What's the deal with Alts?
Monday, March 24 2008 @ 03:37 PM UTC
OK, here we're going to discuss some of the Gameplay & Technical Rules of Improbable Island, because it seems there's some confusion about alts. We're not going to talk about rules concerning social conduct, because I don't think we need any. We're all grown-up enough to know what is and isn't socially acceptable, and we know how to look at other people and see how they conduct themselves. Rather, I'm going to spell out my exact stance on alternate characters. Poke the strange little man on the left-hand side for the full story.
First off, to bring people up on what an alt actually is:
If you make a character called, say, "Bob," play for a while, then make another character called "Jane," and play the game alternately with both Bob and Jane's accounts, then Jane is an alt. Arguably, Bob is an alt too.
Why do people do this?
People do this sort of thing for many reasons, some of which are perfectly legitimate and some of which are naughty.
Some people like to roleplay a lot on Improbable Island. Some of these people make a couple of characters so that they can lead double lives, or perhaps so that they can experience the game from different points of view (for example, some people might like to have both a male and a female character). This is fine.
Some people just want to play more every day, and make a second character to play when they run out of turns on their main character. This is also fine I guess, although there are better ways to get more turns. Experiment to find out what they are.
Some people use alts for lols. This is actively encouraged, as long as nobody's being a dick about it. Example: Using an alt to join a clan and then posting three pages of Spanish insults.
Some people might play through the game and get quite far into it, then make another character and start all over again just for the buzz and the challenge of starting fresh. I could get pedantic about this and say that newbies are naturally supposed to be inexperienced, and that I don't want people rocketing through their early levels because they've played it all before and it'd be unfair to the other players, but that would be... well, getting pedantic and unreasonable, yeah. So this is fine too.
When does it start to get not-fine-anymore?
The subject of alts begins to get complicated when players decide to use them for strategic advantage. Here are some examples of the questionable, dodgy and even sometimes downright naughty things people do with alt characters:
Some people might like to join a clan with one character, and a competing clan with another. They act as double agents, gathering intelligence from the supposedly-secret clan halls, and picking and choosing which clan to support.
This is questionable because it undermines the security of a clan's halls, and induces paranoia (and other bad feelings) among players.
Some roleplayers might give their characters such violently different personalities that they play one character who's an absolute saint, and another character who's a total jerk.
This is dodgy because, even if the player is actually a good person, the net effect of pretending to be a jerk is the same as actually being a jerk. Being a jerk brings other people down, and I won't have it in my game.
Some players might even decide to make several alt characters, and have them funnel resources (via whatever means) to one character. This one character will become stronger, and the player will use it as their "Main" character. They might do things like engage their own characters in PVP combat against each other, or have their characters send each other gifts or money transfers in order to make one particular character very strong.
This is downright naughty because it's just plain cheating. It gives the player an unfair advantage over other players – an advantage that can only be matched by other players doing more or less the same thing. In other words, if enough people start doing this, then everybody will be forced to do it too – then the game will descend into a meaningless exercise in creating false E-mail accounts and maintaining characters, where the one person with enough spare time will become the strongest.
Improbable Island just isn't that sort of game. It doesn't reward mindless stat crunching for hours at a time – in fact, you're pretty well forced to think about your moves, because you don't get very many of them. There are LotGD servers out there which are set up to reward those players who really do have far too much time on their hands – you'll know them when you see them. They'll generally have 10 or more game days per real day (Improbable Island has three game days per real day), forty or more turns per game day (Improbable Island's base turns are set to 10, with variations between races), high amounts of starting gold and a very relaxed attitude towards alts. Improbable Island isn't like that, and I wouldn't like to see people playing it like that. If there's enough call for an accelerated server, then once we've got enough players I'll create one (post in the Forums if you like this idea).
Alts are so commonplace that when an admin sees another character playing from the same computer, it's much more likely that it'll be an alt than, for example, another family member playing the game. When your kid brother logs on and starts posting "POOOOOP lol if u rede this ur gay" in the comment areas, then all characters playing from that computer will get to know my Frowny Face. That's how serious this Alts thing is.
Another problem is that looking for alts and deciding what to do with them uses up my time. If we didn't have any alt problems, then I'd probably have the GoBots, FoeBots and Jokers sorted out by now.
Now, to combat this, if it gets out of hand, then I'll be forced to choose between running a game that's overrun with people with far too much time on their hands (see above), and running a game in which:
* You can't play from the same computer, possibly even the same network, as your family, housemates or colleagues;
* You can't send people presents;
* You can't send people Requisition;
* You can't send anyone anything.
That would suck. So, clearly the answer is to not let alts get so out of control that either of those situations becomes a reality.
Now, let's talk a little bit about what I'm going to do about alts.
The behaviour of your alts falls under the same general guidelines as your behaviour in all other aspects of the game. Namely, every case is handled on its own merits, everybody's different, and there are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines, and very open-ended ones at that. I've explained to you why alts are bad for the Island. When you signed up, you were made aware that each E-mail address can only have one character assigned to it. So, you should be well aware that alts are, although not outright banned, frowned upon.
What you choose to do with your alts, if any, is entirely up to you. However, I will say this:
I'm a very, very careful admin. I read every single comment that you lot post on Improbable Island. I periodically run analysis routines to keep an eye on the economy and the social dynamic. These routines let me see what accounts are doing particularly well, give me an overview of who has what, and let me dive into the details of any account that catches my attention.
Everything you do is logged – every monster you kill, every Requisition token you spend, every breath you take, every move you make. 99.9% of these logs don't ever get read, and simply erase themselves a few days after they're created. The remaining 0.1% of logs do get read, and it's because those accounts have, for whatever reason, set off a warning light in my mind.
Every now and then I check for alts, using a variety of different methods. If you have an alt character, your account is far more likely to catch my attention.
If you've ever been through airport security, then you'll know that most folks only get a cursory glance. Unless they've got their hair dyed fire-engine red, and are wearing big clumpy boots and a black leather jacket, and have a suitcase with enough electronics inside to make it look like a branch of Curry's. Like me. In which case, they get a "random" extra screening, and are subjected to a much more thorough search. Which isn't nice.
Basically what I'm saying is that if you use alt characters, I'll notice, and you'll notice that I've noticed, and we'll take it from there depending on what you're doing with them and what else I know about you. But either way, you'll get some random English dude ogling your logs and analysing your player behaviour, which is kinda squicky.
Now, if you already have an alt character, I know. I've known since a few days after you made the character. If you've been doing naughty things with it, I know, and have decided for whatever reason not to do anything about it for the time being. Maybe you're only being a little bit naughty. Maybe I just don't have the time to do Horrible Things to you just yet. Maybe you've contributed to the site in some way, and I've decided to just let you get away with it for the time being, via some unspoken agreement that you won't abuse it too much. Maybe you're just nice, or funny, and I've decided that you contribute to the site more than your alts upset the balance of it. Maybe you're just lucky.
But now that you've read this, you know that I know, and I know that you know that I know. Remember, I'm not saying "Get rid of your alts." I'm not saying "I'll delete your alts." All I'm asking is that you be responsible with them. If after reading this you're unsure of what defines "responsible," then err on the side of caution.
I'm asking rather than telling because... well:
You're on my game.
My game is very silly, and has a lot of my personality in it.
You're enjoying it so much you made at least one extra character.
You read all the way to the end of this long and rambling nonsense, which means you're paying attention to me.
Which means you're probably quite serious about the game, fitting in very well with the Island's community, contributing to it, and in general having a bloody good time with what I, and other people who share my sense of humour, have created.
This all means that you're probably a pretty decent person, and I should give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, the world is a much better place if we trust each other.
I hope this clears things up a bit. I suspect it doesn't, so I'll break it down:
Using alts for cheating: BOO!
Using alts for lols: WOO!
If you've still got questions about alts, post 'em in the comments to this story.