One of the guys over at Destructoid used to be an Ultima Online GM during the early days, and he's been busy churning out interesting stories about some of the exploiters, cheaters, and scammers he was forced to deal with during his watch. The previous four installments can be found here, here, here, and here, while this latest installment just turned up this afternoon. I'm really glad I never ended up in the jail:
As a GM, I always enjoyed the process of investigation more than I did the process of enforcement. Getting strings of help pages regarding a particular player or an undocumented bug/exploit always got me fired up to figure out not simply what was done by whom, but also how it was done. Until we knew how a scammer or exploiter was working their unholy magic, we as GMs couldn't ban the player and the developers couldn't fix the exploitable code.
Many times simply following the player invisibly for a while was sufficient to get the information we needed. Other situations required a craftier approach. One player had figured out a way to scam other players early on via the trading window. This player would place a large amount of gold or a single hyper-valuable item in their half of the trade window after striking up a deal with when another player. When this second player reciprocated, placed their items on their side, and ok'd the trade the exploiter would get all the other items without losing his own.
Now, we could watch the conversation, and we knew when the transaction was taking place, but we couldn't see the trade window. This made it so that we couldn't prove that a cheat was taking place, or prevent it from taking place again. The pages kept coming and coming, so I was eventually forced to attempt a risky gambit to get the information we needed for the developers.
When we needed to speak to a player in violation of the Terms of Service in private, we teleported them to the "jail". The jail was a block of stone rooms with no doors or exits of any kind. It automatically disabled any spellcasting, so mages could not teleport out to escape. While the other GMs and players called it the jail, I called it the Phantom Zone because it existed in a black void outside the boundaries of Britannia and because I am old enough to remember seeing Superman 2 in the theatre.
Players (particularly exploiters) knew that if you showed up in the jail you were about to be either shaken down for information, reprimanded, or out-and-out banned. This is also where a GM would put a player if they had multiple offenders to deal with. Since it wasn't unusual for multiple players to have to sweat it out together in the Phantom Zone for a bit while the GM tracked down accomplices, I decided to play on this fact to figure out exactly how the trade scam was being perpetrated.
They say that when working undercover there's a huge temptation for the cop to cross over to the other side for money or power. I had no such concerns as a GM, being omnipotent already! However, to pull off this dupe, I was going to need a partner, so I found another GM who had cleared their queue and enlisted their help.