Pissing in the Sandbox: The New Wave of Griefing

Rust

By on March 4, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Maniken50 doesn’t mince words in his short, fairly disturbing review of the phenomenally popular survival builder Rust.

“I love this game”, he muses. “I built a house around a guys house and made him my prisoner, I fed him cans of tuna and cooked chicken when it was available, and some times I would drop in spare logs of wood (when they were available).”

This is followed by what can only be described as a Hannibal Lector love note, where he describes torturing and restraining the poor fellow, in a recreation of a scene from Silence of The Lambs. Strangely enough, or not as it were, this review was helpful to 93% of the 18,000 people who rated it, with comments congratulating (and damning) the player on his efforts and pledging a purchase based on his story.

This isn’t as much as an exception as the rule in the new world order of online sandboxes — both Rust and DayZ, two titles that are almost certainly the most unrelenting, unforgiving and anarchic games of the decade. Griefing has now grown to become de rigueur when building a new community in a space with little to no rules, restrictions or, most importantly, consequences.

It’s pertinent to note, however, that the art of griefing — where gamers consciously make others lives difficult for amusement, profit or otherwise — is not a particularly new paradigm. If there is a multiplayer game in existence, on any platform, a group of determined players will find ways to spoil it for other players. From team killers in Quake to disconnectors in StarCraft, AWOXers in EVE and Leeroy wannabes in WoW, some gamers enjoy finding new ways to exploit loopholes and enrage their compatriots. But as part of each game’s design, griefers weren’t praised or promoted, they were ostracised, penalised and banned.

TKing is usually a quick path to a ban on most official servers, and a disconnection in most modern RTS games will drastically affect not only your ladder rankings but whether you are even able to connect to certain modes. Most games with a fairly linear structure are naturally designed, like a concrete wall, to stop things getting too out of hand, and generally ensure a clean experience for the majority. But what happens when you have designed your game to provide players with the lions share of the control, the narrative, and the boundaries?

Back in the frontier days of Ultima Online, a friend of mine liked to pull a particularly nasty trick (well, one of many) on new players. Recall Runes were devices that allowed teleportation to predetermined areas, and you could name them to keep track of where they lead. He would scatter them around populated areas, giving them titles like “Treasure” or “Secret”. Little did the unsuspecting newbies know that all of these runes all lead to the same place – a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, accessible only by boat. Once transported, as many inevitably would, he would kill them, loot them, and leave their ghost stuck there until a GM came to help. It’s needless to say he did not invent this graft, nor the host of other griefing tactics utilised by him and his cronies; such as locking down items in areas to prevent people leaving, building tables or pianos around them when AFK, or kiting players into being killed by guards, made life a living hell for many avatars. Over time, most of these loopholes were closed by the developers, but those actions set the original precedent – people, when bored, resourceful and motivated, will unleash hell on others.

So how do you regulate the wild west without angering the pilgrims? After all, it’s the ability to be free, in all its grey-ethic glory, that makes many of these games appealing to so many people. In games like EVE Online, much of the griefing is considered part of the gamespace. Scammers flood public chat channels, promising everything from elaborate stock trading schemes to lotteries, begging desperate and greedy pilots to shovel through a few million ISK in the possibility that it could be doubled or even tripled. Some groups of players even go as far to be shills in the channel, reinforcing the legitimacy of the scammer in the hope they could split the profits. Others are a little more destructive — leaving bait in the form of abandoned cargo containers in space, opening unsuspecting newbie players to “legal” deaths after accessing “stolen” items. Others have even been known to start corporations with the full intent of drawing players and their loot into unsafe space before killing and looting them, or holding them ransom.

So how do the developers stop new players fleeing? In a nutshell: education. Sure, there are bounties you can place on players, and mercenary corporations who can track and kill griefers, but none of these options keep new players safe and having fun. From the moment you enter the world, both the game itself and both its in-game volunteers and paid employees warn rookie players of the dangers that face them. An NPC police force keeps most players protected while they learn. Teaching corporations like EVE University, run entirely by ordinary players, pull fresh pilots in and teach them everything, from optimal missile launcher damage to the most efficient way to mine. They defend pilots from the bottom feeders who prey on them and their fresh new ships, hoping for easy kills and “the lulz”. But sometimes – this just isn’t enough – with the prime example being events like Hulkadeddon - an almost annual event where pirates and random griefers specifically target industrial players in safe space, suiciding into ships in the hope of gaining reward money from other bored and rich players.

James takes a closer look at griefing within EVE Online and the Hulkageddon event.

When it comes down to it, EVE‘s decade-old developer, CCP, loves to see these events take place. If anything, they thrive on the ability to spin up new servers to handle the load caused by these enormous battles. When I asked CCP about the subject of griefing, and how they feel it impacts the growth of their player base, they were coy about the meaning of the term, instead referring me to this article covering the technical aftermath of Burn Jita where the developers excitedly explain that the event perfectly encapsulates the ethos and the overall design of their concept. “In general”, explains Ned Coker, Senior PR for CCP, “as long as people are acting within the limits of the gameplay mechanics we try to be as hands off as possible, as per the sandbox.”

So we then head back to Rust. I asked on Twitter a few weeks ago if it was worth playing at all if I didn’t feel like being griefed from the moment I spawned. The answer was a resounding no – unlike even EVE, with its police force patrolling safe space, there is nowhere safe to roost in Rust. I was told stories of revolving gangs of players who patrolled entire servers at popular playtimes, razing every home to the ground, while pumping bullets into anything with a torso. Female players harassed to the point of being hunted down and chased off the servers once they had the gall to use their microphones like other male players. Others targeted by powerful gang leaders both inside and outside of the game. Is this where we have ended up when attempting to create spaces where players can truly appreciate full control of their destiny? Why should legacy players hold all of the power, and wield it with such a heavy fist that not a single other person is even able to learn the ropes before they are annihilated?

Griefing problems aside, both EVE and Ultima Online have/had incredible communities of players who fostered and supported new players in order to continue the growth of their universe. Players knew that without a constant injection of new players, the game couldn’t grow effectively and provide a continued challenge as well as replacing those who left for good. In games like Minecraft, where griefing in the realm of full scale vandalism and destruction reigned on early servers, players built their own systems to provide a basic sense of order that did not restrict anyone’s ability to create in harmony. Mods became so detailed in these systems of land ownership and block protection that they actually overwhelmed the game’s basic codebase and caused many servers to crash. It’s in this quest to provide that tough balance between total freedom and total anarchy that developers need to be careful when they craft their sandboxes.

Just like Riot Games has its player-run arbitration system to stem the nastier side of their enormous community, the developers of games like Rust and DayZ will need to carefully balance the player created difficulty levels to keep their titles playable. Griefing has its place in sandbox games – in the absence of linear, crafted difficulty, the innate bastardry of your fellow man is the challenge you need to overcome – but in no way should your title funnel too much of the power into two few players. Developers need to produce systems that allow the fostering of new skills in a relatively safe area, before being pushed out into the big bad, raw, world. They need to provide active consequences or the ability to track players and fight back when players or groups are wronged. DayZ in particular needs to bring back the humanity system, that at the very least provided basic consequences to actions.

While many groups have started to appear that pledge to help and protect others, they are generally in the minority, with little support offered to them. But the horse has not yet left the stable; both of these games are still in early Alpha, with plenty of time to make changes. After all, we play many of these games to have fun – not be bullied. The long term viability of sandboxes to make lasting impressions on the marketplace as a whole will rest sorely on their ability to adapt to the learning curve, and the core rights to not be bullied, harassed or continually marauded, of the player.

18 comments (Leave your own)

Sandpit PVP will always have griefers, and legacy players that have the most time played / gangs / resources will dominate the new comers who have little to defend with.

Not sure what you can do there to even the playing field, although some Rust servers reset/wipe everything every few weeks/months to even things out now and then to keep things fresh.

Good world PvP’ers appreciate skill and response in chat, so keeping up communication and more “gg’ing” rather than spraying them with abuse after they kill you and steal all your stuff, does go a long way to respect and reputation in the area.

Same with EvE and other games.

 

Complete freedom is an interesting experiment for gaming, but with a complete lack of consequence to go with it you’re never going to get anything but anarchy.

That first step in opening things up was an easy one. What I look forward to is the next generation of games where they give people the freedom to do whatever they please, but also add a cost to those actions.

 

Griefing is sadly something todays gamers use as a crutch for their inability to play. EVE is not really a game you can use for this argument because there is no griefing in EVE. Awoxers are a fundermental part of the game, as are spys, Traitors etc… CCP built the game for those players in mind.

Wow griefers are just children an of no consequence. As for Rust, well its human nature to harass people an try to run them off off the server. Remember teenagers without any regulation will turn Ferrel in a heartbeat.

I used to give griefers my home address an name when they threatened me in many game,s an often times I would reported by them for “inciting them to violence” lol.

This is the thing with the griefing community in non Adult games like wow. Once consequences come in, they turn back into children an run to mum/Devs.

 
Lord_PorkSword

Not a day goes by when my oldest son is complaining about griefers in Minecraft. Then 20 minutes later he makes some comment about him griefing someone else. Par for the course I say…

 
Nasty Wet Smear

lordporksword:
Not a day goes by when my oldest son is complaining about griefers in Minecraft.Then 20 minutes later he makes some comment about him griefing someone else.Par for the course I say…

Have you tried sitting you son down over a cup of chocolate milk, in a quiet room with no distractions and, as a father, just doing the right thing… And hitting him till he stops?

 
PeterLutzTEN95

The only way to win is not to play.

 

nastywetsmear: Have you tried sitting you son down over a cup of chocolate milk, in a quiet room with no distractions and, as a father, just doing the right thing… And hitting him till he stops?

^this

 

nastywetsmear: Have you tried sitting you son down over a cup of chocolate milk, in a quiet room with no distractions and, as a father, just doing the right thing… And hitting him till he stops?

“I will stop griefing your life until you learn”
*As you start dismantling his bed while singing “hip to be square” at the top of your lungs*

 

Best article title ever.

 

More like sand in the pissbox.

 
Nasty Wet Smear

matty: “I will stop griefing your life until you learn”
*As you start dismantling his bed while singing “hip to be square” at the top of your lungs*

LOL
“Never gonna give you up!” *Throws X-Box out the window*
“Never gonna let you down!” *Kills pet turtle*

 
Lord_PorkSword

Not being a fan of Minecraft whatsoever I thought Griefing was just a normal part of the game. Oh and that truckload of dodgey ass minecraft mod sites that trick young kids into installing shitware on their PC’s while they think they’re installing some annoying mod that never works until Dad’s have to get it working.

matty: “I will stop griefing your life until you learn”
*As you start dismantling his bed while singing “hip to be square” at the top of your lungs*

I did sing “Big Trouble in Little China” to him one day and he didn’t believe me that it was a real song…or movie. Lest to say, a quick youtube visit and he’s been educated now!

 

Title. Ha. Great!

 

nastywetsmear: Have you tried sitting you son down over a cup of chocolate milk, in a quiet room with no distractions and, as a father, just doing the right thing… And hitting him till he stops?

HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA

So true, so true

 
 

great article

 

‘Griefing’ is a part of life in games like Rust/DayZ

Best time I have had in DayZ was when we and 5 guys found a few RHIBs and traveled up and down the coast ah la vikings. WAS THE BEST. You sometimes just have to take a YOLO attitude and not get too hung up on getting killed and having to start again. Often that early grind and player interaction is half the fun.

Except when vikings land in electro and take your stuff. Good fun for the vikings though.

 
Nasty Wet Smear

cybermau:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n82h52MkxUU

It’s true, that’s exactly the scene I was thinking of. I was just trying to phrase it slightly differently so that the punch line was still a funny surprise.

I am exposed! :(

 
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