Law & Order: MMO

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | 12

In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In Britannia, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the City Guards. These are their stories.

I mean, not really, but you get the idea.

Justice systems in MMORPG's range from draconian to non-existent, the latter allowing for rampant psychopathy, while the former counter-intuitively increasing the excitement of criminal events while also reducing the rate at which 'crimes' (mostly murders) are committed. Strong justice systems can make or break a game, so it's important to understand what you're looking at before you dive into a new MMORPG. Here are a few examples of justice systems:

Ultima Online (pre-shit)

The simplest method for crime reduction is to place punishment in the hands of the angry mob. In UO, players who comitted murders on the reg were flagged for a number of hours based on their transgressions. This served as both a warning and a bulls-eye to law abiding citizens who wanted to kill with impunity. UO also implemented permanent stat/skill loss for players who died after running amok, effectively ruining their day and ensuring that they couldn't take their revenge (on the same character). Stat loss was harsh but necessary because the loss of personal assets was rarely significant.

Crime was also varied beyond just murder. Players could steal from others (given their stealing skill was high enough), but non-murder didn't result in stat-loss. Players were somewhat safe within the confines of guarded areas, but the requirement that a player would have to type "Guards" to get state-funded assistance kept the afk and macroing in check.

Ultimately, people found ways around the loosely defined system, and Ultima Online devolved into a state of perpetual mayhem. The powers that be decided to then split all servers into two separate but equal worlds, ensuring that all PvP would be voluntary (and boring). Sad days.

EvE Online

Even boring games, like EvE Online, have functional criminal justice systems. Pirates receive a security rating penalty, forcing them to stay in more dangerous regions of space, and carebears are (nearly) free to carebear around in reasonably safe area. The giant(boring) universe is split into 3 security levels:

High Sec

To PvP enthusiasts, this is basically a newbie zone. High Sec is a guarded region where, despite an occasional suicide bomber, you can operate free from criminal acts. Players who... enjoy... the gameplay... of EvE are free to endlessly circle NPC enemies, asteroids, or each other without any unintended risk.

Low Sec

Now we're talkin'. Low Sec is FFA, but crimes and criminals near stations would get fired on. This is closer to UO-style guard zones. Faction warfare also happens in Low Sec, but you can carry out faction-style justice in all Security zones.

Null Sec

Exactly how it sounds, Null Sec is a completely player-driven justice system. Nobody is going to help you, so you had better ally with someone who will. This type of non-system wouldn't work without its counterparts because new players wouldn't last more than a few minutes out of the gate.

The reason why EvE's system works without stat-loss is because the loss you incur in material goods and ship repairs is more than a minor inconvenience in the interim and late game stages. There is also a bounty-system in place, but I wouldn't call that a justice system because players can put a bounty on others for reasons that exist outside of the realm of justice.


The criminal justice system in ArcheAge is almost comedic in its execution. People who know me will understand that I value comedy above everything, so this is in no way a bad thing. To understand the justice in ArcheAge, you must first understand how variable crimes can be.

A crime in ArcheAge can range from cutting down someone else's tree to mass-murder. Non-violent crimes leave behind footprints and murders leave behind blood stains. Each of these can be reported by witnesses and raise your crime points. Once you've reached 50 or more crime points and are killed by another player, you have the option of either going to trial or facing a mandatory minimum sentence. Here's where it gets interesting.

Players over level 30 with a sense of humor can sign up for jury duty, and each trial selects from this group of 'peers' to either release or detain the defendant. The criminal's innocance isn't exactly a point of negotiation because the crimes have been infallibly reported and certainly did happen, but that doesn't stop what is typically a hilarious exchange/plea between the jurors and defendant. The length of the prison sentence is determined by the same jurors, and while you can escape from prison, you'll carry a debuff for the entire duration that essentially declaws you. While I'd recommend just bypassing the trial, you can play other characters after a hilarious trial... so fuck it.

Players also carry an infamy score along with their crime points, and once that reaches a threshold they are expelled from their faction, becoming pirates. this isn't recommended until you can hold your own because a pirate's life is hard and fraught with peril... but pirates are also sweet, so there's that.

Themepark Justice

Traditionally, themepark style games don't bother with a justice system. That is to say, they (on PvP servers) seem to both revel in and encourage one-sided ganking. In World of Warcraft, for instance, a max-leveled character gets the same benefit from killing 10 players in 1 spell than they do from killing 1 equally leveled player. This, I can only imagine, was invented solely for the purpose of giving PvP a bad name. Any look at popular MMO blogs will provide evidence that it's working.

Thanks to @aInsaneMembrane for the suggestion for this article. I'm way too lazy to come up with my own topics anymore.


  1. Games like Darkfall that do not include a justice system annoy me. They add far to much in a game and offer a way for game systems to curb random pvp, while at the same time giving the power of that enforcement to the players.

    Scenario 1: I encounter random player in Darkfall, there is a 100 percent chance I am fighting. This is completely boring.

    Scenario 2: I encounter a random player in Mortal Online and all sorts of shit goes into the decision. Do I want to go red right now? How far from my going red am I? He has no packs on that horse so probably not worth getting a red count!? Half the community looks down on random killing, do I want to annoy that part of the player base? This is vastly more interesting then the first scenario.

    Games like Archeage or Age of Wushu with no full loot should result in boring pvp but because there is an underlying justice system the games at least provide some entertaining events surrounding that pvp (Wushu's jail breaks or Archeage trial and soccer while jailed).

    People always find the workarounds though and exploit the justice systems. Some with hilarious results that no dev should ever change, Eve's suicide ganks. Other games create completely broken and useless bounty hunter systems. I'll take a game with a cool justice system over one that ignores it all together though.

  2. Yeah, Darkfall's only risk is your equipment, but that really only encourages zerg-only pvp. The best systems are the simplest, but clearly something has to be done.

  3. Designing to hold back the zerg is annoying too. I like it when a game offer places inside the world that the zerg just cannot exist. Allows both styles of pvp to exist. Eve Online's wormholes are a good example of that or Albion Online's TC fights. Hard to combat n+1 rule in the open world and so they should not even try. We would never have huge epic battles when zerg meet zerg or the small skirmishes on the outskirts of those fights.

  4. I'd like to think that nobody really wants to zerg. That in itself is limiting, unless a system is designed to promote being a shitty asshole.

  5. I'd posit that loot and time are effectively the same thing. Logging off is also time lost. Planetside 2 is primarily a cookie cutter FPS, so any type of comparison is going to be flawed, but the inability to hold your own team accountable (by murdering them) seems to be more of an annoyance than a benefit.

  6. Voice chat spam, blocking gates with vehicles or turrets, deploying unnecessary spawn points, blocking tower turrets by being afk, throwing tank mines on allied road, etc. Since we're talking 600 player drop in drop out "teams" chances of encountering random idiots in this mess are quite high.

    When players get banned for a day, they log off and do something else. When they get banned for couple minutes, they patiently wait until ban goes off. After couple such bans in a row, they either uninstall the game or try playing more cautiously. Good thing one way or the other.

  7. Thanks for this one Miguelito! Kind of confirms what I was thinking about most of this stuff, after UO it is all kinds of fucked. Don't quite understand how the first game got it so right, and 9 out of 10 games after that have just stuck their cocks in a blender.

    P.S. ArcheAge player justice makes me want to put their designers on jury for wreckless douchebaggery.

  8. Haha, I actually think AA's system is pretty funny. I enjoy games that allow for non-violent crimes.

  9. Quite true, non-violent crime punishment can be fun and interesting too. I just have a problem with being judged by a jury of assclown peers that is all. Unless of course I can bunny hop around the courtroom and teabag them as they do it, then I'm all for it.

  10. Eve has a good system I think, the game is just to much of a ZZZzzz. A system like EvE has in Darkfall might be nice, DFs big prob. was huge safezones. Oh the wolf model was just sad, but that is another topic.


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