Monday, July 14, 2008

The flaming problem with MMO games

"i pwnd ur @ss n00b"
"worst healer eva"
"we lost coz ur a n00b"

Sound familiar? I'd love to say that I'm completely innocent of taunts and flames, but sadly I've dealt my fair share. If you're a hardened MMO gamer, flaming becomes so common place that you barely notice it happening around you. Flaming can even be classified as a form of online culture. Unfortunately not everyone has the thick skin required to endure hurtful comments and hate spams. If you're new to the MMO scene, receiving flames can be so devastating to your morale and self-confidence, that you can actually stop playing. In most cases players simply avoid particular areas of the game (raiding, pvp etc), which will lead to a potential conflict or flames from other players. I'd love to tell the entire MMO gaming world to grow up, but unfortunately it never will.

So what does this mean for the MMO games companies? Do they need to be worried that people aren't playing parts of their game because they are afraid or out right annoyed with flamers? My initial reply was no, they could simply tell the victims (who complain at least) to turn off their chat or deal with it. Personally I don't like this option. Is a 'mature community' a pipe dream, or can games companies employ initiatives to encourage and or enforce maturity? This was recently opened for discussion over at the nerfbat forums. I definitely think that a 'mature community' is possible, it's just going to take some more innovation from the online games industry.

If we have a look at some current techniques employed to reduce flamers, you will find:
  • Ignore lists
  • Swear filters
  • "Report a player" (Used in Guild Wars)
  • Text obfuscation between opposing factions (WoW)
  • Private channels
These were all great ideas, we just need more of them. I was thinking something along the lines of a digg style system that rewards kindly players and punishes unkindly players. Another idea would be to have a PvP system that indiscriminately identifies your relative skill level and provides you with allies and opponents of the same relative skill level, therefore reducing the chance of conflict between high and low level players. I think this would also make PvP more enjoyable for everyone.

I'm interested to know how WAR will deal with the issue, given that game has heavy PvP elements to it. Will we see some innovation, or will the issue of flamers be dusted aside? I'd like to think that a 'mature community' is not just a pipe dream.

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