The Other Kind of MMO: The Materazzi Problem

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Jul 25, 2020

Filed under: Video Games 104 comments

In the last entry I covered my first attempts at a rental scam and joining the player alliance called Goonswarm. This picks up there.

Shortly after I joined Goonswarm, they relocated to a different region of space in the north called “Deklein,” and more specifically the station in the VFK-IV system, which for years to come would be the de facto capital of Goon country. Almost immediately after moving they fought a war. Earlier in this series I promised not only a bunch of long, rambling stories but a bunch of long, rambling stories that contain potential game design lessons. Goonswarm’s war against another alliance called “Goodfellas” is one such story: it illustrates something I’m going to call the “Materazzi Problem.”I am going to explain what that means, bear with me.

It's not always easy to find good screenshots of large fleet fights, but I think this is a pretty good one.
It's not always easy to find good screenshots of large fleet fights, but I think this is a pretty good one.

Like I said, we fought a war. I don’t entirely remember the cassus belli for this one – Goonswarm had an ally in the region called TCF, and claimed that Goodfellas had broken some agreement with TCF or something, so now they had to go. The real reason was that Goons were big (thousands of members) and Goodfellas were small (merely hundreds, I don’t remember how many). Wars like this between mismatched opponents are sometimes called “evictions” and this was a classic example. Goonswarm employed a typical two-step strategy: 1. shoot stationary objects for hours and 2. station camp their opponents and shower them with abuse.

The first part of this strategy (shoot stationary objects for hours) is just the necessary busywork required for a change in sovereignty: various types of player owned structure (or POS) have to have their giant oceans of HP slowly whittled away over the course of days or weeks. It’s not super fun, but someone’s gotta do it. What’s more, depending on the type of structure and whether or not it’s been “stronted”That is, it has something called “Strontium Clathrates,” I’ll probably have to explain all this eventually but not right now. you may have to do it several times. My first hands-on experiences with nullsec war consisted of spending entire afternoons shooting conquerable NPC stations while playing online poker in another window.

More on the mechanical difficulties of sov warfare (and there are many) later in the series. The second part of Goonswarm’s strategy – “station camp their opponents and shower them with abuse” – is the one I want to write about now. You might think that it’s just superfluous gloating, a way of rubbing it in. You’d be partly right, but it’s also part of a larger strategy centered around the question of “how do we actually defeat them?”

There's some good spaceship art in this game, which holds up under close camera angles. It could be updated to a new engine pretty well, I bet. Just saying.
There's some good spaceship art in this game, which holds up under close camera angles. It could be updated to a new engine pretty well, I bet. Just saying.

This is a trickier question to answer than you might think. In EVE, no matter how many times you kill your enemies, they can always respawn in a new clone. No matter how many of their ships you blow up, they can always buy more – and what’s more, there are ways of making substantial ISK in almost complete safety. All this together means that there’s no real mechanical, in-game way to permenantly destroy a persistent enemy. They can always come back for round two, or three, or however many they’re up for.

Without a clear in-game victory condition, Goonswarm’s leadership settled on a meta one: breaking the enemy’s morale. The term of art that’s emerged to describe this process is “failure cascade,” frequently shortened to “failscade.” Back in the late 2000s, a Goonswarm bigwig called “TheMittani” wrote a series of articles for the website that explained what a failure cascade is. It’s difficult to find the original versions of the articles, but they’ve been rehosted at Goonswarm’s own website. This one in particular – called “Inside the Failure Cascade” – explains the process pretty clearly. One quote defines the term:

The Definition:

A failure cascade is the disintegration of an alliance caused by collective helplessness in the face of sustained and unrationalizable adversity through a process of pilot attribution shifting from the alliance to the corporation or the individual.

Failure cascades follow a predictable five-stage causal chain.

Sustained Adversity -> Failure of Rationalization -> Collective Helplessness -> Change in Identification -> Collapse and Recovery

When we say that an alliance is in the ‘early stages’ of a cascade, this often means that they are reacting poorly to sustained adversity. “Late Stage” cascade frequently refers to the helplessness phase, because changes in identification are rapidly followed by collapse.

This is an attempt to define the term in academic-type language, but I’ll try more colloquial terms: if you make things unpleasant enough for your opponents, they’ll stop playing the game. This wasn’t just some incidental trick Goonswarm employed, it was at the heart of their strategy as an alliance. At the time, new players (including me) were encouraged to go through a certain 30-day skill training scheduleIf you remember, in EVE you learn skills by ‘training’ them automatically in real time. designed to prepare them to fly a type of ship called a “Drake.” The Drake is a battlecruiser – a cheap, simple, straightforward, versatile ship with a ton of space hitpoints.

The Drake was more than just a cheap ship that most players can afford to lose. It was, on some level, a statement of strategic intent on Goonswarm’s part. Their grand strategy at the time was sometimes summarized as “Drakes, Drakes, Drakes” – endless, disposable, irritating ships that made you not want to fight anymore. From the last few paragraphs, you might think that my intention is just to dump on Goonswarm and say they ruined EVE, when in fact – given their strategic situation – their behavior makes a certain kind of sense. I mean, no wonder they won so many wars. Who would want to fight them? Easier to just log off until they go somewhere else.

This – finally – brings us back to the Materazzi problem. Marco Materazzi, if you don’t recognize the name, is an Italian soccer defender who played in the 2006 World Cup. The final match came down to Italy vs. France. During the course of the game, Materazzi was able to get under the skin of French player Zinedine Zidane so much that Zidane straight-up headbutted him square in the chest in front of the entire world.

Link (YouTube)

Zidane was (rightly) given a red card and ejected from the game. Italy went on to win, making the United States 2006 co-World Cup championsBecause, earlier in the tournament, we tied with them 1-1 in the group stage, thereby proving ourselves their equals. My logic is impeccable.. What Materazzi did is something like what Goonswarm has done: turned toxicity into a competitive advantage. Zidane was a once in a generation playmaker and a key contributor to France’s team, but a few jokes about his “terrorist whore of a sister” (or whatever Materazzi actually said, we’ll probably never know) and he was watching the game from the stands like the rest of us. Victory?

The racist/misogynist elements of that confrontation were not a coincidence. If you want to fluster someone, brazenly crossing cultural boundaries is one way to do it. In Goonswarm, players were marinated in these juices, which prepared them to dish it out to other people. When I was there, Goons casually insulted each other all the time. Homophobic slurs were a standard part of the alliance’s vocabulary. The practice of making in-game money was referred to as “jewing.” The route used to take valuable materials back to highsec to be sold was called the “jewperhighway.”

This was not limited to Goonswarm. Later, I had characters in other nullsec alliances – while every one is different, with different lingo and in-jokes, they’re also largely the same. Toxicity is standard, or at least it was when I was playing regularly. This isn’t even limited to EVE either; later, trying to scratch the mass PvP itch, I tried other games, like a Korean MMO called ArcheAge and the World vs. World (or WvW) mode of Guild Wars 2. While some of these games were better moderated than others, all featured some level of toxicity among the “hardcore” players.

One of EVE Online's fundamental advantages as a game is that a bunch of rocks floating in space can be really pretty.
One of EVE Online's fundamental advantages as a game is that a bunch of rocks floating in space can be really pretty.

Developers should expect this to be the case for as long as toxic behavior can give players a competitive advantage. For some, it might not even seem like a problem. It’s easy to take the attitude of “if you don’t like it, play another game. This is the real manly man’s game for manly men, and occasionally women and others. If you aren’t ruthless and psychologically invincible, go play solitaire or something.” An easy answer, but a flawed one. MMOs depend on their playerbases to stay alive, and limiting your playerbase to those comfortable with constant insults is, in my opinion, a long-term loser of a strategy.

How to solve the Materazzi problem? I wish there was an easy way, but the only solution I can see is dedicated moderation. In my opinion, anyone starting an online game needs to have well-trained, numerous moderators to head off abusive behavior as best they can and as soon as they find it. I know this is financially inconvenient, but in my opinion it costs even more NOT to do it. Toxicity in a game’s playerbase reliably incurs hidden, insidious, long-term costs not immediately evident in a financial statement or balance sheet.

So that covers my first ever space war. There are more stories to tell, and more to be learned from them – I’ll continue next entry.



[1] I am going to explain what that means, bear with me.

[2] That is, it has something called “Strontium Clathrates,” I’ll probably have to explain all this eventually but not right now.

[3] If you remember, in EVE you learn skills by ‘training’ them automatically in real time.

[4] Because, earlier in the tournament, we tied with them 1-1 in the group stage, thereby proving ourselves their equals. My logic is impeccable.

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104 thoughts on “The Other Kind of MMO: The Materazzi Problem

  1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    How did you handle that toxic culture Bob? Was it easy to just not engage with it, or did it stunt your ability to move up the ranks?

    1. sheer_falacy says:

      Given the basic premise that they were playing the game entirely to scam other people, Bob handled it by contributing to it.

  2. Hector says:

    That is… unpleasant. Bob, I suppose you were young at the time but can’t imagine hanging out with that crowd myself. Throwing out casual anti-semitism is a hard line and I basically won’t stay with people who cross it. I’ve heard some unpleasant stories about the Goons in that department

    1. KillerAngel says:

      I would not be surprised if those were fairly tame examples in comparison to many of the other things they do. Just guessing, though. I’ve never played EVE, but I have played other games with toxicity, and if they are anything alike…

    2. Laswer Hawk says:

      Hence the -50 faction rep. Goonswarm only exists to reduce the amount of fun in the world. The underlying psychology at work is pure evil.

  3. Scerro says:

    PvP games seem to inevitably take the lead in toxicity. Even ones that limit communication to the enemy team.

    Literally the only game that I don’t run into toxic behaviour is Final Fantasy 14. And that’s because they moderate that game intensely. Anything even sort of inappropriate (PG-13) is subject to moderation, and strikes don’t go away. The Eliteists are kept well in check, and there’s a lot more middle ground for players taking their first step into Extreme trials and Savage raiding. The only content that matters is PvE, though.

    My EVE experience was mostly chill highsec exploration, so I seem to have avoided all of the super toxic stuff.

  4. raifield says:

    It could be updated to a new engine pretty well, I bet. Just saying.

    As I put in my reason for cancellation when I left EVE: The game came out in 2003. The time to have been working on EVE Online 2 was in 2008. We should have EVE Online III or something by now. Imagine Elite: Dangerous or X4: Foundations, but with EVE’s industrial and economic models. I mean, X4 is actually pretty close, but it’s not a MMO.

    But we aren’t getting that. Or anything other than what we’ve got. The only competition EVE Online ever had was Earth & Beyond and that was only online for a year after EVE’s release (2002 – 2004). CCP made its money without having to develop a new game, so they didn’t develop a new game. Its new owners don’t seem particularly interested in doing so either.

    1. Sartharina says:

      If you want to know why successful MMOs don’t get sequels, look at Everquest. The new game competes with the old, half the players refuse to give up the years of investment, the other half gies to try out the new and finds they changed it so it sucks, and both games/communities irreparably collapse.

  5. Grimwear says:

    Toxicity is an interesting problem. Back when I used to play mmos my position was “if you don’t like it, turn on the chat filter”. This was for most things like derogatory terms or profanity. Obviously targeted attacks means getting mods involved but for the most part I had a laissez faire attitude. I still mostly hold to that though I will report people who use what I deem deeply offensive terms so I am a bit of a hypocrite in that fashion.

    But even with the EVE terms it reminds me that regardless of what’s being said, this type of griefing will always exist. World of Warcraft has it so that if an alliance player says “lol” Horde sees “bur”. Which then leads to Horde repeating “bur” and Alliance seeing “lok”. Anytime as a horde I’d gank an alliance member I’d default to spamming “bur” at them because that’s just how it went. And when I got ganked the alliance would say “bur”. And I saw A LOT of burs in my day.

  6. tmtvl says:

    Ooh, psy ops in a game where nobody can really get hurt. That’s clever.

    Reminds me of the battles in Lord of the Rings, where armies aren’t defeated because they’re wiped off the map, but because their morale doesn’t hold.

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Which is basically how battles work in real life too; battles aren’t fought to wipe out the enemy side, but to get them to break and give up—and ultimately wars are only won the same way.

  7. “How to solve the Materazzi problem? I wish there was an easy way, but the only solution I can see is dedicated moderation. In my opinion, anyone starting an online game needs to have well-trained, numerous moderators to head off abusive behavior as best they can and as soon as they find it. I know this is financially inconvenient, but in my opinion it costs even more NOT to do it. Toxicity in a game’s playerbase reliably incurs hidden, insidious, long-term costs not immediately evident in a financial statement or balance sheet.”

    Well, there are two ways to solve it that I know of. DDO did the first one:

    1. Griefing-proof your game. DDO is about as grief-proof as it’s possible for a cooperative game to get. The very worst thing someone could do to you is to join a quest and deliberately screw up the quest objectives in such a way that you fail the quest (or make it impossible to advance, by refusing to enter a mandatory grouping area). But they can’t stop you from leaving the quest, so at worst they’ve cost you like 20 minutes and some annoyance–and non-griefers do this crap accidentally all the time so it’s just not a big deal. The cost associated with even ultra-obnoxious behaviors like cyberstalking is high enough that it mostly doesn’t happen. All the stalkee has to do is type /ignore playername and they’ll never have to hear from you again, whereas if they report you, your account is likely to be banned (SSG has absolutely no tolerance for that kind of thing), which means you’d have to go through the entire process of creating a new account and creating a new character to annoy them again. As a result, the DDO community is remarkably nice. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use a homophobic or racist slur . . . you’d wind up on everyone’s shitlist so fast your head would spin.

    2. It costs WAY more to be an ass than it does to be pleasant. This would be for games that aren’t like DDO, which effectively has no pvp–you CAN fight other players, but it’s just messing around, you gain literally nothing from it. The game should let you get a few free hits in, but after that the attackee becomes effectively invulnerable to further harassment from the same source. Even if multiple people are being vicious, this still would mean that you only have so long to wait before they’ve run out of ability to effectively do anything to you.

    3. If the game has a pvp component it needs to actually have a “win” state FOR that pvp. If the only way to actually “win” a pvp war is to abuse the other team so much the PLAYERS quit the game, that’s a serious design issue.

    1. ivan says:

      Hate to say it, but at the end of 1. you’re describing effective moderation in action. IE: yes they made it griefing-proof, by moderating consistently enough that it forced the culture to form in a certain way.

      1. Play the game sometime to see how non-present the moderation is and how little they actually do. Trying to moderate a game like Eve Online is a losing proposition–you’ll NEVER have enough staff to do it. The system has to be designed in such a way that there’s a very small number of problems that ever make it as far as the mods.

        Moderation can’t cure dickishness, it can only function as a court of last resort for people who are full-on crazy.

        1. Scerro says:

          I disagree. Having strict standards in Global chat channels, and having a low tolerance for cursing and hate speech can shape a community very strongly.

          A lot of toxicity is held at bay in certain games just because it’s well known that seemingly “small” things can/will be reported, and bans will happen. FFXIV is a good example, because I know a lot of people in my static that would default to being a whole lot more toxic in game, but know better because of the standards the moderators have set.

          Dicks are Dicks, yes. But 80% of them can restrain themselves if there’s motivation, the other 20% will get banned out like they should be. So yes, it can be sort of “cured”. Or at least the symptoms.

          1. Distec says:

            My experience in Eve is that most chat occurs in private channels maintained by the player-run corporations and alliances, along with a dozen or so other self-selected groups. There is no “Global Chat”, except for maybe something like the Rookie channel, which is intended as a temporary place new players and IS moderated.
            This isn’t like WoW or other MMOs where you get dumped into a game with universal Global/Trade chat open to all communicators. Like so much in Eve, it actually takes a little effort to decide who you’re going to talk to and how. You have to be selective.

            So, if a self-selected player group decides to use slurs and vulgarities in their private chat channels, is moderation warranted? You could certainly make the case, but I wouldn’t bother. I’d feel rightfully resentful if I made some off-color joke to my peers in small-gang chat and got reprimanded the next day because some AI or moderator was snooping through our private messages and didn’t like my diction.

            Frankly – now that I’ve had time to think about it – I’m not sure what point Bob was making with that section of the piece. What does misogyny and racism have to do with failcascading? Bob says Goons speak this way internally all the time, but are they hurling these epithets at their foes as well? He actually doesn’t say! It’s actually annoying. Thanks for the concern, Bob.

            1. ivan says:

              Wait, so, let’s run with this hypothetical a little, please understand that’s what I’m doing, it’s not meant to be an attack. In this hypothetical I’m assuming you were just joking, not actually particularly malicious.

              You’d be resentful; I dispute the rightfully, especially since these games all have community guidelines baked in now, that say no to homophobia, sexism, etc etc. IE: you were warned.

              But, what would you do after you got done feeling resentful? Would you, change your behaviour in some way? Quit the game? Keep going, and have your preliminary punishment (muting, or something similar, probably) probably turned into a ban? How would the moderators clamping down on a bunch of off-colour jokes cause you to act in response?

              Cos, to be honest, the first one’s a net positive for everyone, including the hypothetical you. (One positive for you is you get the opportunity to come up with some more imaginative jokes.) The second’s a net positive for the game’s community as a whole, and may still positively influence you as well in your future endeavours. Ditto the last one, although the last one does have some unfortunate potential for hurt in the short term, and is overall not ideal for anyone.

              I dunno, it just seems like, a capable moderation system is not actually Tyranny (assuming, again, that you say these things as Jokes, not as “what your real opinions are, for realsies”).

        2. Steve C says:

          I’m with ivan and Scerro on this. Except in a more general sense. IE It doesn’t matter what the rules are, as long as they are enforced and visibly so, self moderation will sort itself out from the culture that develops.

          For example, Shamus and this blog. It has always been a great community. Although I remember a time when it was growing and there would be big DELETED stamped on comments. The community has grown since then based on the frequency of posts with 100 comments. I think that moderation back then did a lot to cement the culture today. I would be very surprised to hear that Shamus spends more time moderating today then he he did years ago.

          The same thing applies to games and game communities. If you devote enough time and resources at the critical stage the community is germinating, then you will forever after need less man-hours and resources to keep that parity.

  8. Thomas says:

    You even see this in rocket league. Competitive chat it way more toxic than casual chat, even when the other team are winning.

    Some of it will be the increased tension, but I’m sure some of it is is because if you can make your opponent tilt they might perform worse or quit. And it probably works

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Even if making your opponent frustrated only works some of the time, that makes it a strategy worth employing. If games have tools for players to easily deal with harassers, it mitigates this a lot. For example, in League of Legends, you can easily mute, ping-mute, and emoticon-mute any player, ally or opponent. After the game, you can report other players. It’s not a perfect system, but at least good enough for me, playing in the non-competitive mode. :)

  9. Len says:

    Rather than moderation, the proper solution is the harder one: make griefing the losing strategy.

    When I did my stint in MOBAs (on early servers where moderation was basically nonexistant), toxicity is the losing strategy since you demoralize your own team and take your own focus off the game. So while there were bad apples, they were relatively rare and toxicity was not the norm, despite the bad rept that MOBAs get.

    The other thing that would make things a lot better is to add methods of ignoring griefing. /ignore or /muting is pretty standard these days, and there are games where you can outright prevent yourself from being match-made with certain people. More games should adopt this. This probably won’t work in an MMO though (or would it? Having enough reports drop you into a server only with other toxic players?).

    These days competitive PVPs shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to ignoring toxic players because they penalize leaving games more than they penalize toxic players, forcing you to suffer through entire games with toxic players.

    As an aside:

    When I was there, Goons casually insulted each other all the time. Homophobic slurs were a standard part of the alliance’s vocabulary. The practice of making in-game money was referred to as “jewing.” The route used to take valuable materials back to highsec to be sold was called the “jewperhighway.” … This was not limited to Goonswarm. Later, I had characters in other nullsec alliances – while every one is different, with different lingo and in-jokes, they’re also largely the same

    Casual sexism and racism looks really bad from the outside, but is a whole nothingburger from the inside because nobody’s ever offended by it and the slurs are used without malice. This is partially because anyone who would have been offended by it would have self-selected out of such communities. So it’s a relatively benign problem to have, all things considered.

    1. Zaxares says:

      Casual sexism and racism looks really bad from the outside, but is a whole nothingburger from the inside because nobody’s ever offended by it and the slurs are used without malice. This is partially because anyone who would have been offended by it would have self-selected out of such communities. So it’s a relatively benign problem to have, all things considered.

      I do see the logic in that argument (and acknowledge it’s true to an extent), but I feel that letting that sort of casual bigotry/racism/sexism go on unpunished is just kicking the can further down the road. It inculcates and normalizes such values in those players, and in turn they may spread it into other games or into real life. It’s kind of like if one person just starts throwing trash on the ground in a park, and other people see it and go “Well, if he’s going unpunished why should I bother walking over to the trash can?” And pretty soon the entire park is just covered in trash because everybody’s stopped caring. In my opinion, it’s always best to stamp out toxic behaviour wherever it rears its ugly head.

      1. Len says:

        Fundamentally, I think this kind of culture that you describe as toxic isn’t toxic. It’s friends affectionately calling each other faggots, making stereotype-based/offensive jokes (Jews being rich?), ribbing and insulting each other for fun. It’s just bro culture, 4chan-esque culture, and there’s not enough of it these days. It teaches you to have a thick skin, that you alone are responsible for your feelings, not other people.

        More people need to learn this lesson these days. There’s increasing amounts of outraged being spilled over words that are have the mere “potential to offend other people”.

        You might argue that jokes about stereotypes reinforces stereotypes, and I would contend that having a stereotype is very different from discriminating based on stereotypes, another thing that seems to have been forgotten these days. Stereotypes are useful heuristics.

        And that’s as far as I would go on this topic, because it’s straying dangerously close to culture war territory.

        1. Bubble181 says:

          Yeah, this topic is a Pandora’s Box of political views and worldviews clashing.
          I will say, though, that there are some cases where I might agree with you, but in a lot of cases, not.
          Joking about a stereotype or using a stereotype as a put-down, reinforces that stereotype as something negative.
          Obviously, I’ve done it myself – I think every boy who ever set foot in a locker room or in a class environment with a lot of boys and little oversight has either been on the receiving end, or on the giving end, or, more likely, both. And I’ll happily agree it’s usually done without malice or negative intent.
          BUT – say a bully says my styel of dress is “girlish”. It may very well *be* girly – maybe I like wearing a pink blouson, or whatever. But the point is that it reinforces the notion that being girly is a negative thing. The same holds true for a lot of proverbs and sayings, and it’s part of the reason why a lot of youth are fighting them. Saying someone is as lazy as a Moroccan, or as stingy as a Jew, or as unfaithful as a frenchmen may al lbe without malicious intent, but they re-inforce negative stereotypes.
          It’s a thin and very arguable line: I’m still allowed to say the Dutch or the Scottish are stingy, but not the Jews because one is racism and the other isn’t? What kind of sense does that make? I can say you’re as serious as a German, but not that you’re as hard-working as a Turk? Wait what? And so on.
          Mates calling each other faggot as a laugh is all well and good….BUT it implies, and subtly ingrains, the message that being a faggot is a bad thing. Which results in actual people of the homosexual persuasion feeling bad, not daring to be themselves, being scared, being mocked, etc etc.
          You can mock terms like “micro-aggression”, and I do think some people take it way too far, but these things do build up over time and color perception and world view to a frightening degree.

        2. WarlockOfOz says:

          Speaking as a straight white irreligious male of the dominant ethnicity, i.e. someone whose stereotype is almost always is on the insulting side rather than the insulted: I can accept a certain amount of ‘kids will be kids’. That doesn’t mean I’d like to visit, or let my kids visit, a park where other users shout unimaginative insults at each other through megaphones. Treating other people in public places with respect shouldn’t have to be argued for.

        3. stratigo says:

          As a “faggot” I just love being called one by shitheads in video games.

          Makes me feel nice and safe and not like I’m one outing away from being murdered in the street by someone who hates my kind.

          I mean, like, we can all look at 4chan, the center of “lul racist jokes” and go “Wow, a very large actual hate group generated out of this, and oh hey, people in this community occasionally go out and commit terrorism”

          1. Distec says:

            EDIT: Nixing this post 10 seconds after making it in order to preempt regret and running afoul of the “No Politics” rule.

          2. Len says:

            I can’t change how you feel, but you’re probably wrong as a matter of fact. If you meet someone from 4chan in a dark alley, you’ll be safer than if you had met another random person.

            The insults I think are part of the culture by design, though it doesn’t have have to be slurs (retard is a perennial favorite). It’s to signal that in this group, this is not a safe space, your feelings don’t matter, only what you bring to the table matters. And this sort of culture is important too, because it tends to be the sort of culture that very effectively gets things done.

            I’m not defending the slurs and racism, I’m not saying they’re a positive thing, I’m saying they are all things considered a pretty minor and victimless problem. They’re used only within the community, you’re not in the community, and they’re not targeted at you. But they are designed semi-intentionally to filter out people like you, people who are looking for safe spaces. Because if you’re looking for a safe space these groups aren’t. And its fine that not every community be a safe space.

            Also, what is this hate group you’re referring to?

            1. Marc Forrester says:

              The problem being that such groups do become safe spaces, for people that aren’t just using edgy language for the shock value but who actually believe in the message. Their overton window doesn’t so much drift as combat teleport.

              1. djw says:

                I think there may be a chicken and egg problem here. I have no doubt that there are some people over at 4chan with objectionable views. However, I am not convinced that 4chan “created” them.

                Rather, if mainstream media purges people who say certain things or talk a certain way then they will go to places that don’t censor them. Places like 4chan.

                That does mean that places like 4chan end up enriched for people with views that many (myself included) might find objectionable. But it does not mean that the culture at 4chan created those objectionable views.

                Scott Alexander made this argument *much* better than I can, but I am not able to recall how he titled the essay so I haven’t been able to find a link. Will update if I remember.

                1. Len says:

                  The essay you’re referring to is this:

                  Once again, to clarify what my stance is on this: I am not defending bullies or trolls or gamers calling other people names like “faggots” (or “shitheads” c.f. stratigo) for that matter. I am, however, supportive of people forming communities where they have different standards of etiquette and tolerable behavior, whether these standards are radically more strict (no saying anything that makes other people feel unsafe) or radically more permissive (it’s fine to fine to cuss and use as much expletives as you want, and everyone calls each other racial slurs for fun).

                  I’m supportive of people having a space to discuss socially unacceptable ideas and opinions. I’m supportive of people holding socially unacceptable ideas and opinions, even opinions and ideas that I find disgusting or makes me or others feel unsafe.

                  Because the alternative is that we’re saying you can’t form any groups to discuss any idea that society deems unacceptable, or would deviates from socially accepted behavior. Because not long ago the positions were reversed, and homosexuality was the idea that made fundamentalist Christians feel unsafe, that it would bring down the wrath of god on them for tolerating it.

                  I’d like to apologize to Shamus for darkening his doorstep with this culture war topic on his blog, and suggest that anyone who wants to discuss this further choose another platform. I’m partial to myself, and if anyone would like to propose a different platform or leave a method of contact to follow up, I’d be glad to take you up on it.

                2. Bubble181 says:

                  In part you’re right, of course, but there’s also the psychological angle to consider. Re-inforcing thought patterns will normalize and thus push further.
                  On one hand, it’s a well-documented thing that people who watch a lot of porn become insensitive to some types of stimulation and will go further and further to find the same rush/thrill/dopamine hit. I personally have no problem with any type of porn as long as it only includes consenting adults, mind, but that’s a separate and perosnal choice. In a similar line, I’ve seen ot happen often enough that what starts out in a group being purely-for-fun “jabs” at one another becomes more and more problematic over time. It may start with the jewperhighway as an in-joke with no ill intention, but a few years down the line you’re casually and without ill will suggesting a Final Solution for the opposing team since they’re just vermin, after all.
                  And I’m not exagerating – I’ve *been* in online guilds where that was normal conversation, and participated in it when I was, what, 14-15.
                  On the other hand, there’s people being influenced by what they see as friends and close relationships. Monkey see, monkey do. Teenagers especially are often more vulnerable than they’ll see themselves. Teens WILL do stupid shit to feel like they “belong” – be it smoking, stealing handbags, jumping off a cliff, drinking, bullying behavior, you name it. It’s a fairly normal part of growing up, but this gets turned up to 11 by on line dares and wagers and such. People will and do attack people IRL over what they see/are told/etc in on line forums. Make enough jokes about beating blue people, about casually going out and beatking blue people, and eventually other people will go out and beat blue people for kicks and boast about it too – and they’ll actually mean it and have done it, rather than just making idle jokes.

                  And as an aside, this is actually pretty much the most civil version of this sort of debate I’ve ever participated in. I do think we’re across the No Politics rule here, and sorry for that, but we’re still holding a civil conversation, and both sides are presenting actual thoughts instead of name calling or dismissively waving everything away. It’s refreshing in today’s world, so thanks.

            2. Steve C says:

              That’s not a good thing. It is part of the problem. A community that creates walls between inside and out is tribal and exclusionary. “They all might not be racist or homophobes, but all of them decided that racism and homophobia aren’t deal breakers.” Historically it has been shown to not be a minor nor victimless problem. Not when it is taken to the extent of getting people to leave.

              In this situation it is literally being used to stop people having fun in a game in order to make them leave. It is not fine. And BTW it is is completely inconsequential who first created such views.

            3. The Nick says:

              People aren’t “looking for a safe space” in a game. You just sort of assume it. Nobody ever accuses the woman going out to shop for shoes of ‘looking for a safe space’ – you just assume that a person going out to buy a new pair of shoes shouldn’t be exposed to the sort of language that will instill fear for her life or expose her to physical harm.

              That isn’t being a wimp. It’s just the sort of thing normal people expect 99.9% of the time (and, honestly, for most people, expect 100% of the time).

              Similarly, if somebody says, “Hey, there’s this fun game you should try out,” and I react positively, but then my friend says, “Oh, ahhh ahhhh, wait, you’re black/a woman/a different religion/foreign/etc. It’s not safe for you there,” that’s… that’s a trashy game. Why would you design that? That sort of feeling directly harkens to reality, where some people fear going to some places because they’re literally not safe spaces. There’s no reason to have a game be a safe space for the sorts of people who will actively make others unsafe (or, ape the language and threats those sorts of people use on other human beings because activating that actual, legitimate fear in people gives you a leg up in a “fun” environment).

              It’s the same reason why we allow a defensive line to block runners, but we don’t let them brandish even unloaded firearms – it’s not conducive to games to use the perception of threat to limb and life be a method to use against others.

              Even the MMA understands that, as some level, safety of its participants is important and shouting racist language isn’t allowed.

              So just because a place is intentionally self-selecting against certain people, minorities, etc., doesn’t mean it’s a good thing]. Also, those places? They’re safe spaces. They’re just safe spaces for 1) bigots or 2) people who want to ape the language and behavior of bigots in such a way as to be indistinguishable from bigots. It’s the same reason why you shouldn’t jokingly yell “Fire!” in a theater or cry wolf so much – even if you don’t mean any harm by it deep down in your heart of hearts, you are still causing harm and acting in a way that enables other people to cause harm.

              All of this is just to say that making a game, especially a game for many players, is harder than it looks. When you make a game, you have a responsibility to make it good, but also safe. Your game shouldn’t allow children to be preyed upon, it shouldn’t allow people to be doxxed, it shouldn’t allow hate groups to use it, it shouldn’t be easy for criminals to use it to launder money, etc. If a little indoctrination into hate groups gives your players a powerful tactic to win your game, you should probably design a better game.

              1. etheric42 says:

                I’m confused. Someone else stated that comms in even were effectively private chats. So while bad behavior might exist within an alliance, they weren’t exactly spamming hate speech to their opponent’s corp, unless the opponent wanted to set up a private chat with them. The ways they use to break the opponent’s morale are limited to in-game actions, espionage, and possibly message board propaganda. Not obscenity and hate chat.


                I imagine if Goons were as much reavers in game as people who hear second- or third-hand about them assume they are, they would have found a number of other alliances focused on making sure they couldn’t hold any territory.

                In fact, this might be a reverse Materazzi situation. Convince someone to cross the line, then get them banned. Poof, one less human for your opponent.

    2. Thomas says:

      But suppose you wanted to design a MMO with a player driven economy and factional warfare, is it possible to design that in a way where griefing is a losing strategy?

      The thing is, as Bob says, the side who has the most players logging on and showing up will win the war. The only way to win permanently in EVE is to convince the other faction that it’s not worth them fighting. I’m not sure it’s possibly to design that to avoid griefing without spoiling the whole appeal of the system. “EVE is real” wars are won with spies and propoganda and logistics and organisational structure and culture. That’s both the appeal and the problem.

      1. Len says:

        There’s an obvious solution says Len (who has never played Eve and does not possess any deep understanding of its mechanics and economy).

        As Bob describes it, the problem seems to be the lack of a clear victory condition, and the losses are too easily recovered, get a new clone body, make ISK quickly, and you’re back into the fight — to a point where a small force can hold off a much larger one indefinitely(?) as long as they’re persistent enough.

        So the obvious solution seems to be to add a clear victory condition. Make it possible to decisively win, and there’ll be no longer any need to break your opponent’s spirits to win. For example, if it’s possible to temporarily cut off an alliances’ way to quickly recover lost ISK and buy new ships and get back into the fight, it will no longer need to be an battle of attrition where you’ll need to spend hours and hours demoralizing the vastly outgunned enemy in order to win — you can just cut off their resupply and make it impossible for them to fight back until you’ve taken over that sector of space or something.

        Of course, there’ll be lots of side-effects to economy/alliances/gameplay that such a change will bring, but I’m sure that it’s possible to design a solution that doesn’t overly break or change the game.

        1. Thomas says:

          Suppose you have a mechanic for cutting off their ISK supply. As soon as that mechanic times out, they can get ISK again and the war restarts, it turns out it wasn’t over.

          Perhaps you could make it longer – long enough that they have no desire to restart the war once the mechanic ends. So now instead of having griefers drive some people away from the game, you have a mechanic that forcibly makes thousands of players unable to play the game for an inconvenient length of time.

          The detail that might be missing, is war isn’t really a formal mechanic event in EVE. There’s mechanics for controlling territory, and in high security space there are mechanics for declaring war. But no-one likes those high security space mechanics because they’re very artifical and don’t represent the player driven experience people want.

          Null sec wars are two factions fighting against each other through every means allowed in the game. If you take all their territory, they retreat to a territory-less area, or find some allies to share space with and continue the fight from there.

          1. Len says:

            I get that, but I assume that the factions are still fighting over something instead of nothing (a pool of resources? a profitable territory?) and that there is a goal for fighting (drive them out of this territory/retaliation/punishment/opportunism, etc.) instead of outright annihilation.

            I also assume that there’s a defender’s advantage for having built up in an area (stationary defenses? fortifications?).

            So a possible victory condition could look like this: you win a decisive victory, destroy their defenses, take over their territory, and build your own defenses there. So when they do want to continue the war and want to reclaim the same area, they’ll be fighting an uphill battle that they’ll just lose, so they’d rather go settle elsewhere or something.

            If the above doesn’t work for some reason or some mistaken assumption, my original point still stands — create some sort of victory condition, such that you can secure a “win” over the losing side (some valuable territory? resource extortion? pillaging structures and ships?) and that the losing side is incentivized not to continue the war in the short term, unless they can get more allies or eventually build up more supplies again.

            1. Thomas says:

              All the things you mentioned are part of the game. The problem is that wars are only theoretically fought for resources. They’re mostly fought for pride and for something to do, so players are quite happy to continue fighting an uphill struggle.

              There are perhaps some areas you could tweak in Eve – if the defenders advantage is too strong than wars up being about who stops logging-in which encourages griefing. And some factions can get too rich – to the point where it’s impossible to drain their resources in a standard war. And radically you could perhaps reduce alliances abilities to stage out of uncontestable ‘safe space’. But at the end of the day, even with tweaks, fundamentally the side who fights a bit dirtier is going to have an advantage. And to some extent you wouldn’t want to remove the spy game or the propaganda campaign, it’s just the “make the war boring for the other side” bit that gets really bad.

            2. Geebs says:

              Why not just have a doubling timer for respawning after repeated sequential deaths (instant, 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, 8 hours, etc.)? The side that loses, loses decisively, and attrition tactics involving disposable units rapidly get too expensive. OK so people will multibox but there will come a point at which they’re wasting too much of their own time.

              1. Hector says:

                Because it turns into an inevitable snowball effect. This would disproportionately empower jerks like the Goons.

              2. The Nick says:

                It’s difficult to summarize the issue here, but the “problem” with Eve is that it’s a game with too many “suspensions of disbelief”.

                That is, most games will emulate something from ‘real life’ in some way, but express it in a way that’s fun. War shooters are the obvious example – Shootman 7 is fun because the gunplay feels real and it gives you an action-packed experience where it feels like you’re in the middle of the action.

                But every game that presents a dangerous scenario for players to enjoy also understands that, in real life, nobody actually wants to experience these things. People generally don’t say, “We’re under fire. My heart is elated, I’m thrilled, this is great!”

                If you start to search for them, you’ll start to see where these “suspensions of disbelief” happen, but it’s usually something specific like ‘I want the bad guys to shoot at me’. Once you start having multiple overlapping systems, you start having these irrational actions that don’t really make sense from a game player’s point of view.

                Why would anybody attack this sector even if it doesn’t give them an “in character” advantage?

                Who would spend this much money to hold some space rock worth less than the investment?

                Why would you put so much energy into taking a tactically unsound position?

                Lots of games will have an in-character reason for these things (“The President of Southtopia wants to show off his new war armada, even if it won’t result in long-lasting tactical superiority!”) and you understand your role in it, but when you start trying to rationalize these things in a game that doesn’t do a good job at establishing reasons for doing things, it starts to break down.

                And ultimately? The answer to a bunch of questions ends up becoming the players got bored. So off to war because it’s something to do. And that definitely doesn’t feel reasonable – nobody is having a boring autumn and declares war on their neighbors. This is especially troubling to try and identify because even the people participating may not realize the reason for their actions.

                1. Asdasd says:

                  I think this ties into a certain dishonesty we all have with games. We tend to complain when a game is ‘too easy’, but we don’t want to play a game in which we are odds-on to get as trounced by the computer as we enjoy trouncing it ourselves. What we generally want is a sense that we might lose before we inevitably pull through. Games can deliver that quite successfully in single player because a) you can hobble the computer as much as you like and b) never have to worry about its feelings getting hurt.

                  Scale that up and we reach what you’re talking about, players wanting a war but not actually wanting a war. And when the game in question is a multiplayer sandbox, the fact that it’s zero sum and you want everyone to remain engaged, even though in war one side has to lose and be materially (and perhaps psychologically) devastated, makes that a much more difficult equation.

                  1. galacticplumber says:

                    Desire for difficulty varies. Some people legitimately DO want a game that will kick their ass if they aren’t careful. Look at the popularity of Dark Souls, or Ninja Gaiden for an older example.

                    It is true that lots of people just want the game to convincingly play at being a real obstacle. Some actually just do though. There’s also the opposite end of the spectrum where the player doesn’t even want the game to pretend to challenge them.

                  2. etheric42 says:

                    I don’t know, I like board games and MOBAs (and playing sports) specifically because I can lose. Sure winning is fun, and maybe I’d be happy with a 75% win rate (haven’t tested this) but I definitely am not with a 90%. And no, this isn’t a bro-culture “have to put things on the line in order to feel the thrill of crushing your opponents”. I have no interest in gambling anything or crushing anyone, in fact that’s why I don’t like 90-100% win rates.

                    Maybe I’m in the minority, but a lot of people play non-cooperative board games (which in FFA scenarios often have a win rate of 25% or less), sports and multiplayer online games.

                    (Of note, I have found I don’t like most single-player games that require me to play on the edge of my skill. Losing usually requires you to do the same thing again, not engage in something new. Whereas in multiplayer if you lose, that game is gone forever and you start something new each time. Also too many games have poor design decisions where to play optimally is to play a non-fun game.)

      2. What Len said, also have severely diminishing returns for focusing your attacks on the same person or group. Once you’ve scored a “win” against a given character, team, guild, etc. you don’t get points (or whatever) for attacking them any more. To be successful at PVP you have to spread your activities out as widely as possible.

        1. djw says:

          I’ve played games that use this strategy. ESO for instance gives fewer “alliance points” if you kill somebody who has recently been killed.

          However, there are lots of people who play pvp just for the fight, and don’t really care about points. Some of them are decent human beings and some of them are assholes, but regardless of temperament, they are not going to be strongly impacted by in game rewards.

        2. Hector says:

          The problem is that these are artificial mechanics meant to control arbitrary systems. It’s not that they can’t work, but that they rely on having very specific situations which may never apply.

          EVE is a sandbox with very few artificial elements in what they call nullsec. There are no points to win. That’s what makes player-driven behaviour interesting and or disturbing. But it also greatly limits what you can do to control things since your systems must be organic to the play space.

          1. djw says:


            The only way to “fix” the problem is to make a different game.

      3. djw says:

        I don’t see a solution to that problem short of permadeath if you really want the conflict to be player driven.

        Even with some sort of diminishing returns on respawn (as suggested elsewhere in this thread) it would still be faster to grief your opponent while you are killing them, as they would likely give up sooner on the diminishing returns curve.

        Hmm, now that I think on it, permadeath probably would not solve the problem, unless it also meant that you could never return to the game (which would be bad for sales). If you lose character progress on death then guilds like goonswarm would be more powerful not less, since they would inevitably be made up of low skill toons with little fear of dying.

        1. Len says:

          I still don’t see why the problem is as intractable as you’re making it out to be, although that’s probably my lack of understanding about the game.

          Is it really that impossible to reduce the impact of low-skill toons with little investments, and force players to commit significantly more time and resources to each wave of offense/defense so that attrition no longer becomes the dominant strategy? You don’t see this in other MMOs where you can’t just roll up a new character and expect to have much if any impact in a large scale PvP. Or in another hypothetical MMO where your gear would have a chance of being destroyed if you die or you would lose XP/gold on death, similarly you can’t just repeatedly attrition without quickly depleting your resources. I find it difficult to believe that nothing like these kind of systems can be implemented in Eve.

          1. Mikko Lukkarinen says:

            Part of the problem is that EVE’s already got some of those attrition mechanics and a lot of changes that could hurt big alliances would hurt new players and small alliances so much more.

            Destroyed ships are gone forever, the owner gets some of the cost of the hull back as insurance (if they had insurance) but never 100% and it doesn’t cover the modules and cargo, which (at least in the case of battlecruisers and battleships) can easily cost as much as half of the hull. So there’s some attrition. But big alliances like Goonswarm are so rich that they could probably lose thousands of battleships and not care, whereas for a new player even a single one is a big deal, even with insurance. So if you wanted to stop big alliances from throwing endless waves of crap at their enemies, the changes to manufacturing costs or insurance would have to be so drastic that it would devastate new players and drive small alliances out. (I mean, heck, the biggest battles are fought with capital ships, which cost anywhere from 10x to 1000x as much as a single battleship just to get the hull, and the big boys and girls don’t seem to care much about losing those either.)

            And EVE used to have potential skill point loss, if you lost your ship and then your capsule got destroyed and you didn’t have an expensive enough clone to keep all your skill points. Even then you’d lose at most 5-20% (don’t remember) of one of your most expensive skills, which could set you back a few months, plus you’d have to buy a new clone. But most people didn’t shoot at capsules in the middle of a fight, AoE weapons were mainly joke weapons, and big alliances could eat the clone costs and not give a shit.

          2. djw says:

            I can’t claim any first hand knowledge of Eve, since I have never played it. My impression from Bob’s article (and other sources) is that the game is much more of a sand box than most other mmo’s. The goals and motivations behind conflict are player driven rather than driven by some built in pvp subgame.

            This implies that the win state and loss state will be entirely within the mind of the players, and THAT means that psy-ops of some sort are not just an optional strategy… they are a mandatory part of bringing conflict to a close.

            I am sure you could tweak the systems in various ways to make people more reluctant to continue a losing fight, but at the end of the day you still win a war by convincing your opponent that its not worth fighting anymore.

            1. etheric42 says:

              Theoretically there is a win state prior to that, where you destroy their ships and take their territory. The problem is at a certain point a human being playing a game is the enemy’s most valuable resource, so even if you take all their ships and all their territory, if you make your opponent your enemy for life, they go in exile, bide their time, join with your other victims, and then strike back when eventually they outnumber and outproduce you.

              I’m not familiar with EVE history, but this has likely happened multiple times to multiple corps.

              One solution to this is utter sportsmanship. I won today, but you may win tomorrow. Good sport old chap. No hard feelings. Better luck next time. The problem is if it took a lot of effort to get that territory/wealth in the first place, they may still be seething and want revenge.

              The other solution, apparently chosen by Goons, is to make it so they feel it isn’t worth it to get revenge because of how unfun it is to even interact with you as an opponent. This succeeds only as long as you are effective in it, because I’m sure it also creates a lot of enemies. Quite possibly this choice is even easier in the short term, as it means the enemy might surrender before you have completely destroyed their defenses.

              You don’t have to remove solution 2 to make it not a good choice. You just have to improve solution 1 or begin removing the parts of the game that require these solutions.

  10. Chris says:

    I felt that in older games there was this built in toxicity that players enjoyed. Like in UT the death messages are something like “X sucked down Ys rocket”. This translated into the community where, if you wanted to stop being called a noob, you just had to step up and get better at the game. Of course, once you were at the top, you could start kicking down on the newer players as well. It doesn’t create a fun environment for casual players, but if you play to win and play to get good it can serve as a motivating factor. I remember a while back in the diecast that Paul and Shamus discussed how in some SC 2 streams there was dlthis coaching method of calling someone trash and telling them to try harder. Or how a dota guide is called “welcome to dota you suck”. Or how diakatana was advertised with “Romero is about to make you his bitch, suck it down”

    I think this kind of culture is something that grows from the fact that a lot of the players are lonely teens. A game offers them a chance to be good at something. And they are the ones with enough time to get to the top. Like in MMO’s where a lot of players only have a few hours per week to play. And a small subgroup can sink 8 hours per day in the game and get the best stuff. Or quake where only some people can spend the vast amounts of time to get really good. It isn’t inclusive for casual players, and with more people starting to play games online this creates a strain between the elite and people who just want to have some fun.

    I remember when I played league of legends there was a big discussion whether “gg ez” was toxic or not. I thought it was rather benign compared to the stuff I was used to, but for a lot of people it was unacceptable. The game was meant as a more casual dota, but it was also very competitive. The amount of stuff you need to know to even play at a basic level (countless different heroes with unique abilities, a bunch of items that are combined into more items, game objectives with time windows you need to learn) makes it easy to foster elitism. In the end they banned the use of gg ez, but people who want to gloat can find other ways to do so.

    I don’t think you can really solve it with aggressive banning though. You either get a very passive aggressive situation or you get a safe space situation where anything that can be perceived as negative is instantly smothered (even a legitimate concern like if ability X is OP). The best communities were those where there was mostly an older crowd or the game was not competitive. Older people are generally more chill than teens, and non competitive means everyone can make their own fun without it impacting someone else.

    1. Len says:

      Ah yes, League of Legends — where you’ll get permabanned for saying “gg ez” but can troll champion select and intentionally feed for hundreds of games without a single warning.

      And if you raged against the trolls and and feeders, you’ll pretty much be banned or warned yourself.

      That was some of the worst examples of moderating that I’ve seen.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Speaking as someone who tried LoL for a few rounds, was harangued for “feeding”, and subsequently found something better to do, it’s not clear how any system could be designed to differentiate between incompetence (my case) and malice.

        1. Chris says:

          Well this was a big problem when they were designing punishments for stuff. GG ez is very easy to detect and punish. But feeding is not. Is it done intentionally. or is someone just bad at the game and making bad mistakes? Here are obvious cases as well (someone just running into the enemy doing nothing to defend himself) but a decent player that wants to grief can just pretend to be bad.

          Same problem was with heroes being played in unorthodox ways. While Riot didnt want to punish this, some heroes are just really bad as mage or physical attacker. So you could call it trolling to do it anyway.

    2. stratigo says:

      No amount of “gittin gud” will stop the racial, homophobic, and sexist slurs towards you if you are known to be a minority, gay, or a woman (and god help you if you’re trans. Have you seen the absolute piles of shit Scarlett gets constantly?)

      You know, it doesn’t create a terrible “safe space” to say “Hey, slurs are not allowed”. Just don’t allow slurs right? It’s that easy. You can still have a hatefilled aggressive community. Heck I’m in a few. You won’t believe the amount of people who hate and love GW at the same time. But the second you’re using slurs, you’ve moved past hating a thing and into being a bigot, equating your distaste of a player/mechanic/business practice with being a minority. And that’s gross.

      1. Falling says:

        “Have you seen the absolute piles of shit Scarlett gets constantly?”
        I haven’t on Team Liquid, which I moderate from time to time. But maybe it happens elsewhere.

  11. Asdasd says:

    I’ve always thought of Eve, like similar online games such as Rust, as a human misery simulator. It seems thought that what it might really be is a human misery actuator.

    The most toxicity-free PVP game I’ve ever played is Splatoon. They accomplished this by removed 99.99% of player’s ability to communicate with one another. Sad but effective.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If you can’t communicate in Splatoon, doesn’t that mean everyone’s just using each other as a substitute for AI players? That doesn’t seem good to me, for a multiplayer game.

      1. Asdasd says:

        You might think so, but in practice, humans can coordinate with each other much better even without explicit communication than bots would be able to. And there are a handful of preset messages you can send to your team, ‘this way!’ etc.

        1. Olivier FAURE says:

          Yeah, I remember playing early day Agario and being amazed how much you could communicate in that game with close to no text.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          They can communicate in-game goals, but not have any kind of conversations. That social aspect is absent.

          1. Asdasd says:

            The social aspect is at least somewhat remedied by the Plaza, which serves as a giant graffiti board where anyone can upload drawings or messages written on the Switch/Wii U’s touchscreen. There are some remarkably good artists out there. Still no direct communication, but it fosters a strong sense of community, especially during the Splatfest events.

            But yes, it’s give and take. The upshot is that toxicity is almost entirely eliminated, but the downside is that it’s harder to make positive social connections as well. Given the average experience I have with randos in other competitive games, it’s a trade I’m happy to make.

            All this regards the game’s casual modes, mind. More dedicated players naturally drift towards competitive ranked play, at which point you’ll be looking at getting involved with the wider community via forums and social media, and join a guild. The game supports ranked guild play, leaderboards, and VoIP comms between friends (in practise most people just use discord).

      2. galacticplumber says:

        Multiplayer games already exist purely on the grounds that human opponents are better than bots. That they don’t demand any form of real social interaction is a feature.

    2. danielfogli says:


      You nailed it with “human misery simulator” :D

  12. BlueHorus says:

    Hey, an entire article about why I hate MMOs and will never play one. Goody goody!.This game sounds awful, and actively I

    Also, how do you solve the Materrazi problem? Simple in principle: give Materazzi the red card (AKA, moderation). Harder, naturally, in practice.
    Football in the UK has, in recent years been making efforts to clamp down on this kind of culture, up to and including fans being banned and matches being cancelled due to racist abuse.

    Part of it why that for a long time, foot- sorry, soccer* had an ugly reputation here, with fights between fans (and other, related problems) being common and/or well-reported. And, of course, some people will take an aggressive culture to heart and act that way in other situations…

    Hmmm, do you think gaming might possibly have a similar problem…? ;P

    Finally, that excerpt from ‘Inside The Failure Cascade’ has convinced me of one thing: TheMittani needs a slapping.
    That kind of pretentious pseudo-academia really irks me, especially as Bob managed to prove that you can communicate the basic idea in one sentence worth of normal words.


    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Looks like you accidentally the first paragraph of your harangue.

      As to the pseudo-academia, a lot of the EVE players are not native English speakers, so Bob’s eloquence likely isn’t an option for them. The structure of pseudo-technical language helps to provide some assurance that they won’t be misunderstood. Of course, it’s also possible they are just being pretentious. A bit of both seems more likely.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Yikes, so I did. I’m not even sure what I meant to say there. it’s most likely a leftover section from a previous version of the comment I half-wrote, then changed my mind about.

        I’d lean far more towards ‘pretentious’ than ‘non-native speaker’. Translation has (in my experience) distinctive errors – usually grammar – that I don’t see in that excert…
        … maybe. I dunno. What few academic papers I’ve written were done so by native English speakers…

        Still, ‘annoy your opponent until they get dispirited or distracted’ is not a complex strategy that needs academic language to explain – it’s literally something that kids come up with in the school playground. Dressing it up in academic language is…something of a stretch.

        1. Falling says:

          I remember there was a US ambassador that played EVE, so it’s also possible that there are people coming in from technical fields that enjoy creating a sort techno-babble for the game they love. I know for myself, if I were to play such a game- I like history and could see myself writing about different battles like faux-historical recordings. It’s a bit of imaginative play that can sometimes develop in an alliance/ clan’s internal documents.

    2. LCF says:

      If the game is played with a ball that is kicked with feet, it’s football. If it’s played with an egg and carried by hand, it’s Handegg. You may even call it American Handegg to make sure there’s no confusion. Football, and American Handegg. Nice and easy.

  13. Ninety-Three says:

    People are focusing on verbal griefing, but the Materazzi problem is more than that. If your goal is to win, anything that makes the game less fun for you opponents helps you win. Focus down the same member of an enemy team every time, maybe he’ll get sick of dying instantly and quit. Guerilla warfare to deny them the straight-up fight they logged in in search of. Spawn-kill them over and over even if it isn’t tactically valuable, people hate getting spawn-killed.

    Paul alluded to it in other places: The Goons used hordes of newbies with Drakes because it was annoying and convinced the other side that it’d be more fun to stop playing EVE and do something else. It is a problem when your game’s optimal strategy involves annoying the opponent to death, and that’s something you can’t fix even with an infinite army of moderators. What are you gonna do, have a literal Fun Police that tells the Goons using too many Drakes is “cheap” and they’ll be banned unless they switch to tactics that are more enjoyable to fight against?

    1. Kyle Haight says:

      In a competitive PvP game, the other player’s psychology is a viable attack surface. If you hit the other player there you can make them lose focus, act impulsively, make mistakes, rage quit, etc. If you can make them miserable enough they will stop playing entirely — the ultimate victory.

      I think this is why ‘toxic behavior’ is so hard to eliminate. You can try to deprive players of psychology-targeting weapons (e.g. chat filters, /igore, strong moderation), you can penalize players who use them, but in the end the other player’s mind is always present and you have some means of interacting with it. If you did not, it wouldn’t be a multi-player game by definition.

      1. stratigo says:

        And where does this end?

        I mean, if you SWAT the person you’re playing against, you win! You won the internet game by possibly getting someone killed.

      2. The Nick says:

        There’s a difference between acknowledging tactics that have a psychological effect (“Hit the flank guard – Roger’s the weakest link and might go on tilt after three or four failed defenses!”) vs. clearly despicable tactics that step outside the mechanisms of the game and involve external ‘Real Life’ sources (“Make fun of Roger’s dead Jewish grandparents by repeating anti-Semitic slurs again and again until he breaks down crying and quits the game, leaving their flank exposed!”)

        Ultimately, a game should be about testing something and then anything pertaining to that test is fair game.

        In a game about being the fastest runner, practicing sprinting and building up your endurance is fine. *Slamming your opponent’s knee with a baseball bat* is no longer testing the skill in question and is winning by another means.

        In a game about proving a moral point, using appropriate debate methods and reinforcing your hypothesis with data is fine. *Accusing your opponent of crimes and slashing your opponent’s tires before he leaves his house today* is no longer testing debate skills and is winning by another means.

        It’s probably fine to have games include ‘elements of psychology’, but once the winning move becomes ‘be more anti-Semitic’ or ‘try to use hate speech more often’, you have a *bad game*.

        There’s also the unpleasant spillover effect into the real world that this sort of behavior absolutely causes, where a person who gets murdered doesn’t have the luxury of a cheap respawn.

        1. Kyle Haight says:

          I agree with this, but I guess I wasn’t clear in my original comments. Just because an attack surface is viable doesn’t mean it is legitimate in a given context. We get problems precisely because there are lines of psychological attack that are simultaneously effective and undesirable for other reasons. From this I conclude that effective reductions in the use of undesirable strategies require making those strategies ineffective. Moral suasion isn’t going to work.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      As much as I would like to take credit for the allusion, I believe you meant “Bob alluded to it…”.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        This blog has content from Shamus and from Other Person. I really liked your old series on Battlespire by the way, are we going to get more Let’s Plays?

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Yeah, yeah. I’ll finish my Shogun 2 play-through eventually.

          1. djw says:

            Before or after your Half-Life 3 lets play?

        2. Asdasd says:

          Looking forward to a rare appearance from Other Person appearing on the podcast today! Not that I have a problem with the regular co-host… uh, Other Person? Waitaminute..

  14. Geebs says:

    Hands up anyone who saw the title and didn’t assume it was referring to some portmanteau of The Mittani and paparazzi?

    1. Asdasd says:

      I misread it as the Maserati Problem, and assumed it was about the difficulty of spending stolen money without raising suspicion, Goodfellas style.

  15. Skyy High says:

    I really gotta wonder what equivalent toxicity you saw in Guild Wars 2 WvW. For anyone who hasn’t played it: you can’t message enemy players in the mode, they can’t read your map chat or vice versa, the spawn point is defended by unkillable NPCs that instantly kill any enemy that gets too close, every spawn point has three exits to prevent spawn camping, and there are four maps in play at any time so if one map is being zerged too hard you can always go to another map looking for a fight.

    The main problem with the mode is that the populations are necessarily unequal, but that’s not a toxicity issue, it’s a “how can we possibly keep things balanced when players can drop in and out of asymmetric PvP at any time” issue.

    1. stratigo says:

      Toxicity in WvW was mostly internal, but in the time I played it extensively I never saw an accepted amount of bigotry from any community I participated in. This was for about a year and some change after the game released and I was way into WvW. I would not have stood for a community that was filled with bigots. So if they were around, they kept it on the down low in the communities I was a part of.

      On the other hand, shit talking player skill, or how other people win because they can just zerg spam and they’re really not that good, or they’re all elitist pricks, that was everywhere. And, eh? Oh well. But you can have this and still police bigotry. Bigotry is not just a natural part of competitive games, and the people who say it is are either supremely ignorant, or bigots themselves

    2. Ofermod says:

      I would say roamers. On the one hand, it’s a legitimate strategy to pick off reinforcements that trickle in. On the other, it’s a pain and a half to get killed by people you can’t manage to catch with a larger group any time you try to return to where the battle is.

      1. djw says:

        I do agree that its annoying to get killed when I am riding (alone) to defend a keep in Cyrodiil (ESO RvRvR zone), but I think its a bridge to far to call that toxic.

  16. Daniil says:

    It’s interesting that GoonSwarm would use such words. My impression of SomethingAwful has been that it was firmly on the “progressive” side of the culture wars, and thus opposed to them. Then again, maybe GoonSwarm diverged for them for ideological or pragmatic reasons at some earlier point.

    Having on some few occasions been on the receiving end of ethnic slurs and openly asserted stereotypes (including anti-Semitic ones due to misidentification) I can’t say that I regard them as something exceptionally heinous by default. If anything, my admittedly very limited experience may have prejudiced me in favour of regarding them as basically harmless, though stupid and annoying – a more extensive or intense experience may have prejudiced me in the opposite direction. I think it’s heavily dependant on the context, as others here have said (I’d add that I suspect slurs may have more force to them in English-speaking cultures due to certain peculiarities of their history, so there is the broader cultural context to consider as well).

    With that in mind, I can certainly understand not welcoming such forms of expression in public spaces – albeit, what counts as a public space online is a tricky question. A private chat isn’t. What about 4chan – a place where anyone can go, but which most people would probably avoid (whether because they haven’t heard of it or because they have)? For that matter, what about the public chat in a paid-for MMORPG?

    As for the argument that the free use of slurs and stereotypes perpetuates untoward attitudes… I can see the logic behind that, but I wouldn’t overstate it. I think most people have more control over their attitudes than that, assuming they are willing to exercise it. No amount of cultural paternalism will fix them if they don’t.

    On the other hand, the argument that such an environment in a larger community would naturally attract and encourage toxic individuals who may take it beyond semi-joking insults rings more true.

    1. The Nick says:

      They’re a big group.

      At one point, the SomethingAwful people were in the top for forums in the world. So they’re not a monolith.

      Also, a lot of young people go there. While it’s true lots of young people eventually grow up into mature not-as-young people, beforehand you have people doing and saying things that they don’t really know or understand and would be humiliated if anybody found later on and honestly can claim don’t represent their actual beliefs.

      So there’s definitely some people who are nasty for the sake of being nasty and some other people who are nasty because it represents them and there is a (too big) contingent of SA’s who approve of such things.

      But there’s also a lot of youth who just don’t know better. It’s funny to say those online hate memes being intentionally passed around by bad guys, and it’s funny to see people get upset about it, and it’s much less funny when you learn a little more context about the victims of such “jokes” you’re heaping hate on the shoulders of.

      Then there’s the normal people who just like being online, being part of a community, and posting in the areas that interest them, never knowing or at least avoiding interacting with the troublemakers.

      And there’s lots of overlap, people switching from one group to the next over time, so it’s possible for two different people to both be in SomethingAwful and both think “this is a good match for me” without every interacting.

      1. Daniil says:

        Thank you for the detailed reply. Yes, this seems right.

        With regards to victims: I think that a lot of people who engage in such behaviour (in spaces like 4chan or some parts of SA, at least; less sure about MMORPGs) have a different idea of who its victims are. Not whatever groups they’re directly or indirectly abusing, since they may assume that their representatives either aren’t there or mostly don’t care if they are present in that environment, but the politically correct. Since people in that set are routinely perceived as tedious, self-serious, censorious, hypocritical, etc., they make good targets that users of a certain mindset might not feel bad about offending. Even more so if they seem like they are pushing their morals down other people’s throats, which is inherently obnoxious no matter how right they might be. Of course, in reality people are rather more complex than such one-dimensional stereotypes, and in any case you’d usually be hitting both targets: those “boring stuck-up prigs” and people from victimised groups (and there is a considerable overlap between the two, naturally). I’m not sure how many online hooligans realise or allow themselves to realise that.

    2. Vollinger says:

      What happened at SomethingAwful is pretty interesting, it used have somewhat balanced userbase and there wasn’t a major influx of new users, progressive or not, in more than a decade. I think their culture shift can be traced directly to ‘toxx clauses’ – people would bet their paid-for forum account on the outcome of an election and losers got banned, making the other side stronger. With culture war intensifying, it ended up creating their own lil failure cascade, spreading out of the politics subforums into every nook and cranny.

      1. Asdasd says:

        I think you highlight something interesting here, which is that the ‘failure cascade’ is something that plays out in discourse spaces and is probably contributing to the rise of the echo chamber phenomenon everywhere. You see it a lot on forums – Neogaf was at one point large and diverse, then became increasingly slanted as one group wrestled the upper hand, acquired modships and forced the other out, and then tipped completely the other way when the dominant faction decided to up sticks and migrate to a new website.

        People might like to point out the impossibility of a truly observed ‘no politics’ rule, but it does seem to do a world of good on here in letting people of a fairly diverse spectrum coexist without constantly being at one another’s throats.

      2. Daniil says:

        So in other words, the forum used to be more like the GoonSwarm? I wonder if the GoonSwarm has changed as well with time, or if it has drifted away.

  17. Dalisclock says:

    As much as I’m into Space type games, EVE pretty much has stayed off my radar, notably for reasons like this. Being an MMO was already a (big) strike against it, but yeah, stuff like this pretty much validates me never getting involved in it.

  18. Alecw says:

    Bob you state that in your opinion it costs more to fail to moderate than to do so. Do you have any evidence that is the case?
    It’s likely these companies have done this analysis to some degree.
    CoD is toxic as hell. I’m not convinced it’s audience would increase much if it was polite and welcoming however.
    There may be a moral imperative to do so, but you are making a financial claim.

    1. Brisbe says:

      I think his statement holds true much more for MMOs like EVE, or any other game that relies on retaining a user (for microtransactions or subscriptions, or, to a lower degree, just to have a viable player base to make it worthwhile for new players to join.) Since the game lives or dies by keeping players paying and/or playing, anything that drives payers/players away is going to hurt the game.

      With an MMO like EVE, if the game gets too toxic for players to stand, they’ll eventually decide that their monthly subscription / monthly effort to be able to buy a subscription from someone else simply isn’t worth it anymore. EVE, by its well-deserved reputation, is definitely more attractive to those willing to put up with its rampant toxicity, but even there people will have a limit, and SA’s goons, by their nature of promoting hate speech as a “strategy”, will gleefully try to push them beyond their limit.

      At a certain point, though, you stop being a nazi ‘for strategy’ or ‘for lulz’, and are just…a nazi.

  19. Decius says:

    I have found one way to remove a group of toxic players from a game. No, you can’t just ban them (even if you can ban arbitrary people), because they will evade the ban AND trick the person doing the banning into banning enough people to kill the game.

    You can give a particular group a worthy opponent, cause them to build their identity such that they are focused on that opponent instead of anyone else… and then have them win.

    If Goonswarm had developed the cultural identity of “we hate BoB” to the point that they didn’t talk about much else on their forums, to the point that they were writing bad snuff fiction about BoB and making it part of their zietgeist, then the disappearance of BoB would have also resulted in the disappearance of Goonswarm.

    The first difficulty lies in finding a group large enough and tenacious enough to be the only notable adversary of the toxic players, the only thing that they care about, and then coordinating their mass exit at the right time. If the toxic players aren’t given a narrow enough focus, they will pivot too quickly when one victim disappears and focus on the next. If their first target dwindles slowly, they will survive long enough to find another.

    The second difficulty is in having the game survive after two major groups of players stop playing, without retaining either of them.

  20. Xander77 says:

    So “the Materrazi problem” isn’t annoying your enemy into losing their judgement and making a mistake, but rather constantly harassing your enemy until they lose the will to play the game? The similarity and relevance of the eponymous Materrazi being….?

    1. Bubble181 says:

      The problem isn’t the strategy – it’s for the game developer/referee/rule inventor how to deal with it.
      In both cases, it’s a player deliberately using non-game ways of attacking an opposing player to gain an in-game advantage.
      Materrazi may not be the best example, but it’s a clear one. It’s still a far-too-common tactic in some leagues *hello Italian Serie A* for the public to harass black players of the opposing team – and 90 minutes of continuous racist slurs and/or monkey sounds *WILL* affect you, no matter how much you can say you just don’t listen. “Psyching” a player can be a good move, but there have to be limits. It’s hard to set and enforce those, though.

  21. SkySC says:

    This post made me think about something that I hear much when the subject comes up: player toxicity as legitimate design goal. I don’t know if EVE is really an example of this, but a lot of games take place in brutal, violent worlds where you never know who you can trust. Maybe it’s a post-apocalyptic environment where people have to fight to survive, maybe it’s a colonial situation like the US Old West where the law is harsh and unfair when it isn’t entirely absent, or maybe it’s a sci-fi future where corporations make their own rules and anything that leads to profit is permitted. If the designers want the player to act as if they were in such an environment, then you want them to be suspicious and cautious, to be constantly aware of the possibility of violence, to feel that the world is unfair and you can only rely on yourself, to know that the only way to get ahead is at someone else’s expense. In such a game, what’s considered griefing in other games would be a legitimate strategy that actually contributes to the intended player experience. Even verbal abuse and casual bigotry might be in keeping with the spirit of such a game—could any portrayal of the Wild West be considered authentic without the horrific racism of the time? Obviously not everyone would want to play such a game (I don’t know if I would) but I think it’s a legitimate artistic goal.

    On the other hand, I think a lot of games include player toxicity as an implicit design goal simply by failing to account for it. If the game incentivizes winning at all costs and fails to moderate, then griefing and verbal abuse become legitimate strategies. What the developers say to players in user agreements or community guidelines is less important than what they tell players through game systems. If you design a game where you can shit-talk other players to the point they ragequit, without being punished, then it doesn’t really matter what rules may be written down somewhere. I’ve never been super into multiplayer games, but my impression in the past was that a lot of games tolerated this kind of behavior to the extent that it sort of became part of the appeal, intentional or not. People might log into Call of Duty not just for the gameplay, but also for the opportunity to totally crush their opponents by belittling them as they beat them again and again, or for a place where they can swear at strangers. A not insignificant number of people really enjoy that sort of thing, and think it’s worth being on the receiving end of the abuse at times for the opportunity to dish it out at others. I wouldn’t be surprised if some game companies consider what moderation would cost them not just in terms of the expense of hiring and training moderators, but also potential lost revenue from removing a core appeal of their game.

    I think a lot of people these days take it as an article of faith that toxicity is not just unfair but also ultimately bad for business, but I don’t know if that’s always the case. There might always be demand for games that allow slurs and abuse, just as there is demand for games that people can play without having to put up with that.

    1. Decius says:

      I think it’s entirely possible to have player character toxicity as a design goal, while trying to avoid player toxicity.

      I’m not sure if that goal is possible, but I admire the people who try for it.

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