Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Privacy in online games or don't tell people how badly I behaved

Recently League of Legends, an online MMO game, announced that it will be taking a very innovative new step to policing player behaviour.  LoL will be setting up a system where players are asked to adjudicate disputes and reports of bad behaviour by other players and decide whether or not to punish them.  The players will get to view chat logs and player statistics and then decide to either punish or pardon the offender - and will be rewarded if they vote with the majority.  I honestly don't know whether or not this will be a great or terrible solution longterm as predicting the results of such innovations is not simple.  However, in the short term, it provides much food for thought.  Predictably lots of people dislike the idea and many of those are citing privacy as a concern.  They feel that their chat logs should be private and others should not be allowed to view them.

It is certainly true that privacy is a major concern online.  We have seen many examples of this but most recently Sony screwed up seriously and ended up letting some hackers collect a huge amount of personal and credit card data from their servers.  This sort of thing is very problematic and people certainly have a right to assume that their financial information is being well protected.  The right to have online conversations be protected though is one I don't buy into.  Here is the thing:  As soon as you say something in a chat window anyone there can screenshot it and post it anyplace they like.  Nothing you say in that venue can possibly be considered private.  This is the same as recording conversations in the real world - if one person in the conversation wants to record it and play it later they are welcome to and they do not have to tell you they are doing so.  If you don't want something you say to be splashed across the internet for all to see then there is only one thing to do ... don't say it.

My concern is not so much with privacy but rather with the game theory problem of people deciding what to do about those accused of bad behaviour.  Thing is, the plan is to reward people with online currency when they vote with the majority so LoL is motivating people to try to figure out what others will do.  Initially at least I expect people to try to figure out who is right and who is wrong and vote that way but I am certain it will soon be obvious roughly what proportion of the cases end up with guilty verdicts.  This could have two possible outcomes:

1.  The proportions are close to even.  Let's assume it is a 60/40 split.  In this case the players generally know that it is in their best interests to figure out what the proper decision is and go with that if they want their reward.  Although some lazy people might just go with the 60 without thought I expect they would be in the minority and the system should continue on merrily.

2.  The proportions are wildly skewed.  Let's assume that 90% of the verdicts are guilty.  This means that players know that if they want their reward they should vote guilty, so many edge cases slide over to guilty, which raises the percentage, etc.  The positive feedback loop ends up meaning that every case ends up being deemed guilty because many players just vote that way hoping for their loot and assuming that it doesn't matter what they do because it is going to be guilty anyhow.

It should be noted that these are guesses because I don't really know how many people will take the job seriously and vote as correctly as they can regardless of reward.  I also don't know how how many people would take advantage of situation 2.  and just report people for anything at all knowing that they might well get a guilty verdict just from jurors who aren't even paying attention.  I think forcing the jurors to take a significant amount of time reviewing the case would really help with preventing people from spamming guilty verdicts for points but that might really annoy anyone trying to do a proper job too.  I don't know how it will end up going in the end but I will certainly be watching to see.

1 comment:

  1. I've read a number of people commenting on this, and it seems to me that the majority of the complaints would apply equally to real life juries.

    The one big thing this system has that real life juries don't, of course, is the reward for voting with the majority. Certainly this has the potential to create positive feedback for punishment (or, in theory for pardons, but probably not). I've seen psych experiments that show that rewarding answering the same as your peers tends to increase the amount of attention people pay to problems and actually increase the number of correct answers people get on tests. That being said, those are done in isolation, they are not iterative. If you iterate and publish the results each time then you can be pretty sure that everyone will start picking the same answer pretty soon, even if it is wrong.

    On the other hand, since you aren't actually iterating the same question, and because you are choosing randomly who votes each time, the few people who will be saying "always vote punish" in the forums might not be able to drown out people's common guess that the best way to agree on an answer with strangers is for everyone to do their best to pick the right answer. Also, while some people may not be good at thinking five minutes ahead, I think most people would get the whole, "If everyone always votes to punish then I could be next" thing.

    I personally think it sounds like a great idea. It will be interesting to see how it works out.