I Got Bullied by My Victims in Dead by Daylight

WTF is Dead by Daylight?

Dead by Daylight is a popular multiplayer game from Behaviour Interactive, designed to mimic the slasher movie genre. Each match takes place on a procedurally-generated map (warehouse, forest, farm, etc) and involves five players – four survivors tasked with repairing broken generators to power an exit gate, and one killer who tries to murder them before they can escape. The basic concept is that there’s a lot of running, hiding, chasing, slashing, and dodging, mixed with a little bit of strategy.

Players can choose from a variety of characters, each with their own powers. Each killer has a unique ability that can’t be transferred to anyone else, and each character, whether killer or survivor, starts with a unique set of perks (i.e., skills) that confer special advantages in the game and can later be shared with other characters. The mix of characters, players, maps, and perks slightly changes the dynamic of each match and creates an environment where unexpected things can happen, even if most of the gameplay is pretty routine.

There’s also a sense in which this is kind of like Disney Infinity for horror fans, in that Behaviour Interactive has brought in characters from Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw, The Evil Dead, and other popular horror series alongside original content.

I play as killer, because it’s soothing

I tried playing survivor a few times, but ultimately ended up sticking with killer after the first few days. Both modes can be anxiety-inducing, but the killer is the one who controls the pace of the murders, which makes it more restful.

The main killer I play is The Hag, a shambling, decrepit swamp witch who teleports and goes “Bleh!” before she grabs people. So there’s a nice synergy between the game and how I see myself in life. I’ve tried most of the other killers as well, and I like that they offer more varied and unique play styles than the individual survivors (who become interchangeable once they’ve learned each other’s perks).

My philosophy as killer is that it’s my job to try to murder the survivors, but that everyone deserves a chance to earn some points before they die. That means I don’t pick someone up in the first 30 seconds, stick them on a meat hook, and stare them in the face until they’re dead like someone did to me in my first match.

The saddest and most earnest advice I got from another killer was “walk away and face the wall”

I think this is probably a feature of the anonymous multiplayer environment rather than Dead by Daylight, specifically, but people can be jerks. As a low-rank killer, I’d say that 80% of the survivors I match with are perfectly normal, 10% are on a quest to troll me, and 10% have strange objectives that make the game feel awkward (like the survivors who actively want me to kill them or who lead me to their teammates instead of repairing generators).

Because the raw gameplay in Dead by Daylight is so simple and repetitive – survivors find and repair the generators, killers chase and hook the survivors – most of the experience comes from player interaction. That makes sportsmanship kind of a big deal, and explains why the forums run red with the rage of people who feel like they’re playing with bad sports.

In my second or third match playing killer, I had a bad experience where a legacy survivor (i.e., somebody who’s had the game since it first came out and has some special bling because of it) took me hostage at the end. It was obvious to both of us that he was a much better player and that I had no hope of killing him, but, instead of leaving the map when he’d already won, he stayed there, running circles around me for what felt like hours, preventing the match from ending just because he could.

It was super rude, but the thing I remember most is how rejected I felt as I started to realize that I’d spent the last ten minutes playing what I thought was a friendly game with somebody who felt complete contempt for me. The face-camper I met in match one notwithstanding, this was the moment I first understood that some players are actively hostile toward the people they match with. I know that doesn’t sound shocking to anyone who’s used the internet before, but, somehow, it still surprised me, and it’s what I think is at the root of most complaints about the game.

Since the “Endgame Collapse” update, it’s impossible for that exact situation to happen again – opening the exit gate now triggers a timer that will force the match to end whether or not the survivors leave the map – but, back when I first started playing, I found lots of posts from killers who’d also been held hostage at some point, including one person who said, “When that happens, I just walk away and face the wall.”

The weird tribalism among people who mainly play killer or mainly play survivor makes sense

When I first started playing Dead by Daylight, I didn’t understand why everyone on the message boards seemed so pissed off, or why the community seemed so polarized between people who mainly played survivor and mainly played killer.

After a few weeks, it kind of made sense.

It isn’t clear what constitutes a win

Quite literally, no one is told that they’ve won or lost a match in Dead by Daylight, so it’s not clear what constitutes a win. But it’s also not clear what constitutes a successful or “fun” match in general. Is it the number of kills vs escapes, how many bloodpoints players get, whether players rank up, or whether the gameplay was even and challenging? Individual players differ in how heavily they weight each of those factors, which means that literally all five people can walk away from a match feeling like they lost and like their opponents blocked them from a win-win outcome for no reason.

  • Kills vs escapes-oriented players only care about the final tally in terms of who lived and who died. If they’re survivors, their ideal game is no kills and four escapes; if they’re killers, it’s four kills and no escapes, both with the fewest number of hooks possible. This leads to an aggressive style of play where anything less than a total shut-out victory is a failure.
  • Points-oriented players want the match to go on for a long time, and they want as many opportunities as possible to score while that happens. Their ideal game has ten hooks and two escapes (one through the hatch), and players who disrupt that sequence may be seen as greedy or uncooperative.
  • Rank-oriented survivors do not care how many kills there are, or whether their character gets killed, specifically, as long as they’re able to complete enough of the specific actions that earn them a rank pip. Rank-oriented killers currently need to shoot for a four-kill, because the killer ranking system is so difficult. In either case, both players want a long game where the chase-hook-escape cycle repeats multiple times and, on the survivor side, where no one hogs the saves.
  • Challenge-oriented players don’t care how many kills there are or how many specific scoring events they get as long as they’re evenly matched with their opponents and able to do some of the activities they most enjoy. Opponents who surprise them seem delightful and refreshing. Opponents who do the exact same thing that everyone did in the last game seem tedious.

When the players on either side of a match are oriented toward different goals, it can seem like people are doing things just to be spiteful (like a points-oriented survivor who thinks the killer’s breaking an implicit bargain by closing the hatch at the end of the game, or a rank-oriented killer who’s frustrated that survivors keep blocking hook attempts after they’ve already earned their pips).

Most in-game behaviour is ambiguous

There are a few behaviours that are very clearly aggressive but, most of the time, the exact same actions that could signal aggression or toxicity can just as easily signal something else (especially at low ranks, where people don’t know what they’re doing).

  • When a survivor leads the killer to a locker someone else is hiding in, are they trolling an innocent teammate, are they ratting out someone who’s sabotaging their game, or did they bring the killer there by accident?
  • When the killer wanders hither and yon and carries a survivor past a hook without putting them on it, are they purposely giving the survivor a chance to escape, are they trying to take the survivor to a worse hook, or did they get confused about which way they were going?
  • When a survivor starts randomly tea-bagging the killer, are they insulting the killer, trying to get the killer’s attention using one of the only gestures they have, or accidentally hitting the wrong controls for some reason?
  • When a killer slugs a survivor (knocks the survivor down) and leaves them to bleed out in the bushes, is the killer taunting the survivor by giving them the most annoying death, are they using the survivor as bait to lure their teammates, or did the killer just forget where the survivor is?

Some of these questions can be answered in the post-game chat, but most players make a split-second in-game decision about what they think is happening, and they respond based on that assessment. Meaning, it’s entirely possible for an honest mistake to snowball into a toxic match that everyone feels angry about.

Players also have different assumptions about the ways that special circumstances change the expectations for a match. When two survivors disconnect within the first minute of play, what should happen? Should the killer murder both of the remaining survivors as fast as possible so that everyone can go on to another match? Should the killer murder one of the survivors and let the other one go? Should the survivors try to play as normal and finish the generators? Should everyone tacitly agree to farm for points? Should everyone just disconnect?

When someone offers bloody party streamers at the start of a match (when they guarantee bonus points for all five players), are there different expectations about how everyone’s going to play? Is the expectation that everyone’s going to go easy and farm for points? Is the expectation that whoever made the offering’s going to go super hard and the bonus points are meant to make up for it? Is the expectation that everyone should just proceed as normal?

Different people have different ideas about what the unspoken rules of the game are, and it can be upsetting when other players seem to violate those rules with impunity.

It’s a living, asymmetric game

Players who focus mainly on killers or mainly on survivors find themselves in a position where they constantly get hassled in ways their opponents don’t, and where they have the ability to hassle their opponents in ways they will never personally experience. From that position, it’s very easy to think that the unsportsmanlike tactics available to you aren’t that big a deal (because you’d never use them unless the other person really, really deserved it), while the unsportsmanlike tactics available to your opponents should be blocked immediately (see: “There should be a penalty for crouching near the killer!” which is an actual thing I said during a match where someone kept crouching in my blind spot.)

Because community feedback actually does affect the way the game evolves and gets re-balanced, it’s not totally surprising that arguments break out over which set of characters is currently over-powered, whose bullying tactics are the most unfair, and whose complaints are more valid.

Many players who strongly favour one set of characters feel like their opponents are constantly bullying them by doing things that they would never do (and, crucially, can’t ever do, because the mechanics are different for each side). They also feel like the bullies are constantly lobbying to take away the only means they have to defend themselves and, because they don’t understand how the developers decide what changes to make, it seems like the lobbying might work. That means that discussions about how to make the game more balanced become emotionally-charged contests to see whether the developers will protect the player from bullies or join in the bullying.

(Lately, Behaviour Interactive has started trying to communicate more openly and regularly about how the game’s evolving, which might help to calm things down.)

Survive With Friends isn’t helping

Survive With Friends is a game mode introduced after the base game launched, but before I started playing. It allows a group of survivor players who know each other to play as a team against a killer they’re randomly matched with, and it gets used by both regular friend groups and streamers. The main reason Survive With Friends is contentious is because many friend groups use VoIP services outside the game to talk to each other and coordinate their actions while they’re playing.

The game wasn’t originally designed for players to communicate in-match, and having the survivors talk to each other in real time has lots of consequences:

  • Logistical advantages, in that they can tell each other who the killer is, where the killer is, where important objects are, etc. If one of them finds the escape hatch, s/he can say, “I found the hatch and it’s inside the debris field by the east wall,” instead of trying to locate the other players and lead them in that direction.
  • Strategic advantages, in that they can discuss which of them should do what at any given time. If someone’s on the hook, the team can decide who’s going in for the save while everyone else stays on task. If a weaker player’s getting chased, a stronger player can say, “Go toward the generator we were just at!” and start running interference.
  • Cancelling out killer perks designed to interfere with survivors’ aura-reading abilities (the abilities that highlight objects of interest on the map and help survivors find each other).
  • Facilitating bullying. The stereotype of a Survive With Friends group is four people with self-heal and flashlights who run around the killer like a maypole instead of doing their objectives – and, while it’s not true of every friend group, it is true of some. It’s also true that some people get more aggressive when they have an audience and want to show off.

I get why people who play survivor like Survive With Friends, and not every friend group is toxic, but the current incarnation of that game mode can really disrupt the balance. Personally, I’m all right with two-person teams, but, with a four-person team, the best-case scenario is that they’re perfectly polite while three of them coordinate to pound out the generators and one of them – the one who’s five-to-ten ranks above me – follows me around and tells the others where I am. It’s a super short match where I don’t get to do anything until they let me have a pity hook right at the end.

At this point, I accept that I’m getting Friends most of the time and try to plan accordingly, but having a four-person team that can talk to each other changes the nature of the game in ways that I don’t think Dead by Daylight has caught up with.

In conclusion, this is kind of an angry game, but I still like it

It’s a stereotype to say that anything anyone makes turns into a hissing match as soon as it hits the internet but, in this case, it seems to be true. The concept for Dead by Daylight is really fun and seems like the basis for a cool, interactive horror experience – the reality is people telling each other to fuck themselves because they all want different things and don’t agree on etiquette.

I sometimes wonder what it must be like to work at Behaviour Interactive, and to have spent years developing a horror game you hoped people would like, and to have seen that game get super popular, and to now spend so much time adjudicating complaints about the players, listening to ban appeals, reading angry forum posts, and watching angry videos. And then posting updates about whatever changes you’ve just made, only to get a thousand messages back telling you you suck.

So, it’s worth saying that I do like this horror game. I like having the chance to switch between different kinds of killers with different powers, I like obsessively levelling up, and I like most of the players I match with, too. I think the reasons the atmosphere around this game crackles with fury are bigger and deeper than anything Dead by Daylight is responsible for, and can’t really be solved without moving to a multiplayer gaming model that has dedicated referees or dedicated teams to guide and monitor the chat.

There are some human interaction problems that computer servers can’t solve.

Image: Dead by Daylight; Behaviour Interactive | June 4, 2019