Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 27, 2008
 
Making quests less anti-social

If we look at the behavior of players in MMORPGs, for example World of Warcraft, we find that their behavior is likely to change when the incentives and reward system changes. This was especially visible in WoW with the PvP system, whose popularity over time changed significantly in response to changes in the PvP reward system. But also other changes, like the introduction of daily quests, changed player behavior a lot. It appears as if the main fun of a MMORPG comes from the rewards given out for an activity, not from the activity itself. The catch is that there *is* a difference in fun of various activities, and if the best rewards are given out for activities that are less fun, players are steered in the wrong direction. They do what gives the best rewards, but end up ultimately unsatisfied, and complaining about "the grind".

Recognizing that, game developers have changed MMORPGs from a system in which you advanced by killing random monsters to a system in which you advance by doing quests. That solved many problems. While a player of Everquest might log on, find a group, and then keep killing the same camp of monsters all day long, the quest system broke up that static gameplay and encouraged him to move all over the zone hunting various monsters for different quests. If done well, that can be a lot more fun than grinding. Badly designed, players start complaining about having to run around unnecessarily too much, but that is simply a question of placing quests and quest givers well.

But in the long run the quest system showed one important flaw: In the current form it is anti-social. Most quests in World of Warcraft not only *can* be done alone, they *must* be done alone if the players want to maximize rewards. Two players of the same level in the same zone often end up having only a small percentage of quests in common, unless they played together from the start. One player went east first, the other went west first, so each one has mostly quests the other already did. Then there are quest chains, where players rarely are on the same step. And even if two players have the same quest, or it can be shared, it isn't necessarily an advantage to quest in a group. If the quest is "kill 10 foozles", then killing them in a group might be faster. But if the quest is "collect 10 foozle ears", two players need to kill twice as many foozles as one player, and in many cases they end up not getting enough foozle ears from killing all the foozles around and end up having to wait for respawns. And because the xp for each kill are divided by two and only a very small group bonus added, the experience points per hour gained by questing in group are lower than if they had soloed.

When was the last time you grouped up for a quest that wasn't marked "group" or "dungeon"? And as there are enough quests around to skip those group quests, many players simply solo all the way up to the level cap. Not because soloing is inherently more fun than playing together, but because the reward system steers you that way. Even very social players who would prefer to play with others, even if that cost them some efficiency, end up playing solo, because they simply can't find anyone interested. What is the point of playing a massively multiplayer game alone?

The goal would not be to abandon the quest system completely, as it has been shown to be better than a pure grinding system. The goal would be to improve the quest system to encourage playing together, not to discourage it. Besides simple fixes of improving group rewards, one also would have to look into quest organization, so that it becomes more likely that several people want to do the same thing. Would walk-in quests, like the public quests of Warhammer Online be a solution? What else can we think of? Is social questing possible at all? Tell us what you think!
Comments:
If quest items would drop for everyone instead only for one group member the problem would be solved.

For quest chains it would be a good idea that you can still do the later quest but have to catch up the missed early ones to get to the final end quest rewards.
 
There should be rewards with diminishing returns for repeated quests that other people have in your group. If you've completed that quest chain already, then you might get rep points from the highest faction the player is a member of, for example.

Clearly, though, there is a major problem with MMOs and how they engineer social interaction. Instead of being collaborative, they're insanely competitive.
 
One thing I always liked about City of Heroes was that when a quest was completed for any member of the group, everyone got some exp and sometimes an enhancement reward. The quest holder would get an additional reward when they went back to their contact to fully complete the quest, but everyone got some exp when the goal was reached. It would be nice to see more games do that.
 
The fact that many many players are choosing to play solo says nothing about the game. The game, especially WoW have so many great opportunities for grouping it's ridiculous.

So, how many of you are fans of FFXI? Seriously. I have played it off and on over the years.

That game practically DOES force you to group,m and it's a freaking NIGHTMARE. Literally you will spend hours trying to just find a group. Ask any player of the game...that is one of the worst parts of the game.

As far as WoW being competitive, that's not true at all, save for the PvP. Even then, there are no hefty prices to pay so competition is not that fierce. Now, if we are meaning competitive to those numbskulls that worry about that OTHER guy wearing uber armor, and worry that HIS isn't uber enough, then I can say that is not a flaw in the game, that is a flaw in the players character.
WoW is always a favorite example, but with so many people playing in so many ways it's impossible to say what the majority do or do not do most of the time.
 
This is one area that I think Lotro did really well through its mid levels. Quests were organised into chains. The starting quest were soloable and gave reasonable rewards but the end quests of each chain required grouping and gave the best rewards. I found that this system trained people into grouping while still giving you plenty of solo quests to do while waiting for groups to form. Sadly the system fell apart when you got to Angmar at level 40 or so with messed up quest chains (group quests blocking access to soloable content for example)although I believe a lot of that has since been straightened out.
 
Curiously enough, many of the games you are condemning for having anti-social quests actually provide tangible incentives for group questing. The fact that the practice is not widespread points to anti-social tendencies of the players themselves more than anything else.

Let's look at World of Warcraft as an example. A lone quester is faced with mobs that are designed to leave the player character with greatly depleted health/mana after a 1-on-1 fight that necessiates long downtimes between the fights. Many mobs have strong social aggro and a tendency to run away and summon help when low on health (e.g. Murlocs), causing the lone player to be pitted against impossible odds. The soloer is also denied the superior rewards from the occasional Heroic (group) quests that pop up.

Duoing with another player is by far the more efficient way to quest in WoW. The is no XP penalty applied to killing mobs or turning in quest in a 2-man group. Because of an overwhelming superiority of 2 player characters over 1 mob the players come out of most fights relatively unscathed, greatly reducing the downtime to recover and move on to the next fight. 2 players are much better prepared to deal with any unexpected adds to the fight (whether attracted by social aggro or acidental proximity) and will triumph in most situations that would have caused a solo player to flee or die. Finally a 2-man team may benefit from additional synergy if they play 2 different classes that complement each other well enabling the players to expand their power more than 2-fold and take on even tougher challenges.

So, why isn't everyone questing in duos then? I think a big part of the answer lies in the players' strong psychological reluctance towards forming relationships with strangers. Just like the the "real" life, a virtual world is an "alone together" experience for many people, where others are stranger objects, trust is laboriously earned and grudgingly given, and friends are relatively few.

Obtaining somebody's cooperation in a game is a highly personal social exeperience, made even more difficult by the lack of the usual trust-determining cues: age, gender, manner of speech, apparent mode of dress and social affilation, etc. You are effectively running blind of your usual senses. So, it is little wonder most people who routinely engage in group questing have an existing prior relationship with their partner, and that most others perfer to quest solo.

So, how can we deal with this problem as designers (assuming we want to deal with it of course)? We can minimize and/or automate the socially burdensome task of looking for questing partners by employing some sort of "public" questing system with automatic opt-in. At the same time we need to design the quests themselves in a way that promotes cooperation while minimizing the liability of an individual player should his partner(s) prove untrustworthy, incompetent, or unsavory. If we can do that, I believe we can make group questing a much more viable and enjoyable experience.
 
I disagree Mr. Gamer. The solofication of WOW and the absolute lack of negative consequences in game for bad behavior lead to less grouping. And Name changes and server transfers have just exacerbated it. Every asshat and Ninja can get thier stuff get geared empty out the guild bank and move on to a new live in the witness protection program and never suffer any consequence below a 25$ fee.

Prior to BC more people grouped. They had to if they wanted good gear. now anything below level 70 is considered bad gear so people aren't willing to group. Add that to the perception fed by blizzard that there is no point in doing the old content and you have people that aren't doing the training that was expected (A.K.A. grouping and instancing) while leveling and it stratifies the players drastically. Why should I as someone that learned to play the game suffer through Bad pugs that take 2 to 4 hours when I can run with my friend and do it in 1 hour. Thier are no rewards for training newbs. Used to be the instances were profitable and you could carry and train a bad player through them. As the curve of difficulty goes up that become more and more difficult and thus people just won't do it. And if people wont' run with you in wow then you never learn to play.

Thus the huge confusion when seasoned players see those newbs complaining they can't do kara. They have no one to help them learn the game the ignored while leveling.

It goes down to one simple thing. If you want people to act a certain way there have to be positive and negative consequences that are immediately visible and in effect.

Imagine a real world where there were no consequences for driving badly. No police to write tickets. You'd have utter chaos and be screaming about all the morons that don't know how to drive. The problem would get worse because people would learn to drive in that screwed up mess and learn all kinds of bad habits and just increasingly pertetuate the problem.

In otherwords you'd have WOW. A game with no consequences for being a bad player till 70. A game where our police (the devs) don't do anything and just tell everyone to hurry up and get there it's not important to learn the game cause the real one starts at 70. It's no wonder wow is cracking an buckling. Good potential gamers are growing up in a mess and us old timers sit aroung bitching about how bad it is but we don't try to train them or fix it. We just retreat to our known friends and leave them out there alone in the wilderness trying to find thier way.
 
@Sam

The more you punish players for being social (even negatively social), the less likely they will want to group and play your game even. Simple behavioral psychology. I don't think it's a solution.
 
I always did enjoy Shadowbane's choice to not split XP between group members. On the other hand, are no quests whatsoever, and advancement happens through grinding or PvP. Because of this, players feel no incentive to wander off or split from the group. At harder POI's, the spawn rate is so high you need everyone to sort of wade into the mobs and then maintain.

There is no shortage of actual pick-up-groups being formed among NPC nation members (/nation "Anyone want to head to Ettins?").

Obviously, throwing away quests isn't an option (unless you find an adequate substitute), but Warhammer's public quests seem like a step in the right direction.
 
This is actually a specific case of a general rule:

- A decent game allows the player
to have fun.

- A good game points the player towards activities that are fun.

- A great game forces the player to have fun, without him complaining about it.

It applies to all aspects of 'fun'.
Socialising, immersion, etc.
 
Whenever this issues pops up I tend to point to the game that I think so far have the best implementation to handle this: City of Heroes/Villains.

* Everyone gets the mission rewards and can partitipate in the actions involved.

* Mission content scales with the team, which means that content is not trivialised with larger teams, rather it gets more interesting as mobs groups gets larger and you get more of more difficult mobs.

* And since mission content scales with team size, it is not the end of the world if someone drops out of the team.

* With the sidekick/exemplar feature pretty much anyone can team with anyone, if there is no-one available at a specific level range someone much lower or higher can also be invited to the team.

* The holy trinity is not required, many different combinations of skills work fine. In most cases it is not needed to find a specific type of player.

* There is 5 different difficulty settings on missions; this can be used to adjust content based on skill and types of characters fi needed. One can pretty much always find an appropriate setting for a team.

* Travelling in game is generally fast, quick to get to mission locations, no need to wait around.

* Larger teams tend to be able to set difficulty setting higher, which will give better rewards and faster xp.

* Many powers can be useful solo, but really excel in larger teams.

Playing in a team and especially in a large team is a generally different, more fun and more rewarding experience than playing solo - but it is still the same missions you play in either case.

I am not saying everyone should start playing City of Heroes/Villains, but it is a good example you do not have many of the issues around teaming and missions/quests that you find in other MMORPGs.
 
so by your logic mr gamer negative consequences dont work at all. So if policeman is sitting on the side of the road do you speed up?

I've taken more than a few psychology courses and yes positive reinforcement is the best tool. But there have to be negative consequences for stubborn behavior. thus in real life the cops and prison for those who refuse to play along.

to quote myself..

If you want people to act a certain way there have to be positive and negative consequences that are immediately visible and in effect.


while postive consequences is your best long term way of changing behavior, negative consequences for those that simply refuse to go along is a must to keep the system on keel. Even if the negative consequence is that the person who refuses to group or be social falls behind and can't get the pretty shiny purple stuff. Obviously there has to be some balance. But to say you can't punish players at all is silly.

That kind of logic is what creates the kids in restaurants and movie theatres running around screaming ruining everyone else's experience.

We tried that out in the 60's. Doctor spock told us if we didn't punish our kids and just rewarded them they'd grow up to be great people. Didn't work so well.

And inspite of what many would like to think, the same kinds of things have to be applied in a virtual society to keep it balanced and enjoyable. Otherwise we just have anarchy and thats only fun for the graveyard campers.
 
@Sam

MMOs simply wouldn't be fun if you appiled the same social design choices to them as apply to real world human societies.

The laws and cultures or human societies aren't there to make life a fun experience, they are there to ensure the continued existence of these societies. As a member of a human society, you don't get a choice but to mind these restrictions, though you may find them quite oppressive when they are applied to your person. You may break them at will, but the consequences can be severe and permanent. Short of sucide, you don't get an option not to participate.

On the other hand, an MMO is an entertainment product. It exists to provide me with fun and its operator with revenue. It doesn't exist to perpetuate any kind of sustainable society. All needs can be provided for and all taboos made impossible by the almighty design and code. There's no need to punish anyone.

Players get their fun by being positively reinforced for their actions by the game's mechanics. Negative reinforcement can be used sparigly to set up challenges for players to overcome (e.g. getting killed by a monster because the player didn't use his character's abilities efficiently), but all challenges must be designed to be overcome rather than to deter.

The biggest problem with negative reinforcement is that it's not fun for its recepient. In fact, in larger doses it amounts to negative-fun. Because a game is so fundamentally different from the real world (sse above), a player who is getting continuously negatively reinforced will most likely quit rather than adjust his behavior. It's bad for the player and bad for the game operator, so it's just a bad idea all around. I know I'd quit any game that beat me up for not being an upstanding "citizen"!

So, rather than punishing players for making social choices harmful to others, simply design away from them. Limit the ways and the magnitude of "griefing" situations. Make PvP a consentual opt-in. Deter corpse camping by making it possible for the defeated party to teleport to the nearest city without material losses. Render loot "ninjaing" irrelevant by making key monsters drop high quality loot appropriate for theit class for *each* memeber of the group (I really like DDO's loot system). And so on, etcetera, you get the idea.
 
Echoing previous comments, I'm sure, but...

I’ll try and offer more evolutionary ideas later, but right now I’d love to see games steal teaming ideas from City of Heroes, specifically:

1) Make the benefits to teaming outweigh the disadvantages to soloing while still allowing someone to solo effectively. So, it may be a “simple fix” of giving improved XP/Gold to teams -- but please, do it.

2) Conversely, the challenges should match the team play. In City of Heroes this means that instances (the vast majority of quests) scale relative to the number of people in a group. I don’t know if this can be tweaked for non-instanced situations, like the typical WoW quest. A mob’s abilities vary depending on the number of people in the attacking group, perhaps?

3) Make it easy to find teams. I find WoW’s “Looking For Group” interface pathetic. I can only look for specific dungeons -- even if I’ve got a quest, I can’t look for a group if I’m not in the dungeon’s level range? What? While there were some filtering/sorting issues with the City team interface, it was far, far better.

4) Allow disparate level ranges to contribute. The sidekick/exemplar functionality is fantastic.

5) Ease up on the travel time-sinks. If I have to wait twenty minutes for the group to get together because “the heel0r” hasn’t visited the correct bat for the flight path, I’ll go solo, thanks.

6) Ease up on the magic triangle. If I have to wait twenty minutes for the group to get together because we can’t find “a heel0r” and we have, have, HAVE to have a “heel0r” to succeed (see item 2), I’ll go solo, thanks.

(Mild tangent: The catch is that there *is* a difference in fun of various activities, and if the best rewards are given out for activities that are less fun, players are steered in the wrong direction. They do what gives the best rewards, but end up ultimately unsatisfied, and complaining about "the grind". This fact is why I want to poke whoever said “Grind is a State of Mind” with a cattle-prod. In the throat. Sure it’s a state of mind -- but it’s a state of mind more easily induced by rewarding boring activity. If you give huge rewards to a profoundly dull activity, players will (in the main) do the activity, then bitch about how your game is boring, then quit. (Or continue to play like little crack-addled rats, but anyhow.) They will not do the less rewarding but more enjoyable activity -- because there’s less reward.)
 
The debate between Sam and Mr. Gamer is the old UO vs EQ debate, and it just comes down to choice. Some players hated EQ because it forced so many things on you, while others hated UO because the players themselves had so much power.

It comes down to the sandbox vs the theme park, and both are very viable options when designing an MMO.
 
LoTRO has a system where you can see what chains you have in common with someone whether they are ahead of you or behind you. You can even share the first step of a chain you are on with someone if they haven't started it yet (i.e., if you are on step 4, you can share step 1). It's helps you get everyone quickly caught up if you are so inclined. Unfortunately it provides no real incentive to do so, so it's more of a bandaid than a fix.

The obvious idea along the lines of a real fix is to provide incentives for players to repeat quests they've already done. For example, if you are partied with someone that does one of your old quests, you get half the end XP reward the first time, 1/4 the second time, and none the third.

Another possibility that would work very well in LoTRO and WoW is that every time you help someone do a quest, you get the faction reward from the quest. This way you could grind faction by helping others knock out quests. There would have to be some level restriction, or it would be abused at low levels (grind out Thorin's hall rep at 50 by power leveling newbs!!...hmmm maybe not). However, I can see it both giving incentive to party and making rep grinds a heck of a lot less painful then they are currently (though the grinds of LoTRO are but a dull ache next to the grinds of WoW, to be sure).

EQ II also has a system where at high levels one of the best ways to earn AAs is to go back and mentor low level players. I'm surprised the system hasn't been emulated by more designers. It's not directly in response to the problem that you lay out, but it definietly makes it easier to get a group together for regular questing.
 
With quest xp rewards increased and experience requirements for advancement reduced, the fastest way to level is to group up and burn through quests as fast as you can. It's much more efficient to do two quests in half an hour but lose solo kill XP than it is to do one quest solo and get full kill xp in the same amount of time.
 
I'm not advocating forced grouping. I'm advocating that grouping should be at least slightly more rewarding. To the solo player that is a negative consequence. I solo a lot myself when my schedule is erratic and I can only play a bit here and a bit there. But any system that only rewards with no consequences for negative behavior will ultimately fail.

I think the problem is we hear talk of building virtual communities and people have this idealized version of how nice people will be if you reward them. History has shown us that people are only nice when it's in thier best interests. Thats why we have laws, police, and prisons. Virtual communities need some visible consequence for the bad behaviors the developers of that community want to inhibit.

I agree if they take it too far and use the negative conseqences instead of giving the players carrots it'll fail. But I know all too well that a very small minority will never follow the rules unless they are punished for thier antisocial behavior. And that very small minority can cause a very large negative impact.
 
@Sam

Well, all I add is that I really wouldn't care for any game with police and prisons for players in it. But then I'm not crazy about either in the real world too. Would any of you others here want to play that game?

@Syncaine

I think you misunderstood me. I'm against a game punishing the players through its mechanics. However, that still leaves you with 2 choices: Design a sandbox MMO where players are free to commit "crimes" against each other but also free to institute their own protection/enforcement -or- design a game that makes "crimes" largely impossible. Both are valid choices, although I think the second has more market potential by far. Never should the developers take social enforcement into their hands however.
 
so the devs should never have factions loss if you kill the wrong side or any negative consequence at all? Id be all for player based punishment if grouping were required. Thats the only way it will ever work. Because then you need the groups to get stuff done. So if you mistreat people they won't group with you. If you are designing games that allow everyone to solo and don't require grouping for advancement then there is no way the player base can punish your solo deviant that just likes to aggravate people or simply refuses to play by the rules.

Just my opinion we obviously aren't going to agree.
 
Of course I'd be happy with a player based faction system. If there were some NPC that you could file a complaint with for a in game fee. (say the sherrif)

And everytime you got a complaint filed or everytime you ganked a lowbie you gained negative faction till eventually the NPC's of the towns started attacking you.
Perhaps at some point the person with the negative faction would become an honor bonus to anyone that killed the "outlaw"

That kind of thing would be great.
It would have to be carefully thought out but I'd love to see some game try something like that.
 
I've recently wrote a piece on the topic, as quite a lot of people, I lack concrete ideas of how to make mmo questing truly social. It is but an analysis of the status quo.
http://zelmor.blogspot.com/2008/06/plain-or-patent.html
 
Tobold bring us some WWI goodness plz! ;)
 
Sam, I think you're missing some of Mr. Gamer's point. The goal is not to shift the gaming "punishment" factor from the devs to the players, but to simply make punishment unnecessary via the game code itself. For example, design a game with no healing classes (everyone uses bandages, potions, or in-combat health regen, etc.). So now if you're in a dungeon and the priest randomly bails on the group, the zone's difficulty scales to a 4-man instead of 5, and since the game doesn't mandate a healer for success no one notices the loss (beyond whatever unique skills the priest has).

If you wanted to encourage group-formation as opposed to solo play, you design the game to simply encourage people to group, but not punish them if they wish to solo. So while this game might give faster experience to groups, the strength of the mobs should scale depending on the party size, so the solo player isn't mauled. Then everyone's happy, and the game encourages the desired behavior without requiring it.

I think what Gamer is ultimately arguing for is development from an elastic as opposed to static perspective.
 
We've gotten pretty far away from the original topic, which is how to make questing together more attractive to players.

I made a case that many games (like WoW for example) already provide good incentives and rewards for cooperative play, and that the barriers to causal grouping are mainly psychological rather than material in nature. I suggested that the way to encourage players to group more is to lower the social requirements, obligations, and liabilities of joining and playing with a group. I feel that easing players' anxieties about playing with strangers will go much farther than just coaxing them into groups with greater rewards in creating an enjoyable playing experience.


Would anyone care to comment? Do you agree or disagree and why? Do you have more to add?
 
you guys are operating under the assumption that as long as group play is rewarded people will group.

Wow has proved that theory wrong. There are tons of incentives in wow to group and no punishments for not grouping and people for the most part just simply don't group.

Your average person gets screwed by random luck, a bad player etc a few times and they just quit grouping and solo. If soloing is as easy and as rewarding as grouping then people will do it because they don't have to compete.

And making group content more rewarding is a positive reward for socializing and a negative reward for soloing. I still say those of you that think every thing has to be positive in a virtual community need to look at real life. The virtual community operates under very similar constraints for social behavior because people are involved. Add that to the fact you effectively have anonymity and that has to be somehow balanced out.

People are inherently selfish. Its a hard wired genetic thing. Selfish animals eat better and survive longer. The whole idea of a community is to overcome those negative impulses and do better. You can't just do that with rewards. There has to be a structured system that both rewards and punishes to keep your society running smoothly. I know that's a currently socially unacceptatble Idea but pretty much all psychological research in the real world bears this out. I suspect we'll find over time its going to be the same in virtual worlds. People are people and that doesn't change just because the world is virtual
 
sorry mr gamer I forgot to address your question.

I honestly don't think its peoples anxieties over playing with strangers. I think that people do what rewards them the most in a game. In games like wow the best rewards are for grouping but they are very slow in coming so people don't feel rewarded. Thus it is far more satifying to grind out your mats and get all the reward when the epic is made than to raid the same boss 10 times before you get the lucky drop or have enough dkp to get your stuff. Current Raid design in wow assumes you are motivated by the fun not the loot. Unfortunately by the time you kill the boss a few times that reward is gone and the only incentive is too wait for the loot.

Theres a kind of backhanded admission to this in wow. The first 20 levels you constantly get upgrades and cool looking gear. Then by the time you are hooked on the game you get to slog through20 or 30 levels before you start to get anywhere near that feeling again. Then you hit outlands and its another slog to 70 before it hits again.

I suspect if Wow did something like Mythos and all drops you saw were yours and yours alone people would group more. The more mobs they killed the more drops they'd see. The more they grouped the faster they'd kill mobs and it would become a self reinforcing cycle. And there would be no competition with other people for the drops. In a system like this ideally at the level of raid bosses you'd only see gear for your class when you saw a drop. And you wouldn't have to roll agains 5 members of your class everytime you saw a drop.
 
Sam and Mr. Gamer, you're both saying that WoW provides incentives for group play. It's possible, I suppose, but again I have to point to City of Heroes which provides more incentives to group play.

I grouped a lot in City of Heroes. It was easy, quick, and fun. My attempts at grouping in WoW have been none of these things, so I don't group there. The primary differences between the games are the incentives (much stronger in City of Heroes) and the LFG interface (ditto). I think a secondary difference is the heavy dependence on instances in CoH, where the game can react to your team much easier than in the heavily non-instanced questing of WoW. Near as I can tell, the incentives for grouping in WoW are meager compared to the annoyances involved.

So, yes, Sam, I assume that "as long as group play is rewarded people will group," because that's exactly my experience. The problem with WoW is that it doesn't reward the group experience enough. Mr. Gamer correctly points one major hurdle -- people don't like forming relationships with or relying on strangers. You have to give enough of an incentive so that people say, "Well, OK, it's better if I join this random group of wackos than just trudge along by myself." It comes down to Risk vs. Reward, and dealing with unknown people is a risk. Will they waste your time? Will they annoy you? Will they bitch if you drop AFK? Best to just plod on alone... unless it's clear you're better off with them (and vice versa, which often leads to a more cooperative mindset).

Regarding negative incentives, Sam, I'm not quite sure where you're coming from. For example: "...making group content more rewarding is a positive reward for socializing and a negative reward for soloing." I don't see it that way. I consider negative incentives (let's say 'disincentives') to be thinks like: you can only earn Talent points from XP gained while teamed; every other quest you take has an 'end boss' that is so tough you need a team to take down; you're ejected from certain areas if you're not in a group, and so forth. Otherwise we're just doing the glass half-empty/half-full dance.

Those sorts of negative incentives would encourage group play, I'm suppose, but I personally prefer the carrot over the stick.
 
Well sok I'd prefer a world where I don't have to have policeman watching me drive down the road. But the fact is as soon as they are not there people start speeding wrecks happen and it costs society a lot of money.

And you have the same problem in a virtual world. 90 percent of your people will start playing by the rules. The other 10 percent will break them every chance they can if there is no stick to beat them down. You figure out how to motivate people to behave with no negative consequences at all and you'll get the nobel prize.

But for now. People are People and as I stated earlier. We are all genetically wired to be selfish. Selfish animals eat better and live longer. Our societies, positive rewards and negative consequences are an attempt to overcome our genetic wiring and collectively become better
 
I'm late to the discussion, and I haven’t read all of the discussion in the comments, but I do have some reactions (from a WoW player’s viewpoint) to Tobold’s initial post.

First, I group a lot with my wife while questing. Unfortunately, we get punished for it by the grouping experience penalty.

Second, I rarely group with anyone else for ‘regular’ quests because...
- We’re not in the same level range, or
- They’ve already done the quests in one zone, and I in another, so we can’t link up, or
- We’re at different points in a quest chain, or
- They’ve been in a bad PUG, and don’t want any part of another one, or
- They don’t want to take the grouping XP penalty on regular quests

Really, WoW seems to be designed with the intent of people only grouping for instances or for a battery of group quests. IMO, WoW’s new faster leveling discourages grouping before level 60 because you’re blowing through the levels fast, so there is little need to get dungeon blues that will be quickly out-leveled, and the experience boost from instances isn’t a great incentive if you have to PUG; I would prefer a quick guildie run-through to a PUG.
 
It is always weird that in groups I get less experience than if I was to solo the same things. MMORPGs are supposed to be played with people. What is so wrong with people getting the same xp in a group as they would solo? Are they afraid they will level too fast....Gamers will always level fast and there will always be that handful of people that will go from 1 to 80 in a few days. For the more casual player I would find nothing wrong with giving people the same xp. If you are in a group and have finished the quest and you help someone finish it you should earn a new kind of xp for helping with a quest. You could use it for I don't know, adornments or titles or things for your house. At least something for helping out others. Granted you should have a diminishing return in place so that you cant just finish a quest and then sit in a group getting more and more stuff for nothing. Questing should be more socially interactive. Quit placing so many rules and restrictions on my quests.
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