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Guild Gathering #11 - Spies and Intrigue

VaknarVaknar Moderator, Member, Staff
edited January 2022 in General Discussion

Glorious Ashes community - we're excited to continue our new series called Guild Gatherings! Guild Gathering topics are a "reverse Q&A" similar to our Dev Discussions, where we ask you about your thoughts on everything related to guilds.

Our team has compiled a list of questions we'd love to get your feedback on regarding guild tools, gameplay, your previous experiences, and more. Join in on our Guild Gatherings and share how your gaming family is special to you!

Guild Gathering #11 - Spies and Intrigue
How do you feel about spies and double-agents?

UPDATE: Hi again friends! Thank you all for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts on spies and intrigue! We had a blast reading through them all! Check out some of the top notes you shared with us below:

  • Many players would be interested in seeing what kind of systems could be implemented with guild espionage and intrigue in mind.
  • Some players were eager to share their ideas for these potential systems as well.
  • There are also many players that would enjoy totally unique holidays, created entirely from Verran lore and having little to nothing to do with IRL holidays.
  • A number of players felt that if intrigue and spy systems were implemented, they should have appropriate risk versus reward associated with them.
  • While there were plenty of players who support guild spying, there were many who don’t enjoy guild drama, and don’t want a system that may ruin their guild gameplay and experiences.
  • The opinions were varied between those in favor of developer implemented systems, and those who believe espionage, spying, and political intrigue should happen organically.

While there was some fantastic feedback and discussion in this thread, I think this quote reminds us of what being a spy is all about. ^_^
daveywavey wrote: »
I'll have to make sure I don't name my spy: "Daveywavey The Spy", then!


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    i love it. it adds so much more to the politics and overall management of a guild.
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    I feel I would need more information to properly answer this question.
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    nonameftwnonameftw Member, Warrior of Old, Kickstarter
    Guild Drama is never really fun imo. To many real emotions. A Gameplay System that would implement Spies would be way easier to control.
    “Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality.”
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    ElwendryllElwendryll Member
    edited December 2021
    Spies and double agents is a thing that always happens, for intel, stealing, causing internal drama on purpose, or whatever other reason. It is bound to be a thing in AoC because of the nature of the game, it can spice up the politics between guilds and make it exciting, and it can also cause a lot of negative emotions. So I would love to see a system support it, providing the ability to be a member of two guilds while hiding the main allegiance to the guild that is being spied on.

    EDIT: I'm stressing this again, "should there be spying" isn't the main issue. There will be. Implementing a system to support spying in game could have several benefits.

    1. Actually let people know that they might get spied on, some new guild leaders don't always realize that.
    2. Encourage people to do it on their actual characters instead of a throwaway account or alt-character in game.
    3. Give proper countermeasures to the guild leaders so they can prevent it or at least damage control.
    4. It adds a RP dimension to it.
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    NerrorNerror Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    Unless you have a whole gameplay mechanic planned that we know nothing about, I don't want specific systems for spying in Ashes.

    My reference point here is Eve Online. In that game, you can have multiple clients open on one PC. Unless you can do that in Ashes, we're starting to enter P2W territory, where people who can afford to run 2 gaming PCs have a huge advantage over those who cannot, if you are making a deliberate push to make spies and double-agents a thing. Corporation leadership in Eve would also require you to give limited API access to your account before you join, so they can check for any alt characters in other corporations and such. I am guessing this won't be a thing in Ashes?

    My gut reaction is that you should not go down this route and make spies and double agents a thing you focus on. Let players handle guild-security on their own. At least for release. If you can come up with a brilliant system, sure, let's hear about it, but this is stuff that can wait for an expansion IMO.

    And what exactly would those spies and double agents be able to do? Information gathering only? Wouldn't that just require out-of-game social engineering skills? If you're thinking of ingame stuff, what exactly? Steal a bunch of high level mats from the guildbank? That would just piss people off and detract from gameplay. Open the gates in castle sieges? Same as above.

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    RageclawRageclaw Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    There are no second places in wars. You use anything and everything to win or you perish
    So subterfuge is perfectly valid option and adds another intricate layer of player interactions. It shouldnt be too easy to achieve or we would have plain chaos, but for people willing to invest time to level a character on second account perhaps, it definitely something that would be viable and achievable

    Mass report your enemy general to win a battle - Sun Tzu
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    EmberstoneEmberstone Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    edited December 2021
    I suppose a system that can compliment those kinds of activities would be a unique, fun and welcome addition. Information that can be seized which is legitimately valueable to have upfront.
    - A way to steal city data like: Defences and their levels, stocked resources, total citizen players and/or levels, amount of caravans that departed, departing soon or are bound to arrive.
    - Perhaps a way to steal guild roster data, total number of officers, mages, fighters etc.
    - A means to visually relay enemy raid/group movements on the world map of your allies/group/raid.
    - Being able to scale terrain and lay atop to spectate
    - Foliage that can't be disabled through setting the in-game settings to potato
    - Caravan routes and/or most popular routes taken by caravans originating from that city
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    I feel like like its a nice concept that will make the game even more "wide" in the immersion. But sadly i think it will be way to hard to make it a good system and i also think that people would rather not have it implemented because recruitment would be harder since the new guy trying to get in might be "a spy".
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    Gaul_Gaul_ Member
    edited December 2021
    I don't think there is any need to devote additional game systems to spying on other guilds. It will happen anyway. I have no doubt that guilds have already begun inserting themselves in each other's discord communities.

    I would prefer if a spy character does not have too much real-time access to their guild's activities just by being online. They should have to participate and communicate with their target guild in order to gain intel. For example, a player in a guild should not be able to open the guild list and see what dungeon or zones each member of the guild is currently in.

    I also think that behavior like "corp theft" and newbie scamming in EVE Online should not be specifically promoted in Ashes of Creation. It's fine for Intrepid Studios to have a hands-off attitude and let the player community deal with corrupt and unethical character behavior on the server, but this time of gameplay shouldn't be promoted specifically like EVE does. Hopefully wherever Intrepid Studios policy lands on this it will be very explicitly described what kind of behaviors are acceptable and which are not.

    I do often wonder about what the impact of multiple alts on the same server will have on some of the systems planned for AOC.
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    KiluvianKiluvian Member
    edited December 2021
    It would be great if there were actual methods built into the game to support intelligence gathering gameplay and allow players to become information brokers. I really liked the idea of the character identity system they had in the failure known as Chronicles of Elyria. I think that players should be able to change their display name into an alias as well as distribute those aliases so that they can be used to contact the related player in-game. People would have to carefully juggle their identities and what names they're using to respond to specific individuals.

    It would be even better if you could use those aliases to join other guilds, appearing offline when you switched to an alias that was in another guild. While this would be a nightmare for guilds to deal with, it adds another layer of gameplay that requires either trust, or a tight grip on information distribution. That being said, if there are means to infiltrate guilds, there ought to be reasonable methods to root out spies when infiltration is detected.

    I think that there should also be NPC information brokers in the game that players can deal with to anonymously buy, sell, trade or request information from other anonymous players. These NPCs could also offer up information on various nodes and things related to NPCs that could generate quest opportunities.

    There are all kinds of uses for intelligence gathering and information brokers including: guild roster data, recent boss spawns/kills, rare resource nodes, enemy movements, caravan routes, when caravans will be launched, caravan security, tracking down individual player locations, hiring assassins, commission the purchase of specific items, specific node weaknesses, node security, online/offline time of players, what certain guilds are up to, etc.
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    Sparks drama if there’s a spy. I do like my drama.
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    While I am a fan of some sort of spying type of dynamic and the interesting possible outcomes you might be able to have from them I also do think that an MMOs experience is cheapened once other players can have a large negative impact on your own experience. I think if something is created with that in mind then it could be fun or interesting.
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    KiluvianKiluvian Member
    edited December 2021
    CritzBTW wrote: »
    While I am a fan of some sort of spying type of dynamic and the interesting possible outcomes you might be able to have from them I also do think that an MMOs experience is cheapened once other players can have a large negative impact on your own experience. I think if something is created with that in mind then it could be fun or interesting.

    The purpose of an MMORPG is to interact with other players. Whether those interactions are positive or negative depends on your relationship with each player on an individual basis. You can't always have a positive experience in an MMORPG without everyone else always having a negative experience. If you only want other players to have a positive impact on your gameplay experience, then you do not want to play an MMORPG. What you're looking for is a co-op multiplayer RPG.

    I get that your key words are "large negative impact," but the same goes for large positive impacts. Can't have one without the other. That being said, I'm a firm believer that every positive impact should be able to be made into a negative impact, and vice versa. A calamity is also an opportunity if correctly handled.
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    I agree that spies will exist anyways so i think its better to create system that allows better management of spies
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    I think spying is something that would be important in a game like Ashes.

    -Scouting nodes before sieges to figure out weaknesses in defenses and understanding where objectives will be in the node.
    -Figuring out key players in specific guilds and understanding their build to better fight them.

    Are things that would add a bit of depth to conflict in the game. But I feel that needs to be something that players need to figure out how to achieve organically. For example, a guild hires a person to gather information about a rival guild, the person could join the guild or go into the rival castle as a neutral to learn a little that they can relay to the guild they're working for.

    I don't think is needs to be encouraged by making it a mechanic in the game. But it should be possible due to other mechanics in the game.

    On the other hand, I believe the bounty system should have mechanic that can discourage this behavior because spying can create a toxic environment within game which I know Ashes doesn't want. So, knowing that if the spy gets caught spying, they could have bounties placed on them by the people they are spying on. Which in turn, supports the risk vs reward that the game is looking for.
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    NightwolfNightwolf Member, Braver of Worlds, Alpha One
    edited December 2021
    I think if this was implemented in the game it would be a Rogue only class ability. A disguise feature like that ability to be a bush but in this case you could mimic someone in a guild. Only thing is it would only last for so long or only a limited time. And thus you'd have to make sure that said person would not be appearing, where you are, and you wouldn't be able to speak or you would have to try and mimic them irl. Which would make for interesting gameplay for sure.

    Downside for the rogue / spy, if you get caught you're basically kicking a hornets nest while inside said nest.

    It's an interesting concept, but I'd make it for only rogue class. At the same time. When other classes get into guilds they also unlock specific abilites to boost/protect/attack/other etc. For instance a forge/warrior could create traps... or other things. I don't know but it would be interesting. And add another level to everything if done properly.

    EDIT: For the guild while said meeting is happening nobody could escape, or have another class cast a spell that nobody can leave... oh that would be good.

    EDIT2: What could be done is not a system specifically for it, but give players the tools to play those things. For instance if you kill someone, you get a bit of essense from them, and then from that a alchemist could create an elixer to look like someone, or some beast (and the quality of ingredients, and expertiese of the alchemist determines how long you are in that form). Or anything really, have players get spells that could effect the area they are in.

    For instance a wiz/sorcer/bard could cast silence inside a pub and all of a sudden nobody would be able to hear anything except that sound in movies after a grenade, to know that your audio is working but someone casted that spell. So give player other abilities rather than combat specific abilities.

    Like that people can use them how they wish in different environments.

    Give players the tools to be spies, but not a whole new system for it.
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    I don't think spying should be a thing unless appropriate features are provided to deal with said spies when caught.

    E.x. - Executed (character deletion).
    Or for soft of heart guilds I suppose perma-jail. Maybe someone could rescue your character for a fee? This would of course require the rescuer to break in PVPing anyone present and potentially being executed as a result.

    Otherwise, there is no risk to reward for spying. It's all reward, no risk.
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    I don't think spying should be a thing unless appropriate features are provided to deal with said spies when caught.

    E.x. - Executed (character deletion).
    Or for soft of heart guilds I suppose perma-jail. Maybe someone could rescue your character for a fee? This would of course require the rescuer to break in PVPing anyone present and potentially being executed as a result.

    Otherwise, there is no risk to reward for spying. It's all reward, no risk.

    I agree with this to a degree, I just think that the punishments you decided on were too drastic, because at that level there is too much risk for it to ever happen. I think maybe a jail in the castles could be an interesting option. And they have shown gallows so maybe a way for them to declare a player an enemy of the node by executing them in the gallows (which could take away citizenship and their home in the node. Or just being able to put a bounty on the player so they know one of these things could happen to them if they are caught spying.
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    I think spies and double-agents are great .. it will force guilds to get to know their members and build relationships with everyone to be able to tell if someone is a spy and/or double-agent. So guilds that just mass invite randoms and never get to know people are at risk! It also brings the drama ^_^
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    IksurdIksurd Member, Braver of Worlds, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    I think the best practice something like this would apply to is Castle Sieges, allow for players who infiltrate and slow repairs to castles weather they are defending or recently conquered slowing the process of repairs or reduced tax benifits for the region by siphoning some of the gold off to the succesful party.
    Recruitment Status: Open
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    mcstackersonmcstackerson Member, Phoenix Initiative, Royalty, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    edited January 2022
    I think they are a nice counter to large guilds/alliances. In general, the larger the guild, the easier it is to get spies into them so it's another way to balance larger guilds and encourage them to not be lazy with their recruitment.

    In Darkfall, spies played a huge roll in us competing with larger guilds. They would tell us where groups were farming so we could hit them when they didn't have their full numbers.
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    LuthienstormLuthienstorm Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    I think it's an excellent way to make additional dynamic content. Let's say there is a thieves guild and in this thieves guild you can make different types of contracts:

    Who: Person, ingame-Guild, Node, guild or clan of people
    What: Surveillance, Assassination, Intelligence, Items

    Under surveillance or items people could complete quests to gain intelligence or sabotage guild stores or defenses. These can be chains quests created by players and accepted by other players.

    Spying and double agents could just be a branch of the thieves guild contracts.
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    Well...what type of spies? Players can handle the intel gathering types, the spy you send in order to find out where an enemy wants to attack and so.

    But this dosent need an in-game system. Normally you use discord to talk to your spies, having anything in-game just won't be used.

    What can be a in-game system is sabotage. And this one is interesting. Having a spy that is part of a castle defense open the doors for the attacker or set fire to a city seems fun. BUT. I don't see a way for it to work in a game. Any game.

    Because there is no friendly fire, so even if you see a spy that is opening the gate, you can't do anything to stop them. What it does is create a lot of frustration for no reason.

    I think if the other systems are fleshed out enough, there is enough for a spy to do. They find out that a caravan is going out with tons and tons of stuff, so they leak that. They find out when most players have stuff to IRL and the enemy can plan an attack on that day. That seem more than enough.

    The only in-game thing that work is a way for everyone to check what is the guild history of a player. If that system is introduced, successful spies will be way rarer, but probably more effective. Not sure if i want such a system or not, a lot of pros and cons.

    If the devs have any ideas, I am really curious. But make them public so we can give our feedback. A bad spy system can ruin the social part of the game quite rapidly.

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    AzheraeAzherae Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    How okay I am with spies is directly connected to the amount of 'punishment' that players can mete out in whatever way.

    One of the biggest problems of MMORPG design is 'why griefing exists', and mostly, griefing exists because it is possible to do harm to the experience of other players that technically surpasses any possible level of retaliation to your own experience, usually with much less effort. It's a pretty hard problem to solve, so, basically, if you figure out a way to get online, join a guild, fracture that guild from the inside and sow distrust, with a throwaway character where little or nothing is lost even if that character is outright deleted (at your discretion, as the player of that character), the game goes in this direction pretty fast.

    I'm all for any action with some sort of proportionate response available, that's just 'PvP' or 'GvG', but spying, especially the way it is 'implemented', or rather, 'not implemented', in MMOs, has this core problem by its very nature. IRL if you get caught spying you get really severe punishments, in MMOs, you trade your stuff off to your allies and roll a new character, and technically, players who are spies do this anyway because it's literally part of the game system for them, they have to 'change their identity' often.

    So since this is practically the spearhead of that annoying list of 'things that don't have proportionate punishments in MMOs' and there's few ways to implement them without having serious negative impacts on Intrepid's $_$ or 'reputation' as a company that allows freedom, I oppose anything where spying is a reasonable endeavour.

    I'd like if it worked, if it was interesting, if it could be 'tied to some character skill to allow some information to be obtained', but people would just move stuff out of game (the equivalent of encoded messages but you literally can't even steal them to decode them) and then further spying would start to get into actually questionably legal territory.

    And of course, double-agentry is twice as bad.
    Sorry, my native language is Erlang.
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    I would love to see a an approach to this built upon in game mechanics rather than a pay2win scenario of having multiple accounts.

    I envision a sort of thing where you can take up a city mission to travel to other cities and complete a series of scouting/interacting/sabotage/stealing missions and returning. You can be caught by other players and if reported to city guard arrested and fined. Maybe even have an interrogation with a chance to resume the mission or fail.

    This could help reduce internal betrayals and bring the focus on Guild vs Guild or Territory vs Territory.

    On this note, as a guild leader, one of the biggest struggle is finding people you can trust but also give them a way to move up in the guild. I would recommend an internal method of ranking up such as completing guild missions. Also, please include tax capability so i guild can earn money aside from Charities.

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    BloodmaceBloodmace Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    Spies will always be a thing in open world large guild games. Especially when there is a PvP battleground aspect to it.

    So go crazy with the spy/intrigue system. But put in a system for counter Espionage. Allow guild leaders or specific roles be able to see how often a guild member contacts other guilds. Let us be able to question those would be spies. Try to break them under pressure or let them lie theirselves out of a tight spot.
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    Kalv1441Kalv1441 Member
    edited December 2021
    It depends on what systems in game would be able to take advantage of this kind of thing. What information can only be gathered in game that information platforms like discord won’t have access to already?

    Let’s say there is an item that a guild holds onto in a certain location that gives them a passive buff to X mechanic (XP boost for leveling or gold earned increase) and it can be stolen? Then I think a spies and double agents would have a reason to exist. I believe there needs to be a reason for that kind of thing to happen. This would create guild vs guild conflict outside the usual pvp/RP reasons
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    ThulfThulf Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    I hate it.

    It instills mistrust, but it also lets the worst of humanity to shine.

    Don't make it a psychopath's paradise... Thanks!

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    MoowellMoowell Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    edited December 2021
    There are several facets to spying that need to be addressed in order to properly answer this topic.

    1) Spying is going to happen. Anything from learning about a guild's capabilities before a war to roleplaying shenanigans can lead to using spies. It can't be proactively stopped, only reactively punished/rewarded.

    2) There are third-party systems that make spying easier. Discord was mentioned in above posts. Voice chat or posting chat logs in discord is effective, can't be tracked unless you have someone in the discord server, and can't be proven in game. This means that spying is easier by default, even if there are no systems in-game that specifically enable spies to do their work.

    3) The damages sustained from spies can be enormous. Resources lost due to attacked caravans, looted storage after a guild/node war, free holds and housing destroyed if a node falls, loss of access to key resources, XP debt that comes from increased death-rate... All of these and more are possible with well-placed spies.

    4) Because spying is already made easier via third-party programs, any in-game system enhancements to a spy's ability to do their work need appropriate countermeasures. For example, if someone is able to steal from a guild chest, the guild chest should have a password or minigame to unlock if the thief doesn't have the appropriate permissions. Failed attempts prevent anyone from trying again until opened properly, as well as log the attempt made and potentially who made it.

    Because the damages can be so large and the risk is so little by default, there needs to be a way to punish spies for spying. Here are a couple examples:

    5a - Jailing) If the spy is a member of the guild or citizen of the node, the spy can be jailed. The spy is trapped in a small area and limited to local chat only until some amount of online time has passed. This prevents the jailed from logging off to subvert the penalty and works well with an afk-timer. Once jailed, the spy cannot willingly give up their membership or citizenship until their jail time has passed. Maybe they can be rescued if someone 'unlocks' the jail or if the jail is destroyed in a guild war or node siege. The guild leader or mayor and anyone that person appoints can unlock the jail early. Because this system has potential for abuse, only a few people may be jailed at one time. I suggest no more than 5 for a guild, and no more than 2 per level for a node.
    EDIT: One step further could be to prevent a jailed character from being deleted. This prevents someone from infiltrating, damaging, and deleting to avoid penalty once they're caught.

    5b - Blacklisting) If the spy is not a member of the guild or citizen of the node, the spy is flagged as a combatant for all members of the guild or citizens of the node until some amount of time has passed. This allows them to be attacked on sight without guild members or citizens suffering from the corruption penalty until their name is removed from the blacklist. Because this system has potential for abuse, only a few people may be blacklisted at one time. I suggest no more than 10 for a guild, and no more than 4 per level for a node. 1 week should be long enough for a person to be blacklisted.
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    I don't think it really contributes to a healthy competitive environment. You look at sports and it's frowned upon to send in scouts to watch practices and learn plays. Just defeats the enjoyment factor of planning and strategizing when people just spy on you.
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