Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 73–87 | Cite as

On crimes and punishments in virtual worlds: bots, the failure of punishment and players as moral entrepreneurs

Original Paper


This paper focuses on the role of punishment as a critical social mechanism for cheating prevention in MMORPGs. The role of punishment is empirically investigated in a case study of the MMORPG Tibia (Cipsoft 1997–2011) ( and by focusing on the use of bots to cheat. We describe the failure of punishment in Tibia, which is perceived by players as one of the elements facilitating the proliferation of bots. In this process some players act as a moral enterprising group contributing to the reform of the game rules and in particular to the reform of the Tibia punishment system by the game company. In the conclusion we consider the ethical issues raised by our findings and we propose some general reflections on the role of punishment and social mechanisms for the governance of online worlds more generally.


Virtual worlds Cheating Punishment Rule enforcement Moral entrepreneur 



This research received the support of the Irish Higher Education Authority under the PRTLI 4 programme and their partners on the ‘Serving Society: Future Communications Networks and Services’ project (2008–2010). We would like to thank Brian Conway for reading early versions of this manuscript and Cristiano Storni and Dmitri Botvich for their comments on this work. Stefano wishes also to thank the <ahref Foundation for supporting the writing of this manuscript. We also would like to thank the Ethics and Information Technology reviewers for their comments.


  1. Blizzard Entertainment. (2010). World of Warcraft end user license agreement. Accessed 20 Oct 2010.
  2. Achterbosch, L., Pierce, R., & Simmons, G. (2008). Massively multiplayer online role-playing games: The past, present, and future. Comput Entertain, 5(4), 1–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alemi, F. (2007). An Avatar’s day in court: A proposal for obtaining relief and resolving disputes in virtual world games. UCLA Journal of Law & Technology, 11(2). Accessed 14 July 2010.
  4. Bainbridge, W. S. (2010). The Warcraft civilization. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Beccaria, C. (1764 Trans. 1819). On crimes and punishments. Accessed 20 May 2010.
  6. Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bedau, H. A., & Kelly, E. (2005). Punishment. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Accessed 29 Nov 2010.
  8. Bijker, W. E. (1995). Of bicycles, bakelites, and bulbs. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Braman, S., & Malaby, T. M. (2006). Preface. First Monday, special issue number 7 (September 2006), Accessed 22 Jan 2011.
  10. Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of a sociology of translation: Domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay. In J. Law (Ed.), Power, action and belief: A new sociology of knowledge (pp. 196–233). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  11. Castronova, E. (2005). Synthetic worlds: The business and pleasure of gaming. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  13. Cipsoft. (1997–2011). Tibia.
  14. Cipsoft. (2009a). Where will cheaters go from here? Accessed 1 June 2010.
  15. Cipsoft. (2009b). Tibia rules. Accessed 1 June 2010.
  16. Cipsoft. (2010a). Tibia manual. Accessed 1 June 2010.
  17. Cipsoft. (2010c). Tibia extended service agreement. Accessed 02 Sep 2011.
  18. Consalvo, M. (2007). Cheating: Gaining advantage in videogames. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  19. Consalvo, M. (2009). There is no magic circle. Games and Culture, 4(4), 408–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cragg, W. (1992). The practice of punishment: Toward a theory of restorative justice. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. De Paoli, S., & Kerr, A.. (2010a). The assemblage of cheating: How to study cheating as imbroglio in MMORPGs. FibreCulture Journal, Issue 16, Accessed 10 Sep 2010.
  22. De Paoli, S., & Kerr, A . (2010b). “We will always be one step ahead of them”: A case study on the economy of cheating in MMORPGs. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(4). Accessed 10 Sep 2010.
  23. de Zwart, M. (2009). Piracy versus control: Models of virtual world governance and their impact on player and user experience. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(3). Accessed 16 June 2011.
  24. DeKoven, B. (1978). The well-played game. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  25. Di Chen, B., & Maheswaran, M. (2004). A fair synchronization protocol with cheat proofing for decentralized online multiplayer games. In Proceedings. Third IEEE international symposium on network computing and applications, 2004. (NCA 2004), pp 372–375.Google Scholar
  26. Ess, C., & AoIR. (2002). Ethical decision-making and Internet research. Accessed 4 March 2009.
  27. European Network of Information Security Agency. (2008). Virtual worlds, real money security and privacy in massively-multiplayer online games and social and corporate virtual worlds. ENISA Position Paper. Accessed 1 June 2010.
  28. Ferretti, S., & Roccetti, M. (2006). AC/DC: An algorithm for cheating detection by cheating. In Proceedings of the 2006 international workshop on network and operating systems support for digital audio and video (NOSSDAV ‘06) (pp. 1–6). New York, NY: ACM.Google Scholar
  29. Fields, D. A., & Kafai, Y. B. (2009). Cheating in virtual worlds: Transgressive designs for learning. On the Horizon, 17(1), 1–20.Google Scholar
  30. Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  31. Hine, C. (2000). Virtual ethnography. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Hoglund, G., & McGraw, G. (2008). Exploiting online games: Cheating massively distributed systems. Boston: First Addison-Wesley Professional.Google Scholar
  33. Humphreys, S. (2008). Ruling the virtual world: Governance in massively multiplayer online games. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 11(2), 149–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Johansson, M. (2009). Why unreal punishment in response to unreal crimes might actually be a really good thing. Ethics and Information Technology, 11(1), 71–79.MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kerr, A. (2006). The business and culture of digital games: Gamework/gameplay. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Kimppa, K., & Bissett, A. (2005). The ethical significance of cheating in online computer games. International Review of Information Ethics, 4, 31–38.Google Scholar
  37. Kücklich, J. (2007). Homo Deludens—cheating as a methodological tool in digital games research. Convergence, 13(4), 355–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kücklich, J. (2009). A techno-semiotic approach to cheating in computer games: Or how I learned how to stop worrying and love the machine. Games and Culture, 4(2), 158–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Latour, B. (1988). The princes for machines as well as for machinations. In B. Elliott (Ed.), Technology and social process (pp. 20–43). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. MacKenzie, D., & Wajcman, J. (Eds.). (1999). The social shaping of technology (2nd ed.). Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Morrison, B. (2009). The game design canvas: Punishment and rewards systems. Accessed 22 Jan 2011.
  43. Nardi, B. (2010). My life as a night elf priest. An antropological account of world of Warcraft. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  44. Rousseau, J. J. (1762). The social contract. Available at Accessed 10 Oct 2010.
  45. Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2004). Rules of play: Game design fundamentals. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  46. Sicart, M. (2009). The ethics of computer games. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  47. Smed, J., & Hakkonen, H. (2006). Algorithms and networking for computer games. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Smith, J. H.(2004). Playing Dirty - Understanding Conflicts in Multiplayer Games. 5th Annual Conference of The Association of Internet Researchers. The University of Sussex, 19-22 September, Accessed 15 July 2010.
  49. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  50. Taylor, T. L. (2006). Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  51. Wikipedia contributors (2010). MMORPG bots. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Accessed 29 November 2010.
  52. Withson, J. R. (2010). Rule Making and Rule Breaking: Game Development and the Governance of Emergent Behaviour. FibreCulture Journal, Issue 16, Accessed 15 October 2010.
  53. Yan, J., & Choi, H. J. (2002). Security issues in online games. The Electronic Library, 20(2), 125–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Yan, J. Y., & Randell, B. (2005). A systematic classification of cheating in online games. In Proceedings of 4th ACM SIGCOMM workshop on network and system support for games (pp. 1–9). New York, NY: ACM.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.<ahref FoundationTrentoItaly
  2. 2.Sociology DepartmentNational University of Ireland MaynoothMaynoothIreland

Personalised recommendations