Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

8 September, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Anonymity

One of the best and worst things about the internet is anonymity. On one hand, anonymity allows people to be whistleblowers without putting themselves at risk; however, it also allows people to spread lies without being responsible for the effects.

So, let’s think about this in terms of online games. How does anonymity affect gameplay and metagame issues?

One obvious problem is that people will do vicious things to other people with few fears of repercussions. Some people call this the “punch in the face effect”, where you can say things that you would never say offline for fear of being punched in the face if said to another person. People who grief online aren’t always the nicest people, but they can sometimes be surprisingly decent people offline. They just don’t take online interactions seriously.

In Meridian 59, anonymity has caused a major problem. A common tactic was to roll a new character and try to get in good graces with the enemies of your guild. After gaining confidence, the mole could then take over guild halls and/or steal items from the target guild. This lead to a lot of heartache, but it was a mechanic designed into the game by the previous designers. A patch in the current incarnation of the game puts a special line of text in the description of a player that is truly new to the game. Re-rolling an old character means that you won’t have that line and people can be more wary about your story of “just starting the game.”

Consider, what kinds of gameplay could you design that take anonymity into consideration? Could you design interesting mechanics that take that into consideration? For example, a lot of text MUD designers talked about systems where you had to be introduced to a player before you even knew their name; before that, the player may appear to be like an NPC. This was intended to get people to interact more if they wanted to get to know others, or people could ignore others and remain segregated if that suited them.

What do you think? How can anonymity be dealt with in gameplay?


  1. My take is that it cannot really be taken care of so you’re better to take this into consideration right from the start.

    An ignore function might be nice to get rid of regular annoyers but since having multiple accounts is a common thing (even easier if the game is free to play like Golemizer), you can’t be 100% sure you’ll never meet “bad people”. Things like IP banning is never 100% efficient and ends up consuming a lot of time without being able to please either side and at the risk of committing errors.

    So to prevent any abuse, don’t add systems like shared buildings. Of course, you’ll be cutting an interesting feature for players that would enjoy it.

    The case you’re talking about in Meridian 59 reminds me a lot some of the stories I’ve read about Eve Online. However, it seems that in Eve Online this kind of behavior is tolerated if not “encouraged”. They wanted a dangerous world with dirty tactics and they got it. This is probably cutting some audience from the game but they got a nice niche and seem to be doing just fine with it. So in their case, anonymity is not an annoyance but a “feature”!

    A system I’m thinking to add to Golemizer for the time I’ll add a permission system to buildings (so guilds can share them) is some kind of IP logs that everyone can take a look at.

    An option will be added to the tooltip menu over each players to show all characters that share an IP link with the current characters. It’s still not bulletproof but this might help someone to notice that this “noob” does in fact share some kind of link to this character from an enemy guild. Or it might just tell that this player is on the same network as another.

    Now this is for Golemizer. I have another game idea where it would look more like Eve Online with possibly some kind of splash screen on login saying: “Players WILL kill your character, others WILL fool you and they WILL steal from you… and you can do exactly the same! Check here to agree []”

    Not sure if this might work but at least I don’t have to fear wasting some suit’s big money.

    Comment by Over00 — 8 September, 2008 @ 6:38 AM

  2. Another way you could ‘prevent’ anonymity:

    - Advanced functions such as a guild rank beyond introductory require a paid account
    - Payment by credit card is checked against cards on file; duplicate accounts are not allowed
    - Accounts may create as many alts or mules as staff deem appropriate; mules are always linkable back to a single base account.

    If someone wants to destroy their credit score in real life (by having too many cards) so they can grief in an online game, I ask, who is truly the griefer, and who is the griefed?

    Comment by Bret — 8 September, 2008 @ 8:18 PM

  3. I love the ability to be dishonest in games, and every time I hear about some huge years-long heist in which a player wrecks havoc in a game world like this I think “Hey, they found a way to actually CHANGE that world they were in! Good for that person!” The problem isn’t the ability to be dishonest, it’s that there are no repercussions, imo, and that’s the angle of the game that needs fixing. As such, I’m with Over00 in tying each player to a single identity by credit card/address on the back end, but in game I suggest making it more complex. Give players two identities.

    One that they would set up when they created the game, and could never change (or it was such a huge task that maybe a few players a year could manage to pull it off. Give meaning to the term ‘epic’.) Fill out the static rap sheet with first name, last name, DOB, home city (all fictional if they want,) and the likes. The second, and more malleable identity, is the one that players could use to fool each other. If you ‘introduced’ yourself to a player (click them, then click introduce’,) then they would see your nickname over your head and could point you out to friends in a crowd. But if you change any strong features (hair, face, etc,) then you lose them (depending on their keen detection stats,) and they wouldn’t recognize you, or see your name over your head (again.) If you reveal your true self to them, then they will always recognize you, forever, by your real name, regardless of the superficial changes you make to your character. (Again, unless you get the ‘epic change’, like a mobster underoing facial reconstruction.)

    Of course, players can always LIE about others’ identity, too. Point someone out of a crowd, give the wrong nickname or ‘static identity’, lie about the info you have on them, and you could easly start a war (if the person you were lying to trusted you.) I, for instance, would never elect someone who I didn’t know for certain to the head of my guild, and if they did anything dishonest, they’d always be a target of revenge for me. (And assuming they didn’t know my static identity, they’d never see it coming after I went off, changed my malleable identity, and came back.)

    … Yeah, I’ve given this some thought… But it’s just a notion I dug.

    Comment by Jeffool — 10 September, 2008 @ 10:21 AM

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