Game Etiquette–Casualty of Popularity?

Purples, legendaries, epics, teamwork, and four-hour long grind fests to hit bosses—not to mention the attunement/key process required in many raid instances—these are buzz words in the raid guild. Most often, however, lost in this equation is real dynamic behind many raid guilds’ success, if success is measured in bosses downed and loot collected as opposed to stability of membership and the intangible camaraderie of a tight knit team. To use an analogy from my years as a coach, the only real reward we have for practice is play time in games—i.e. winning, scoring goals, etc. In a raid, the real payoff for most players is the loot and/or progression in a given instance.  Along the way, many players hope to establish lasting online relationships with other players possessing similiar playtimes, styles, and goals.  Community is the attraction for me in a game, and most of the material gains became secondary some time ago.  However, with larger and larger MMO populations in certain games such as World of Warcraft, the guild has become a transitory station, where members come whirling through like a revolving door.

I must state my internal interpretation of guild or game  “etiquette” does not typically mesh with what many former guildmates believe. My sense of obligations to group/raid/guild go back to a time when a massive online community was 400 people on in a night of SojournMud, and I could shout “100 plat for Bandor’s Flagon,” in Waterdeep and be spammed with offers—if you don’t get the allusion, suffice it to say it was a seller’s market. The rules of the MUD were firmly grounded in what was then the immediate predecessor to that medium, pen and paper AD and D sessions. 

In a smaller environment, you really did have a reputation to worry about. You could not move servers, there was only one; you could not readily level an alt to “zoning status” (MUD-speak for raiding) without help, and you certainly couldn’t jump guilds without everyone in the new guild knowing who you were and what your in-game behavior was like. While currently there seems to be a readiness of players to soil a “ninja looter’s” name on the official boards, to “out” the unethical player, and to generally warn server populations about certain player’s bad manners, little of these comments are taken as objective truth by the community as a whole. But does this really matter on a server with thousands of players anyway?

Not in the least except in the most egregious circumstances—which leads to uninhibited scrounging for all things purple, legendary, epic, or in the least bit valuable. On a number of occasions, when running five-person content in WoW, I would receive a blue drop that was an upgrade for my ‘toon. As a rule, if another item dropped and was bid on by group member who had not received an item during the run, I would decline. On most occasions I was told to “bid anyway, I would.” To return to my MUD theme, this was considered not only bad etiquette, but in fact a breach of most group leaders’ rules—many times these were spammed forth in group chat at the beginning of a run, and if you disagreed with the bidding/distribution system, you then could bow out without raising a stink.

I won’t go into the massive number of posts that would be avoided if this were followed in today’s MMO community. However, where does this put me in terms of a guild? I tend to be a bit cranky when it comes to raids—while I have softened considerably since the “sit there or get a diaper” phase of twelve-hour Seelie Court runs, I still think you should tell the leader when you need to AFK, bid with consideration to your fellow guildmates, and respect the system without losing your mind (or composure) over loot. Passing on that one legendary/purple so that another person can finally get a much needed upgrade is the right thing to do. However, I am not so naïve to believe your actions will be reciprocated—in fact my experience has been that the massive population of “new” gamers in such worlds as Warcraft means quite the opposite. Most do not care about gaming ethics unless it will adversely effect their chances of obtaining loot.

Is this a cynical view, devoid of the many examples of good-intentioned people? Are there well-functioning friendly guilds out there that get along, generally, and share loot equally? I did not go into DKP although I am a great believer in that system, fairly implemented. I believe I am a part of a fair and friendly guild now in EQII, for the record.   I am also keenly aware that those who read these ‘blogs and make intelligent comments are concerned with fair play and community.  However, my overall impression after years in the MMO community is that ethical in-game behavior is on the decrease, and will continue to do so as the genre grows. Too preachy? Perhaps I’m just venting a little, perhaps i’m a victim of an inductive reasoning fallacy, but in some ways I am nostalgic for what seemed like a better time, though with little difficulty I can conjure up memories involving the same greed, vice, and offensive behavior I have identified with larger MMOs. I feel a little like the old man on the corner, crunched over with a stick shouting, “Stay off of my yard you damn kids!”

I discussed this same topic, with slightly different spin the last time I was full-up with guild shenanigans in my End of Raiding article.

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3 Responses to Game Etiquette–Casualty of Popularity?

  1. p@tsh@t says:

    Very well said.

    Seems the constructive power of shame diminishes in proportion to the increase in a game’s population (without adding in the effect of the Pokemon ADHD generation).

    Back in the table top days, conduct that was unthinkable has become common place in big games like WoW. The anonymity of virtual presence is bad enough but add large numbers (and a large number of kiddies or just those that act like them) to the mix, a complete lack of meaningful consequences for bad behavior and you get old farts like us shaking our fists at those damned kids to stay the hell off my lawn….

    Solution? Dunno. Choose your group mates and guild mates wisely. Teach the next generation what ethical game play means: behave or fear the boot. Just as importantly, teach them why its a better outcome. I don’t think the new generation of gamers sees the second carrot of ethical play and always opt for the immediate carrot in front of them. Even if its a damned rogue rolling on a cloth set piece… With 8 million subscriptions, consequences are too remote and meaningless, so why not?

    And, maybe devs will come up with a creative persistent reputation feature that wont be gamed or subject to abuse (Ebay feedback anyone?). Even so, seems a shame that people can’t behave like humans and treat each other like humans, even if we’re all dwarves.

  2. Gaff says:

    As I have disclosed elsewhere, I am a teacher by profession, and have a number of high school students who play WoW. Very few try or even recognize the earlier generations of MMO games. In fact, most express the sentiment that people in their 30s and 40s are invading “their” genre. We are the noobs to them, and this is a medium which they control. While I’m not particularly interested in that debate, I have had a few Socratic discussions with students starting with “Well, where did your MMORG come from? What are its foundations?” Few, if any, can answer that question, and are stuck in the “give me instant satisfaction” phase of their lives. I was once the same way, or so my mother tells me 🙂

  3. […] is why most of us continue to renew our subscriptions. If we want to induct new players into the gaming etiquette specific to your MMO, we have to demand these players conform to our expectations if we group with […]

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