Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

22 September, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Harassment
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 8:33 AM

Let’s do something really difficult this time around: consider a system for dealing with harassment.

It’s a common problem in online games, and it takes up a lot of CS time and effort. So, a good system to reduce harassment issues would be a godsend.

So, what system would you design to deal with players harassing each other? A few thoughts after the jump.

The most common system to deal with this is the ignore list. This prevents the victim from seeing the harassing messages from someone they specify. The problem is that even if you’re ignoring me, me saying nasty things about your mother on a public channel is still me saying nasty things about your mother. One extension to the ignore list idea is that it could block the use of my name by other people. So, if I’m ignoring you, then you can no longer use my name in your communication. This stops a lot more harassment, although there are c.o.m.m.o.n w.a.y.s around that problem. :P The other problem is that this could create a lot more server-side processing.

What are your thoughts on systems to combat harassment in games?

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  1. At least one online game out there has a system for rating characters positively or negatively; off the top of my head, Maple Story has its Fame. Each character can give or remove a point of fame once a day. This is only used to control access to some quests, I think, and mostly players just seem to buy it with the game’s currency from other characters.

    Altering that idea slightly, say each player (NOT character) could rate any character not belonging to them positively or negatively, once; positive ratings give +1 to that character’s rating, and negative ratings give -1, with this overall score beginning at 0 on creation. Re-rating the character removes the effect of the previous rating, and applies the new one. Maybe give the option to just unrate characters rated previously, too.
    Then perhaps limit privileges to a character if their rating gets too far below 0, similar to penalties for rampant PvPing in older games, or perhaps give players the option to automatically ignore characters with a rating below a given value, a la… Slashdot’s comments.

    The main problem I see with this idea is, like Maple Story’s Fame system, positive and negative ratings could be bought from a player. Limiting rating to occurring between an account and a character, rather than character to character, prevents abuse through newly-created characters, however.
    It’s also more data to record about each account (who they’ve rated previously, how they’ve rated previously) and character (rating score), and again more processing server-side to produce the effects players see.

    Comment by Rebecca — 22 September, 2008 @ 10:38 AM

  2. That would be a terrible system. If I rip you off and put you on ignore you can’t tell anyone about it.

    What about limiting how much every player can talk in public chat and letting players create/join unlimited private chat channels. Then you leave the channel that the harraser is in and he can only bitch at those who stay. Now if someone created the channel for a purpose(selling his latest peice of loot) he’ll probably kick that guy as a distraction. Private channels give the players away to police the problem themselves.

    Then all the guy can do is spam every 60 seconds “Join /c WhaledawgSuXXBall$$ so I can tell you how much Whaledawg sucks balls.”

    Comment by Whaledawg — 22 September, 2008 @ 12:04 PM

  3. Are we talking about dealing with harassment on a 1 to 1 basis, or kicking it up to a social/community level? I wrote on my blog an idea for moderating miscreants within a “daddy is getting angry” framework.

    Was it EQ or UO which had a system whereby characters get rated as being criminals or murderers, depending on how much PvP mayhem you cause? I’d like to see a system where characters can have their social reputation similarly affected, like Rebecca describes, with the consequence of down-ranked players becoming flagged for open-PvP. Gold spammers and gold beggars sure wouldn’t last long ;-)

    I’d make it such that you’d have be within physical range to down-flag someone, simply to avoid having an entire guild piling on out of blind loyalty.

    I suspect also that any modding system should have not only a rationing limiter (eg. five per day, or once per target), but also a personal cost. Such as: every time you downrank someone, you also get downranked .. thus if you go downrank-happy you will soon be open-pvp flagged too (good riddance, you grumpy old b*stard) .. but if you just downrank one or two then you’re probably safe.

    Comment by Garumoo — 23 September, 2008 @ 4:27 AM

  4. The key word here is “reduce”. That’s yet another problem that can’t be completely taken care of. Unless you remove the ability to chat and allow players to only use predefined chat lines (like the free version of Wizard 101).

    The ignore system is probably the wisest to implement. Easy to create, easy to maintain and usually gets the job done. Doesn’t prevent someone from saying nasty things about your mother on public channel but we agreed that we’re only looking to reduce harassment.

    I think the rating system is a good idea too. When a player gets a too low rating, switch him to predefined chat lines (maybe for a week?) to prevent more harassment. By linking votes to IP or credit card, you make sure alts aren’t used for harassing someone with the rating system.

    Of course, you open the door to people that will give you low rating just because they feel like “1-starring” everyone for no reason. If people “trust” others to chose the leader of a country, I guess this same system could be used to decide who have access to chat. The result might be unfair and wrong but is usually “good enough” to prevent going into chaos.

    I was surprised to learn that the rating system on Kongregate could in fact “hide” a game from the website if its rating is too low. But so far, I am not aware of any abuse of this feature that have lead to the removal of a “good” game.

    Comment by Over00 — 23 September, 2008 @ 5:39 AM

  5. Just make it world open ffa PvP =p

    Comment by R — 23 September, 2008 @ 7:21 AM

  6. Seems we’re running into the old problem of trying to solve a social problem with technology — which always fails.

    We can invent certain measures to (at least) make the problem smaller. But every one of these measures can have side-effects waiting to be exploited. Like Whaledawg said: “If I rip you off and put you on ignore you can’t tell anyone about it.” Or the player ratings: a large enough gang (read: somethingawful like the goonfleet!) might want to piss off someone with collectively rating him down — while they themselves rating each other up.

    I don’t say nothing can be done, but that’s a slippery slope.

    Comment by DeltaTango — 23 September, 2008 @ 12:42 PM

  7. I would like to see a more solid community system built into the game, or maybe even spanning multiple games. Every time you meet someone new, you should be able to see if you have common friends and if anyone you know has blocked that person, and a tag explaining why. Also, when any of your friends block another player, you should have the option to be notified. Then you can decide whether you trust your friend enough to ignore that player too. This way you can by yourself decide if you think you can trust that new person, based on what other people you have befriended think. I do not know how extensively this has been implemented in games I have not played though.

    Comment by Mrop — 26 September, 2008 @ 8:31 AM

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