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I was put on trial in ArcheAge. My first punishment was to get naked

ArcheAge Jury Bench

I only did it to finish my house; the trees were on public property too! But no, that didn’t stop the unlucky chap in the recently launched pirate-sandbox MMO, ArcheAge, from finding evidence of my crimes and reporting me to the law. Soon I was branded a criminal – I was “wanted”.

It wasn’t long before I got nicked either. A dangerous voyage out to sea forced me to clash swords with some unsavoury pirates. I lost – only to find myself awake in a holding cell.

“You will stand trial for your crimes once the jury has convened” said a popup message. But this jury wasn’t just your standard run-of-the-mill methodical NPC kind; my jury was comprised of real players, and they could speak.

Sometimes when players are given any sort of power or influence over another, interesting behaviour occurs. As we’ve seen time and time again in the likes of EVE Online, this leads an endless torrent of fascinating tales. Some people like to roleplay and let their characters moral values dictate the outcome. Others choose whichever nets them the most gain. Some of course, just like to see the world burn.

Here’s a point of view from the jury:

In my case, I was standing trial for stealing a few trees that another player had placed on public property. You can read more the events that led up to the trial in my ArcheAge review. Naturally, this is a far beckon away from more serious crimes such as murdering your own faction members in PVP areas – which can see you sit in jail for hours at a time.

ArcheAge drags in five random players who are on the waiting line for jurors duty to hear your crimes and decide your fate. They can be anyone on your server who’s met the requirements of being level 30 and completing the jurors quest. After they’ve reviewed your crimes and listened to witnesses, they can choose a multitude of lengthy sentences, or decide that you’re not guilty.

ArcheAge Jury Chat

While it sounds great on paper, there are a few problems with the way it works in ArcheAge.

First – you’re only ever sent to trial if you actually committed a crime; there’s no place for the innocent. What I mean is that for people to report you, you need to leave evidence, which requires you actually committing a crime. If you’re caught for stealing, well you’re already 100% guilty. Assault and murder can only occur in PVP zones, so unless you can successfully convince the jury that it was self defense, you’re probably guilty too.

This leads nicely onto my second point – since you’re guilty 90% of the time, jurors will try and extort you 90% of the time. They’ll ask for gold, your land or for you to perform various lewd acts to please their desires. While ArcheAge certainly doesn’t directly promote this, it certainly gives players a platform to conduct this behaviour. And because jurors have no real incentive find out and exact justice, this is almost always the route it follows.

I certainly wasn’t one for parading myself naked to skip fifteen minutes of jail time, so I opted for more of a sob story as my defense. This actually had a noticeable effect, but not in the way you think. The jury – seemingly oblivious to my obvious roleplay – thought I was trying go to jail on purpose. It also didn’t help that my guild was dubbed “The Potato Pirates”; they thought I was trying to become a pirate.

ArcheAge Pirates

Pirates in ArcheAge are serious business. Once you’ve accumulated 3000 infamy from repeat offenses, you’re kicked out of your faction and left to roam the neutral seas. It also kicks you out of your guild too – so you’re left to play with only other pirates. You can work your way back into good graces of course, but it takes a great deal of time and effort.

So what happened to me? Well I was unanimously found “Not Guilty”; even though I really did steal some trees from a fellow player. To the jury, I was still being punished by missing my chance to build my infamy points, even though that wasn’t my goal at all. But that’s the crux of the issue here: punishing another player is the only way to receive any sort of instant gratification – it falls in line with that drip feed mentality of an MMO: cause, effect, feedback.

Encouraging player interaction to form the core content of your game can lead to truly organic events, but it’s a delicate balance. ArcheAge’s trial system is a perfect example of something that’s so incredibly close to providing that stage for players to perform, but just slightly missing the mark by making half of their motivations irevelent.