The griefer problem
Racing games have evolved significantly over the past decade or so. Graphics, audio and physics are more lifelike than ever. As games move ever closer to realism, it is only natural that players are looking for realistic gameplay, rules and penalties, too.
There’s a problem with this, though. Anyone who has joined a Forza 7 public online lobby will have experienced the first-corner chaos that often ensues. Whether it’s down to inexperience or plain old trolling, negative behaviour is rife. There are no license tests required to race online. There are no significant real-world repercussions for toxic behaviour. Some people just like to watch the world burn.
How to solve the problem?
There have been many attempts made to counter this:
Gran Turismo Sport monitors driving standards automatically: If you drive badly, or frequently ram other drivers or cut corners, then you are only able to join a lobby with other blacklisted drivers. If you want out, you have to drive within the rules. It has so far proven to be a simple and effective solution.
iRacing uses a safety rating alongside its iRating ability ranking system. Drive badly and your safety rating drops, putting you in with inexperienced or shoddy drivers. iRacing also has the advantage that their rules are clearly defined. People get into iRacing to simulate real racing. It takes a sizeable financial investment, too. If you have spent potentially hundreds on purchasing tracks and cars, you are less likely to risk losing it through negative actions.
Forza Motorsport, however, was not built with an automated system in place. The introduction of Forza Race Regulations lobbies was a small step towards tackling the problem.
Forza Race Regulations (FRR)
Over the past few months, the rollout of FRR features has been the primary focus of the Forza Motorsport 7 development team. From its beginnings as a private beta to last month’s addition of collision-based penalties, the team has taken a measured approach to introducing each new aspect of FRR to the wider Forza community. That long string of Forza Race Regulations work in Forza 7 culminates here in August with the long-awaited introduction of race disqualifications into the mix.
With the August 2019 update, players in FRR-enabled hoppers who accumulate a total of 12 seconds of penalties in a race will immediately and automatically be removed from the current race and be placed back into the Hopper Select screen. Players who are disqualified and removed from races will see a message explaining that they have been removed from the race. After accumulating 10 seconds of penalties in a race – the game will note that players have been placed in “Probation,” a warning state before disqualification at 12 seconds of penalties. Once disqualified, that player is able to matchmake for a subsequent race.
The 12-second time accumulation is the result of a great deal of in-house testing from the Forza 7 team, who were determined to find a balance between a time penalty total that was difficult for well-meaning but lesser-skilled players to accumulate, while still punishing griefers or rammers who want to ruin the races of others online. A few caveats regarding penalty times and accumulations: First, because there is no way to reduce penalty time in a race, once a player has entered the “Probation” period (after accumulating 10 seconds of penalties), there is no way to reset that and remove “Probation” status until the race is complete. Secondly, once a new race is started, penalties are completely reset for all players in the lobby. Finally, players in private FRR-enabled lobbies will not have control over disqualification time thresholds. However, players can choose to disable disqualification in the private lobby race setup menu.forzamotorsport.net
FRR implementation is decent. It doesn’t accurately allow for deliberate contacts like ramming or PIT manoeuvres, though. These rules also only apply to certain lobbies, not all. This basically implies most lobbies are anything goes. This lack of consistency just confuses things further.
Send in the marshals
To tackle the griefer problem, they have employed what is called the Marshal program. If you are in a lobby with a marshal, and troublemakers are present, they can be dealt with there and then and removed from the lobby. If no marshals are present, but you happen to know someone in the program, you can submit a replay of the race or a game clip to them. This footage will be reviewed by the marshal. If they agree it needs further action, they can send it to the Turn 10 enforcement team and any bans or disciplinary action will be applied.
(N.b. Marshals cannot ban players themselves. Any bans are issued by the enforcement team.)
There are several major problems with this. First, if you have rules that can result in you being banned from online play permanently, you have to make these prominent at the point of access. There must be something to indicate these rules from the moment you go to play online.
For every person who plays a game wanting to have a realistic simulation of a race, with everyone obeying real-world rules, there is another who wants to win by any means necessary. To the latter, taking out opponents and cutting corners is just another means to an end. Without something in place informing players of any rules they are expected to follow, it can be reasonably argued that they aren’t doing anything wrong.
In lieu of any clearly defined terms, they race to their own set of rules, defined by themselves. They haven’t circumvented any systems, they haven’t manipulated any game code or exploited a glitch. They have a simple interpretation of what is acceptable based on their own morals and ethics.
Against the rules?
Without clearly defined rules, this causes the problem. Is what they are doing unsporting? Absolutely. Is it clearly stated that they cannot do this? No. In the eyes of the (self-imposed) rule-abiding racer, this is unacceptable, but to others, they aren’t disobeying anything, they just choose to play a different way. Should they be penalised for breaking these theoretical rules?
Let’s assume for a minute that all players are fully aware of the Forza Race Regulations. We will assume that they are aware that corner-cutting and ramming can be penalised with a ban.
This brings us to the bigger problem. This implementation requires human interpretation. Humans can, in some cases, provide a much more reasoned response to an incident. They are not infallible, though. Indeed, the more Marshals there are, the more variance there is in judgements and what is deemed as acceptable behaviour. Not to mention that marshals are often established members of the community, and like it or not, prejudices or biases between players exist, which means the marshal program is open to abuse.
It would also be expected that any penalty would also recognise the rules laid out by FRR. Twelve seconds of cumulative off-track time should have you removed from the lobby, but certainly not banned. Bans should be reserved for those repeatedly and deliberately ruining the race for others.
If you have a rules system in place that can result in bans ranging from one day, one week, all the way up to perma-bans, then you must ensure that rulings are fair and consistent. As was recently brought to our attention, it turns out they are anything but.
You have been banned
This video shows an incident that resulted in a one-week ban being given to one of the drivers. Can you guess which one?
- In the clip, we see the car in front (Driver A) begin turning into the right-hander. He has an ideal trajectory to make the corner fast and within track limits.
- A second driver (Driver B) comes in hot, making contact with Driver A.
- Driver A loses traction and is sent unavoidably over the run-off area.
- Driver B, still hard on the gas, pushes Driver A along, maintaining contact.
- Driver A applies the brakes attempting to rejoin the track.
The reasonable conclusion to draw is Driver B made an error, causing an incident. This shouldn’t be penalised. By not lifting and pushing car A, then a warning is justified. According to FRR, this wouldn’t have resulted in anything other than a few seconds of off-track time being tallied.
The person investigating had a different take on the situation. The incident was assessed and escalated to the Turn 10 enforcement team.
Driver A was banned for one week. No further action against Driver B.
Say what now?
In this case, you might expect there to have been a pattern of behaviour. Perhaps this was the tipping point following a run of bad driving? Well, I happen to have raced with the person who was banned. We have raced both in public lobbies and private events. Anyone in the community who has encountered him will vouch that he is a clean, fast racer.
The player who was banned was given no indication of what he had been banned for. On enquiry, he was directed to the code of conduct. There is nothing there that gives specifics of the reasons for the ban. We do, however, know another marshal, who questioned the decision, to no avail. This marshal shared the video with us, so we could see just how ridiculous the ban was.
(It should be noted that the marshal in question was removed from the program for breaching the NDA. Without his help, we may never have known how trivial the incident was, and how poorly managed their system of banning and penalising drivers really is.)
Harming the community
Forza has an incredibly passionate community. Groups numbering in the hundreds and even thousands exist, all looking for organised events that can provide clean and fair racing. With the current system, though, this is resulting in a community of racers afraid of racing in public lobbies for fear of being banned for making a simple mistake, falling out of favour with a marshal, or even worse, receiving a ban through no fault of their own because of a mismanaged and unfairly applied penalty system.
It’s obviously difficult managing a game studio, with two active games and the forthcoming Forza Motorsport 8 coming soon. Our sources tell us that following the departure of their previous enforcement officer, they have yet to fill that role. With enforcement being passed off to another, inexperienced person, mistakes are being made. Again, this is understandable, as Turn 10 are a large company whose priorities lie across several games within their IP.
If they can’t properly manage the enforcement, though, it may be better to suspend it. They can concentrate their efforts on coming up with an inscrutable, automated and much fairer system for their next game. Resorting to bans is an antiquated and inelegant solution to the problem. Especially when other games have far more effective solutions that do not harbour ill will amongst the community.
This is further compounded when bans are being issued for something that doesn’t even exceed the tolerances set out by their own race regulations. It is at this point when you have to question whether the enforcement team and marshals have been given too much authority. Perhaps more training and assessment of candidates is required. At the very least, there needs to be a consistent level of adjudication.
Transparency needs to be improved. Turn 10 may not want to reveal the exact triggers that result in a ban. A representative of the marshal program pointed out that revealing the exact specifics would potentially enable offenders to carry on as they are while staying just inside the limits of what constitutes foul-play. They may also not have the resources to respond to every person with in-depth details of why they were banned.
As we have seen, though, players could have been banned for no just reason and never know the reason why. Transparency, in this case, is preferable, as it also keeps the marshals and enforcement team in check. When bans are given as a result of escalation based on a marshal’s personal opinion, they should be allowed to fight their case, not kept in the dark. At the very least, any video clips involving them that were used as supporting evidence should be viewable.
For Forza 8, Turn 10 need to abandon the reporting and marshal system in favour of something far more transparent. An automated driver rating system like that being successfully used by its rivals should be their goal. If they can’t manage this, the toxicity in lobbies will remain, and the most passionate members of their community will find other avenues to satisfy their love for racing.
Identities of our sources have been kept anonymous by request – members of the Marshal Program and T10 employees have likewise been kept anonymous.