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Should players be in charge of accountability?

Anne Stickney

Once upon a time in vanilla World of Warcraft, player behavior was something that was kept in check by server community. How did this happen? Well at that point in time, there wasn't really anything in game that was cross-server. If you wanted to do something in game, you had to do it with people from your realm -- and if you misbehaved, players were quick to call you on your behavior in a very public manner.

Because of this, players that were legitimately called out by the community soon found themselves with nothing to do, because nobody would group with them. Their only choice was to re-roll on another server and start over -- at this point, you couldn't even transfer your characters to other servers if you wanted to. And oddly enough, the system that wasn't really a system completely worked. Players that were jerks eventually had their jerk-ish ways come back to bite them on the butt, and the rest of the server community happily resumed playing.

While cross-realm play is incredibly useful for opening up the player base, it's had the unfortunate side effect of getting rid of that accountability aspect of the game from vanilla. What's to be done about a jerk if that jerk is on another server?

Should players be in charge of accountability
The problem isn't necessarily all in the hands of players being unwilling to report problem players. Stubborn over at Sheep the Diamond wrote an incredibly interesting post last week about poor behavior in video games and what can be done about it, including a bunch of well-designed graphics that fully illustrate the problem at hand. It's not just a matter of people being jerks, you see -- it's a matter of not really seeing anything come out of reporting people. As far as we know, when we hit that magic report button and click submit, our reports are lost in the aether, and nothing is accomplished.

Stubborn brought up an interesting point in all of this. It can be likened to the relationship between bully, audience, victim and authority. A bully hounds a victim for the audience -- for attention, for support, for popularity -- and the victim goes to the authority for help. Theoretically, the authority should come down on the bully for what they are doing. In Blizzard's setup, we never see that relationship between authority and bully. We never know what's being done in these cases, or even that anything is being done at all. Which leaves the victim feeling powerless and disillusioned; the worst possible place to be.

Yet in vanilla, this little power struggle played out very differently, and it was for one very specific reason. The audience, in the form of the server community, had their own say in the matter. While the audience was not the authority, they could still choose who to support, and who to punish in the form of denying groups, chatter, and all that cool stuff that comes with playing an MMO. Because of this, bad behavior was by and large kept in check. So the question is, can anything be done about this now, in an age of cross-server everything?

Should players be in charge of accountability
Stubborn sure thinks so, and it's by looking at what other games have accomplished. Specifically League of Legends, which implemented a Tribunal system that allows players to have a direct say in what happens when players are reported. Players that log into the Tribunal system are given a case to review, with all applicable chat logs, game statistics and report details. That player can then decide whether to punish or pardon the offender -- or in a case where they cannot make up their mind, they can simply skip to the next incident.

The results have been huge. 50% of the players warned by the Tribunal just once never end up there again. 94% of the players who get enough reports to warrant facing the Tribunal are punished -- by their peers. It's taking the accountability for being a decent human being and putting it back where it should be, in the hands of those that have to deal with these problematic players on a daily basis.

Is this something that would work for World of Warcraft? That's a good question, but I think it's already been answered to a degree. It was answered back in the days before cross-realm groups, dungeons and raids, when server communities performed the task of policing problem players all on their own, without the input of authority at all. Take a look at Stubborn's full post for more -- and for more on League of Legend's unique Tribunal system, the League of Legends wiki can fill you in.

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