Online Games and Interactive Sports Summit 98 Hat

How to Get Rid of Players

and Make Sure they Don't Come Back


Q: Why would the people who run an online game want to get rid of their players?

A: Who knows?!

It's obvious that many of them do want to lose players, because they deliberately do things to cause it to happen.

  • But in an ad hoc manner.
  • Without the benefit of past experience.
  • With no advice on how to do it.

This talk therefore fulfils a very real need.

  • It gives clear advice, based on current practice.
  • It's cutting edge: there are companies out there planning on losing players like this right now!

If you don't want to lose players, do the opposite.

The Basics

  • Some things are obvious, and apply to any business that wants to lose customers:
    • rudeness/obstreperousness
    • capriciousness
    • favouritism
    • lateness/laziness
    • blatent lying
    • irritating advertisements

    But this is not usually enough!

    • People expect it (from other players) anyway.
    • People get it (from their ISP) anyway.

    Something more specific to the needs of online games is required.

    Critical Mass that's all players are

    Below a certain number of players, a multi-player game cannot function.
    • Therefore, get below that level!
    • The more people you can annoy, the more will leave.
    • Target large groups of players.
    • Target individuals with lots of friends.

    Two main ways to increase size of critical mass needed:

    • Spread players too thinly so they never meet each other.
    • Cram players together so they can only meet each other.


    • gag them
    • spam them.

    Charging Methodsthat really frighten

    Golden rule: always remain studiously legal.
    • Don't make spurious, unjustifiable charges.
    • Make spurious, justifiable charges instead.

    Charge for everything you can think of:

    • sign-on fee, sign-off fee, per hour, flat fee per month, per character, per email, ...

    Have at least 6 pricing policies, all tailored to the needs of non-existent people and with no way to compare them.

    • Vary prices and charging mechanisms often.

    Make signing on a challenge in itself.

    Players as Game Designers

    You say:
    • They're free.
    • They know what they want.
    • They're keen.

    You don't say:

    • They're clueless.
    • They don't know what everyone else wants.
    • They have copyright on what they design.

    Player designs make a game unattractive to all but that player.

    • Inconsistent, incomplete, context free, arbitrary, unoriginal.
    • Tell the designing player this, and you lose them too!

    Tenets of Crash Design

    Key point: don't do it so often that they expect it.

    Delay all stages in the bug-fixing process.

    For optimum results, crashes should:

    • occur at the point where character loss is most likely
    • occur towards the end of highly publicised special events
    • be occasionally proceeded by ominous lag, so when this happens naturally they automatically fear the worst
    • require players to reboot their PC, modem or BIOS
    • Never be explained. Don't even blame the hardware.

    Client Software making your game hackable

    Why waste time making your game unplayable when you can get other people to do it for free?

    Challenge hackers! Say your system is foolproof. Mock them.

    Your client should:

    • store critical information on disc ("in binary" for security)
    • make game-critical decisions itself
    • make no attempt to encrypt transmissions
    • use a simple protocol, the specifications of which are proudly displayed on your web site
    • be written in some painfully slow language
    • be impossible to install at the first attempt.

    Fomenting Discontent the easy way

    The game itself can annoy players, without help.

    Give it a fixed lifespan.

    • If you only know about shelf life, use that experience.

    Reward players automatically for harming others.

    Make gameplay suddenly become very difficult at an arbitrary level.

    Make your game shallow.

    • Expose this with a huge and expensive but banal manual.

    Make your user interface picky and petty.

    • If it's intuitive, rewrite it.

    Everything should be visually unattractive, or clash horribly.

    20% of the help files should be missing or out of date/incorrect.

    Game Management an undue expense

    Regularly accuse players of cheating.
    • Except the real cheats.
    • The more public, the better.

    Don't train your game managers.

    • No training is even better than bad training: it delivers unbeatable inconsistency.
    • Hey, no-one can sue you for giving bad advice!
    • Prefer people you are forced to employ by law.
    • Sack anyone who turns out to be good at it.

    Beware! There could be plenty more players where the ones you scare off came from!

    • Make sure they tell their friends not to play, too.
    • Angry players can stay away forever.


    Of course, this hasn't been a talk about how to lose players. It's been a talk on how to keep them.

    Some of what I've described may seem rather unbelievable, but it's all grounded in reality.

    • Developers really do make these errors.
    • Time and time again...
    • Worse, sometimes they know it's a mistake, but the publishers who financed them insist they make it anyway.

    The best way to lose players is not to have them in the first place.

    • The danger is, that no-one else gets them after you've finished with them, either.

  • Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
    9th April :\webdes~1\ .htm