Ganking, Stealing & Training: Bullying Or Viable Strategies?

Petter over at Don’t Fear the Mutant had an interesting post about his reaction to some players exploiting others (in particular to some bank heists in Darkfall). It got me thinking about ganking and stealing and all of the less savoury activities which occur in MMOs and how we perceive them. Are they bullying tactics that some players exploit to ruin the fun of others? Or are they legitimate strategies as allowed by the confines of the game?

The Loco-Motion in action

The Loco-Motion in action

Right back when I first started playing Everquest, I soon heard the words “ganking” and “griefing”. These were terms coined to describe activities that were outside of the considered norms of acceptable behaviour. For instance, in EQ it was possible to purposefully ‘train’ NPC enemies onto unsuspecting players and wipe them out completely. It was a side effect from the game design as enemies were incredibly tenacious and would literally chase you until you were either dead or reached another zone. They were also incredibly fickle and aggressive and had no qualms about focusing their attention on anyone else that got in their path. Fansy the Bard became infamous for this and it was an activity that was bound to not only irritate players but also attract the attention of the GMs.

A little later when I started playing Dark Age of Camelot on a FFA PvP server I had my first ganking experience. I distinctly recall my level 8 character being killed repeatedly at my spawn point by a level 50 Lurikeen Eldritch. Eventually I had to pull the plug and walk away because he just wouldn’t stop and, suffice to say, it put me off PvP for a while. However, unlike trains in Everquest, this was not considered a player offense and the GMs would do nothing about it as they deemed it to be a perfectly legitimate PvP activity.

Of course now we have games like EVE Online in which infiltrating corporations, betraying comrades and robbing banks are not only legitimate parts of the game but actually part of it’s appeal. It’s all very confusing. If I betrayed my guild in EVE I could be a hero but if I did it in World of Warcraft, I’d be the scum of the Earth. Where exactly are the boundaries and who defines them?

It seems to me that the more freedom the developers bestow on the player, the less they will interfere with the activities that go on within the games walls. So long as this made clear, players don’t seem to have a problem with it either. The other end of the extreme are games like WoW which heavily shackle players (not necessarily a bad thing) and protect them from ‘anti-social’ behavior. This of course stems into the whole risk vs reward discussion and even into the hardcore vs carebear debate.

Conflict seem to occur however when a players conceptions of a game don’t meet the rules of the gameworld. If you play Darkfall and don’t expect, at some point, to be slaughtered without mercy, you aren’t going to have a good time. Same goes if you play WoW and expect the freedom to kill someone who looks at you the wrong way but don’t have it.

The thing I don’t understand though is how available activities within a game can be branded as “good” or “bad”. This isn’t the real world and the developers have the power to influence and restrict or control any activity we can do. Should the player really be reprimanded for doing something that’s entirely possible within the game world? If it’s not desirable, it just shouldn’t be allowable within the game.

For instance, if Everquest allows trains then isn’t that a perfectly viable strategy for clearing out unwanted players from a camp spot? Why wouldn’t it be? And if WoW allows me to infiltrate a guild and pillage their bank then isn’t that just another part of the game? Why would it be acceptable in one game but not in another? When does an activity go from being a viable strategy into a bully-boy tactic?

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  1. Arkenor says:

    The problem is that most of the worst sorts of behaviour in games like Darkfall lack risk or consequences.

    Sure, you can make an alt and rob a guild. Where was the risk in that? And there’s nothing they can do by way of consequences, as you’ll have transferred the stuff to your real character, and they won’t likely know who that is.

    It’s a cool thing to do in some segments of the MMOing population, but most people would regard it as going well over the line. Companies that let one person hurt potentially hundreds of other players at no risk are not going to find their games find mass appeal.

    • Gordon says:

      I would actually suggest that these behaviours have a higher risk in sandbox games like DF and EVE because your enemies can actually do something about it. Piss off a major corp in EVE Online and you’ll be feeling the pain for a very, very long time. Of course, do it in WoW and there’s nothing anyone can do back to you.

      • Dblade says:

        It’s very easy to circumvent on that by the use of alts and alt accounts. Only the stupid usually pay. That major corp can’t do anything to an alt you play once for the scam and never again.

        • Hirvox says:

          Well, that depends on where the stolen stuff is. If it’s deep in enemy territory, it may be technically in possession of the thief, but he can’t use it any more than the original owners without getting shot at. Of course, crafty thieves will have an another mole in place in the victim corporation to move the stuff out when nobody’s looking.

  2. Petter says:

    I still believe it is a matter of perspective. Take a look at that guy again – he didn’t use any in-game means, he pretended to be another person and fooled his way into the guilds to pillage their banks. His version of subterfuge should have been followed up by the devs, pretending to be another person to ruin the game for other people feels quite different than infiltrating a corp in EVE to get to the hangars by subterfuge.

    I would never have branded someone a hero in EVE if they managed to pretended to be someone in a corp and then rob the bank, just like any case of identify-fraud IRL. A train of mobs to clear out a camp in EQ is completely different, because it is a part of the game mechanics.

    I see what you mean, and I might not be expressing myself right. What happened with those bank robberies in Darkfall had nothing to do with the sandbox nature of DF, though. It just happened to be that particular game the idiot was playing.

    • Hirvox says:

      I still believe it is a matter of perspective. Take a look at that guy again – he didn’t use any in-game means, he pretended to be another person and fooled his way into the guilds to pillage their banks. His version of subterfuge should have been followed up by the devs, pretending to be another person to ruin the game for other people feels quite different than infiltrating a corp in EVE to get to the hangars by subterfuge.

      And how do you assume that thieves get access to corp hangars in Eve?-) While one can blow up a POS and take whatever’s left from the wreckage, the vast majority of important stuff is stored in stations, which cannot be destroyed. The only way to gain access to that stuff is to convince the corporation leadership to give you access.

      • Hirvox says:

        Argh, forgot to close the blockquote tag. The first paragraph is Petter’s, the latter is my reply.

      • Petter says:

        The only way to gain access to that stuff is to convince the corporation leadership to give you access.

        Absolutely. I’m just hung up on the whole identity-fraud thing. :)

      • Gordon says:

        I think because players in EVE accept this to be a risk and part of the game, they don’t see it as against the rules and thus don’t see it as a form of griefing.

        • Hirvox says:

          Inded, it is mostly a cultural issue. If one has gotten used to a culture where people generally don’t steal and speak the truth with no ulterior motives, then the first act of deception and thievery is going to be a shock. But then again, Darkfall, like Eve, was hyped as a cutthroat game where actions like these do happen. I’m not saying that every Darkfall/Eve player should be a thieving honorless murderer, but one needs to acknowledge that there are people who do want to play amoral characters for some reason or another.

          • Gordon says:

            Absolutely. I haven’t played DF but I always imagined it to be a cut throat game or, rather, to at least have that type of element and player in it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all actually and in fact sometimes it can be very appealing. Just goes to show how differently the game is marketted and percieved compared to something like WoW.

    • Jeremy S. says:

      I am not belittling your comment, just relating it to how I view it pertains to “greifing”.

      I don’t view it as griefing. What he did, I would call just simply a massive guild/bank heist. It’s just guild robbing to an extreme, in my book. I don’t think it was nice of him, and I don’t think I’d say “Hi” and offer him a cookie if I ever ran into him:)

      I suppose I use the term more for repetitive attempts at stopping my enjoyment of the game while I’m currently playing it, for the purpose of ending my immediate fun.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a very blurry line, indeed, and hard to know where things start and stop. I guess one of the defining factors is that the devs in sandbox games like DF and EVE have decided to let the players rule themselves so essentially nothing is against the rules. However, in a game like WoW, ripping off another player is probably againt the games T&Cs and thus Blizzard could ban you for it.

  3. Yetian says:

    Nice post.

    I have experienced trains and ganking in games such as eq ad darkfall. It was ganking that put me off darkfall. I can understand having the ability to do it in game but I felt there should be in game penalties for killing your own allies.

    I guess the question for me isn’t is it right to do it if it’s allowed by the game rules. It’s more a question of is it right as an action within my own ideals.

    I play mmo’s for the social aspect as well as the gameplay and I am aware that ruining someones game experience isn’t something I want to do.

    I guess I try to treat people how I want to be treated. Sure I will moan at others that act in a way I don’t like but if the game allows it there isn’t much i can do.

    As with darkfall it can put me off a game but there are other mmo’s that don’t suffer from the same problems so i just move on.

    There is also the point though that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to or should do so.

    • Gordon says:

      Absolutely. I never liked ganking but then I know people who would do it without a second thought. It all boils down to how we perceive the game. Some people consider it part of the fun, others don’t. For instance, if you played Lineage 2 you’ll see that Koreans have a very different attitude towards PvP and ganking and griefing than most Westerners do. We see such activities as against the “rules”, they see it as part of the game. Very interesting stuff actually.

  4. Brian Inman says:

    I totally remember trains in EQ, and how pissed players would get if someone trained to the right instead of the left, and died.

    In EQ if would really tick you off because you either had to pay for a rez, run back naked, or whatever.

    I am sure most of the time it was done on purpose, but back in the EQ days you couldn’t run from your reputation.

    In MMO’s these days it is too easy to change names, factions, and servers where you can be a jerk, and get away with it for RL money.

  5. The question of “good” or “bad” activities is because code can’t accurately judge intent. If someone goes and pulls out a bunch of stuff from the guild vault and then mails it to another character, are they robbing the guild vault or merely cleaning out unused items? Even if you put code in to stop someone from robbing the guild blind, someone is going to run into the protections during a legitimate activity; that means customer service time.

  6. Jeremy S. says:

    I put a comment about this somewhere, if only I could remember where…

    I consider griefing to be “A griefer is a player whose only objective in the game is to cause grief. Such players are a particular nuisance in online gaming communities, since they often cannot be deterred by penalties related to in-game goals. The term originated in the early 1990s, when online games were growing in popularity. [1]

    Exact griefing methods differ from game to game. Common methods include:

    * Intentional friendly fire
    * Using third-party hack programs
    * Falsely accusing others of griefing behavior
    * Written and/or verbal insults
    * Exploitation of unintended game mechanics
    * Stealing other player’s items and/or experience
    * Spamming
    * Spawn camping
    * Acting out-of-character in a role-play setting”
    Pretty much what wikipedia says about it.

    What is exploitation…? I consider it to be pretty gratuitous. If someone does it to me 3 or more times in a row, subsequently significantly halting my gameplay/fun experience to the point I need to log.

    Example: 2 players, one camping a WoW spawn point, while the other camps my corpse. So no matter if I run to my corpse, I can’t get away(assuming a lot higher lvl than me), or if I rez at spawn point.

    It’s not saying there isn’t a way out. It’s gratuitous behavior by another that knows what I am trying to achieve and purposely sets out to stop me from doing that.

    There are games where killing is the only objective. But even in these games, it would be say utilizing super-heavy artillery set up next to your spawn, and just auto killing you every time you rez.

    The definition, alone can’t account for how it is acted out in each game, so you have to know how the definition of griefing will fit into the game you play.

  7. Petter says:

    Since you linked my entry, I’d just like to point to this part of the comments where Callan points out where I fumbled the ball. :)

  8. Evony player says:

    Who cares really, let people do whatever they want in a MMO. It’s a game after all, should be dealt with in the game by other players.

  9. boatorious says:

    People like to play poker, but usually only when money is involved. That’s because Poker is an awful, boring game that can only become interesting when there’s a little money riding on it.

    Likewise, any game that allows (or encourages) reckless griefing is generally covering for lack of content and good gameplay. Because if you _had_ content or good gameplay, you would want players to enjoy it, and they can’t if they are constantly being griefed.

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