomatic cap when I go online. I choose to be diplomatic more often than not because that's the kind of person I want to be when I am able to. Writing and researching material for the Devil's Advocate allows me to see many different kinds of personalities online, and I find I learn a lot about myself and about other people just by observing the groups that form when an issue happens.
Today I will not be using that diplomatic cap as I normally do. I'm not going to rage in the same way that I did when SWTOR put out its early draft of its revenue model shift, but I also will not try to play nice the way I did when I wanted to write about Mr. Appleton's game-in-development. Instead, I'm simply going to point out why, contrary to what some people think on Darkfall: Unholy Wars' forums, the temporary ban of some (possibly all, but I can't confirm this) members of HOGG for griefing other players was not only the most logical course of action for Aventurine, but also the most telling reminder that Darkfall: Unholy Wars is not the Darkfall of old, and that is something worth fighting for.
Griefers in Safe Zones
Let me frame the situation properly by explaining one term in particular: griefing. Griefing is the use of gameplay mechanics, whether in their intended use or through some circumvention of the rules, to harass or otherwise irritate another player in a multiplayer video game. The person doing the griefing, known as the griefer, willfully chooses to engage in dickish behavior (There are harsher words, but I'll use Wil Wheatonisms today) to derive pleasure from play.
Below, you’ll see an embedded video from a member of HOGG, a Darkfall: Unholy Wars clan. The 13-minute video is the fifth in a series of videos in which a member (or members) of HOGG grief other players in game. In this particular video, which uses harsh language and misappropriates the word “gimp” to refer to players being griefed, the person speaking outlines exactly how he and a fellow HOGG member are basically engaging in psychological warfare to frustrate other players by depriving them of the ability to play the way they wanted to play the game.
The situation is simple: unlike the original Darkfall, DFUW has safe zones where players cannot be attacked by other players. One thing that remains from Darkfall, however, is a line of sight requirement to harvest materials from resource nodes, such as fish from bodies of water or herbs from grass.
The two griefers in the video forcibly break the line of sight of other players to disrupt their crafting while another player harvests (or appears to harvest) the nodes. Because there's no PVP in the safe zones, there is no violent reprisal in the event that the player being griefed gets frustrated and leaves. It doesn't end there, however, because one of them keeps following the griefed player around. As the griefer explains in the video, the griefer pair count on the fear of loss to make the player being harassed come back to the node or otherwise try to engage them or harass them back in return. Because the griefers, however, get their kicks from the psychological harassment, any retaliation Is a moot point because they wanted that to happen as well.
All Agog for HOGG
Following some events outside the game, most notably this thread on the Darkfall forums, it seems Aventurine decided to act on the complaints of the people being griefed and, since HOGG was broadcasting the videos on YouTube, sent them a temporary ban.
What's notable in the (currently) eight-page thread I linked above is that some people were not pleased with the temporary ban. They felt this was perfectly permissible behavior, with the general reason being the game was Darkfall, and this was expected behavior.
I'm going to take off my diplomatic cap for a few moments to say this. I believe in Wheaton's Law, otherwise known as The Rule of the Internet, which simply states, “Don't be a dick.” While I am a carebear at heart, I know that when I go play Darkfall, I have to follow the general tenets of that game, which is that the game is harsher than other MMORPGs and PVP is inevitable. I am prepared for that.
That said, it's also important to note that there is something inherently wrong with people when they think psychological harassment, and this is basically psychological harassment if you listen to how the griefer explains his actions in the video, is acceptable.
Aventurine's Bottom Line
Speculating on Aventurine's stance for giving the temporary bans out, I simply thought of one thing: the bottom line. Aventurine is a small MMO development company, and they likely spent a small fortune to make Darkfall: Unholy Wars. They want to make that money back, and to do that, they have to ensure that new players and old players are catered to properly. I'm also assuming they want more people playing DFUW.
The griefing done by an entire clan can adversely affect this bottom line, as the monetary repercussions of one bad impression spreading from a new gamer to his social network will likely be greater than the loss of a number of veterans who, by their own admission in the videos, did not intend to use those characters for anything other than making things annoying for other paying players.
To frame it as a diplomatically-worded insult, paying players actively enjoying the game and bringing positive press on Aventurine are considerably more valuable than a bunch of jumping pigs. I'm sorry, I meant HOGGs.
New Darkfall, New Rules
This relates to one final point I want to mention about Darkfall: Unholy Wars. A number of bloggers, such as Syncaine of Hardcore Casual and Nateryl of Love Sandboxes have noted that DFUW's progression system is a measured improvement over the macro-heavy and somewhat unbalanced progression system of Darkfall.
Unlike the old Darkfall, DFUW was made with quality of life improvements that provide incentives for PVE play of any sort to enable stronger characters for PVP or PVE. This and a number of other changes (such as standardized hitboxes and crafting as a gold sink) show that Darkfall is aiming for a wider, though still niche, audience in this incarnation of Agon. You could, presumably, aim to become a master shipbuilder instead of a fighter if you so chose and the prowess system allows for that sort of possibility to some degree.
The new Darkfall is, while still harsh, a more well-rounded and accessible version of the game. If Aventurine wants to gain moderate success, or perhaps even echo EVE Online as a fantasy PVP MMO equivalent, then people getting eased into the harsher world is undeniably the smartest thing the company could do, and the temporary ban is a subtle, yet pointed reminder that this is not Darkfall 1.0.
Players in Darkfall should try to provide both an inviting world and a world of intrigue and social drama that can make Darkfall a standard-bearer for PVP MMO evolution. Anyone who can't accept that the new Darkfall likely comes with a new set of social rules needs to wake up: the old Agon has been replaced, and their time is best served by working with the new paradigm instead of trying to subvert it.
Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.