Tobold's Blog
Monday, January 19, 2009
What to reward

I'm working my way towards a post about achievements, as requested in the open Sunday thread, but before I get there I'd like to discuss something which touches on both achievements and other sorts of rewards: What exactly does a player have to do to "achieve" something or "deserve" a reward?

Many people like to pretend that rewards and achievements are given out for "skill". But if we are brutally honest, we have to admit that this isn't the case most of the time. It takes only negligible amounts of skill to level to 80, catch 1,000 fish, collect 50 non-combat pets, or become exalted with 40 factions. You can even get a complete set of PvE or PvP epics with very little skill, if only you can find a powerful group of people you can leech from. If that requires "skill", then its more social skills than gaming skills. If you happen to have gaming skills, it helps, and might get you the reward or achievement faster, but it isn't absolutely necessary, except in very rare cases.

So what exactly do most MMORPGs hand out rewards for? Most of them reward you for time spent in game, doing some reward-related activity. Farming and grinding will get you nearly anywhere. In PvP only some arena rewards are out of reach for the unskilled, most of the PvP epics can be obtained by simply doing PvP long enough, win or lose. Many achievements are extremely grindy. And of course you gain levels and xp by doing hundreds of hours of killing monsters and doing quests, for which you need only very basic skills. Ixobelle even proposed to simply hand out a fixed amount of xp per hour, so people wouldn't have to look for the best way to gain xp, and simply do whatever was most fun for them. Unfortunately that wouldn't work, most people simply would log on, alt-tab out, and play another game in the background until they reach the level cap.

An alternative to rewarding time spent in game is to reward real time, time you pay subscription for. World of Warcraft already does that with daily quests, crafting recipes with long cooldowns, or achievements it takes a full year to complete. You often have to do a lot less for these rewards and achievements, but you can't get them without paying for the game every month. The most extreme case is EVE Online, where you earn skill points based on real time, which leads to some people basically playing EVE Offline.

The last thing MMORPGs often reward is just plain luck. Kill a random mob, and find a bind-on-equip epic worth thousands of gold. Be the only paladin in your raid, and see half of the epics dropping being plate with spellpower. Walk around a corner a see a rare named you need to kill for an achievement. But of course luck is also somewhat related to time: The more often you do something, the higher the overall chance that one day you'll get lucky.

Of course there is a good reason why most rewards and achievements in MMORPGs are related to time: The game company wants your subscription money. If you could get all the best rewards and achievements in a month or two, you would be less motivated to pay them for years. And in a way that is a win-win deal, because you of course are interested to get many hours of entertainment. But it wouldn't hurt if there were more rewards and achievements in the games that actually required more gaming skills, and not just grinding.
I think there's two types of achievements: the ones that are about character progression (you maxed out your fishing skill, you collected several zillion pets, you explored the universe, etc) and the more gamist ones to do with skill (or alternatively whether you can get an overgeared group to carry you through it).

But is skill in an MMO really just about twitch skills and how well you can maintain your dps rotation that you read about on some forum?

I think there's some 'skill' to knowing the game world really well, knowing how to get the zillion pets, knowing how to make 25k gold off the auction house, and so on. It seems unnecessarily elitist to me to define skill in an MMO as just how many white hot dps guys you can invite to your raid.

Or rather, why should those other things not have achievements attached? They make the game more fun for a lot of people who have no interest in killing Sartharion with 3 drakes up. The lure of an MMO is that you can play in lots of different ways. Why only give achievements for one? :P
yeah, the static XP thing is an interesting concept, and I touched on the fact that people would just AFK:

People will just AFK in their current zone for free XP: Make an 'idle hands' debuff like Warhammer has in its BGs that stops the ticking if you're just standing there, or autorunning into a tree. You have to be active to get XP, but it works for whatever it is that you decide to do.

What about quests? Quests will still reward gold and gear, just not XP. There will still be incentive to participate in other parts of the game (honor/gear for Arena, gold/gear for quests, rep/gear for dungeons) but Actual Experience is rewarded by experiencing the game itself! Go out there and do... whatever!... it all counts, and no playstyle is superior to another.

... one other intersting thing would be that no one can rush to the levelcap. I really thing this idea has merit, but won't be implemented because it's just 'not the norm'. If you think about it, even people that were actively doing something in the game for 72 hours after the release date, they would be '72 hours' into the end cap, but having situations like some french guy hitting 80 1.5 days out would be impossible. You could trickle people to the end game, but the obvious problem is that you could never 'catch up' to a friend that plays more, until he hit the level cap and couldn't go any further, or you convinced him to take 5 days off so you could both play together.

Then again, quests would be more of a nebulous grey area, so you wouldn't need to be level 76 to grab quest Z. quests would reward gear, so... hrmm... actually, you'd still have the problem, because you couldn't give out leel 80 gear to level 70 toons.... unless they could do the quest, but just not equip the items yet.

sorry for the ramble. I've said before, and still stand by that the big reward for me is seeing the boss fall over. Loot is the icing on the cake, and an extra little adrenaline rush when you roll that 98, but achieving something as a group is what makes the game fun for me. Someone mentioned in another thread that I could dance by the moonwell with 24 others and have that be the same thing, but i think that's a stretch... you know what I mean. I like that bosses give out loot, not so fond of being able to afk for a week for epics. I really wish blues meant something again, and that purple wasn't the new green.
Giving rewards based on skill (like epics dropping from hard dungeons) and rewarding time spent are mutually exclusive.

If there are skill-rewards (status symbols), the community is divided to two groups
* those who have status symbols (nobles)
* those who don't (peons)

Of course the "peons" would start to feel frustration and leave the game. That's why Blizzard nerfed the instances, to prevent instance loot become status symbol. Now everyone is full epic if he bothered to log on.

There is a catch though: The whole game can get the "hype" of being "peon-game" played by losers, morons and small kids, that can eventually kill it. However Blizzard is already working on other games so they don't have to bother.
Formulating skill is almost impossible. Add to that the fact that people have different views on what 'skilled' is, there is no way to standardise it.

Most achevements are indeed an indication of how much time you put in the game. Others are simply tags of what one achieved during his played time in terms of ecnounters etc (although sometimes lead to faulse assumptions as people can revisit old content for example and kill things they were unable to when they were truly hard). And a few others work like `customisations' - like titles etc. At the end of the day its a simple way of classifying things. Whether they are worth it?

I personaly see them as another aspect of the game that will give one more incentive towards a particular goal. You farm one faction for exampe for cerain rewards? You get an added title or mount etc. Nothing game-braking but hey... people like exotic sportscars but can also move about on bicycles.

Achievements in my humble opinion are a simple, virtual system to satisfy ones 'vanity' within the game boundaries.
forgetting loot itself... what about rewards in terms of deserving / earning a spot on a raid, never mind the loot rewards.

I was recently called into a recent 25 man naxx guild run, contributing through the four horesmen, then sapp and moving onto Kel himself, although we called it after a few wipes and decided to go for it again in 2 days time. I was one of the first to sign up on group calander, prepared myself as per the guild rules, did a couple 10 man runs and upgraded gear, enchanted my gear, gemed myself, all excitied about downing big bad Kel the following day.

On the day of the raid, I turned up early and waitied pateintly for my invite, only to find I wasn't picked...someone who didn't down the previous Bosses presumably was selected over me.

So the question is as I had been good enough for the previous attempts and helped get to Kel in the first place, didn't I deserve the "reward" of continuing in the raid, hadn't I earned that?

Seems like rewards can be subject to the subjectivity and personal prefernces of those in positions to give them
The problem Tobold is that they have painted themselves into a corner with what can be a reward or not. There are rewards beyond loot and beyond vanity mounts and titles.

Vashj and Kael (pre-nerf) were difficult and complicated encounters. Many guilds simply couldn't defeat these bosses for quite some time and spent 4-6 weeks (or more if not a great group) learning the encounters to be able to win. The real reward was not the loot that these two bosses dropped. The real reward was entry into Hyjal and eventually Black Temple. The real reward was several "easy" bosses in Tier 6 content.

I highly doubt we will ever see a reward such as this in WoW again. Access to new content is more incentive for raiders to keep going and learning and wiping more so than any mount or vanity title. If gaining access to Uldar Heroic required you to complete Sarth +3 then it would be the most rewarding encounter in the expansion, thus far.
Slightly off-topic reply to the poster above who was rolled out of the Kel kill:

Earning a place on a raid by being party to earlier, clearing runs also came up for discussion in our guild and of course, there are opposing views on this one. The prevailing view was that being on the earlier run was fun and a reward in its own right and not a "qualifier" for inclusion on the next stage in that dungeon. It was felt that giving as many guildies as possible the opportunity to enjoy the end content (providing they adhered to the pre-requisite preparations) was a better and fairer approach. After all, the chances are that you will have another opportunity to down him again. You did get your characted into the screenshots of some of the first kills, I'm sure?
In a sub model, you're always going to want to reward time more than skill. There may be skill checks, but the prime advancement metric has to be based on time, since that's what you're charging for.
If skill would not improve with time spent training that skill then I don't believe we would be still around as species on our planet ;)
The difference of course being the difference between avatar skill and player skill.

If all players were given level-capped, fully empowered avatars at the very beginning, the way the player uses that avatar would be key to gameplay, and would be based on player skill at learning and applying the game's mechanics. The level/loot grind that gives the avatar "skill" advancement is where the bulk of the "time=advancement" design comes from, and the bulk of the sub money, at least until the "endgame" which just shifts to a different treadmill. It might be argued that the "endgame" is more about player skill, since the avatars only get incremental gear upgrades, but that's only by comparison to the leveling content. The player skill required for endgaming in modern MMOs is pretty paltry, especially with scripted encounters. It's not brainless, but neither is it brain surgery.
Gevlon, you are using the wrong terminoligy to make your point. Nobles and Peons are not defined by skill level or IQ, or age... In fact, I'm sure you have heard of noble heirs in history being children, and there have been quite a few "morons" in the nobility throughout europe. Nobility is defined by birth, nothing more. Who was your mother? Who was your father? Who are your aunts and uncles, and do they come from good stock with coat armour? You my friend, in all liklihood would be a peon. It wouldn't matter how smart or fast or skilled you are. It would all come down to luck, or divine providence.

If you are going to keep insulting the vast majority of a playerbase you don't really know very well, you might want to come up with a better model than the feudal system. I know it makes you sound elite, and certainly has the right touch of arrogance, but it works against your point and makes you look... well, like a spoiled noble saying "let them eat cake."
Giving rewards based on skill (like epics dropping from hard dungeons) and rewarding time spent are mutually exclusive.

Been a raider done it. no real skill involved. Any average player with Lots of play time can do it. The raid leader is the only skilled person in a raid in wow and thats just management skills not game skills.

WOW has been from day one the game that rewarded TIME above all else. Not a surprise. The whole model is based on basic psychology. Give people regular rewards and a false sense of achievement and they'll run on the hamster wheel for a long time.

SKILL has never been important in Wow raiding.
Don't forget that effort is a factor here too. People keep saying "you can get achievements if you just spend a lot of time logged in". But that's not the case. If you sit in Dalaran the entire time, then you get no achievements (unless you're fishing, I guess, but even that takes effort). Time is a factor, but there's also the effort of finding out about the achievement, figuring out how to do it, and then spending that time and effort/energy actively doing it instead of something else. And in my opinion, that's why some achievements have value. Not because they symbolize time spent, but they do show that you cared enough about a task to put in the effort to do it over another activity. For instance, every person I know with the 50 mounts achievement is someone who really likes mounts. There are tons of people who spend all day logged in on my server, yet almost none of them have that achievement, or the Loremaster, or Explorer, etc. Lots of people who spend tons of time logged in don't have the holiday titles.

And there are some achievements, mostly those "faking content" achievements in instances, that actually do require some degree of skill. Can a group face mashing their keyboards kill Anub'arak in under 3 minutes? Or kill every boss in Naxxramas without anyone dying? Or kill Heigan without a single person getting hit by the slime?
Also, I'd disagree with Sam. I've also "been there done that" in WoW raiding, since Molten Core. And there definitely is a difference between skilled and unskilled players.

Sure you *can* suck and still clear content and get rewards. But your raid goes more slowly and is less successful, and the skilled players come to resent you and eventually leave.

How do you explain when I walk into a raid and do 50% more dps than someone who outgears me? How do you explain when we take a priest in raid epics and wipe repeatedly in a heroic, then replace him with a priest in blues and heroic gear and suddenly can clear the instance without a hitch? How do explain that one single bad tank was able to wipe us repeatedly on Thaddius, and then we replaced him with a tank we know to be a good player and suddenly one-shot the boss?

How do you explain my guild earning a ZA bear even though we'd never set foot inside BT or Hyjal?

Granted, WoW is a fairly simple game compared to other games. But there still is an element of skill involved, even if it is diluted by time spent (getting gear and enchants, etc).
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