|Update: No Solo|
February 14, 2020
I've got murder on my mind. I was taking a look at the life logs recently, and saw a somewhat normal murder rate of around 6%. Then I ran the analysis a different way, and computed the murder victimization rate. This is the percentage of active players on a given day that are the victims of at least one murder. I ran this analysis on Thursday, February 5, and I was shocked by what I found: a whopping 25% of active players were murdered at least once on that day. Turns out that this was an anomalous peak, but other recent days weren't that much lower, as seen in this graph:
This analysis motivated some of the changes last week to kill waiting times and curse visibility, and you can see the minor effect of those changes toward the end of this graph. But still, I wasn't entirely sure what was going on.
Mid-week, I added a new kill log to the server, letting me see who was landing the kill hits, whether they were solo or part of a posse, and who was being saved via healing. This log did not paint a pretty picture. Since the log was set up on Wednesday, there have been 174 kills, 153 of which were solo killers, acting alone. There were only 21 group kills, and 34 instances of players being saved by healing. Yes, that's 87% solo kills.
And what's the problem with solo kills? Well, a more detailed analysis of one day's log showed that 62% of the solo kills were done in cold blood, unprovoked by previous murder, while only 20% of the group kills were done in cold blood.
That brings us back to why killing is in the game in the first place. Why not just remove it entirely? Because you need to have a way to "vote someone off the island" who is violating village rules. Otherwise, laws become impossible. Killing isn't the only kind of possible griefing, and removing killing entirely makes everyone powerless to stop those other kinds of griefing.
But if you really are voting someone out of your village by killing, and that's the point of killing, solo killing really has no role to play. If everyone agrees that this person should go, you don't need to kill them solo. You can form a posse and kill as a group.
Solo kills are unilateral actions where there is no group consensus. Most of the time, I'm guessing, solo kills are simply griefing, full stop.
Over the past two years, I've added loads of adjustments and limitations to solo killing in the game. Now we have a panoply of warning mechanisms and advantages for the victim. You GASP, the killer looks and sounds angry, you can track the killer off-screen, the killer must wait 12 seconds, and the killer runs more slowly than you. In practice, given all these advantages for the victim, solo kills should be all but impossible. But I've seen it myself: the victim just standing there for 12 seconds, like a sitting duck.
This means that most victims of solo kills are new players who don't know how these warning systems work. This means that most victims of killing are brand new players. That is really bad. Being killed is one of their first experiences in the game.
And like I said, the presence of solo killing does not help with the philosophical point of killing in the game---it doesn't help us vote someone off the island as a group.
So why not remove it entirely?
There are still two cases of solo killing that are dear to my heart.
First, we have the wilderness situation, which I've come to call the Two Hermit Problem. If you're one-on-one in the wilderness, and someone is bugging you, I want you to be able to protect yourself. I want you to be able to say, "scram," and mean it. Even if the person isn't bugging you, the fact that you CAN kill each other is part of the magic of the game. You can kill each other, but choose not to, and that's beautiful.
Second, we have the guarding scenario. With 1-v-1 killing, a guard with a bow can get a bead on a would-be intruder outside the gate, and then open the gate to let people pass through, while preventing the intruder from passing through the guarded area.
The way killing works now in the game, I've been able to preserve the first case, the Two Hermit Problem, but I've had to sacrifice solo guarding, at least for now.
Here are the changes:
In order to kill, you need to form a posse of the minimum size, given the population in your area. In higher population areas, that size is 3 people. But in places with less than six people, the posse size is half of the area population, rounded up. The area is a 30-tile radius around the killer. So if there are only two of you out there, 1v1 killing is still possible. But in a mini-camp of three people, two of you need to conspire against the other in order to kill.
This min posse size is capped at 3, which is what you need in higher population areas.
When you try to kill someone, you still go into murder mouth mode, but you also get a DING message explaining the minimum posse size in your area.
With this change in place, we'll see what happens to the murder rate over the next few days.