Get yer stickyfingers outta my pockets!

Stealing, Thieving, Pickpocketing, Robbing, Breaking and Entering… Should this sort of stuff be allowed in our MMORPGs? There is certainly a nice adrenaline rush to the process of robbing someone blind and getting away with it, but what about the victim? I had a car stolen once and I felt completely violated and helpless. For me though, it wasn’t that my car was stolen, it was that I didn’t know who did it and I couldn’t DO anything about it. All of my anger and venting was towards a ghost.

Anyway…does having these skills and abilities in a MMORPG make it better? If you remove the thieving bits from the classical rogue archetype, is sneaking, backstabbing, and picklock enough? Do they HAVE to be able to steal? I’m not asking about how to implement this, or rules and restrictions to keep things fair or not, but rather what do you think about having it as part of the game to start with?

Stealing, pickpocketing, corpse looting, robbing player homes…you get the idea.

Give me your arguments for or against and any personal anecdotes. Try to look at things from the other point of view as well. Some things are a necessary evil…and others are not at all.

25 thoughts on “Get yer stickyfingers outta my pockets!”

  1. I’m gonna say nay. Just because I’m not entirely comfy with the idea of putting one player’s progress (or the manifestation of this progress in this case, be that loot, money, the player housing they bought, etc) in the hands of other players.

    I think raiding is as far as I’m willing to go in the “Your time/fun is controlled and affected by other people” department. And raiding is a cooperative venture!

    Second reason I’m not entirely hugging trees about this is the lack of recourse the victim would have. In real life we have a justice system (bad as it might work sometimes, it’s there). We have a police force that prevents these things from happening as much as they can (theoretically), and ultimately in most cases the stolen property does not cease to exist (so there’s always the possibility that it can be recovered).

    In a virtual world that would allow stealing from players, then that’s it. Say an item is stolen, or some gold, we can’t sue the perpetrator, once caught (and how are we going to catch him anyway?), to compensate the victim. In the case of an item, once stolen, if the perpetrator destroys it – which takes all of a drag to screen in most games – or if he simply keeps it and never logs in again, the item is lost. The only recourse is to petition to the gaming gods of that particular game and usually know how that goes. Whoever allows player stealing is gonna have to setup a separate CS department just to deal with the fallout of that crap alone.

    The silver lining in all this I think is that someday someone is going to come up with acceptable mechanics that would enable people to get justice, the recovery of what was stolen, or both, without bogging things too much as far as the game is concerned. Don’t know when that will happen, if ever.

  2. So acceptable provided there was some sort of system for recourse, recovery, or justice? Assuming you can track down the robber…

  3. Acceptable from a design perspective or from a player perspective? As a designer I can kinda detach myself and observe the design objectively and say, “well yeah, this implementation of stealing is the most balanced we can come up with.”

    As a player I probably would never play a game that allows other players to steal from me as an incidence of the game, or as a flavor feature that was added. Even if I had recourse to the law, I wouldn’t do it. Reason being that when I log in I want to play the game, not spend (x) time dealing with tracking down a robber myself, or contacting the police, lawyers, etc. I mean, as a player my playing time is bad enough as it is. If I only have 3 hours to play, I don’t want to spend 2 of them trying to get back my 2 Pokestick because some griefer had nothing better to do at the time and took it from me.

    That… if we’re adding stealing not as the main focus of the game. Now if you tell me that you have a game that revolves entirely around stealing from other players and that’s the core of the game, well screw it, fair game then. If I went in there, it’s because I wanted that kind of gameplay, right?

  4. Well as with every mechanic I think you have to view it in the context of the game. I think many of us are so disgusted by instinct when these things come up because of the mediums we perceive as “the norm” would make for a very inadequate environment for such a mechanic to be implemented. But of course I will continually be the first to stand up and say that I think the whole “items of great power” design standpoint is really fleeting and should be toned down if not straight up eliminated from our MMORPG’s. That being said I love the idea of a thief character that can steal things. However remember that there are many ways to make stealing a very “skill based” ability as well as putting limits on what/how much can be stolen.

    Also as I said earlier in a game where primary representation of in game achievement is moved from items into other far more rewarding areas of conceptual design, losing an item here or there to a thief could be a profitable business for the thief but hardly a game breaker for the victim.

    Having your car stolen is a life changing event. Having a thief snag an item or two from your inventory that was crafted for you by a guild made might be able to fetch him a pretty penny on the open market, while the extent of your pain will be requesting another from a friend or farming for it yourself over a short while.

    In Shadowbane a thief would have a large chance of coming out of “stealth” after stealing something (which I thought was great) and would immediately have to turn around and “haul ass”. If he wasn’t strategic enough to pay attention to the victim’s scout friend he was toast, or God forbid the victim or any of his friends had enough run buffs/snares to chase him down. So the thief really did have to put out some serious effort to pull off a decent heist… and justifiably so. It is however a mechanic I would hate to see removed from any open ended gameplay.

  5. It’s all about game design and the extent of “stealing.”

    I doubt many people have issues with stealing from NPCs, as long as we assume that the game design has taken it into consideration and is not exploitable or unbalancing.

    Stealing from players opens a whole new kettle of fish. There would need to be informed consent from players, it’s like a different kind of PK or PVPing – if I play this game or on this server, I know that I can steal, and be stolen from…

    Some players love the adrenaline rush. It can make for a good story too, the thief gets to brag about how he pulled off his heist, the victim gets to pull in friends and hunt the thief down for revenge, etc.

    Some other players though, and I count myself one of them, would not be willing to play this sort of game. It’s very niche. Knowing the number of people online who get kicks out of making other people’s lives miserable or eliciting strong emotions at any rate (aka griefing), I can’t be bothered to deal with this sort of unending drama, and would pick a game that doesn’t contain it.

    Different games for different folks. Once the victims wise up and choose to go elsewhere, the ones left will be those who accept being prey in the hope that they can be the predator too/eventually. The names Ultima Online and EVE Online come to mind, for some reason.

  6. Hrm, is this any different from PvP though? Is there a clear split between people that favor PvP AND thieving versus people that prefer PvE and “safer” gameplay?

  7. Agree with Nicodemus. My first thought was that stealing is just a form of PvP. So:

    1) It’s wise to offer an opt-out options (flag, or non-pvp server, etc.) if you don’t want to alienate most of your playerbase

    2) It’s wise to limit the magnitude of damage that can be done — stealing a few silver from me is one thing, stealing armor off my back which I just spent 10 hours raiding for is another

    If someone made a game with stealing that violated these rules, I don’t know that it would strike me as “unacceptable” — developers are free to make whatever game they want. But stupid, perhaps. :-) I think they’d get as many players as all those non-consensual PvP permadeth MMO’s. (ie: zero)

  8. What about Eve?

    Stealing is quite possible, and even more so by cheating…that is using out of game methods. Massive thefts have occurred (and made the news). No recourse for the losers either.

    Personally, I think if a player makes a character of race A and another one of race B, and then uses the second character to infiltrate someone’s organization (through forums, chat, in-game, etc.) to simply go up the ranks and get access to everything to steal it and give it to their original character (deleting the second?). It all reeks of unfairness and cheating to me.

    On the other hand, if the *character* disguised themselves, faked their identity and gained access that way…always risking discovery or the piercing of their illusion, then it would be a different story. But when was the last time you saw a Gallente character impersonating a Caldari to join a Caldari corporation?

    Anyway…Eve is quite popular still and does well for itself. I am not in favor of a no-holds barred thieving mechanic, but I do think that there is at least *some* market for it.

    I dunno…the discussion continues!

  9. Point taken. And I think that the large-scale Eve thefts are OK, because everyone knows what they’re getting into, just like they know what they’re getting into when they join a PvP server in WoW.

    I was going to add “…but I still don’t think anyone would play a game with permadeath! :-)”, but some of the larger-scale Eve thefts sound like they might as well be permadeth for the victim. This is just my impression; I haven’t played Eve myself yet.

    It is an interesting question about player cheating vs. character cheating. That feels like a REALLY thorny issue, with the moral issues and enforcement difficulties as complex as RMT issues. A federated internet identity standard would help address this, because you could then see if the new guild applicant is actually a member of a rival guild on another faction…

  10. Yes. It becomes even more of an issue for a world where there is heavy emphasis on social organizations (guilds, clans, tribes, houses, corporations, governments, etc.) and interactions.

    I’m sure there is a solution out there somewhere, and if not, at least mechanics to make it difficult and time consuming for people that really have to cheat to get any enjoyment out of a game.

  11. Stealing (thief class ability) was born of pen and paper RPGs, where it was intended to be used on NPCs. Later it extended to your group (to allow proper role-playing of your character and alignment). I think it is important to remember, the group your played (pen and paper) RPGs with was typically made up of friends (who had the ability to self govern and negotiate).

    I an MMO, the person stealing from you is no one and everyone at the same time. You may never see the theif or it could be the guy at the itemshop next month. You (probably) don’t have a beer with the theif afterwards or make cracks about their momma, as was frequent with the tabletop RPGs I participated in. Also, you may have grinded for hours/days (or payed) to get an item. That places a real value on the item (time is money?), which personalizes the “assault.”

    When I played pen and paper, virtually all decent items were given to me via the DM purposefully – move the story forward and make it interesting for us all. If I were playing Lawful – Good, I would “let it go” when stolen from, because I knew my DM would rectify in the future AND my character was suppose to “forgive and forget.” If I were playing the their, I would hoard like it would nobody’s business (if you don’t tell – I won’t).

    The only way I can see to allow stealing in-game is to remove personal attachment to items (grinding/customizing out). If I have to work for something, I don’t want it stolen from me. If I have something given to me (to drive plot or make a more interesting game), I can be relatively certain I will get it back later (devalued items?), which may defeat what makes MMO massive. To reach the masses (read: casual-esk gamers), their needs to be a “Web 2.0-ish” approach, customizations and ownership being integral. (See “Putting the Fun in Fundamental” as referenced by Raph Koster’s blog: This is nothing new. Web developer’s have been encouraging users to stay at their site years before the term “Web 2.0” Back then it was just called “sticky” or “web community.”

    I don’t see any problem limiting stealing to NPCs. It would even be possible to have an MMO contain plot events that might require it (can always hire an NPC to rob an NPC). Player’s don’t lose (items to thieves) and Thieves get to use their skills (without getting thrown in jail or hand chopped off).

    P.S. I don’t think using a jailing system for PC thieves is a good idea. Real != Fun. Typically the opposite is true…

  12. If one wanted to implement stealing in a game like WoW I would have wanted it connected to the PvP. What you could pickpocket from players should have been relatively small (something like 1 silver pr lvl of the character, less for low lvl ones probably). Pickpocketing should flag you for pvp in a manner that made it possible also for people of your own faction to kill you, and if they killed you they should be able to loot your corpse for, say, 20% more than what you could pickpocket them for. I still wouldn’t want that sort of feature implemented, but I think it could have worked. Although I dread the idea of a lvl 70 griefer rogue in the newbie zone..

  13. The thing with the comparison to PvP (or at least the common implementations of PvP) is that if I’m ganked, I don’t lose anything irreparably. I only lose whatever time I lose until I rez/the attacker goes away.

    EVE (and a game that should remain unnamed, lest I invoke NDA hellhounds) take it half a notch up and there is the possibility of losing a ship permanently, along with whatever customizations I had in it. But even that ‘permanently’ is halfway there, because in the majority of cases, that is the 90-99% of players that don’t have ultra-rare loot, whatever is lost can be replicated again. I can get the same ship, equip it with the same equivalent customizations and so on. Sure it’s a kick in the bingbong, but it’s doable.

    Imagine a game just like WoW in which players can activate a pickpocket skill on others and randomly get an item from their bags. If it was a quest reward, then the victim is screwed. Can’t do the quest again and the item is gone. If it was a rare purple from an instance? Loot generation is random and the victim could be hitting that instance all his life and never see it again (extreme example, but valid). If the thief managed to score a Thunderfury? How many months of work was that theft worth?

    Even if we limit stealing to just a few silver per hit. And even if we give the victim an anti-stealing flag for five minutes after a theft… the amount of thief-griefers that such a mechanic would attract would render those measures meaningless. They’d simply overwhelm the mechanics with sheer volume. Not to go on a tangent here, but IRL not only we have a justice system, prison system and even the death penalty sometimes. And still, people go out and steal, kill, etc. Those things deter only those who would be deterred anyway. The griefers wouldn’t be, as they aren’t in real life. And they have the numbers.

    Don’t forget that there still is such a thing as griefing, even under consensual PvP servers or rules. There will always be people out there that just aim to ruin it for others (you even say so in your book, Nic!). I just think allowing stealing would ultimately translate to giving griefers yet another wide avenue to exploit, for only minimal earnings in gameplay overall. A.k.a, feature bullet point “Steal from other players!” on the back of the box. Right next to “Windows ME compatible”.

    Not worth it IMO.

  14. Any ex-shadowbane players out there care to comment on the thief system there…did it work? was it abused? was it balanced within the system? Did you rob or were you robbed?

    How about players in games where thieving was taken to new heights of griefing or really sapped the pleasure out of it?

  15. IMO, I think it could be worth it if implemented in the right environment and with some restrictions.
    The common theme of almost every response here is that nobody wants to play a game where items that were earned through hours of game play could be stolen by another player. I don’t blame everyone for feeling this way as it would totally piss me off as well. However, there are a number of ways that this skill could be implemented and still add to the overall character of the game.

    * Locked houses, backpacks, and chests could be crafted by players and add to the economy.
    * Bound Items on players could not be stolen by thieves as they are usually not available for trade anyway.
    * Those that steal could show up immediately as an attackable enemy to the victims and until killed, or in some way make amends for their crime, they could remain on a players list of enemies.
    * Keep it skill based and possibly limited by the environment. Daylight should hinder all but the most agile of thieves and if I go down a bad part of town, then shame on me if i get robbed. Also, make the player start with NPCs and only those of proper skill could then move on to player characters. I would find it hard not to respect someone who spent 30 hours training up a pickpocket skill.

    I could never find fun in a game where people could steal from me without recourse. It would be a very hard sell anyway trying to convince most to jump in a world where this could be possible. We deal with taxes and scams every day IRL and I play MMOs to break away from crap like that.
    Give me a chance though to run down the bastard who took that stack of ore out of my pack and maybe let my friends tag along for the ride, thats fun. Thats conflict and a real battle.

  16. Another angle to consider is: Do we really want to encourage this player behavior from the design itself?

    I mean, we still (collectively) have some trouble dealing with violence and death in our games. Do we want to add this to the mix too?

    Does the inclusion of stealing add up to a believable experience regarding the faithful representation of a world? Yeah, you bet your ass it does. Then again, so does rape, necrophilia, pedophilia, etc.

    If we aim to represent as many elements of real world behavior, shouldn’t we include those too?

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think a crime is a crime is a crime. There are bigger and lesser crimes. I also think design should also be responsible and, as much as gameplay permits, be a little responsible.

    /end unpopular opinion ;)

  17. I can see a game where perhaps if a character of the “seedier” elements of city life pickpocketed another character then a police/security force is alerted and the thief is flagged for PvP to the police and to the victim. Characters would have the option to enlist themselves in the police/security as a faction, and would get a CoH-style alert over their police band radios giving them their assignment and target to track, much like the old Bounty Hunter vs. Jedi in SWG. In the wilderness, if the theft is detected, the victim could possibly contract a bountry hunter type character.

    The problems, as have already been mentioned, are balancing exactly what and how much of it are able to be pickpocketed. What is the penalty when the thief is caught? There are plenty of “balance” issues to be worked out, but I could see this as giving PvP more meaning overall. I’m no hardcore PvPer at all, far from it, but if it has meaning then I’ll jump into the fray and fight. Defending my hometown, or my guild HQ, or defending a friend being ganked ranks higher than a mere “lawl i pwnd j00” because after all, that’s what FPS games are for.

  18. Events of that magnitude where people are “Working their way up the ranks” and then stealing everything are extremely rare as it requires a huge real life committment from the perpetrator. However I find this to be quite acceptable in a game as no one is forced to let someone in in the first place. Game developers can’t get involved in the meta-game affairs of players.

    Noone is there to hold your hand in or to determine who you trust or don’t trust in real life, so I think this is something better left alone. I think to have a diverse and fascinating political system these things need to be in effect.

    If you go anywhere and read about Eve 90% of the forum discussion involving it is politics and E-drama. People love it.

  19. Like Lindorn wrote, stealing in EVE is different. In order to have someone steal your stuff, you have to give them access. They betray your trust. Allowing a rogue to pickpocket would be more like giving EVE players a skill that gives them a chance to sneak into my station and take some of my goods without me noticing.

  20. I haven’t seen a single person mention it yet, but Ultima Online featured stealing as a skill. When it first launched players could pick pocket others players and steal items one at a time out of their bag. This included stacks of regents, loot, even gold collected during the players playtime. You could even have your house keys stolen if you weren’t careful (there were several tricks developed such as hiding objects by stacking larger objects over the one you intended to hide).

    Thieves also played a large role in combat, a good player with thieving skill would initially stealth up to another player they intended to ambush and rob them of key regents (or unequipped weapons) that allowed them to cast key combat and escape spells. Then the thief would attack and the mage character would find themselves with an error saying their regs were missing for their attack spell, and they’d also be missing the regs to use a rune to teleport to safety, leaving a dangerous run on foot to escape.

    If the thief failed the victim would be alert and could retaliate by killing the thief resetting the PvP flag. If the thief failed and was flagged in a city, city guards would spawn instantly matrix style and kill the thief in 1-2 hits.

    The system did add a fun element to the game, along with the open pvp, you tended to be very careful about banking valuable items or keeping them under lock and key in your house. Plus you had to be constantly on the lookout ready to kill anyone that got too ‘close’. It was very realistic in that sense.

    However there were a few ways to exploit it by running a small little syndicate of coordinated rogues. If you had one thief steal from another player (stripped down naked and ready to die) and he was killed, you could simply have another thief rob his corpse quickly as he fell to the ground and so on, simulating the old trick of passing the illicit goods from one thief to another till somebody escaped with the valuables.

    Unfortunately this wasn’t very popular with the “carebear” types and a lot changed over the years after the felluca/trammel split.

  21. I also want to make a very key point about the MMO’s that allowed stealing from players.

    ALL the MMO’s that allow stealing have a very important distinction from the current day MMO’s.

    Equipment and items in those games were COMMODITIES, they were often cheap and easy to purchase or make, thus any loss due to theft, or death by mob or player had very little effect on a player.

    Most MMO’s today place a very high worth on gear so when you bring up a discussion like this its easy for people to lose perspective and assume you’re talking about players stealing from say players in WoW and making off with Epic’s that took weeks to get.

    One key mechanic that was added to several games that allowed stealing was the ability to lockdown a set number (there were several different names for this) items on your person or in your bag so that they could not be stolen off you, or from your corpse. This allowed stealing to remain in game, yet gave players the ability to protect their most prized possessions.

    Also as an update to my earlier post, it was possible to booby trap lockboxes, chests, etc with spells or mechanical traps. One good trick was keeping a ‘honeypot’ in your bag, a booby trapped box for thieves to steal. Typically they’d steal it, run off, then attempt to open it.. *boom* and die.

  22. I have to agree with Scott’s points. I may have mentioned this in chat (and you may or may not have it logged, Nicodemus), but theft only works when items have very low value. Item theft ultimately represents time lost by the player, and should only be permitted where you have plenty of customer service to deal with the complaints and item reimbursements, or the consequences of theft on the average player is so trivial as to be essentially meaningless.

    Stealing purples in WoW represents days or weeks of actual playtime, while stealing a crafted sword in UO represents a few minutes of mining, travel, and crafting.

    Finally, consider which players you want to keep, which audience is most likely to continue playing your game and paying each month. Are the wolves more or less likely to move on to the next big game or console title than the sheep?

  23. I wouldn’t dream of allowing theft of Epic gear, and certainly not Raid Epic gear. Or, at least not a game like WoW which is, unfortunately, 100% gear-centric. On the other hand, if the game was setup where all the good gear and items were crafted, that’d be another story. Sure, it might cost you whatever money your character had to spend on that item, but it won’t cost you hours or weeks or raiding all over again, hoping the same piece drops.

    I’d much rather see player crafted gear become the norm anyway, even raid gear. Raids could give the best patterns for crafters to learn, and perhaps valuable “epic materials” to craft said items, rather than random drops of Tier X gear.

    At least then, the players have more control over the economy and if an item is stolen, the crafter still knows how to make another.

  24. I played UO for 2 years. I was robbed a number of times. My house was broken into once. The thief had stolen my key out of my bag and followed me to my house through a portal I made. He went into my house stole everything he could manage to carry that wasn’t locked down. For spite he wrote me a note in iron ingots on my front lawn. “YOU SUCK.” I hated it at the time but I still remember those times fondly, ya I must be nuts. Thieving like this wouldn’t work in non pvp games. In UO you could kill the thief and take all their stuff, so that was some deterent. I think thiefing could work in a game like Age of Conan. As long as there are consequences this might add a totally new flavor to a MMO’s. It certainly would add some spice.
    But.. I don’t think it will happen. To many (people) carebear’s would petition GM’s crying about how they where robbed etc. I think it might be more trouble in the long run for a game then the flavor it would add.
    Have fun, Ceadrick

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