Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Player Contracts +

Let's look at the sigh-inducing problem of griefing with respect to the system of player contracts as I've suggested it. How can this system be hardened against the exploiters?

The main thing to note is that I think of a contract as having three "boxes" into which anything (usually goods or money) can go:

  • Payoff Account -- what you pay when the contract is activated
  • Provision Account -- what you get when the contract is activated
  • Penalty Account -- what either player gets if the other player breaks the contract
Assuming there was a way to allow purchased items to be transferred from a waiting Bazaar terminal to a contract Provision Account (something I didn't think of but that is an excellent idea), the contract would be loaded up in something like the following way:

The Payoff Account would contain the 1000 credits you offer for delivering the hat. The moment the contract is accepted this money would be transferred from your bank account to the contract's Payoff Account. (If you don't have enough cash in your bank account at that instant to pay off the deal, it never happens. This helps increase trust in the system.)

The Provision Account would contain the hat you purchased. Note that the player who takes the delivery contract never actually has the hat itself as an inventory item. It's considered to be "stored" in the contract's "inventory" to which players don't have any access -- the system itself automatically handles all transfers if it decides that a contract has been successfully activated (or restoration of items/money if it decides that a contract has been broken).

The Penalty Account would hold whatever sum you and the contracting player decided was fair as a penalty for failure to meet the other terms of the contract. To insure you against having your time wasted, you could set the Penalty amount at 1,000 credits. To take the deal, a contracting player would have to put up 500 credits (and so would you). This money would be transferred from each player's bank account the instant both parties agree to the deal -- this insures that the penalty can and will definitely be paid if anything happens that breaks the contract. Again, the point is to help players trust that the game system itself will fairly and impartially enforce any and all commitments made by participants in a contract.

So when a player honors this particular contract, several things happen:

  • the 1000 credits in the Payoff Account are transferred to the other player's bank account
  • the hat in the Provision Account is transferred into your bank vault (or personal inventory)
  • the 500 credits each of you paid into the Penalty Account are restored to your bank accounts
  • the contract documents are deleted from both your inventories
But what about those without honor? Well, if a contracting player decides that he just wants to annoy you, several things happen the moment he breaks the contract:

  • the 1000 credits in the Payoff Account goes right back into your bank account
  • the hat in the Provision Account goes back to the Bazaar terminal from whence it came
  • the 1000 credits in the Penalty Account gets deposited into your bank account
  • the contract documents are deleted from both your inventories
In other words, if a would-be griefer breaks your contract everything gets reset to exactly where it was before you wrote the contract -- the hat is still available to you and you're not out a single credit (since the 1500 you paid into the Payoff and Penalty accounts is restored to your bank account). There are only two differences:

  1. You're out however many minutes it took for all this to happen.
  2. The griefer lost 500 credits and you've got them.
The obvious potential problem here is that a rich griefer could run around taking contracts he has no intention of fulfilling. This is easily minimized: don't let anyone become a contracting player for more than N contracts (where N is some low number like 5 or 2). Player should probably be allowed to offer as many contracts as they like, since the fact that they have to put up goods or money in the Payoff account up front will tend to limit how many contracts they can offer.

From the griefer's point of view, the only practical result of griefing someone would be that they themselves lose money nearly every time they break a contract -- the griefed party wouldn't be out anything but a little time (during which they were somewhere else doing other other things). I suspect this setup would tend to limit griefage pretty effectively.

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