A bounty system is to sandbox MMOs like peanut butter to fluff on a sandwich perhaps with a glass of cold milk on the side (soy or almond if you prefer). While the sandbox purists will say that developers should just allow players to run their own bounty system, because risk is just part of the experience, having some infrastructure in-game can be very helpful without restricting freedoms. Ensuring the person claiming the bounty actually made the kill, and that the bounty holder must pay up.
But it feels like the developers are just setting themselves up for abuse with current bounty systems, so I’d like to offer a few of my own thoughts on a bounty system. They are just my thoughts, they could be wrong.
1. Money In, Money Out.
I think most players will agree that a bounty system is specifically a player to player affair. I hate you because you kill me a lot, you talk crap in chat, or perhaps you just crossed an angry person with a lot of expendable cash. So I’m not entirely sure why some MMOs don’t have a 1:1 input to output ratio on bounty levels.
As a gamer, I take issue with government subsidized murder to deal with personal squabbles. If xXx Leg0la$ xXx wants me dead because I stuck my sword in his head and stole all forty of his apple pies, he can do so without asking companies like Aventurine to help him buy a bounty hunter, ie: my friend who kills me and splits the reward. Even more importantly, removing the glut will prevent people from using the bounty system to get rich, with the money coming from nowhere.
Ultimately, a bounty system should be a transfer of wealth, not a generator of it. It should act as an arbiter, essentially, to prove the kill and distribute the reward.
2. The Bounty System Will Be Gamed, Regardless.
How do you keep someone like myself from gaming your bounty system? Simple: You can’t. And that is something that developers will need to understand going forward if you’re going to make this an enjoyable system and not a convoluted, overreaching and unenjoyable mess. A bounty system is a social system, and you’re up against geniuses in social engineering.
But even on a 1:1 ratio as mentioned above, you won’t stop the system from being gamed. When a player has a bounty on their heads, they will simply allow themselves to be killed by a clan member and split the profits. Prevent their clan from gathering the reward? They will set up a mule, outside of the clan, to get the kill. Allow only trusted/known people to gather the reward? Well then you’ve just negated the point in making the system official, if the person is known well enough that they could just as well be trusted on the honor system.
And enough on gaming the bounty poster, what about the bounty pursuant? Set up a clan member as a trap by throwing a massive bounty on his head, and when lone hunters show up to kill him, the group jumps out and just thrashes him. In RuneScape they do something like this by having everyone stand on one square, giving the illusion that there is only one person.
So your system is going to be gamed, one way or another, but at least in the world I’ve created it isn’t being abused to generate wealth out of nowhere.
3. Have Some Fun With It.
Here is my ideal bounty system for a game like Mortal Online or Darkfall. Players naturally drop something identifying when they die, let’s say their head or a finger. Whatever the object is, it decays and disappears after a short period of time, let’s say 24 hours from the time of death, to prevent players from gathering them in large quantities and simply hoarding them until the appropriate bounty is posted.
I, as the bounty poster, give my bounty notice and reward to the broker, we’ll call him that creepy guy in the back alley on the edge of town. You, as the hunter, go to him to see who is on the menu. When you kill your target, gather his head/finger as proof, and bring it to the creep, he pays you the reward. And naturally you are free to keep the loot from the person you killed as an extra reward.
Simple, minimalist. An NPC to act as an arbiter and nothing more.