Dealing With Games' "Rogue Reality"
Replicating certain aspects of reality in virtual worlds, such as currency or the concept of property, has the benefit of making the game immediately accessible to the player regardless of the setting. The familiarity of these foundational elements makes the game intuitive, allowing for quicker immersion into the experience. This intended consequence is not without a cost: Rogue Reality. By importing these familiar concepts, game developers unleash a range of undesirable behaviors that interact with the "real" mechanic. For example, placing a currency in the game may create Rogue Reality behaviors such as gold farming or gold duping. Left unchecked, these behaviors can ruin the carefully crafted balance essential to any successful game.
Virtual Economies are a driving force behind any immersive experience in massively multiplayer games. The presence of a market for goods creates an incentive for players to invest significant time accruing resources to enhance their power, prestige and personal appearance. Rogue Reality behavior often takes the form of black/grey markets where digital items are traded for real currency on third-party websites. The "real" mechanic of an economy also heightens the likelihood of gold farming, character transfers, and player hacking as rogue players try to capitalize on the real value of the digital goods.
The appropriate response should be tailored to the game's objectives. For example, a combat centric game such as World of Warcraft will typically require less flexibility in the economy than games that place players in more varied roles such as Eve Online. The optimal legal and design solutions for World of Warcraft are unlikely to be the same as Eve Online. A combat centric game may implement game design mechanics that curtail improper behavior by heavily restricting the free flow of goods from one player to another. For example, items can be limited to certain professions or bound immediately to the player upon pickup. This design convention does not weaken the game's integrity, because a truly free market for goods is not required to fully realize the play value of the game.
Player to Player Relationships
The diversity of experience that comes from player to player interaction in online games helps immerse players in a way few other game mechanics can.
Players will invest more time and more effort into their characters if they are surrounded by friends. They will be more inclined to create and participate, and this enhances the game for everyone. An increasing trend in many MMOs is to create scenarios that require a high degree of cooperation among the players, fostering a sense of community between participants. As games grow more permissive in the actions they allow between players, the instance of Rogue Reality issues such as harassment and bug exploits increase.
The optimal solution to combat Rogue Reality is unlikely to ever be purely a product of game design or legal action. Over-protection may be just as costly as under-protection when it undermines the play value of the game. The best method will support the game's objectives by reaching a compromise between the game design remedies and legal remedies. Communication between game designers and legal personnel is not just a suggestion; it is a requirement to determining the appropriate balance. The two examples included in this discussion are a brief window into how this compromise may be reached. Rogue Reality is an inevitable outcome of importing "real" mechanics into virtual worlds, but play value should never be a victim of the battle against it.