MACROING: PUNISHMENT AND CRIME
Tal'Mah'Ra

Tal'Mah'Ra has been playing Ultima Online since its inception, and is currently beng eaten alive by Everquest as well. He is the guildmaster of the Temple of Mondain, an evil/roleplaying/pvp guild that is established on several shards, including the new Siege Perilous shard. Or, rather, until he was banned last weekend. Much of his problems can be blamed on the fact that he is in fact Canadian.

Crime and Punishment

Our society's criminal justice system has been based upon this theory. Some people believe that punishments are a little on the weak side; others believe a little on the harsh side. The fact is that a fairly well (and yet still imperfect) system is in place today that draws a correlation between punishment and crime. Before we begin this topic, I would like to qualify an analogy for everyone. OSI is a police force; in every regard the description of OSI's GMs in fact make them one of the first operational 'virtual' police forces. After the comparison is made between the two, we will equate the offense of macroing to real life offenses that we believe are similar. Then we will also draw the similarities and differences between the punishments of these real life offenses, and macroing in Ultima Online.

OSI has its own police force

A police force is a recognized body that enforces and protects the 'laws' of society. Ultima Online is a community and thus has its own social norms. These social norms in many regards reflect real life society, though in a few ways they differ (see Lum's write-up on the broken mirror). OSI implements rules (Laws), and they additional enforce these rules. OSI is the governing body of the Ultima world and like all governing bodies they hire policing forces of the world they govern (a la GMs). In real life, police use their discretionary powers to decide for each situation what is acceptable within the law. In effect GMs fulfill this role within UO today. GMs are OSI's police force; GM's ensure that the rules and conducts of Ultima's governing body (OSI) are adhered too.

Macroing vs "Real Life" offenses

The social norms for our virtual society are drawn from those of our real life society. To best understand where unattended macroing falls in the scale of reasonable crimes and offenses, we must attempt to closely compare macroing to a common offense in today's society. When you are macroing you are effectively automating a task that was intended to be manual. In effect, you are artificially accelerating the advancement of your character. You are 'speeding' in the virtual world. Macroing gets you somewhere faster. To some degree it affects those around you, and in some cases it negatively affects those about you (as was seen in macro-mining). All of these aspects relate to someone speeding on one of today's highways. It seems as though as many people macro as those who speed. It is fairly common knowledge that the majority of people speed in real life (70% of people in fact speed regularly). Speeding is an offense in most states and provinces of North America. Macroing is an offense within the Ultima world. These two offenses are likely as closely related as any virtual and real life offense could be. Speeding in our society is a social norm, so is macroing. It is a socially accepted offense in most cases. Though it is an offense none the less.

Punishment and Crime

Having a fairly similar comparison between an online offense and virtual offense we can see the disparity of their punishments. When you speed you are fined, if you speed again you are fined again. Depending on where you live, if you continue to speed and get caught (6 or 7 times) your driving license can be placed under probation. This process continues for some time to establish what sort of driving record someone has. On a scale it would appear that someone who speeds is more then an inconvenience to others about them. Speeders in fact, place the lives of those around them at some degree of risk. Higher speeds increase the risk to those about you. Macroing is more of an inconvenience and perhaps less severe of an offense. Though as with speeding, we see an offence and understand the possibility of punishments when caught. When someone is caught for macroing, they are suspended from Ultima Online for a 24-hour probation period. Upon their second offense they are never allowed to play Ultima Online again. Now given the nature of the offense, this punishment seems severe. Macroing is a rather victimless offence, as is speeding in many cases. Yet the punishment for macroing is swift and severe. To quote a famous criminologist, "the punishment must fit the crime". In this case our social norms dictate that the punishment for macroing is too heavy handed for the offense.

What we think vs What they think

When you are pulled over by a police officer, you often find yourself asking, "Don't you have something better to do?" This is exactly the case with OSI GMs banning people who macro. While the GMs have an intense workload, they have to add macroers to their list of 'criminals'. Many police officers see speeding as an individual's choice to break the laws. The laws are known, signs with posted speed limits are in place. Despite people's offense to proclaim their innocence, there are not many excuses that legitimize speeding. This is also how GMs perceive macroing. We have all been warned not to do it. Yet 70% of us still continue to insist upon breaking the law.

Their line of thinking is that after they catch and ban 10% of us people will stop macroing. Many of us think that we would rather macro 'carefully' and reduce the risk of being caught. Everywhere you go the majority of people you talk to will tell you to macro carefully. The same goes for speeding. When people are young they speed everywhere. Like the fools they are, they blow right through nicely identifiable speed traps oblivious to the 4 police cars sitting in plain sight. As they get older and pay off a few hefty fines they quickly realize the difference between a smart speeder and a foolish speeder is about 3 years and 500 dollars. The question of never speeding again is almost never asked.

OSI's position is exactly that of our traditional police forces. Break the will of the macroer (or speeder).

However, Americans (and those evil Canadians, thank you South Park) are a very stubborn breed who are used to getting their way. One man cannot break the will of a thousand; it's simple mathematics. OSI cannot and will not ever catch or ban enough macroers to break the will of those who choose to remain and macro. North American police forces will never abolish speeding. Any attempt to do so will fail miserably and bitterly only causes a rift to be formed between the policing force and the public.

What to do

Many years of study and frankly billions of dollars have been spent on coming up with a solution to this problem. Not even OSI's budget is big enough to solve this problem. If they did come up with a viable solution to this problem they would quickly find themselves sought out by law enforcement agencies around the world. The solution is not to alienate the general masses while attempting to resolve or reduce the problem. Fines against a socially accepted offense will reduce that the offence to some degree but not significantly.

The more heavy the fine, the greater the rift between the governing body and those they govern. The key is to make speeding (or macroing in our case) counter productive. There is an extensive paper written on this subject that was followed and adhered to by an New Zealand police force. In order to make speeding counter productive you remove the benefits from speeding. People speed to thrill seek and/or to save time. In one district of New Zealand (my apologies to the NZ'ers out there but I don't recall the place from memory), they catch and fine speeders (it's a modest and reasonable dollar fine). Then they give the individual 2 options. Drive to the police station and pay the fine immediately or it increases dramatically.

Well it likely takes 30 minutes out of someone's life to drive to the police station and pay a 45 dollar fine. Yet if they fail to pay the fine within the following 24 hours it becomes a 500 dollar fine. Of course 99% of people pay the fine within 24 hours. The key here is not the fine but the inconvenience of the 30 minute trip to the police station to pay the fine. Within 6 months of this traffic fine system being implemented, the speeding rates were reduced by approximately 30%. Now while that may not seem like an incredible amount, it stands as the most dramatic affect on speeding rates within the world today.

If I were OSI what I would do is make macroing counter effective. How would I do this?

Well, I wouldn't ban people for starters. Banning players is quickly developing a rift between OSI and their 'tax payers'. In fact most systems of punishment for a crime of this type will cause undue friction between GMs and their player base. A system needs to be in place where macroing is made counter productive to some degree. In order to advance this line of thought I will list 3 possible solutions to accomplish this goal.

1) Stay as we are and ban players in increments. (good)
a. - 1st offense is a warning
b. - 2nd offense is a 24 hour ban
c. - 3rd offense is a 72 hour ban
d. - 4th offense is a 1 week ban
e. - 5th offense is a permanent ban

2) Reduction in skills and or stats (better)
a. - 1st offense is a warning
b. - 2nd offense is a 1% reduction in top skill
c. - 3rd offense is a 5% reduction in top skill
d. - 4th offense is a 5% reduction in all skills
e. - 5th offense is a permanent ban

3) Ultima Lore Quiz (Best) : a number of random ultima lore questions. Multiple choice (if you get an answer wrong it tells you the correct answer and makes you select the correct multiple choice answer before you continue to the next answer)
a. - 1st offense is a warning
b. - 2nd offense is a 25 question multiple choice
c. - 3rd offense is a 50 question multiple choice
d. - 4th offense is a 100 question multiple choice
e. - 5th offense is a 100 question multiple choice (and will continue to be 100 questions for each following offense).

How this works: People caught macroing will not be able to log onto the game until their penalty-boxed character has filled out their quiz. The quiz itself is ultima related and depending on how many questions you have to answer will take from 10 minutes to an hour of your REAL LIFE, non-macroable time. (Use the tinkering menu and have the boxes to check the answer appear in slightly different locations). Macroing becomes counter productive. If you have to answer a 1 hour questionnaire every time you log it is likely you will macro less. Again abolishing macroers is not the goal here. Making macroing less appealing and productive is.

I hope this is taken seriously and by the kind of response this essay elicits from Origin, we should be able to tell how seriously they take this issue. In some regards this author can understand the needs for some people to macro. Though I can additionally understand OSI's policy of wishing to reduce the number of people macroing. I hope we can find a solution before too many more OSI customers are turned away.

- Tal'Mah'Ra

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