Temptation is king, online or offline. People believe in a sense of personal honor and integrity in real life, sure. You’re not faceless in real life. Your victims aren’t invisible in real life. On the other hand, we all know the spontaneous shift to pointlessly violent ‘griefer’ behavior otherwise normal people make when they travel to our lovely MMOGs. Housewives become virtual serial killers. Grown men become cheating ferretlike whiners. Teenagers become computer criminals–all just for that extra lewt. The solution? Don’t even give them the chance.

We’ve all heard this routine before as far as bugs are concerned: “Bugs are bad, mmkay? Fix those bugs, you naughty developers. I mean, our game doesn’t even have bugs!”… yeah, right. But I’m talking about things on a more everyday level of the game: common grief. Part of the paradox of boorish behavior online is that people act that way just for kicks. Back in the dread lord days of UO, if looting was suddenly completely removed, would the killing have stopped? Of course not. PiMpHiTlEr still laughs as Dre’lin Nor’samm’th is fourzors hally hitzed off the face of the earth, leaving only a neatly folded deathrobe and a hotel mint behind. If he knew poor Dre’lin cancelled his account right afterwards, he’d be laughing even harder. It’s a power trip.

Power over other players, status, fame… These are the arbitrary unmeasurable goals that seem to baffle the designers of yore. Players are punished for wanting these things. “That is bad. That is the wrong way to act.” Players are resented for doing what comes naturally to them. Why not encourage this behavior in its proper place?

People will always griefplay. That’s an unfortunate fact of life. But if you can find a way to reward the players with those difficult-to-grasp arbitrary rewards automatically and gradually over time, you have the ultimate time sink on your hands. Here’s an example:

Bay Rum Online opens its doors to the players after months of hype and tens of thousands of preorders. When the players enter the game, they find a special tournament system in place. The person who can break full barrels of Bay Rum over his arena-opponents’ heads most effectively gets a chit. The competitions are hourly. As players rack up more and more chits (while going off and doing things that actually matter in the game, like gaining experience and equipment), they discover that getting large numbers of chits slowly turns your name fluorescent green. Players flock to get green names, but there are a limited number of tournaments per day and the competition is fierce. Plenty of people get a little tint, but only the truly elite have the actual green color. The top five people per shard get green fireworks shooting from their name every time it’s displayed, and the top members of each shard participate in an open arena shard monthly (which anyone can log into and watch) to fight for gamewide fame, their character’s picture and name posted on the front of the game’s web site. After the official competition ends, pickup games continue on the special shard for a few hours with average joes getting a chance to fight the most elite players.

What is this? It’s a game inside of a game. Level treadmills will end, loot will be discovered, content and storylines will be published to the fansite networks. Plus, if you make the smaller game automated and fun, you can have a continuing community going on for the extreme long-term. The point is that fighting a computer gets boring and exploring a continent gets boring. No AI yet programmed and no content yet generated by human hands has the replay value of battling other players. Four stars if you can manage to make the competitions matter, but there’s nothing wrong with a little Quakelike competition, especially if victories in the Quakelike competition have appearance-only changes in the real game itself (cool-looking equipment modifications, name color changes, titles, etc.)

The point is that it’s years later and people are still playing Quake. Only on multiplayer, though.